Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day Propaganda

...But from a libertarian standpoint, the American Revolution has a very dark side. There is also nuance lost in the common narrative. It wasn’t a simple tax revolt, at least not as conventionally limned. For one thing, Americans had resented the 1764 Revenue Act’s reduction of the 1733 Molasses Act tax rate, despising the enforcement mechanism and efficiency of the new law more than the tax itself. Even less understood is the 1773 Boston Tea Party, a revolt against a tax cut – a reduction in British taxes on East India tea, designed to undercut the price of smuggled Dutch tea. Monopoly privileges over the cheaper tea were also involved, but as Charles Adams has written, the Boston Tea Party "was a wanton destruction of private property in an age when private property was held in great esteem . . . [which] was not well received in the colonies. . . . [Benjamin] Franklin was shocked and acknowledged that full restitution should be paid at once to the owners of the tea. Most Americans believed this way, but unfortunately the majority of Americans were to feel the heel of the British boot." After the rebellion against tea began to spread, with boycotts emerging elsewhere and Boston merchants finally rejecting all tea just in case it was English, the Crown responded with the Coercive Acts. They were implemented by a bolstered presence of the military police state – another reminder to modern Tea Party activists that they should be especially concerned about the law enforcement arm of the state.

The entire uprising against Britain entailed no small dose of hypocrisy, at least on the part of the American leaders. Most everyday colonists who fought and died had a true interest in liberty, having resented the taxes and military presence that naturally resulted from the British war against France in the late 1750s and early 1760s. The first major battle in that war, the Battle of Jumonville Glen, was an ambush of French Canadians spearheaded by George Washington. This siege cascaded into the Seven Years War, a world conflict involving Britain, France, Prussia, Hanover, Portugal, the Iroquois Confederacy, Austria, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Saxony, and another half-dozen countries – a war that lasted three years after hostilities ceased in North America. When the colonists faced the lingering price of this international war, powerful Americans led a revolt against their king, sending poor colonists to die in a war that mostly served the interests of the few, much as they had done a generation earlier to advance the interests of the American elite and British empire, including in the takeover of Canada and Florida.

Americans’ anti-imperial motivations in the Revolution were often genuine, but not always pure. The hostility toward Britain for its Quebec Act, for example, was indeed motivated in part by libertarian sentiment: anger that the colony was losing such common law rights as habeas corpus. But there was also animosity toward British for reversing its ban on Catholicism in Quebec. The Continental Army’s first major operation was to invade Canada to "liberate" the inhabitants from British rule (and with the intention to subject them to U.S. rule). The Canadians, mostly of French stock, were meanwhile generally neutral toward the war between these two hostile powers. Five thousand Americans died in the narrowly failing effort to conquer Canada, and thousands have been dying in disingenuous U.S. wars of liberation ever since.

Furthermore, the American Revolution ushered in a horrific warfare state whose tyrannical nature never completely subsided after the war. A year before the Declaration of Independence, General Washington began the process of structuring the military along authoritarian lines, instituting gratuitously unequal pay, dealing death to deserters, and even attempting (but failing) to raise the maximum corporal punishment to 500 lashes. "In short," writes Murray Rothbard in Conceived in Liberty (Vol. 4), "Washington set out to transform a people’s army, uniquely suited for a libertarian revolution, into another orthodox and despotically ruled statist force after the familiar European model."

The American government relied on a form of conscription and even, by 1779, began impressing people into the navy – the very same oppressive practice Britain had committed to the consternation of the colonists. The Continental Congress flooded the country with paper money, increasing the money supply by 50% in 1775 and causing commensurate rises in prices. Government contractors became incredibly wealthy, leaving most Americans to suffer the brunt of the burden for many years...

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