Mises Daily Articles
Five Laws to Repeal on Independence DayTags Big GovernmentU.S. HistoryInterventionism
Unfortunately, Independence Day has become a day for many to celebrate the United States government. The actual historical event behind the day, however — the adoption of the Declaration of Independence — was an illegal act of political defiance that led to secession and the overthrow of an entire system of mercantilist government in North America.
Moreover, it is quite anachronistic to connect the modern unified nation-state known as “the United States” to this event, nor does it make sense to invoke anything having to do with the Constitution of 1787.
Indeed, as Jeffrey Rogers Hummel has pointed out, the Constitution we now labor under represents a counter-revolution against the Spirit of 1776. The Spirit of 1787, in contrast, was about taking what the Declaration of Independence repeatedly refers to in the plural as “free and independent states” and hammering them into one unified state.
Fortunately, the Federalists — the now benighted and so-called “founding fathers” — partially failed and were beaten back by the anti-Federalists who demanded a Bill of Rights — the only laissez-faire portion of the Constitution — which temporarily crippled the centralizing efforts of the Federalists.
But just as the Constitution itself is contrary to what is celebrated on Independence Day, we can also look to several Acts of Congress since 1787 that have perhaps done some of the most damage in undoing what the revolutionaries had intended.
The Judiciary Act of 1789
Unknown to many, the entire federal court system outside the Supreme Court stems from this one law adopted during the first session of Congress. At the time, there was fierce opposition from many in the United States who recognized that a federal system of courts would allow for the extension of federal law into the allegedly independent states themselves. The act created the office of the Attorney General and the appellate system of courts which today allows the Supreme Court to exercise appellate jurisdiction over pretty much every aspect of life inside the United States. Without these courts, the Supreme Court would be limited to its few areas of original jurisdiction. Thus, without the federal court system, there would be no courts through which to regulate things such as drug prohibition, marriage, abortion, wages, and the whole panoply of the modern federal regulatory state.
The Louisiana Purchase Treaty
Thomas Jefferson announced the signing of the Louisiana Purchase Treaty on July 4, 1803. Jefferson considered the Purchase to be a great victory for his un-ironically named “Empire of Liberty” scheme in which the United States would spread “liberty” by force across North America.
The Louisiana Purchase would have far reaching effects on the entire nature of the American confederation and on constitutional law. Direct Congressional control over lands in the west had always been a dream of nationalists and centralizers, and the Louisiana Purchase gave the US government access to vast new resources beyond the control of any state. Defense of these federal lands necessitated an expansion of a federal military force, and required a much larger apparatus of federal law to administer the lands.
Moreover, these new federal lands created the impression for many that the states were created out of federal lands, instead of federal powers being granted to the central government by states. The later claim by anti-secessionists that the federal government created the states, and not vice versa, owes much to the Louisiana Purchase, and to this day, the federal government directly controls and owns over 50 percent of the land in most Western states.
The Militia Act of 1903
Prior to the adoption of the Militia Act, the law was ambiguous about how the federal government could seize control of state militias for use in the federal government’s wars. Some states resisted use of their troops in the invasion of Canada during the War of 1812, for example, and federal politicians faced the onerous task of convincing state governments to offer up state militias for national military service.
Political realities meant that state governments were often more than happy to oblige of course, but there nevertheless remained the risk that the states could offer real and meaningful resistance to unpopular wars by withholding military support. Naturally, this was very inconvenient for the federal government, so in the name of repelling foreign bogeymen and enhancing “efficiency,” the armed forces of the United States were unified, allowing presidents to seize control of state militias whenever they liked. Today, the militias have been replaced by the adjuncts of the federal military known as the “National Guard.”
The Revenue Act of 1913
In 1913, the US Constitution was amended to allow Congress to levy personal income taxes. The amendment does not mandate an income tax, however, so later that year, Congress passed enabling legislation creating the income tax we know today. Since then, federal budgets have ballooned, tax burdens have swelled, and it is now simply accepted that the federal government should be able to examine every aspect of your financial life to make sure you’re paying “what you owe.” Financial privacy is now only a distant memory.
The Federal Reserve Act of 1913
While the United States had had central banks before, the Federal Reserve, created in 1913, is by far the most enduring and most powerful. Over the years, the Fed has become a behemoth that does everything from regulating the financial system to monetizing the debt to creating never-ending liquidity for its friends on Wall Street who — thanks to the Fed — never have to face the consequences of their bad investment decisions. In other words, the Fed is a mercantilist’s and crony capitalist’s dream institution, allowing the wealthy and powerful to constantly and silently extract wealth from the powerless many who hold US dollars and are subject to the whims of the too-big-to-fail financial system.
What Are We Celebrating?
In 1776, few imagined or looked to a future of central banks, massive national standing armies, or a federal legal system that regulated the daily lives of Americans down to the most minute details. In fact, had the typical Revolutionary War soldier been told that such a future awaited his country, he would have likely gone home immediately, as such a future would likely appear even worse to him than staying subject to the British Crown’s benign neglect.
Yet, in spite of all of this, nothing can change the fact that America’s national holiday is founded on an act of treason and secession, and that the Declaration of Independence was born out of a generation of smugglers and “criminals” who refused to take orders from a far-more-powerful and well-armed government. It’s a reality that may yet prove inconvenient for our government and many others in the future.