Every July 4, Americans celebrate the Declaration of Independence, and with it, the liberty enjoyed immediately after the right to self-govern was so fiercely wrested from the Crown’s grasp. To this day, there is no other place on Earth outside the United States where the average person can enjoy quite this quality of life and liberty. There is, for those of us who love freedom, nowhere else to go.
However, one must wonder how the men who fought, killed, and died to purchase that liberty would feel about America today. Would they celebrate alongside us, shooting off bottle rockets, grilling burgers and brats, and drinking beer? Doubtful. The Founders professed a belief that the only valid purpose of government is to protect the natural and property rights of the people. To them, our current system of stifling restrictions and crushing taxation would closer resemble the tyranny they fought so hard to escape than the republic they built after the war. Sadly, while no other nation seems to value freedom quite like the U.S., American liberty isn’t what it once was.
In the early days of the Republic, taxation as we know it today did not exist. There were taxes on imports, land, commercial buildings, and whiskey – though that last one was hugely unpopular with the people and even led to armed conflict.
But the fees taken for granted by so many Americans today didn’t exist. Duties on inheritance, which Trump attacked early in his tenure as president, didn’t begin until after 1900. The states did not collect sales tax until the 1930s. The big one – income tax – was only used twice, and briefly at that, to fund the government during times of war. Even then, the constitutionality was questioned – until 1913, when the 16th Amendment was ratified, and income tax became the new law of the land. And of course, there was no Social Security or Medicare tacked on to that income tax.
None of these taxes were considered necessary and proper by the founders – else they would have implemented them in their own lifetimes. Indeed, there is some question as to whether enough states properly ratified the 16th Amendment. But as always is the case, once the statists got enough of a foothold to slip in a new way to bilk the people – as small as it was in the beginning – they increased the levy progressively over the years.
Now, income tax is the primary source of funding for a federal government far larger than what the founders ever wanted. Americans spend an average of nearly 30% of their incomes on federal, state, and local income tax, Social Security, and Medicare – on top of whatever they pay in personal property, real estate, and sales tax.
Another form of tyranny that combines behavioral restrictions with taxation that so many Americans take for granted is the license. Even the Founders accepted licensing requirements for certain professions that required a great deal of education and skill, such as practicing medicine or law. But as Liberty Nation’s Tim Donner pointed out the Founders knew “all too well that self-government based on liberty will disintegrate and ultimately turn to tyranny when liberty turns to license.”
There were hunting and fishing restrictions as far back as New Jersey’s 1719 law preventing non-residents from taking oysters, but the first licenses that required residents to pay a fee to fish or hunt didn’t come about until the late 1800s. The only reason the original non-resident permits existed was that wild game was, at that time, considered state property and a financial asset to the local population; state residents were free to hunt and fish as they pleased.
There were no weapons permits, either. The Founders would have been appalled by the bevy of firearms restrictions we suffer under today – and there are those who want to clamp down on the right to keep and bear arms even more.
Despite the long-standing yet unpopular tax on the sale of whiskey, there was no actual prohibition on the home production of alcoholic beverages of any strength for personal use until the era of Prohibition from 1920 to 1933. Somehow, the repeal of the 18th Amendment didn’t completely lift the restrictions on home brewing – and unlicensed home distillation for personal consumption is still a federal crime.
Just One Generation Away
Ronald Reagan said that “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed onto them to do the same.” That’s eerily close to the fear shared by Jefferson, Franklin, and other Founders that the Republic might not last even a single generation. They knew it was doomed to become the regulatory behemoth it is today – eventually.
The democratic ability to vote other people’s money out of their pockets and into massive government projects and entitlement programs is just too strong a temptation not to pose a constant threat to the ideas of individual liberty and property rights upon which this nation was built. After decades of government growth with precious few breaks capped by eight years of the progressive Barack Obama, the American people dodged the bullet that might well have ended the fight by electing Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.
Could American liberty survive a return to the Clinton dynasty? Thankfully, we won’t have to find out – yet. Trump has, so far, done as he promised and worked to slash regulations. When fans of Reagan or Trump talk about making America great again, this early stage of more or less unregulated individual freedom is what we mean. We mourn the lost liberties of our ancestors while celebrating what we still have. It is, after all, still the freest nation on Earth.
So, enjoy Independence Day and all it stands for – but don’t forget that we can never stop fighting for it. We’re never more than one generation away from losing it all.