by Howard Stephenson
by Howard Stephenson
|I recently returned from Washington, D.C. where we visited once again Mt. Vernon. While in Washington, I also finished reading David McCullough’s latest book 1776. Being reminded of George Washington’s true greatness and the difficulties faced by the rag-tag revolutionaries fighting a truly great and powerful British Army made me realize just how blessed we are to live in this Republic we call the United States of America.
July Fourth is called Independence Day in part because it is the day the thirteen colonies officially declared independence from Great Britain. But we often forget it is the day we celebrate the independence of the individual – the public acknowledgement that God made man free.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” they declared, “that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
This Declaration gave rise to government respect for individual liberty where consumption and investment were influenced by prices and profits, rather than by privilege and compulsion. This individual liberty, protected by rule of law, free markets, and private property rights has produced more than two centuries of unprecedented prosperity which, ironically, is widely criticized by many Americans who can only see its flaws but envied by the rest of the world.
The long road to freedom
Living in a nation of abundance and relative peace, we too often forget that the rights of the individual have been denied throughout most of the world’s history. But thankfully, a few brave visionaries were willing to sacrifice all they had, including their lives to advance these rights, although the advances were extremely incremental. In 1215 English barons threatening armed rebellion, forced King John to sign the Magna Carta, establishing the rights of the aristocracy and limiting the power of the King. In 1305 William Wallace of Scotland gave his life in advancing the concept of individual rights and in challenging the mistaken notion that the king could do no wrong.
Then, on April 19, 1775 on Lexington Green a shot was fired which has continued to echo around the world.
The signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 by those pledging their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor proclaimed to the world that the fight for liberty had only begun. As I read the accounts of the winter at Valley Forge just 20 miles from Philadelphia – the capital and most important city in the Union which had been captured by the British – I am amazed that the patriot soldiers did not give up.
The soldiers were mostly without shoes, many clothed in rags or with only a blanket to cover them. Rations were short and often dinner was only a mouthful of soup made of burnt leaves. Congress was unable or unwilling to supply the soldiers with regular wages and tales of suffering at home were frequent.
Three years later, at West Point, the army was in worse shape than at Valley Forge. Hunger stalked the encampment and ammunition was scarce. Once again, gaunt soldiers stood shoeless in the snow with nothing to cover them but a blanket. Washington wrote: “The prospects of the Continental Army have never been blacker. We have never experienced a like extremity at any period of the war. It seems now inevitable that West Point must be abandoned and the troops dispersed to prey upon the countryside for food.”
Given their bleak situation and poor chances for victory, I am amazed that these patriots were willing to pay such a high price for the liberty which we so often take for granted.
The steady erosion of Liberty
Unfortunately, the liberties the founders won have been slowly and systematically eroded over the years. Childhood education in America was once a vibrant system of private schools which Alexis de Tocqueville in 1835 called the finest education system in the world and which produced an almost universally literate populace.
Beginning in 1850 this successful system was undermined and largely replaced by government schools promoted by wealthy elites and financed by compulsory taxation. Horace Mann and John Dewey were enemies of liberty and embraced socialistic structure of education which Collis P. Huntington of transcontinental railroad fame said was essential to ensure continuation of a laboring class which he feared would be eliminated by a universally well-educated citizenry who would all want to be professionals. While they wanted to ensure an ample supply of laborers who were willing to get their hands dirty, they virtually destroyed private schooling where parents had been in charge and replaced it with a government system which protected and ensured mediocrity.
Isn’t it odd that Utah, the most conservative state in the nation is predicted to reject vouchers on the ballot this November, a tool which would put parents back in charge of their children’s education?
As Joseph Bast of the Heartland Institute notes, “At the start of the twentieth century the Progressives gave up on free markets and limited government. They called for municipalization of services once privately provided, including everything from garbage collection, hospitals, charitable aid to the poor, and parks to municipal water systems, electricity, airports, and even traffic lights on city streets.”
The Progressive movement also ensured a virtual institutionalization of an independent administrative branch of government which they believed needed to be independent from the three branches to ensure that government professionals could manage the business of government outside of the political process. Later the Progressives pushed the 17th amendment to the U.S. Constitution which eliminated the founders vision that U.S. Senators would be elected by and accountable to the state legislatures, the very concept which justifies two senators per state regardless of population and resulted in the great compromise.
Mr. Bast observes, “People all around us today are still giving up, calling for increased government spending, more regulations, and higher taxes. Republicans and Democrats alike get elected by promising more–never less. The ethics that once supported a culture of self-government are rarely discussed, even less often taught to the next generation.
“If the Founders were here today, what would they think of a federal government that spends 20 percent of the country’s GDP and runs up a $400 billion deficit in a single year? Would they be pleased that government owns and operates the schools 90 percent of our children attend, pays for 40 percent of all health care expenditures, forces the top 10 percent of income earners to pay two-thirds of federal taxes, and allows 36 million families to pay no income taxes at all?” Mr. Bast asked.
Time for renewal
Henry David Thoreau’s essay Civil Disobedience, written in 1849, explained his reasons for going to jail rather than obeying an unjust law. Thoreau wrote, “There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as the higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly.”
It is my hope that we will all consider the thoughts of Mr. Thoreau and our founders before we ask government to do even more of those things we can and ought to do for ourselves.
nsuming: Mr. Hamp estimated that it takes approximately 600 hours of arduous work to clear up one’s credit following an identity theft. In recent months, however, Hamp indicated that there are some enormously disturbing new consequences of identity fraud that are occurring in addition to these already injurious effects with startling frequency.