“We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name and by the authority of the good people of these colonies solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES…” – The Declaration of Independence
On July 4, 1776, 13 American colonies collectively asserted their individual independence from Great Britain. Today Americans celebrate July 4th as the “birth of our country.” It was in reality no such thing.
The Declaration of Independence established no common government between the thirteen erstwhile colonies. Historian Kevin Gutzman notes that the Continental Congress that adopted the Declaration “was, as…John Adams put it, a meeting place of ambassadors” of sovereign states. Likewise, states were not understood to be administrative units of a central government but themselves independent nations. They were “on par not with Brittany in France or Yorkshire in England,” writes Gutzman, “but with France and England.”
This was not the end of decentralist sentiment in the United States. The Articles of Confederation and its successor, the Constitution, ultimately did set up a common government between the states. But even these documents attempted, and for a time succeeded, to institute a decentralized system of government.
What is undeniable is that what Americans celebrate on July 4th is secession and decentralization, concepts centered on the idea that local self-rule is preferable to centralized power. How do most Americans celebrate this history? With displays of honor and professions of devotion to a centralized government that is orders of magnitude more oppressive than the one against which their forefathers rebelled.
It’s hard to determine if this development is ironic, poetic or just downright pathetic. It must be amusing to outsiders to view a population that chooses one day out of the year to celebrate ideas that it has totally rejected the balance of the year. Were the founding generation alive today, its members would be reviled for holding to crazy beliefs that have long since left the arena of vogue.
There are very few Americans today who truly hold to the founding ideals. Even among segments of the population that claim to revere the founders are the founders’ principles rejected. The same people flying their “Don’t Tread on Me” flags hold passionately to the idea of one, indivisible nation. They fail to recognize the blatant contradiction in their symbolism.
The way that modern Americans view July 4th is like a nation of atheists celebrating Easter. They might enjoy the day off, they might even nominally appreciate the commercial symbols. But their worldview stands entirely in opposition to the principles they claim to celebrate.
The truth is that you simply cannot claim to sincerely celebrate the American Revolution while continually saying how much you miss George W. Bush. Nor can you clamor for the rights embraced by the founders while endorsing Barack Obama’s nationalistic policies. T
he vast majority of what Americans, left and right, want the federal government to do is an anathema to the Revolution’s true principles.
So go ahead, America, grill your hamburgers, set off your fireworks and fly your flags. And most of all, try not to think about how what you’re celebrating contradicts everything else you politically hold dear.