Lots of people celebrate July 4. I do not.
The Declaration of Independence justified armed secession. It was signed by a handful of lawyers on July 4, 1776. Secession was a way of transferring a great deal of power to colonial legislatures, where most of these lawyers were members. It was a way of replacing governors appointed by the King with governors elected by men of the colonies.
Then the law of unintended consequences once again made itself felt: higher taxes, hyperinflation, price controls, default on state debts, and (in 1788) a new centralized government that dwarfed the power of the British Empire’s distant sovereignty in 1776. Finally, a new firm of democracy arose, a democracy of nine Supreme Court justices. The sovereignty of “we the people” — the most rhetorically powerful and most misleading phrase in American history — morphed into the sovereignty of five justices.
Surprise, surprise — but not to the Anti-Federalists of 1787, and surely not to the loyalists of 1776, who had their property stolen by the new governments after 1783. A hundred thousand of them were in Canada in 1788, living under a far less centralized government.
I am a great believer in secession. I just do not believe in the armed form. Armed secession is sometimes valid as a defensive measure against an illegitimate invasion by the central civil government, but only rarely in history has armed secession not strengthened the political power of the secessionists more than the central government from which the secessionists are seceding.
Secession is first of all a moral rebellion. People perceive that the civil government under which they operate has become inherently immoral. Also, the government shows no sign of reforming itself.
Secession begins when someone offers a moral critique that begins with the individual. Moral reform is above all self-reform. If it is not grounded in a call for self-reform, it is just one more call for a transfer of power to a new group of power-seekers.
Next, this reform impulse spreads to institutions that use private funds and individual talents to begin to reform society. If this program of reform is confined to politics, I recommend the following strategy: keep your hand upon your wallet, and your back against the wall.
Until there is institutional evidence of superior moral performance and superior practical performance in a wide variety of voluntary associations, especially the family, do not commit your money and your emotional commitment to any political reform movement.
Armed rebellion requires arms. Arms require money. Money requires taxation. Taxation has three main forms: direct (income, property, retail sales), indirect (wholesale sales), and monetary inflation.
Armed rebellion requires loans because revenues are never enough to buy the arms.
Armed rebellion requires a top-down chain of command: military ranks funded by centralized taxation.
Armed rebellion throws up — in both senses — new leaders. Their claim to fame during and after the rebellion is their successful management of a new central government.
We can find defenders of armed rebellion who live to regret its outcome. The most famous example in American history is Patrick Henry, a rhetorically skilled lawyer whose political career began with a series of lies and culminated with a profound truth: his famous comment on why he refused to participate in the Constitutional convention. “I smelt a rat in Philadelphia.”
PATRICK HENRY’S RHETORIC
There is no turning-point speech in American history more verifiably false than his “Give me liberty or give me death” speech in 1775. None comes close.
(For the rest of my article, click the link.)