Following our annual celebration of the Fourth of July, sometimes reflection is helpful. A week before this holiday everyone dons a patriotic tie. A week later few do. This inconsistent behavior is seasonal patriotism. The event comes and goes; essentially, the colors red, white, and blue are popular for a day, and then out. You might even be viewed as “super patriotic,” as though this were bad, if one were to wear them for a second week.
The evening is filled with fireworks – the bigger the better – but few know why. When asked, the most common response is freedom. “Freedom from what or whom?” I asked. If a stare could kill, I’d be dead. There is no real understanding behind the expression. It is rare when anyone answers correctly: “Freedom from excessive government.”
The cause of the American Revolution was excessive government. Some have said, “taxation without representation,” but this is only a part of excessive government. Every U.S. History text has a chapter dealing with the Revolution. It is filled with the rules and regulations that were most oppressive to the colonists: the Stamp Act, Tea Act, Currency Act, Iron Act, Molasses Act, Sugar Act and even the Hat Act. Such acts were viewed by the colonist as restrictive to their freedom to act independently of governmental permission. Essentially, when faced with the oppressive acts that came down like rain, as they did just before the Revolution, the colonists asked their government why and fought the rulings without success, before they finally began asking, “Where is my rifle?”
For one day of the year, our country has peace between liberals and conservatives. Each side wears the emblems of the Revolution and demonstrates their patriotism by rising bigger flags, exploding bigger fireworks, eating bigger steaks and guzzling more alcohol. Parades too are uncontentious and full of patriotism, but for what? The next day we ask the federal government to manage one-seventh of the economy, whether “Obamacare” or Trumpcare, totally ignoring the Constitution and the reason for the Revolution.
Few people share with their children the reasons behind these symbols, and still fewer tie the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution which essentially ended the need for a second revolution by restricting the federal government to a handful of areas in which they can constitutionally restrict our behavior – see Article I, Sec. 8 – freezing our legislative branch from ever doing the same thing to us as Parliament did to the colonists, provided we adhere to the Constitution as designed. If the two documents are not tied together, then the American Revolution was just a revolution, rightly commemorated by having a longer weekend and an excuse to get drunk. It is OK then, if patriotism becomes mostly seasonal.
Lost in translation and replaced by the blank stare, previously mentioned, is your right to do most everything you wish without permission from a government located hundreds or often thousands of miles away. Outside the short list in Article I, Section 8, which incidentally has no restrictions on the individual himself, the Constitution left the individual to manage himself. When his behavior offended the right of others to also self-manage, his community, starting at the lowest level of cities, counties and finally his state government, may regulate his behavior, protecting the right of self-managing for others as well.
This self-managing system is called freedom. And it was the end result of a 13-year transformative period from the Declaration of Independence through the Articles of Federation to the Constitution, which included the Bill of Rights. The federal government constitutionally could only increase its power through Article V, which required the permission of the states.
The collective view of the Founders was to never elevate to a higher level that which could be resolved at a lessor level. Resolution at the lowest level, the city for example, allows an individual who is unable to self-manage to access his elected representatives for redress. He also answers to those he has most directly offended. A more just outcome is likely. Imagine how he would resolve issues, if he had to answer to someone in Washington D.C.
The Fourth of July and Constitution Week in September are our best opportunities to share the message of why the Revolution and the Constitution interconnect and why they are among the more important events in U.S., and even world, history. When patriotism is largely seasonal, as it has become, what I have just explained loses its best chance of being remembered and retained. When we do not gather our family, church and civic organizations around us and use every means of enlightening others, we are lost.
We must be grateful to those who know the real meaning and significance of this event in history and who are willing to share it with others. We remain grateful for the bigger fireworks, lights shows and parades, just as long as we do not forget that most of us remain opposed to excessive government as were those who gave their lives for this cause in the Revolutionary War, whether it comes as it did for them from Parliament or to us from Congress.
Dr. Harold Pease is a syndicated columnist and an expert on the United States Constitution. He has dedicated his career to studying the writings of the Founding Fathers and to applying that knowledge to current events. He has taught history and political science from this perspective for over 30 years at Taft College. To read more of his weekly articles, visit www.LibertyUnderFire.org.