The origins of the American Revolution that led to the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 were about tyranny, not just taxes.
As the parades, barbeques and fireworks fade and we reflect on the origins of the Declaration of Independence, it may be surprising to many that the Revolution was not about high taxes—it was about tyranny, of which taxation without representation formed only a part. Modern “Progressives” have spent the better part of the past century obscuring our past and rebuilding that tyranny in its place.
With our modern tendency to reduce everything to sound bites, we remember “all men are created equal” and “No taxation without representation” but the key meanings of these and other phrases in our Declaration of Independence have been lost, only to be replaced with meaning antithetical to the original.
The Declaration of Independence consists of not one but five parts. The first part is an introduction; a justification for writing the document in the first place. The second begins with the familiar phrase “We hold these truths…” It is a statement of the American understanding of the nature and purpose of government. Given this understanding, the third part is a list of twenty-seven specific offenses King George III had committed against the colonies. Finally, the document concludes that having tried everything else, these united States declare their independence.
I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical. – Thomas Jefferson, 1787
At the time of the Declaration little attention was paid to the political philosophy in the second part. Instead, British commentators spent their time refuting the claims in “the long train of abuses.”
Of the 27 abuses of authority, twelve refer to the ways in which the king had interfered with the making and executing of laws in the colonies; a further five with interfering with the administration of justice. Four referred to the waging of the then-present war against the colonies.
Just one said “For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent.” This could also be classified as interference with the making and executing of laws.
What specifically did the Georgian kings of England—not just George III—actually do?
Certainly, we remember the Stamp Act, which was about taxes and the Intolerable Acts, which took away rights to self-government in the wake of the Boston Tea Party. But there were more.
In 1722 and 1729, for example, the White Pine Acts reserved large tracts of forest for the Royal Navy in the name of the king—regardless of who owned the land. When that Navy needed sailors, they sent press gangs ashore to “requisition” men. They also requisitioned supplies.
What did the colonists do in response?
They rioted. They tarred and feathered British officials. The burned the whaleboats of the press gangs. They certainly did not stand idly by while the British government violated their lives, liberties and property. The civil authorities in the colonies sided with the people.
The colonists believed in the rule of law and were increasingly angry that king and Parliament were not abiding by it.
Fast forward two and a half centuries.
The President refuses to enforce our laws. When Congress refuses to take orders from him, he acts on his own.
The Congress passes laws against our will that circumscribe our right to manage our own health care; that suspend habeas corpus; and it refuses even to pass a budget.
The federal judiciary has a mixed record. While in some cases the Supreme Court has rebuked the president for overreaching his authority, in other cases the courts themselves have overturned laws voted upon by the people.
It’s time for a little rebellion on the battlefield of ideas – Rick Perry, 2014
What have Americans done in response?
In 2009 and 2010 there were massive “Tea Party” protests. September 12, 2009 still marks the largest rally in Washington, D.C. of any kind. Elections in 2010 and 2012 saw a movement toward liberty at all levels of government. Although the president was returned to power in 2012, the popularity of his policies has fallen to historic lows.
It is not just in electoral politics that Americans have protested.
When the federal government closed the national parks, Americans removed the “Barry-cades.” When the Bureau of Land Management sought to dispossess a Nevada rancher of his property, a major standoff occurred and the BLM was forced to back down. And just now protesters in California are attempting to block the busses carrying illegals away from the border.
Americans are waking up to the growing threat that our own federal government presents. As we look for ways to fight tyranny and recover lost liberties, we can do no better than re-read our Declaration of Independence and seek inspiration from our almost-forgotten past.