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Today is Independence Day, and I wonder how many people really get why it matters.
In school, we were told this: “No taxation without representation.”
The real principles were more like the following.
(1) No legislation without representation.
The colonists insisted that they could be governed only by the colonial legislatures. This is the principle of self-government.
This is why a Supreme Court ordering localities around is anti-American in the truest sense. It is the opposite principle from the one the American colonists stood for.
(2) Contrary to the modern Western view of the state that it must be considered one and indivisible, the colonists believed that a smaller unit may withdraw from a larger one. Today we are supposed to consider this unthinkable.
(3) The colonists’ view of the (unwritten) British constitution was that Parliament could legislate only in those areas that had traditionally been within the purview of the British government. Customary practice was the test of constitutionality.
The Parliament’s view, on the other hand, was in effect that the will and act of Parliament sufficed to make its measures constitutional. In other words: if they say it’s constitutional, that makes it constitutional, even if that means the constitution changes from one day to the next.
So the colonists insisted on strict construction, if you will, while the British held to more of a “living, breathing” view of the Constitution.
So let’s recap: Independence Day is about local self-government, secession, and strict construction. Not exactly the themes you learned in school.
And not even what you’ll learn in graduate school.
One day I decided I had to know what my fellow Columbia Ph.D. students thought Independence Day was all about.
What could these left-liberals be celebrating? They don’t favor local self-government, which is what the war was all about. They don’t favor strict construction of the Constitution, while the colonists were insisting on precisely that, in a British context. And they certainly don’t favor secession.
So what the heck did they think it was all about?
Only one person answered me: “There was a distance involved.”
So the problem was that the ruling class was too far away?
“Come on, men, we must continue making sacrifices so that we may someday have exploiters who live close by!”
Some rallying cry that would have been.
This was a student at what at that time was the #2 academic department in the country for American history.
Don’t let people with fancy credentials intimidate you. If there’s one lesson of the past two years, it’s that.
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