Celebrating independence in an age of dependence

This Saturday we celebrate the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence with fireworks and picnics.

But there is another day worthy of a passing mention. That is July 6, the day the declaration was first reprinted on the front page of The Pennsylvania Evening Post. In the following weeks, by order of Congress, at least 30 newspapers reprinted the Declaration of Independence, spreading its simple words and its audacious act of treason against the crown. It was a document for the people, carried to the people by the press.

At the time, the colonies were under virtual blockade and the American Army was vastly outnumbered and often in retreat.

Franklin, Adams and Jefferson

Librarian Robin Shields recounts that when the Boston Gazette published the declaration it carried next to it an advertisement: “Cash given for clean Cotton and Linen RAGS, at the Printing-Office in Watertown.” Most paper was imported from England, and the printer was seeking rags with which to make paper.

In a letter to Congress on July 9, Gen. George Washington reported how his troops were to mark the news of the Declaration of Independence: “The several brigades are to be drawn up this evening on their respective Parades, at Six OClock, when the declaration of Congress, shewing the grounds and reasons of this measure, is to be read with an audible voice.”

In a letter the next day he reported that British deserters were telling him a fleet with massive reinforcements was expected to arrive in New York any day. The situation was dire.

It was in this setting of uncertainty and imminent danger that our founding document was penned. How it fell to 33-year-old Thomas Jefferson to pen the first draft is a matter of some dispute, but I prefer the recollection of chief independence protagonist John Adams.

Years later, Adams recalled that he insisted Jefferson should write it, and Jefferson replied, “Why?”

“Reasons enough,” answered Adams.

“What can be your reasons?”

So Adams bluntly stated, “Reason first: you are a Virginian and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second: I am obnoxious, suspected and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third: You can write ten times better than I can.”

Most of which, of course, was nonsense.

Jefferson borrowed liberally from the great minds of the day, unabashedly paraphrasing George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights: “That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”

Jefferson edited it to the more succinct “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

In 1825, in a letter to fellow Virginian Henry Lee, Jefferson looked back on those days and his role in writing the founding document. He recalled his motivation and purpose:

“When forced, therefore, to resort to arms for redress, an appeal to the tribunal of the world was deemed proper for our justification. This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of … (but) to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind …”

Today 52 percent of Americans, a majority, receive some kind of government check. Federal regulations cost $2 trillion a year. Entitlement programs are going broke. Debt is ballooning. Foreign powers neither trust us or fear us. Morality and ethics are situational. The government enforces only those laws it wishes to enforce. Politicians lie, cheat and steal without fear of facing any consequences. The media are largely toothless and growing weaker.

Even when the voters revolt and elect people they think are fiscal conservatives, the elected officials raise taxes and do nothing to rein in runaway spending on government programs and employee pay and benefits.

At the time of the Revolution, it is estimated the typical tax burden — with or without representation — was 20 cents per capita per year at a time when annual earnings were somewhere between $60 and $100. Today the total tax burden is more than 40 percent.

I wonder whether we have lost that American mind-set that Jefferson cherished. How many of us are still willing for the sake of true liberty to pledge “our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor”?

Even the meaning of the word liberty has changed from an inalienable right to something granted by the all-powerful government.

“Our Constitution — like the Declaration of Independence before it — was predicated on a simple truth: One’s liberty, not to mention one’s dignity, was something to be shielded from — not provided by — the State. Today’s decision casts that truth aside. In its haste to reach a desired result, the majority misapplies a clause focused on ‘due process’ to afford substantive rights, disregards the most plausible understanding of the ‘liberty’ protected by that clause, and distorts the principles on which this Nation was founded. Its decision will have inestimable consequences for our Constitution and our society,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the gay marriage ruling this past week.

We’ve strayed far since 1776.

22 comments on “Celebrating independence in an age of dependence

  1. Profound and sobering words of truth Mr. Mitchell…we have strayed and fallen far. Thank you…

  2. conniefoust@reagan.com says:

    Tom, On July 4th our tea party here in Mesquite will be reading the Declaration in front of city hall. This is the fourth year we have done this. At any rate it is a quick short ceremony because of the heat. I would like to read this post to the participants just prior to the reading with your permission. In Liberty, Connie Foust President, Virgin Valley Tea Party Mesquite, NV

  3. Winston Smith says:

    “The great point of resistance to British taxation was universally established in the colonies. This brought on the war, which finally separated the two countries, and brought on independence to ours. Whether this will prove a blessing or a curse will depend upon the use our people make of the blessings which a gracious God hath bestowed on us. If they are wise, they will be great and happy. If they are of a contrary character, they will be miserable. Righteousness alone can exalt a nation. Reader! Whoever thou art, remember this: and in thy sphere, practice virtue thyself, and encourage it in others.” – Patrick Henry

    “Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect every one who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are inevitably ruined.” – Patrick Henry


  4. There is a word for that, isn’t there. It is one of the few crimes defined in the Constitution.

  5. ronknecht says:

    Great piece, Mitch. Happy Independence Day and July 6.


    Ron Knecht Economist & Nevada Controller 775-882-2935 775-684-5777 http://www.RonKnecht.com

  6. Rincon says:

    Yes, we’ve gotten far away from 1776. “In 1776, Adam Smith wrote in the Wealth of Nations that mass corporate activity could not match private entrepreneurship, because people in charge of others’ money would not exercise as much care as they would with their own.” I guess no one’s right all of the time.

    And in 1776, “…there was still no limited liability and company members could still be held responsible for unlimited losses by the company.[20] The next, crucial development, then, was the Limited Liability Act 1855, passed at the behest of the then Vice President of the Board of Trade, Mr Robert Lowe.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporation#Modern_company_law

    And, of course, “The advantage of establishing a company as a separate legal person was mainly administrative, as a unified entity under which the rights and duties of all investors and managers could be channeled.”

    Back in 1776, corporations weren’t people.

  7. Bill says:

    Well said Thomas. Few today see the irony of having an all powerful nanny state that in order to do “good” must necessarily do bad by force or the threat of force against its citizens. Freedom is not defined by law and regulation which inherently are the antithesis of freedom. We are now enacting laws and regulations that do not merely protect life and property but regulate social conduct so that certain segments of our society will not have their feelings hurt or the psyches damaged. It no longer is “father” knows best but government knows best. That is rather Orwellian.

  8. Patrick says:

    It’s always easier to speak about “liberty” and how grand it is, than to ensure it.

    Jefferson is but one example of a man that made eloquent speeches and wrote about it, even if, as we all know, he didn’t exactly practice it in his own life.

    And all people, from time immemorial I think, have desired, or at least expressed the desire, to live unencumbered by restrictions on their ability to do what they wanted when they wanted. That was not a new concept to the founders of this country instead it was one ingrained deeply into all humans from the time they started walking the earth.

    The problem has always been how far a person can go before there acts, expressing the desire to do what they want, start to interfere with other humans and their desires for the same. The line is constantly shifting and as the world gets smaller and smaller, and the impact an individual has on the world grows larger and larger, the line moves to a point seemingly closer to every individuals “nose”.

    It’s also no surprise that people see “government” as the major impediment to their individual desires. In the history of the world, a government has almost always been more powerful than the most powerful individual and is therefore uniquely positioned to “interfere” with the desires of men to do what they want, when they want.

    The founders of this country understood though that this was necessary, and yes, desire able for many reasons. First and foremost, they understood that a strong, central government, with broad powers necessary to ensure the survival of the country was all that stood against the force that could be brought to bear against our citizens by other countries that had even much less regard for liberty than any citizen in this country thought justified. In fact, the founders understood this so well, that the prior governing “law” for the government was understood as too weak to ensure these goals, and so a Constitution that gave more powers to the federal government was needed. Of course, to someone that blanches at the most minimal “interference” with their liberty, even the Constitution seemed outrageous and oppressive.

    It is easy of course, as so many do today, to blast our “government” as some sort of “just this side” of tyranny and gnash their teeth and wail about how “wise” the founders were, and how far we have strayed from their virtuous calls for “liberty”. But do they so easily forget that the founders did away with the Articles of Confederation because they knew a strong central government was needed? One that allowed the federal government broad MPLIED powers along with the ability to directly tax the citizens of the country.

    And oh Jefferson. So flowery he was with his talk of liberty and limited government right? Well I wonder what sort of word might be used to describe a man today that talked of “liberty for all” that secretly kept a couple slaves at his house? I wonder what might be thought of a presidential candidate that, while preaching about our limited government, went off as Jefferson did, and increased the size of the country, with a seizure of power nowhere discussed in the Constitution, the way Jefferson?

    It’s just absurd, in the extreme, to think for a moment that this country has grown from a few million citizens, to more than 300 million, and that somehow, someway, the fictitious “liberty” that idealist would like to believe existed in 1787 could even possibly exist today.

    We are an incredibly BETTER country today than we were when we started. Smarter, healthier, stronger, and yes, we more equality and liberty than “we” were as a country back then.

    That is worth celebrating on the 4th of July.

  9. The epitome of a Monday morning quarterback…

  10. Barbara says:

    The proverbial frog in the pot…

  11. Patrick says:

    Just ran across this, thought it was interesting and particularly relevant to bring to the attention of the group.


    “The Humble Confession…of Benjamin Towne, Printer in Philadelphia” bits noting: “That I, Benjamin Towne, used to print the Pennsylvania Evening Post under the protection of the Congress…That on the English taking possession of Philadelphia, I turned fairly round & printed my Evening Post under the protection of General Howe & his army, calling the Congress & all their adherents rebels, rascals, & ragamuffins…”

  12. Patrick says:

    And (gasp) the federal government actually subsidizing a newspaper?

    “located “in Front-street, near the London Coffee-House,” was the first to print the Declaration in a newspaper. On July 6, 1776, The Pennsylvania Evening Post, which was published every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, carried the Declaration on the front page. At this time Towne was an ardent patriot. However, Towne was an opportunist and a turncoat. He switched sides several times during the war, depending on whether the British or the Americans were occupying Philadelphia at the time. By the end of the war he was viewed as a traitor. He lost most of his subscribers and advertisers. He started printing The Pennsylvania Evening Post every day, making it the first daily newspaper in the United States.

    after the British evacuated, Towne became the sole printer left in the city. He thus secured contracts from the Continental Congress and the state government.”

    The myth is such a great thing on this contry isn’t it? The facts really just bring people down but…intelligent people really ought to know the truth right?

  13. Yes Barbara…that’s a much better analogy, I concur…

  14. Patrick says:

    Anyone believe that women had more “liberty” in 1776 than today is certainly ignorant, and probably blissfully so. But, the facts are out there.


    So let’s all agree that, for the approximate 50% of the population that were women in this country, “liberty” increased after the country was founded and mostly this happened as a result of bigger government “intrusion”.

    It also goes without saying that for blacks, and Indians, and heck the Irish and Chinese in this country, ALL of them experienced greater “liberty” after the country was established, and after the big bad federal government intervened and made it so.

    Maybe, but not likely, there is some small group, made up of mostly incredibly wealthy white males today, that have any legitimate claim that “their liberty” (to say dump toxic waste in their local pond, or stream, or to enslave entire groups of people, has been significantly impaird since the federal government has grown to the size it has.

    I’m sure Clvin Bundy feels lke it has. But then again, he’s one of those identified in the previous paragraph so, he’s covered.

  15. That’s how newspapering worked back then. Nearly all were partisan and made their profit from government contracts. That was before the unnatural “objectivity” of the penny press era, when advertising became the profit center.

  16. Patrick says:

    Thomas to me, “that’s the way they used to do things” really falls a bit shy of the mark. Would you agree that one benefit of our current environment, for the press, is that they are “freer” now, than when they were either dependent on the government for their continued existence, or when they were beholden to which ever “side” held their city at the moment?

  17. That’s history. Freer now? Not necessarily. … Stockholm Syndrome.

  18. Patrick says:

    But freer now than when guys who were subsidized by the government, and beholden to whatever army was occupying the cities where the printer was located.

    And I don’t remember the last printer/publisher in this contry that had to worry that his press was gong to be interfered with by an angry mob that burned his printing press to the grond because of what he published, as happened too many times to count in “the good old days”.

  19. Rincon says:

    The middle class has not benefited from the doubling of productivity since 1960 or so and our health care costs are nearly double those of many of our OECD peers even though we are shorter lived. I suppose being economically dominated by the rich to a far greater degree than our ancestors could be construed as some sort of freedom loss, but that’s mostly due to the efforts of private enterprise.

    Although government has stifled some of our freedoms in mostly minor ways, technology has made us much freer than our ancestors. We can travel all over the world in hours with few restrictions, have inexpensive food available 365 days a year, our life span is far greater today, we can talk to anyone in the country who will accept our call, broadcast messages that, if crafted correctly, can reach millions, we come and go as we please, we can live and work where we choose with few restrictions, we can criticize our leaders without fear and have essentially no fear of dying from starvation. Hardly a description of tyranny. But there is one ghastly freedom grab that has occurred. If you’re a convicted felon or looney, you aren’t allowed to by a gun through normal channels. You have to go to a gun show.

  20. Patrick says:

    View at Medium.com

    Just an incredible story I thought someone else may enjoy.

  21. Steve says:

    “You have to go to a gun show.”

    This guy stole the weapon he tried to use “Pro, armed with a .22-caliber handgun that had been reported stolen in California,”….the home owner killed him with a LEGALLY obtained weapon.

    And here is another feel good story…this time involving a former CNN anchor. Don’t try to claim that robber got the weapon at a gun show, Rincon.

    Crooks don’t “got to gun shows” to BUY weapons. Crooks STEAL the weapons they use to commit more crimes. Blind, blind, blind liberals want to control everything and everybody.

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