Not Celebrating the Governmentís Birthday
of us will not be celebrating the Governmentís Birthday this week.
If we hang any flags out, they will not be stripy, star-filled banners,
but will be rather different ones with the cross of St. Andrew on
them, albeit with a similar color scheme. I do not, however, begrudge
peopleís right to barbecue, watch sporting events, or blow off their
surplus fingers. I just hope that no one confuses July Fourth, as
presently understood, with freedom, patriotism, or any other genuinely
is too easy to forget, amidst the ritualized patriotic blather which
has attended the Fourth for more than a century, just what it was
that Americans fought for from 1776 (or earlier) through 1783. The
Declaration of Independence, adopted on July 2, 1776, and then re-adopted
with some changes on July 4, by delegates of the thirteen colonies
(New York excepted), was the culmination of an ideological and political
struggle which had raged for at least a decade. As John Adams famously
put it, the change in Americansí views on their relations
with Great Britain was the Revolution. What followed was a war to
make it stick.
more than December 7, 1941, did July 4, 1776, suddenly spring forth
as an historical turning point without any earlier background of
events. Let us look at a few of these events. As George III, our
slightly dotty sovereign, and Parliament worked to "reinvent
government" in the colonies after 1763, Americans did not take
to their plans. Americans began to oppose, vocally and physically,
measures seeking to curtail further their trade, impose internal
taxes on them, and to restrict their westward migrations. Already
in 1770, the Boston Massacre had pitted the radical "mob"
against British troops a great propaganda coup for the radicals.
to the Boston Town Meeting on November 20, 1772, Samuel Adams stated
the American case: "Among the natural rights of the colonies
are these: First, a right to life; secondly, to liberty;
thirdly to property; together with the right to support and
defend them in the best manner they can. Those are evident branches
of, rather than deductions from the duty of self-preservation, commonly
called the first law of nature All men have a right to remain
in a state of nature as long as they please: And in case of intolerable
oppression, civil or religious, to leave the society they belong
to, and enter into another...."
Committees of Correspondence were being organized to co-ordinate
colonial resistance. On December 16, 1773, came the Boston Tea Party.
The issue here was not the tea, but the authoritiesí attempt to
make good the losses of the East India Company by intruding that
state-chartered monopoly with its legal privileges into the American
market. Americans knew full well how the Company had been governing
India and did not welcome its arrival on our shores.
responded with the Coercive Acts and more British troops for North
America. Americans answered those initiatives by holding a Continental
Congress in late 1774 and setting up a boycott of British products.
Throughout the colonies, radicals were either taking over existing
governments or setting up parallel structures alongside them. On
October 11, 1774, the extra-legal Massachusetts Provincial Congress
set up a committee "authorized to call out the provincial militia
and to collect munitions and supplies in preparation for meeting
any future aggression by the British armed forces" (Murray
N. Rothbard, Conceived
in Liberty, III, p. 319). Virginia followed suit in March
were arming in an organized way. Bunker Hill took place in June
of 1775. The point is that the fighting began before the
declaration. Independence was effectively declared by separate state
action before the joint declaration in July. After all, Britain
never authorized colonial radicals to take over old governments
or establish new ones. On April 5, 1776, Georgia authorized its
delegates (who of course favored independence) to vote on independence
in the Continental Congress. On April 12, North Carolina authorized
its delegates to vote for independence.
May 15, Virginia instructed its delegation to pressure the Continental
Congress to "declare the United Colonies free and independent
states, absolved from all allegiance to, or dependence upon, the
Crown or Parliament of Great Britain." On June 29, Virginia
adopted a constitution whose preamble specifically repudiated British
sovereignty and asserted Virginiaís independence. So the
Declaration on July 2nd or 4th, is actually
a bit anticlimactic. It amounts to a summary of what the colonies
were already undertaking months beforehand.
is good Lockean rhetoric in the Declaration, of course. There is
a nice indictment of the "long train of abuses" by George
III. But in view of what had gone before, it seems irrefutable that
Americans fought in loose concert co-ordinated by the Continental
Congress for their private rights and the rights of their communities
to self-government. There was no charter here for a new centralized
American government to replace that of the King.
U.S. nationalists like James Wilson began spotting "implied
powers" in the Continental Congress and tried to espy penumbras
and emanations in the Articles of Confederation, once those were
ratified in 1781 (that is, when the war was nearly over). But Article
II of the Confederation made matters fairly clear: "Each state
retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every Power,
Jurisdiction and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly
delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled."
one need believe that Americans fought their revolution to set up
our own version of the modernizing British state on these shores.
They fought for life, liberty, property, and local self-government.
I donít expect to hear much about those items on the Fourth. No,
the Fourth is now seen as the central stateís birthday. This British
North American homeboy will stay home, or go to the office and do
some useful work, on the Fourth, rather than celebrate that.
may hear some boiler-plate patriotic rhetoric this week. Compared
to that sort of thing, there is more wisdom in Hank Jr.: "if
heaven ainít a lot like Dixie, I donít want to go, if heaven ainít
a lot like Dixie, Iíd just as soon stay home." I suppose there
may be similar sentiments in other parts of British North America.
Real patriotism is local. That was what the American Revolution
was substantially about.
Joseph R. Stromberg [send him
mail] is the JoAnn B. Rothbard Historian in Residence at the
Ludwig von Mises Institute and
a columnist for Antiwar.com.
He has an ancestor or two who fought in the American Revolution.
© 2001 LewRockwell.com