July 04, 2008
Not until a year after Lexington did the Continental Congress muster the resolve to declare the 13 colonies free and independent states, no longer subject to Parliament or Crown.
Not for five years after July 4, 1776, did George Washington’s army truly attain America’s independence at Yorktown.
Even then, Washington and his aide Alexander Hamilton knew that the 13 states, while politically independent, were dependent upon Europe for the necessities of their national life. Without French ships and guns, French muskets and troops, the Americans could not have forced Gen. Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown.
Cornwallis would have sailed away, as Gen. Howe had from Boston.
Indeed, absent the 1778 alliance with France, our Revolution would have been a longer bloodier affair and might not have succeeded.
At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, both Washington and Hamilton were determined to make America’s political independence permanent, and to begin to cut the umbilical cord to Europe.
In the Constitution that came out of that convention, the states were prohibited from imposing any tariffs on the products of other states, thus creating the greatest common market in history, the United States of America. Second, the U.S. government was empowered to raise revenue by imposing tariffs on foreign goods, but explicitly denied the power to impose taxes on the incomes of American citizens.
And as Hamilton set the nation onto a course that would ensure economic independence, Washington took the actions and made the decisions that would assure our political independence.
First, he declared neutrality in the European wars that followed the French Revolution of 1789. Second, he sought to sever the 1778 alliance with France, a feat achieved by his successor, John Adams.
Third, in his Farewell Address, the greatest state paper in U.S. history, Washington admonished his countrymen to steer clear of permanent alliances and to stay out of Europe’s wars. Rarely in the 19th century did the United States divert from the course set by Washington and Hamilton.
In 1812, however, James Madison, goaded by “war hawks” Henry Clay and John Calhoun, and ignoring the counsel of the Farewell Address, declared war on Britain and came near to seeing his nation torn apart.
Had it not been for the Duke of Wellington’s preoccupation with Napoleon and Andy Jackson’s rout of a British invasion army at New Orleans, America might have been split asunder. In 1814, New England was on the verge of seceding, and the British had in mind splitting off the vast Louisiana territory. As it was, Madison had to flee the Washington, when a British Army came up the Bladensburg Road to burn the Capitol and Madison’s White House.
After peace in 1815, however, Madison signed the Tariff Act of 1816 to prevent British merchants from dumping goods into the United States to kill America’s infant industries that had arisen during the war and to prevent British merchants from recapturing the U.S. markets they had lost.
For most of the 19th century, the nation followed the economic policy of Hamilton and the foreign policy of Washington—and was richly rewarded. By the first decade of the 20th century, America was the most independent and self-reliant republic in all of history.
And by staying out of two world wars of the 20th century until many of the bloodiest battles had been fought, America emerged in 1945 economically and politically independent of all other nations.
During the Cold War, however, Americans came to believe that a temporary alliance, NATO, was necessary to prevent Joseph Stalin’s empire from overrunning Europe and turning the balance of power against us. To help our wartime allies and former enemies Japan, Germany and Italy to their feet, we set aside Hamilton’s policy and threw open the American market to the goods of Free Europe and Free Asia.
These should have been temporary alliances and temporary measures. Instead, they were made permanent.
No longer free of foreign entanglements, as Thomas Jefferson urged, we now have commitments to defend 50 countries. The old Hamiltonian policy of “Prosper America First” has given way to worship of a Global Economy, at whose altars we sacrifice daily the vital interests of our own manufacturers and workers.
“Interdependence” is now the desired end of the new elite.
And so we have become again a dependent nation. We borrow from Europe and Japan to defend the oil of Europe and Japan in the Persian Gulf. We borrow from China to buy the goods of China. We are as dependent on foreign borrowing as we are on foreign oil.
And the questions arise: If the men of ‘76, who led those small and vulnerable states, were wiling to sacrifice their lives, fortunes and sacred honor for America’s independence, what is the matter with us?
Do we not value independence as they did? Or is it that we are simply not the men our fathers were?
Happy Independence Day.