Independence Day in Perspective

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To many Americans the Fourth of July is just another day off, a picnic, and some fireworks. It is my favorite holiday because, unlike so many Americans, I haven’t forgotten what we’re celebrating: independence from tyrannical government. The July 4, 1776 Declaration of Independence, one of the defining documents of our nation’s existence, is better thought of as a Declaration of Secession, since the Revolutionary War that it started was a war of secession from the government of England. America was born with an act of secession which, until 1865, was considered to be one our most cherished freedoms.

Perhaps the most famous section of the Declaration, authored by Thomas Jefferson, is the list of the “train of abuses” perpetrated by King George III on the colonists. This very same train of abuse was heaped upon the citizens of the Southern states from 1861 until the end of “Reconstruction” in 1877, and applies to some degree more or less universally today. Consider the words of the Declaration:

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people. He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected.

Lincoln imposed military rule on those parts of the South that were conquered territory during the war, and the Southern states were governed by Republican party-appointed military dictatorships for twelve years after the war.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone.

By suspending the writ of habeas corpus, ignoring U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney’s ruling that only Congress could constitutionally suspend habeas corpus, and threatening to prosecute state judges who permitted criminal prosecutions of federal government officials to go forward, Lincoln effectively trumped the judiciary.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

Myriad new bureaucracies were created to run the militarily-occupied states during and after the War for Southern Independence. General Benjamin Butler famously harassed the people of New Orleans by hanging a man for merely taking down a U.S. flag and declaring that any woman who did not display proper respect for federal soldiers would be considered a prostitute. Other military officers were just as harassing. Federal armies pillaged, plundered, and sacked their way through the southern states for four years, and Lincoln supported several “confiscation” bills that allowed them to plunder private property (but not slaves).

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the consent of our legislatures.

The federal army occupied Maryland in 1861 so that the legislature (most of which was thrown into military prison) could not meet to discuss secession. The other border states were under military occupation for the duration of the war, as was the entire South for twelve years after the war.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

By suspending habeas corpus, Lincoln ordered the military to arrest and imprison virtually all opposition newspaper editors, supported an “indemnity act” that prohibited state judges from allowing the prosecution of military officers for criminal acts, and effectively nationalized the judiciary at gunpoint.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws, giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended legislation.

Lincoln suspended constitutional liberty in the North for the duration of his presidency. He launched a military invasion without congressional consent; declared martial law; blockaded the Southern ports; suspended habeas corpus; imprisoned without trial thousands of Northern citizens for favoring peace over war; imprisoned newspaper publishers and editors who criticized him; censored all telegraph communication; nationalized the railroads; created several new states without the consent of the citizens of those states; ordered federal troops to interfere in elections by intimidating Democratic voters; deported an opposition member of Congress, Clement L. Vallandigham of Ohio; confiscated private property, including firearms; and essentially gutted the Ninth and Tenth Amendments to the Constitution. This was all indeed “foreign” to Thomas Jefferson’s constitution.

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us.

Federal troops were quartered in the border states and in various parts of the South during the war and the twelve years of “Reconstruction.”

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world.

The Constitution prohibits blockades except for in wartime and against a foreign power. But Lincoln never conceded that the Southern states were a “foreign power” or the war as anything but a “rebellion.”

For imposing taxes on us without consent.

Southern protests over protectionist tariffs helped precipitate the war. The historically-high tariffs imposed during the war and lasting for decades thereafter were certainly imposed without the South’s consent. Occupied parts of the South during the war had no voting rights but were nevertheless heavily taxed, with taxes collected at gunpoint by federal soldiers. The “Reconstruction” governments raised taxes relentlessly even though most white male southerners were disenfranchised for years.

For depriving us in many cases, of the right of Trial by jury.

Habeas corpus was abandoned in the Northern states for the duration of the Lincoln administration. Any Northern citizen could be arbitrarily arrested without a civil warrant and imprisoned without trial on the mere suspicion or rumor that he was an advocate of peace.

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

This is a perfect description of the “Reconstruction” South, where virtually every white adult male was disenfranchised, and all the adult male ex slaves were immediately given the right to vote and instructed to vote Republican. The state and local governments were puppet governments run by notoriously corrupt Republican political hacks.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us. He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coast, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people. He is at this time transporting large Armies, of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny.

Lincoln declared not only secessionists, but anyone in the North who sympathized with peaceful secession, a traitor and undeserving of the protection of constitutional liberties. In the occupied South summary arrests were made, civilians were arbitrarily rounded up and shot in retaliation for guerrilla warfare, newspapers were suppressed, land was confiscated, railroads were taken over, entire towns were burned to the ground, many churches were closed and ministers and priests imprisoned, and some citizens who refused to take a loyalty oath were imprisoned or executed.

Thousands of new immigrants from Europe, many of whom did not even speak English, were recruited into the federal army, ostensibly to teach the grandsons of Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry what it meant to be an American (Jefferson’s grandson, Thomas Garland Jefferson, was killed in the Battle of New Market).

So when you’re celebrating on the Fourth of July go ahead and fly the flag of the Thirteen Colonies, the First National Flag of the Confederacy, or the Confederate Battle Flag, for these are the appropriate flags for celebrating American independence from tyrannical government. The U.S. flag, on the other hand, stands for exactly the opposite.

July 4, 2001

Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] is Professor of Economics at Loyola College in Maryland.

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