By Ian Aikens | July 8, 2019
Isn’t it strange how even the name of the holiday being celebrated last week with parades, barbeques, flag-waving, and fireworks has morphed from “Independence Day” to the “Fourth of July”? It almost seems like an intentional purpose to make people forget what the Declaration of Independence was all about and why it came into being.
Though the general population’s knowledge of civics and the most basics of American history is severely lacking these days — close to 40% of the American public cannot name even one of the freedoms listed in the First Amendment — at least most folks know there was a war when the 13 colonies broke away from England sometime in the late 1700’s, the Founding Fathers conjured up some historical documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and our country was formed. Most folks will recall there was some type of uproar over taxes or some such grievance, but that’s about it. Shamefully, despite the massive amounts of taxpayer money spent on education these days — in most states, close to 50% of taxes collected go to schools — much collective memory has been lost. When I was in junior high school, studying the Constitution was one of the major hurdles of getting through the eighth grade. When I ask young folks these days about it, they all say that it’s not even taught at all — at least not in government schools.
How convenient to forget the past. In fact, the Declaration of Independence was a radical proclamation by rebel British subjects that the purpose of government is to protect and uphold individual rights. After 250 years, we take that as a given, but at the time, that was truly a remarkable revelation. Government was created to serve the people, not the other way around. In fact, the rebel colonists were so distrustful of government from their experience with the British government that the Articles of Confederation created such a weak federal government that it didn’t even have the power to tax. (In retrospect, perhaps a good thing?) The Founding Fathers were on to something new and profound, and it’s no accident that Americans experienced an incredible growth in prosperity after the signing of the Declaration of Independence (which was approved by Congress on July 4, 1776 but wasn’t actually signed until August 2, 1776) to be followed by the Constitution and Bill of Rights in 1787 and 1789 respectively. A lot of thought went into designing a government that would be limited in scope and concentration of authority to prevent the abuse of power. They very purposely came up with a government based on the rule of law, rather than the rule of man.
Sadly, if the Founding Fathers were here today to see what the limited government they created has become, they would faint. Endless wars and Congress completely abdicating its responsibility and allowing the president to commit US troops abroad without congressional approval goes completely against the intent of the Founding Fathers. And this is nothing new: the last time Congress authorized and declared war was World War II. The Founding Fathers specifically did not want a standing army because they knew it would lead to military adventures overseas — which is has — and felt a navy would be sufficient for defensive purposes. They would be appalled at American presidents with the power to assassinate “our enemies” with drones without due process of law. The surveillance state and rampant abuses by the NSA, CIA, FBI, IRS, FDA, and TSA would be another whopper for the Founding Fathers to grasp. The utter lack of economic freedom, where every branch of government has passed a myriad of laws governing every aspect of running any business these days, would also have the Founding Fathers aghast. If you ever take a look at bills that push for more controls with licensing and fee extractions, they often literally say “for the privilege (my emphasis) of operating a business in …” The signers of the Declaration of Independence knew from experience that government itself is the greatest threat to liberty and designed a system to prevent such tyranny. The welfare state and calls for more government guaranteed jobs, housing, education, healthcare, and just about every other need would be completely incomprehensible to the Founding Fathers as they intended the “pursuit of happiness” to be critical for human beings to thrive, not the “guarantee of happiness.”
In my travels to Concord earlier this year to give testimony in committee public hearings, it was disheartening to listen to person after person from vested special interest groups urge our elected representatives for more control over our lives with more laws, regulations, and taxes. Of course, as long as they received the largesse for their particular group, that’s all they really cared about. The fact that they were basically begging for alms from the spoils of mandatory charity didn’t seem to bother anyone, which shows just how far our society has evolved away from the ideals created in the Declaration of Independence. It has become a largely overlooked and definitely unappreciated gift from those who understood the true meaning of liberty.
See also Milton and the U.S. Constitution
Harrison Elizabeth (History.com). (2012, July 4). 9 Things You May Not Know About the Declaration of Independence. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/news/9-things-you-may-not-know-about-the-declaration-of-independence
Washington Times. (2017, September 13). 37 Percent of Americans Can’t Name Any of the Rights Guaranteed by the First Amendment: Survey. Retrieved from https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/sep/13/37-percent-of-americans-cant-name-any-of-the-right/
Wikipedia. (2019, June 6). Declaration of War by the United States. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Declaration_of_war_by_the_United_States