From the Tom Woods Letter:
Independence Day is tomorrow, and I wonder how many people really get why it matters.
In school, we were told this: “No taxation without representation.”
The real principles were more like the following.
(1) No legislation without representation.
The colonists insisted that they could be governed only by the colonial legislatures. This is the principle of self-government. This is what the War for Independence was all about: local self-government.
Yet today, when the Supreme Court says the federal government has no authority over a particular issue and that it is better decided at the state level, instead of being pleased that the decentralized American political order is once again being respected, tens of millions of Americans respond as if Frankenstein’s monster were roaming the land.
2) Contrary to the modern Western view of the state that it must be considered one and indivisible, the colonists believed that a smaller unit may withdraw from a larger one. Today we are supposed to consider this unthinkable.
(3) The colonists’ view of the (unwritten) British constitution was that Parliament could legislate only in those areas that had traditionally been within the purview of the British government. Customary practice was the test of constitutionality. The Parliament’s view, by contrast, was in effect that the will and act of Parliament sufficed to make its measures constitutional.
So the American colonists insisted on strict construction, if you will, while the British held to more of a “living, breathing” view of the Constitution. Sound familiar?
So let’s recap: local self-government, secession, and strict construction. Not exactly the themes you learned in school.
And not even what you’ll learn in graduate school.
One day I decided I had to know what my fellow Columbia Ph.D. students thought Independence Day was all about.
What could these left-liberals be celebrating? They don’t favor local self-government, which is what the war was all about. They don’t favor strict construction of the Constitution, while the colonists — in a British context — were insisting on precisely that.
So what the heck did they think it was all about?
Only one person answered me: “There was a distance involved.”
So the problem was that the ruling class was too far away?
“Come on, men, we must continue making sacrifices so that we may someday have exploiters who live close by!”
I don’t think so.
This was a student at what at that time was the number-two academic department in the country for American history.
Well, on Wednesday I will have a bit of news regarding the study of genuine American history, rather than the hideous substitute we find in so many classrooms, and I know you’ll be glad to hear it.
Right now, though, it’s back to our London vacation with two of the Woods daughters, who are visiting another country for the first time. More tomorrow.
P.S. We started with an easy one, where they will understand the language.
In anticipation of a trip to Italy next year, though, I’m spending a little time learning Italian, which of course I am doing with Rocket Languages, which beats the heck out of the frustrating and hideous French course I took at Columbia (they just barked French words at us and refused to teach any grammar, thinking that would work better).
I did very well in Spain earlier this year thanks to the Rocket Languages course I used to brush up on my Spanish, and I hope to do well enough in Italy, too. So if like me you enjoy learning languages, you’ll be happy to know about their Independence Day sale — they’re taking 60% off all courses — which ends on Independence Day or when the next 105 courses are sold, whichever comes first.