Why Didn’t They Listen To Patrick Henry? (Probably For The Same Reason No One Listens To Me)

In 1776 the 13 Colonies of British America declared their independence from British rule. They did not seek to abolish or overthrow the existing government in Great Britain; they merely said to the world that its authority no longer extended to them. Of course the government said, “Wait a minute there fellas, where do you think you’re going? We’re the government, you can’t just up and say that our authority no longer extends to you.” Well, they didn’t actually say it that way, but they may as well have; as indicated by how they responded to the Colonists attempt to free themselves from British rule.

I have done quite a bit of reading on the period leading up to the actual war for independence and I have yet to come across anything written or said by our Founders that states that they were fighting against the forces of their government because that government did not create enough jobs, or that it did not do enough to keep them safe, secure and comfortable. In fact, the British government had just recently expended a great deal of money defending them against the French and the Indians during the French and Indian War.

So if it wasn’t those things that they fought for, what was it? Well, to put it in as few words as possible, all I need do is quote Patrick Henry, “Give me liberty or give me death.” It wasn’t so much the taxes the King and Parliament had imposed upon them than it was the fact that those taxes had been imposed upon them without their having any say in it; the whole issue of taxation without representation. What they were rebelling against was the belief that a government, be it a monarchy or any other form, has the right to arbitrarily enact laws that are binding upon them without their having a say in whether those laws were passed.

It was that principle that Madison would refer to a decade later in his Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, “It is proper to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties–we hold this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of citizens, and one of the noblest characteristics of the late Revolution. The freemen of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle.”

To put it simply, our Founders fought a war against their government so that they could be free of its ability to ‘bind them in all cases whatsoever.’ (Source: The Declaratory Act, 1765) All they wanted was to be able to live, work, and enjoy true liberty without government taxing them and telling them how they must live their lives; the very same reason many of the first settlers to America fled Britain for.

Then what did they do with that liberty they had fought so hard to obtain; they turned around and created a system of government that had all the machinations to turn around and destroy the liberty they fought so hard for. That’s what they did. Taken at face value the Constitution does not establish a bad form of government; it isn’t perfect, but it isn’t bad either. But, the problem with the Constitution is that it contains too many loopholes, too many ways in which it can be interpreted to mean things it doesn’t; and it does not provide the people with the means of punishing those who fail to strictly adhere to the limits it imposes upon government; both elected and private citizens. After all, when is the last time you saw one of our lawmakers arrested for violating the Constitution? Sure, there may be instances where they are charged with other crimes, such as embezzlement or fraud, but not once in my lifetime have I seen anyone in government arrested for violating the Supreme Law of the Land.

It’s funny that people will fight against oppression when it comes from a foreign source, such as was the case with the Colonists struggle against the tyranny of King George III, yet they will support the same tyranny and oppression when it comes from a government of their own making; and one which they participate in electing those who end up tyrannizing them.

It seems to be the case that the majority is always willing to accept measures that lead to the limitation of their liberty, and those who speak out in warning against those measures are ridiculed or ignored. Those we know as the anti-Federalists attempted to warn the people alive in 1787 about the dangers posed by this ‘new’ system of government they were tasked with accepting; yet they were, for the most part, ignored and the Constitution went into effect.

Yet their words are a reminder, to those who will but study them, that there was a well thought out opposition to this new system of government; people who did not fall for the rhetoric and propaganda, and who saw the dangers the Constitution posed to the liberty they had so recently fought a war to obtain.

Recently I have begun re-reading the writings of the anti-Federalists; the papers of Cato, Brutus, the Federal Farmer and Centinel; and the more I do my brain silently screams, “WHY DIDN’T PEOPLE LISTEN TO THEM?” It shouldn’t come as a surprise to me that their words fell upon deaf ears, but still, the recent memories of the war for independence must have still been fresh in their minds; so how could they not have given the proposed Constitution the scrutiny such a decision deserved?

Although it both angers and saddens me, I can at least understand why people today vote for candidates who show no concern over protecting the liberty of those who elect them. There is not a soul alive today in America who has ever known true liberty, so when one talks about how it has been lost the people have no reference point which they can refer, showing how much their liberty has vanished under this system of government.

But they still have brains, and if they would but use them they would be able to see that many of the things the anti-Federalists warned would happen if the people accepted the Constitution have actually come to pass.

For instance, in Centinel 1, published on October 5, 1785, author Samuel Bryan wrote, “How long those rights will appertain to you, you yourselves are called upon to say, whether your houses shall continue to be your castles; whether your papers, your persons and your property, are to be held sacred and free from general warrants, you are now to determine.” In fact, it was this concern which led to the rights protected by the 4th Amendment being included among the 10 amendments comprising our Bill of Rights, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Yet today we see the violation of those sacred rights as part of the price of keeping us safe from terrorist attack; and we don’t think twice about it. Well most people don’t think about it anyway; and those that do are said to be soft on terrorism. The NSA spies upon our public and private conversations; keeping a database of our every communication to be used against us as evidence should we ever fall from grace of the almighty government. The TSA routinely searches our belongings and our persons without warrants or probable cause; and we accept this as part of the price of travelling and keeping us safe.

But Patrick Henry did not say, “Give me jobs or give me death.”, “Give me a booming economy or give me death”, or “Keep me safe and protect me or give me death”, he said, “GIVE ME LIBERTY OR GIVE ME DEATH.” That is why, in opposition to the Constitution, he also said, “You are not to inquire how your trade may be increased, nor how you are to become a great and powerful people, but how your liberties can be secured; for liberty ought to be the direct end of your Government.”

He also bemoaned the fact that so many were ready and willing to accept a system of government that clearly had no way of defending the liberty of the people, “Liberty, the greatest of all earthly blessings-give us that precious jewel, and you may take every thing else: But I am fearful I have lived long enough to become an fellow: Perhaps an invincible attachment to the dearest rights of man, may, in these refined, enlightened days, be deemed old fashioned: If so, I am contented to be so: I say, the time has been when every pore of my heart beat for American liberty, and which, I believe, had a counterpart in the breast of every true American.”

Well Mr. Henry, I can certainly relate to how you must have felt, because I face that same lack of concern for liberty amongst the people of my time as you did back in 1787. Today people vote, not for the candidate who makes the most convincing argument to defend their liberty, but for the candidate who makes the most convincing promises to do things which the Constitution does not even authorize them to do.

Yet people in this country still vote, still believe that there is this vast gulf of difference between the Republican and Democratic Parties…well, there isn’t! Sure, the voting public who align themselves behind the two parties may be drastically different in their beliefs and ideologies, but the parties themselves are mere machines to churn our candidates who seek to use the coercive power of government for their own benefit; or the benefit of their corporate sponsors.

After all, government implies the power of both making, and enforcing laws. Without any kind of written limitations upon what kind of laws they can pass on our behalf we have tyranny; and that is exactly what we have today because there is not one whit of concern for what limits the Constitution imposes upon our government. It’s all this fuss over the two party paradigm; what the Democrats want to do versus what the Republicans want to do.

I think one of the best quotes I’ve ever read on this comes from Jeff Deist over at the Mises Institute, “By any objective measure, the ideological and policy disagreements between the national Democrat and Republican parties are not significant. Both accept the central tenets of domestic and foreign interventionism, both accept the federal government as the chief organizing principle for American society, and both view politics simply as a fight for control of state apparatus.” And I thank my friend Michael Gaddy for sharing that with me this morning.

Is there a difference between the Republicans and the Democrats? Sure there is, but only by degree; for both ignore the Constitution and seek to use the coercive power of government to do one thing, and one thing only; expand the power of government over our lives. Does it matter that the Republicans call themselves conservative, yet still enact laws which violate your rights or enslave you to a debt that can never be repaid? Sure they aren’t as openly brazen in their position than are the Democrats, but the lesser of two evils is still evil; not matter how much chocolate syrup you cover it with.

One of the lesser known philosophers who arose during the Age of Enlightenment was Denis Diderot, who stated, “No man has received from nature that right to command his fellow human beings.”

Years later Thomas Paine would write, “There never did, there never will, and there never can, exist a Parliament, or any description of men, or any generation of men, in any country, possessed of the right or the power of binding and controlling posterity to the “end of time,” or of commanding for ever how the world shall be governed, or who shall govern it; and therefore all such clauses, acts or declarations by which the makers of them attempt to do what they have neither the right nor the power to do, nor the power to execute, are in themselves null and void.”

Our government today rests upon the principle of consent of the governed. Our Founders understood that, which is why the revoked their consent to being governed by the Crown. It is also why, regardless of what reasons led them to do so, why the 11 States of the Confederacy seceded from the Union.
Regardless of whether our government has an army of enforcers whose job is to ensure that the people toe the line and obey the laws they pass, the basic principle upon which our system of government rests is the consent of the governed.

When you vote, when you participate in choosing who will fill the seats of power within a government, you are consenting to the idea that this government is still legitimate; that it holds legal authority over you, your lives, your property, and your liberty.

I was asked the other day how we can fix what is wrong with our system; and the best answer I could give is, revoke your consent to it by not participating in choosing those who enslave you. If enough people did that, maybe then we could cut off their lifeblood, (i.e. taxes), and then maybe we could bring about real change. But as long as people still believe that their vote matters in a rigged game, nothing is going to change.

Sure, I voted yesterday, but only on ballot measures and for the governor; for all the good that did. After all, I do live in the land of fruits and nuts, so it comes as no surprise that they elected someone like Gavin Newsom to be their governor. I sometimes wonder if Californians aren’t hell bent on proving to the rest of the country how stupid they can be.

The point is that most people are too concerned with their daily lives or in seeking out entertainment to become truly informed as to why our system of government was established, or what powers it was originally bestowed with. If people don’t know that, then how are they to be expected to determine if the powers it currently exercises are lawful or not?

Knowledge is key to any hope of restoring this country to one which cherishes liberty, and whose people are willing to die defending it. But from what I see, ignorance and apathy abounds and the people fall in line behind their political parties like obedient little sheep. And, as Albert Einstein once said, “He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would surely suffice.”

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