A momentous day as we once again battle for the soul of our nation

July 4th, 2024 by Tom Lynch

The year was 1763. Britain had just defeated France in the Seven Years War, what we in America call the French and Indian War. During the war, the British national debt had nearly doubled, going from £72 million to more than £130 million. Its budget had risen tenfold from £14.5 million to £145 million.

The 1763 Treaty of Paris, which ended the war and gave Britain triumph over France ceded to Britain all of Canada and the great trans-Allegheny plains in the valleys of the Ohio and Mississippi, which were populated by indigenous native tribes and more than 8,000 French-Canadian Catholics. Not  completely expelled from the continent, the French still held Louisiana and the mouth of the Mississippi, from which the British feared they might stage a comeback.

To defend this territory the British thought they would need a force of about 10,000 soldiers. How to pay for this expense became the question of the day.

The logical answer was to raise revenue from the colonies, revenue that would contribute to their defense. How to raise the needed revenue? Taxation, of course.

Since 1732, when Sir Robert Walpole was Prime Minister, Britain had tried, often in vain, to tax the Americans as a means of providing revenue to the Crown. This came to a head in 1760 when Parliament Passed the Writs of Assistance, which were search warrants allowing tax collectors to enter any home, business or sailing ship to look for contraband. Because the British Navigation Act forbade the colonists from  manufacturing anything, “even a horseshoe nail,” they had taken to smuggling forbidden items out of the country to Caribbean and European ports, which diminished British tax revenue in the Americas to the paltry sum of £1,800 pounds in the late 1750s.

The Writs of Assistance were the first of many British attempts to suck money out of her American colonies. James Otis, a lawyer whom John Adams considered America’s finest orator, challenged the Writs in 1761. The trial was held at the Old Boston Statehouse. His argument lasted five hours, and during it he uttered the phrase which was to become the American slogan leading up to the Revolution: “Taxation without representation is tyranny.”

Otis lost his case, but the Writs were ineffective. In subsequent years, Britain tried the Cider Tax, the Stamp Act, the Townshend Acts, and more, all of which led to greater and greater resentment throughout the colonies.

I bring this up to make two points.

First, and this may surprise you, from the end of the Seven Years War in 1763 until the firing of “the shot heard round the world” in Lexington, Massachusetts, the British never sent a single Minister to America to investigate the profound discontent of the colonists. During that entire 12-year period, British leaders consumed themselves in factionalism and internal, petty squabbles, while America slipped away. The colonists had non-voting, non-speaking representatives in Parliament, but they were ignored, and the Crown had appointed governors in each of the colonies, but they had little power back in Britain.  No one of any serious standing ever crossed the sea to analyze anything. This pattern continued throughout the entirety of the Revolution. Britain sent generals, but never a statesman. And as a result, King George lost his colonies.

This was a vivid example of a great power, arguably the greatest in the world at the time, acting resolutely against its best interests.

Second, today, the 4th of July, we celebrate the day on which American colonists — British subjects all — told King George, his Parliament, and the rest of the world that they had had enough. They threw the gauntlet down, and, against tremendous odds, went to war to gain their freedom, to gain our freedom. And when it was all over, they created the world’s first lasting democracy, copied since then over and over again. It’s true that Grecian democracy in Athens and the Roman Republic attempted versions of democracy, but each was short-lived and each failed. Ours has not, at least, not yet.

This is not the natural way governments have operated over time. Since the Kings of Sumeria walked the earth millennia ago, autocracy has been the norm — until us. Since that fateful July 4th, 248 years ago today, we have repeatedly succeeded in turning back the autocratic aims of would-be demagogues and wanna-be fascists. We the people have never failed to reject their hate-filled lies, eventually sending all of them to sit on history’s trash heap. The battles have been hard, but Americans have always — eventually — chosen truth over lies, right over wrong.

We are now engaged in another battle for the soul of the nation. Our political leaders are in disarray and confused about the future, much as their forebears were when they gathered in Philadelphia for the Second Continental Congress, out of which — eventually — came unity and the Declaration of Independence.

Regardless of how you feel about the America of today, I hope you’re able to celebrate the tremendous achievement of our nation’s founders when they struck out on a new, democratic course by pledging their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to create a new nation, dedicated to freedom and equality.

For my part, tonight, as we always do on this momentous day, my family and I will sit down to watch the magnificent musical, 1776, with lyrics by Sherman Edwards and a book by Peter Stone, which avoids myth to get at the truth. It is always inspiring.

Happy 4th of July!