Independence Day 711

July 4th, Independence Day 070311


We’re coming up on another 4th of July, the day we celebrate the Iranians, who invented beer in 3400 BCE., and the Chinese, who invented fireworks in the 800s. 

The more patriotic among us will think back to the middle 1700s, when, a group of colonists on the rugged east coast of North America, became angry when their rights as Englishmen were trounced. 

The British had just subdued the French and the Indians, and made the continent safe for the budding aristocrats of the colonies.  There was an awareness back home in England that the colonies were becoming very expensive to maintain, and it was felt the newly wealthy of the continent should pitch in more for their own support. 

But the colonists knew their rights as Englishmen, having been granted things like freedom to keep arms and the right to vote by the British Bill of Rights.  They weren’t  represented in Parliament, so they couldn’t legally be taxed.  They sent some British officials running over attempts to tax paper documents in 1765.

The colonists began setting up “insurgent” governments in the early 1770s and after an act of terrorism against England, in which colonists disguised at Native Americans polluted Boston Harbor with several tons of tea in 1773, prepared for war.  The British had amended the tax on tea to give the East India Company a lower price, making it no longer profitable to smuggle Dutch tea into the colonies.  The smugglers and importers of non-EIC teas didn’t care for the shift in competition, and rallied the already uppity elite in the colonies to refuse the tea.  The governor in Boston refused send the tea back, the tea was tossed into the bay, and the Brits sent soldiers to take over Massachusetts.   In 1775 the Minutemen repelled the British forces, who were used to fighting in a formalized way, while the colonists had perfected back-shooting and running away.  The Brits were horrified at the savagery of the Americans.

A stamp printed in 1976 to memorialize colonial insurgency.  Public Use.

But, the brutish Americans were informed by a new philosophy, American Enlightenment, where the rights of the landowning individual were seen as the fount of good governance.  The original liberty was unconfused by gender or race, it was landowning men who powered prosperity.  Even so, that enlightenment has propelled our ideas of freedom, which remained relatively strong until the advent of the 21st Century, when “liberty” became synonymous with “profit” and the purpose of government was no longer to defend individual freedom, but rather to “protect” citizens, from each other, from themselves, from enemies from abroad, from everyone, in fact, except the subject of our original revolution: government. 


July 4, 1776 is, of course, the day the Colonies issued the Declaration of Independence.  We mustn’t imagine, though, that the ideal we hold as “American” today motivated all players.  There was a struggle at the beginning between those who wanted a real, no-kidding nation and those who wanted to remain independent states.  Indeed, today we use the term United States to refer to a highly federalized and nationalistic entity, but originally, “United States” meant the colonies were united to support their right to self-govern.  However, government is power, and there were many who wanted to be king in the new America. 


The resulting Constitution was a compromise to both, but the nation still had four years of war before it was completely severed from Britain.  The war eventually involved the Spanish and Dutch, who supported the colonies in an effort to weaken Britain, and France, who eventually emerged a broken nation.  Only the U.S. benefited from the global conflict between the old enemies of Europe we like to call the “War for Independence”.  


It would be another 90 years and a Civil War before the federalists finally completely took over the government.


Today, the spirit of the American Enlightenment is grown old and timid.  The ideals of those 13 colonies have grown quaint with the nation swollen to 50 states and over 300 million people.  The image of the American Gentleman Farmer has given way to agribusiness, and the tradesmen given over to service workers.  Freedom mostly refers to the right to consume, and liberty the right to profit. 


Even so, the bold experiment deserves our observation and reverence.  The days are gone when a group of smugglers and hotheads can seize a continent and create a new empire. 


Happy Independence Day!

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