I’m not trying to push a particular agenda, I’m just stating some observations, and trying to correct some historical inaccuracies that are generally taught in school.
A recent talk by a historian got me thinking about American Liberty. He said that the original idea of liberty came from the Pilgrims, only it was liberty from religious persecution. The thing is, the Pilgrims (and the Puritans) were sort of radical, and their idea of freedom of religion (another American ideal) meant that you were free to worship in the way they worshiped or you’d be kicked out of town. If you returned to town (unrepentant) too many times, you were hung. This did not bode well for anyone in Massachusetts who wasn’t Puritan or Pilgrim early on. The Pilgrims didn’t want any of these “false” religions (in their eyes) on their soil.
The “liberty” that our founding fathers were talking about is the one we are more familiar with. They wanted liberty from British taxation and the British in general. The thing is, at this time in history, the Colonials were the richest people on the planet, and they paid very little in taxes. They just wanted to do what they wanted to do. Their liberty was actually pretty selfish and self-serving. It was radicals like Samuel Adams (who, by the way, never brewed beer) who did the whole Boston Tea Party thing to protest against British taxes. In reality, the British were applying the same tax to the Colonials that they had already applied to the British five years earlier, and they were charging the Colonials one tenth the tax. The tax also only applied if you drank a gallon of tea every day for a year, and if you could do that, you’d pay eighty cents in taxes. Sam and buddies, dressed unconvincingly as Mohawk Indians, threw overboard what would amount to 1.3 million dollars of tea today to protest a possible eighty cent tax.
OK, you’re probably saying, the tax was small, but what about the whole notion of “taxation without representation” which was the battle cry of this protest. Er… no it wasn’t. The Colonials would never have made that a battle cry (it actually started as part of a sermon, and was later attributed to James Otis… who probably never actually said it.). They didn’t want representation in British Parliament for two reasons: 1) they would only get eight seats, and they would lose every vote; 2) being represented in Parliament meant acceptance of British Rule and British Laws, which they would have been against. What they really wanted was “liberty” from British Rule. (OK, to complete this though, someone, somewhere mentioned “taxation without representation” to the British Parliament at some point because Parliament claimed that Parliament represented ALL the British people, including the colonies, so no specific representatives from the colonies were needed).
And notice that their notion of liberty had nothing to do with equality. They wanted liberty to do whatever they wanted. They wanted “freedom”… from laws in general. And this liberty was not applied equally; only to white male land owners. If you were poor, black or a woman, forget about it. It wasn’t until a few folks thought beyond themselves that we began to create a decent sort of liberty (Thanks John Adams for getting the ball rolling!).
So, 200+ years later, what has changed? Well, we do have the equality thing sort of worked out, but aside from that, not much. Americans are still the most entitled people in the world – just ask anyone who doesn’t live in America what they think about Americans. We Americans still demand “liberty” to do what we want. We still hate government involvement, and we still hate taxation. Having said that, we continue to be the richest people in the world, and we pay way less in taxes on average than the any other country the world (also, because the rest of the world pays higher taxes, they demand good government. Americans, for some reason, do not). Even today, liberty to us means that we can do what we want; ignoring inconvenient laws, and avoiding civic duty if we can. Liberty is still self-serving for the average American, but fortunately not to all (thanks to all who serve in our Armed Forces, and to those in Government who are actually representing the people).
We also think that we have overcome many of the flaws that the British had when they ruled over us, but we haven’t. We really are their children and we have been trained well. We are still imperialist, and we still rule over people who have no representation (Washington DC has representation in Congress, but no vote… and their citizens pay taxes. There are several US territories that have no representation in Congress; at least they don’t pay taxes, but they do have to abide by our laws.).