What an inconvenient holiday the Fourth of July has become.
So long as we stick to grilling hot dogs and hamburgers, hauling the kids
to the lake or the mountains, and winding up the day watching the fireworks
as the Boston Pops plays the "1812" -- written by a subject of the czar to
celebrate the defeat of our vital ally the French -- we can usually manage
to convince ourselves we still cling to the same values that made July 4,
1776, a date that continues to ring in history.
Great Britain taxed the colonists at far lower rates than Americans
tolerate today -- and never dreamed of granting government agents the power
to search our private bank records to locate "unreported income," nor to
haul away our children to some mandatory, government-run propaganda camp.
Nor did the king's ministers ever attempt to stack our juries by
disqualifying any juror who refused to swear in advance to leave their
conscience outside and enforce the law as the judge explained it to them.
The king's ministers insisted the colonists were represented by Members
of Parliament who had never set foot on these shores. Today, of course, our
interests are "represented" by one of two millionaire lawyers -- both
members of the incumbent Republicrat Party -- between whom we were
privileged to "choose" last election day, men who for the most part have
lived in mansions and sent their kids to private schools in the wealthy
suburbs of the imperial capital for decades.
Yet the colonists did rebel. It's hard to imagine, today, the faith and
courage of a few hundred frozen musketmen, setting off across the darkened
Delaware, gambling their lives and farms on the chance they could engage
and defeat the greatest land army in the history of the known world, armed
with only two palpable assets: one irreplaceable man to lead them, and some
flimsy newspaper reprints of a parchment declaring: "We hold these Truths
to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed
by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness -- That to secure these Rights,
Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just Powers from the
Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes
destructive to these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or
abolish it. ..."
Do we believe that, still?
Recently, President Clinton's then-Drug Czar, Lee Brown, told me the role
of government is to protect people from dangers, such as drugs. I corrected
him, saying, "No, the role of government is to protect our liberties."
"We'll just have to disagree on that," the president's appointee said.
The War for American Independence began over unregistered untaxed guns,
when British forces attempted to seize arsenals of rifles, powder, and ball
from the hands of ill-organized Patriot militias in Lexington and Concord.
American civilians shot and killed scores of those government agents as
they marched back to Boston. Are those Minutemen still our heroes? Or do we
now consider them "dangerous terrorists" and "depraved government-haters"?
In Phoenix last week, an air-conditioner repairman and former military
policeman named Chuck Knight was convicted by jurors -- some tearful --
who said they had no choice under the judge's instructions, on a single
federal conspiracy count of associating with others who owned automatic
rifles on which they had failed to pay the $200 transfer tax. This was
after a trial in which defense attorney Ivan Abrams says he was forbidden
to bring up the Second Amendment as a defense.
In The Federalist No. 29, James Madison sought to assuage the fears of
anti-federalists who worried the proposed new government might someday take
away our freedoms:
"If circumstances should at any time oblige the government to form an
army of any magnitude," he wrote, "that army can never be formidable to the
liberties of the people while there is a large body of citizens, little if
at all inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms, who stand ready
to defend their rights and those of their fellow citizens."
Any such encroachments by government would "provoke plans of resistance,"
Mr. Madison continued in The Federalist No. 46, and "an appeal to a trial
of force," made possible by "the advantage of being armed, which the
Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation."
Were Arizona's Viper Militia readying plans of resistance, as recommended
by Mr. Madison? Would the Constitution ever have been ratified at all had
Mr. Madison and his fellow federalists warned the citizens that such
non-violent preparations would get their weapons seized and land them in
jail for decades?
Happy Fourth of July.