I say intentional because I didn’t want to spoil yesterday’s festivities with the rant you are about to endure.
For over two hundred years we have celebrated the day that the Second Continental Congress finally agreed to tell King George that enough was enough, and that we (the 13 British colonies in North America) were ready to form an independent government and discontinue the disproportionate transfer of resources back to the motherland.
This came from men who were themselves fiercely independent. They could not have imagined running their businesses, their homes, their very lives under the direction and scrutiny of anyone other than themselves. This came from a spirit spawned in freshly opening new territory, a new world, with limited help from the “mother country”. Truly many had come specifically to get away from religious and other forms of tyrany. The men who met in Philadelphia in 1776 were prepared to sacrifice everything to ensure a future of Freedom and Independence for their families instead of the growing limits on their personal and corporate freedoms.
It’s interesting that we call July 4 “Independence Day”, and furthermore, that the Congress titled their pronouncement the Declaration of Independence instead of the Declaration of Freedoms, or Declaration of Rights, or Declaration of Kicking the King’s Butt Out of America. You’ll note that I used Freedom and Independence in the same sentence in the prior paragraph as if the two words were different. Well, they are, and yet…
To be independent means to be able to operate without having resources or any assistance provided by others, or to eschew being tied to any others in a way that would constrain one’s actions, priorities, relationships, public positions, etc. Independent candidates for public office reject affiliation with political parties. Independent voters do not declare afflication with either of the two major political parties. Independent insurance agents are not tied to a single insurance company, but represent multiple possible companies’ products to their customers. Those who are truly independent set their own values, make their own rules, and are beholden to no one else’s whims in their business, politics, or their lives.
To be Free, as we typically assign meaning to the word, means that we are able to carry out our lives in whatever ways we think are proper. We decide who we associate with, what activity we carry out at any given time, whether we will vote or not, whether we will learn to drive, or take the bus, get a job or live on someone else’s kindness. Free people can say what they like without being silenced by others, eat what they like, spend money on what they want or chose not to buy something. Those who are Free can donate their time, finances or other resources to the needs of those they think are most deserving of them, or to no one at all. Typically, freedom is associated with a set of rights that we believe everyone deserves and that no one should be able to restrict, whether an individual or society as a whole.
Just as the Civil War of the United States was about much more than slavery, the Revolutionary War was about much more than taxation. Both of these wars were driven by the rights of individuals and the rights of larger groups within society, from the pressure of those that held leadership at a “higher” level. They were both about a way of life.
Richard Henry Lee brought this proclamation, in part, from the Virginia House of Commons to the Second Continental Congress: “These United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states.
The amazing thing about these two words is that while they are different, it seems horribly inadequate to consider one without the other.
Can one truly be Free while dependent on another? For instance, if I borrow $10,000, I am obligated to repay this to the lender, and as such, I have instantly made myself dependent upon the lender. My priorities, my actions, my way of thinking is strongly influenced by this debt. I cannot say that I am independent as long as I am obligated to repay this debt. Similarly, am I free? The debtor is going to want this money back. If the debter thinks that I am not going to repay (perhaps I’ve missed several payments), he is obliged to put liens on my resources, and to perhaps take some of my posessions to cover the debt. My right to hold my property is essentially given over to the debtor when I borrow the money in the first place… I am not free, even if I have choices, essentially my rights are now limited because of my debt.
Similarly, those who are dependent on others for day-to-day sustenance, shelter, and medical care, are not free, not independent. This is true on an individual level, or on a corporate level. For example, just about every school district across the country receives financial assistance from their state and the federal government. Regardless of need. There may have been a time when only those school districts with a real lack of funding because of economic hardship were provided funding from the larger pools of citizens (states or federal). But eventually, that was deemed “unfair”, leading to formulae for deciding how much money every school district receives, because the state or federal governments believed they knew what every student needed for a proper education, and they wanted to make sure that there was enough money everywhere. We won’t get into the waste of this philosphy today, but the burden of dependence is weighed on every public school district regardless of local ability to finance the schools. As a result, as a penalty for being dependent, all of these districts are obligated to conform to standards and tests from both state and federal agencies. Even if they make no sense. Even if they don’t help improve shortcomings in the schools. Even if the parents want somethings more or less.
The same can be said for those who are on welfare, public and private colleges that accept federal funding, for those who believe only the police and military are capable of protecting our properties and our lives, and for those now who believe that everyone needs what the government thinks is good healthcare. States are often saddled with constraints tied to federal funding. An example from several years ago was the requirement that states limit their posted highway speeds to 55 miles per hour in exchange for receiving federal highway money.
Is dependence wrong? Not always. If it is truly your choice to borrow money, or to accept gifts with strings attached, that can be your decision… you certainly have the right to limit your own freedoms, and you should be responsible for knowing what you are doing. And somtimes dependence occurs as the result of circumstance (although, you may have choices to prevent the circumstances from becoming chronic). But dependence that is forced upon you by others, that should be rejected and frankly should be a right equal to freedom of speech and bearing arms. Everyone should have the right to lose their property, their freedom of movement, their very lives if they so chose, without others intervening as if they own you or your life. But we have become consumed with the idea that we are so responsible for each other as a society that anyone who loses anything is suddenly a ward of the state, and as such, a serf as well.
We have so many dependencies in our lives, so many limits on our freedoms, that the goals behind what those men did 237 years ago seem light years away in comparison. I would challenge you to find one enumerated right of individuals in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights that isn’t somehow constrained by laws or court decisions. Frankly, we take our rights for granted, and the more we do, the closer we come to losing them completely.
So, it is ironic that we celebrate Independence Day when we lack that which we celebrate, and are moving toward stripping away more of our independence and freedoms. While we still have the day off, with barbeques, parades, and fireworks, this day should be about so much more. More of what a free people should truly be, and what their government should not be. But as long as we allow ourselves to be serfs to our government, we are not free.