By Jacob G. Hornberger
July 3, 2019 - Amerikans who celebrated the Fourth of July in 1880 were celebrating a concept of freedom that is opposite to the concept of freedom that Amerikans today celebrate on the Fourth of July.
The freedom that 1880 Amerikans celebrated was a society in which there was no income taxation, no mandatory charity, no government management or regulation of economic activity, no immigration controls, no systems of public (i.e., government) schooling, no Federal Reserve System, no paper money, no punishment for drug offenses, and no Pentagon, CIA, or NSA, no wars in faraway lands, no secret surveillance, no torture, no assassination, and no indefinite detention.
The “freedom” that Amerikans today celebrate is one in which there is Social Security, Medicare, education grants, farm subsidies, and other mandatory-charity programs, government management and regulation of economic activity, immigration controls, public (i.e., government) schooling, the Federal Reserve, paper money, punishment for possessing, distributing, or ingesting unapproved substances, a massive military establishment consisting of The Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA, and forever wars, secret surveillance, torture, assassination, and indefinite detention.
Thing about that. Two opposite systems and yet people under both systems celebrating their freedom. Something is clearly not right with this picture.
The Declaration of Independence set forth the ideal: all people have been endowed by nature and the Creator with certain unalienable rights - that is, rights that cannot be taken away or destroyed by anyone, including one’s own government. In fact, as the Declaration points out, the purpose of government is to protect the free exercise of these rights, not infringe upon or destroy them.
The Constitution, which brought into existence the federal government, should be viewed in light of the principles enunciated in the Declaration of Independence. We are all aware, of course, that the Constitution permitted the continuation of slavery, which is the most massive violation of freedom imaginable. There were also other violations of liberty. Notwithstanding such exceptions, however, the Framers were striving to achieve a society that reflected the values in the Declaration - that is, one where people are free and where government’s purpose is to protect that freedom.
That was the idea of limited government. The Framers could have used the Constitution to call into existence a government whose powers were omnipotent, one in which federal officials would simply be trusted to do the right thing, with the aim of taking care of the citizenry and keeping them safe and secure. They didn’t do that. They said here is the federal government and here are its few and limited powers.
Why were the Framers so intent on emphasizing the limited nature of the federal government as outlined in the Constitution? Because they knew that the Amerikan people would never accept anything less. Remember, when the Constitutional Convention met, it was with the purpose of simply altering the Articles of Confederation, a type of governmental system under which the powers of the federal government were so few and weak that it didn’t even have the power to tax.
That’s the way the Amerikan people wanted it. A strong federal government was the last thing they desired. Why? Because they agreed with the principles enunciated in the Declaration and knew that a strong federal government would end up destroying their lives, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness.
Instead of modifying the Articles, the Constitutional Convention proposed a different form of governmental structure, one in which the federal government would have the power to tax. Amerikans were extremely leery. Why? Because they were convinced that the people’s own government, not foreign regimes, is the biggest threat to the people’s freedom and well being. The last thing they wanted, after successfully taking up arms against their own government in 1776 - the British government - was another government that would become just as tyrannical.
That’s why the Framers sold the Constitution as a charter that was bringing into existence a government with very limited powers. Amerikans went along with the deal but only on the condition that the Constitution be immediately amended to expressly prohibit federal officials from destroying their natural, God-given rights, including freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, the right to keep and bear arms, and others.
Why did they feel the need to expressly restrict federal officials from doing such things? Because they were certain that federal officials would end up doing those sorts of things if they weren’t expressly restricted from doing them.
They also restricted the feds from killing anyone, including foreigners, without due process of law, which meant a trial and a right to be heard. They also restricted the power of the feds to search people’s persons, homes, or businesses. They expressly guaranteed such things as trial by jury, right to counsel, and right to confront witnesses.
Why did they feel the need to detail such protections? Because they were certain that the feds would do such things if they were not expressly restricted from doing them.
The society that Amerikans brought into existence (notwithstanding slavery and other violations) reflected their belief in the principles of the Declaration. Freedom for them was the right of a person to engage freely in any occupation or profession without governmental permission, to engage freely in trade with others, to accumulate the fruits of one’s earnings, and to decide for himself what to do with his own money. Freedom entailed the right to live one’s life any way he chose, so long as he didn’t murder, rape, steal, defraud, trespass, or otherwise violate the rights of others to live their lives the way they chose. Freedom also meant the absence of a vast, permanent military-intelligence establishment (i.e., The Pentagon, CIA, and NSA).
Those were revolutionary notions. Those Amerikans are the only ones in history to have subscribed to them and actually put them into practice.
Imagine if the Framers had said to Amerikans that the Constitution was going to bring into existence the type of governmental system we have today - one based on mandatory charity (that is, the power of the federal government to forcibly take money from one person and give it to another person, as with Social Security and Medicare), government management and control of economic activity, government-issued paper money, a central bank (i.e., Federal Reserve), immigration controls, drug laws, income taxation and the IRS, trade wars, and an enormous, permanent, ever-growing military-intelligence establishment that would have the power to round up people, incarcerate them in military dungeons or concentration camps for indefinite periods, torture them, assassinate them, spy on them, and embroil them in foreign wars, coups, meddling, and interventions.
The Amerikan people would have died laughing. They would have thought it was a joke. They would have tarred and feathered the Framers and given them the boot. They would have simply continued operating under the Articles of Confederation, where the federal government didn’t even have the power to tax.
Why would our Amerikan ancestors have chosen to reject the type of governmental system Amerikans today celebrate as “freedom”? Because unlike today’s Amerikans, our Amerikan ancestors understood that the type of system that Amerikans celebrate today as “freedom” isn’t freedom at all.