Today we celebrate insurrection.
No. I don’t mean the fake Jan. 6, 2021, “insurrection.” I’m talking about the bonafide insurrection staged by American colonists against the British government.
We call July 4 “Independence Day.” But the British called it an act of rebellion.
You see, insurrection is in the eye of the beholder.
Technically, the British were right. Encyclopedia Britannica defines insurrection as “an organized and usually violent act of revolt or rebellion against an established government or governing authority of a nation-state or other political entity by a group of its citizens or subjects.”
The idea of insurrection offends modern sensibilities, and it is certainly an extreme last resort.
But it’s not always unjustified.
Today, Americans tend to be passive when it comes to resisting government. When we get mad, we protest. When we get really mad, we try to vote the bums out (and usually end up with more bums) or sue in federal court (basically asking the government to fix the government).
But this certainly wasn’t the mindset of the founding generation. Americans in that day believed tyranny should be resisted.
Tensions between the British government and the colonists came to a head with the passage of the Stamp Act in 1765. The colonists viewed it as a Parliamentary overreach and a violation of their rights as British citizens. John Hancock encapsulated the spirit of the day.
The people of this country will never suffer themselves to be made slaves of by submission to the damned act.”
This wasn’t blind rebellion. It was rooted in the idea that government doesn’t control the people. People control the government. Mercy Otis Warren summed it up this way.
The origin of all power is in the people, and they have an incontestable right to check the creatures of their own creation.”
Under the (unwritten) British constitution, the colonists had a certain level of self-governance. They believed that only their local representatives (colonial assemblies) could levy taxes. Thus the phrase, “No taxation without representation.”
But the Americans’ grievances weren’t really about taxes. They were more fundamentally about what they perceived as a violation of their rights as British citizens under their constitution.
In a nutshell, a constitutional crisis led to the American Revolution.
The colonists realized as James Otis Jr. warned, “So long as people will submit to arbitrary measures, so long will they find masters.”
Otis went on to say nothing destroys liberty “more than a prevailing opinion that it is better to tamely submit than nobly assert and vindicate our privileges.”
Today, the prevailing opinion seems to be rooted in resignation. Americans spend more time asking government for permission than they do resisting.
Looking back, it’s pretty clear American colonists weren’t keen on asking King George or Parliament for permission. And when they got fed up with George’s taxes and Parliament constantly whittling away their rights under the British constitution, they just waved buh-bye.
At its core, the American Revolution was an assertion of the people’s most fundamental right. In the Declaration of Independence, they declared that people have the right to “alter or abolish” their form of government and establish a new one “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends.”
I’m pretty sure the likes of Samuel Adams and Thomas Jefferson would have been labeled “anti-government extremists” and de-platformed by social media had it existed in 1776.
Here’s a truth that will probably get me labeled an extremist – on July 4, we not only celebrate insurrection; we cheer on secession.
Independence Day is a secession holiday.
Sorry, Mr. Lincoln.
Secession became a dirty word thanks to the Civil War and its association with slavery, but the right to alter or abolish a government and form a new one is the foundation of American political thought. It is rooted in the idea that the people are sovereign and not the government.
In the British system, the government was supreme. It made its own rules and the people were expected to submit. In the early years, the colonies enjoyed a great deal of autonomy. Colonial assemblies handled local governance. The colonists came to believe this was their constitutional right. But over time, Parliament asserted more and more control. Ultimately, even as it repealed the Stamp Act, it declared it had the right to legislate and bind the colonies in “all cases whatsoever.”
The American colonists said, “Wait a minute! Government wasn’t meant to lord over us; it was meant to serve us and work toward very limited ends.” This is why the United States has a written Constitution that starts with the words “we the people.” It sets the rules and limits for government.
The government isn’t in charge of us. We’re in charge of the government.
Or that’s how it’s supposed to work.
These days…well, look around and you decide.
Most Americans have a general familiarity with the opening paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence, but many have never taken the time to read the entire document. Thomas Jefferson used most of his ink listing grievances against the British crown. Once Jefferson established the right of the American colonies to secede from Britain and form new governments, he endeavored to justify such a move.
I find the list of grievances enlightening when placed in a modern context. Reading through the Declaration, I get the distinct impression it might be time for another revolution (although I would prefer this one be without guns – perhaps a revolution of thought). Here are just a few of the American grievances. Just replace “he” (the King of Great Britain) with Washington D.C. and you’ll get the idea.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.
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.
For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us. (Federal agents of every variety)
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments.
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury.
And that brings us to the key sentence of the Declaration.
These United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States.”
Free and independent states.
Not vassals of Washington DC.
Not the subjects of King Biden.
Not under the thumb of a big centralized government in Washington DC.
That’s exactly what the colonists fought to get rid of.
Just some food for thought as you watch your fireworks this weekend.