I celebrate Independence Day rather than the 4th of July. I celebrate the Spirit of ’76 rather than the political consolidation of ’87. I celebrate the decentralized states in America which were united in confederation in 1776 rather than the centralized United States of America created more than ten years later. The Spirit of ’76 springs from natural law and the natural rights of man while the consolidation of ’87 springs from the base motive for consolidation of power.
So many people seem to forget there were independent states united in the purpose of maintaining self-determination for more than ten years before a centralized power structure was created by the ratification of the US Constitution. Most history books speak of those times as if they were plagued with problems and emergencies necessitating consolidation and centralization of political power. Those history books also make it seem as if everyone agreed that a state of emergency existed which called for consolidation of power into a national form of government.
I am skeptical of those claims that the centralization of power was necessary. I’d like to take a closer look at those lost years of American history from 1776-1787 from the perspective of a revolutionary of the time. Patrick Henry opposed that power consolidation. As he stated before a convention called in Virginia to debate ratification of the proposed US Constitution:
- Consider our situation, sir; go to the poor man and ask him what he does. He will inform you that he enjoys the fruits of his labor, under his own fig tree, with his wife and children around him, in peace and security. Go to every other member of society; you will find the same tranquil ease and content; you will find no alarms or disturbances. Why, then, tell us of danger, to terrify us into an adoption of this new form of government? And yet who knows the dangers that this new system may produce? They are out of sight of the common people; they can not foresee latent consequences. I dread the operation of it on the middling and lower classes of people; it is for them I fear the adoption of this system.
The founding American Spirit, what I call the Spirit of ’76, was about natural rights, natural law, independence, self-determination, autonomy, and individualism. There is an undercurrent of that spirit still alive in America today, but the vast majority of the American people virtually worship the centralized, consolidated power of the United States of America.
I close with the opening words of Patrick Henry’s less famous speech in opposition to consolidated power and defense of the Spirit of ’76:
- THIS, sir, is the language of democracy–that a majority of the community have a right to alter government when found to be oppressive. But how different is the genius of your new Constitution from this! How different from the sentiments of freemen that a contemptible minority can prevent the good of the majority! If, then, gentlemen standing on this ground are come to that point, that they are willing to bind themselves and their posterity to be oppressed, I am amazed and inexpressibly astonished. If this be the opinion of the majority, I must submit; but to me, sir, it appears perilous and destructive. I can not help thinking so. Perhaps it may be the result of my age. These may be feelings natural to a man of my years, when the American spirit has left him, and his mental powers, like the members of the body, are decayed. If, sir, amendments are left to the twentieth, or tenth part of the people of America, your liberty is gone for ever.