An essay by your editor in which I ask the musical question, who forged your chains?
Happy Co-Dependence Day
Each year when the 4th of July rolls around, America breaks out the flag, pops a cold one and fires up the barbecue in honor of the birth of our nation.
I thought I’d take the occasion of this year’s celebration to offer the following in remembrance of what we’re actually celebrating.
Patrick Henry's famous "liberty or death" speech is perhaps the most stirring example of the original American commitment to individual liberty. However, the story behind Henry's passionate oration is largely untold.
As a young lawyer riding into Culpepper, Virginia in March of 1775, Patrick Henry had witnessed the brutal public flogging of a preacher.
Tied to a whipping post in the middle of the town square, the preacher had been scourged mercilessly with a leather whip laced with metal; his back had been laid bloody and bare, with the bones of his ribs showing.
What heinous crime, what foul act had this man committed to deserve such barbarous torture?
He was one of twelve who were locked in jail because they had refused to take a license from the British Crown.
Three days later, the martyred minister was again flogged, this time to death. This was the incident which sparked Patrick Henry to write the famous words which later ignited the Revolution:
"What is it that Gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"
He later made this a part of his famous speech which he delivered at Saint John's Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia.
This might be a good time to pause and ask ourselves: where, exactly, is the line drawn between the exercise of natural rights and the exercise of permissions granted by a ruling authority?
Can a people dependent upon their government ever be in a condition of liberty? Did the great American experiment in republican government end when “We The People” allowed our government to become the great provider of all things?
It is quite apparent to all thinking individuals that the era in which the citizens of the United States held control over their public servants has long since ended.
Today’s tax-consuming public servants run the country pretty much the way they want to, while the people are left to live in the servants' quarters and beg permission to do almost everything. How did this transition happen, and when did it occur?
The answer we all must face is that we subjugated ourselves, and in a manner not one in 100,000 can identify. Not only have we converted our constitutionally protected rights into privileges to be granted (or withdrawn) at the whim of government, we have done so willingly.
Common sense informs us that each and every one of us enjoys, by virtue of our birth and very existence, the full exercise of our “inalienable rights.” But only up to the point where we infringe someone else's rights.
Privileges, on the other hand, are horse play of a different color. Privileges are granted by ruling bodies.
Privileges can be regulated and taxed, approved and denied, renewed or withdrawn at the say-so of the official whose job it is to stand over the citizen and pass down the privilege, much as a monarch of old might have tapped a bowed knight on the shoulder with his sword.
The American citizen of today—while ostensibly the master of his or her own government—receives government-issued privileges on administratively bended knee, granted at the behest of the grantor of the privilege.
Which is who? Why, the government of course. Should the citizen violate a rule that applies to those upon whom privileges are bestowed, public servants can cancel the privilege.
And there may be penalties to be paid! To whom? Why, to the administrator whose family is fed and clothed from the very taxes that are paid under threat of fees, fines, and incarceration by the applicant for the privilege. This would be you, dear reader.
It is indeed a fascinating, if ironic process by which we become the slaves of those who are to serve us. Citizens create a government to protect their rights, while volunteering to place themselves in the subservient situation of being allowed certain privileges by those whom they elect to serve them.
Did I say volunteer? Absolutely. Let’s take a look. Case in point: many tens of millions of Americans identify themselves as being married. Allow me to stimulate your thinking by asking: did these couples get married, or did they marry each other? Are these not one and the same?
This a fine and important point, and not merely semantic. There is a definite distinction between getting married and marrying, for the one involves the acceptance of a privilege granted by a ruling authority, while the other is the exercise of a natural right.
Ask the typical married couple how it is that they came to be wed and they will say something like, "We were married in a church." Or "We were married on a party boat under Niagara Falls." But in all such cases the word "married" in not an active, but a passive verb.
"We got married" means that someone else did something to them—that someone else caused them to become married.
But cannot a man and a woman just marry each other? Perhaps simply by exchanging vows before witnesses?
Or must the Governor first give his or her permission before the happy couple are permitted (licensed) to be wed?
How exactly does this “getting married” process actually happen? Does the Governor send out premarital spies to detect when a wedding ceremony may be about to commence, walk up to the startled couple and hand them their permission slip?
Or do the about-to-be-newlyweds obtain a license (permission voucher) of their own free will?
Many states still recognize the status of common law marriage. You reside with your cohabitation partner (gender optional) for a number of years and you are presumed to be as married as anyone else.
If that is true, then why bother to get a license? So you can pay a licensing application fee to the Governor? What benefit do you actually derive from being licensed? Certainly not so that your marriage will be real.
[SIDEBAR: Ask any man: we have no doubt that marriage is a form of reality. Only kidding ladies. Just trying to keep it on the light side here.]
When at the end of the wedding ceremony the presiding clergy intones, "By the power vested in me by the Governor of [State], I now pronounce you man and wife," is some invisible, jurisdictional marriage dust sprinkled over the blissful couple? Is that why they are now married?
If that magic phrase had not been uttered at the very last minute, would the ceremony have stalled? Would red lights have flashed and loud klaxons sounded? Does this magic marriage phrase carry that much power and authority? Apparently so. And money may be involved!
You see, with the Governor inserted as oh-fisshul approver of the process, there are now not two parties to the marriage (the blissful couple), but three parties: spouse A, spouse B and (ta da!), the state which will wait patiently the eventual death of each spouse so it can reach into the pockets of the deceased and extract its fair share of estate tax.
Ah, the plot thickens! Could this be the nefarious reason behind the existence of the marriage license in the first place?
[SIDEBAR: Please, Dear Reader, do not think of your humble editor as a conspiracy theorist. Educated people know that all of recorded history involves untold millions of conspiracies on the part of various authorities, small and large. I, on the other hand, am a Coincidence Theorist. When the same thing keeps happening, over and over again, without any other explanation, it can only be part of some vast coincidence.]
Let's move on. When the American west was being settled, there was typically a shortage of pastors to do the marrying. If a young couple wanted to tie the knot, what were they to do, wait months or even years for a pastor to ride into town on a jackass? Or if a Republican pastor, on a horse?
Of course not. They gathered family and friends together as witnesses to the happy event, said the oath of marriage to each other, recorded it in a family Bible, and that was that.
They could just as easily have walked out into an open field, just the two of them, gazed lovingly into each others' eyes and said their vows to one another in private.
Problem is, since there is always the chance that they could have been hit by a meteorite on the way back to the house, no one would ever have known that they had married each other.
So witnesses made good sense. Getting permission from the local ruling apparatchik was the last thing they needed. Unless he wanted to come over and help with the diapers.
After the War of Northern Aggression (which some erroneously still call the Civil War), invading conquerors from the District of Columbia took over the administration of the South under so-called ‘Reconstruction,' passing laws requiring that a White and a Negro (using the terms of the day) needed permission from the local Governor to marry, without whose consent said miscegenation would be a crime.
If blacks and whites wanted to marry, they could do so only by registering to be married, paying a registration fee, and waiting for official approval.
This practice slowly became commonplace, and by the beginning of the 1900's free people everywhere—blacks, whites, albinos and all other chromatically differentiated individuals—automatically assumed that they needed governmental permission to marry each other.
It's hard to believe, I know, but this is how the regulatory camel gets its nose under the freedom tent.
Moving on to another area of common regulation, that of one's right to make a living, let's consider the privilege of being allowed to cut someone else's hair for profit.
A five-year-old will inform you that all that is required is a sheet, a comb, a pair of scissors and a reputation for doing a quality job at a fair price.
But no! You must first ask permission of the Governor. Without said permission (license) you can be fined or even incarcerated for "practicing without a license."
The same set of licensure rules apply, not just for marrying one another or cutting hair, but for many other activities as well: from removing fish from public bodies of water, to shooting game on public land, to building a house on your own property ad nauseam.
None of these activities can be engaged in without kneeling and getting that sword tap on the shoulder. And if you don't kneel, you may have to bend over and get the sword somewhere else!
And how does one receive said permission? Why, by requesting that the permission be granted. And how does one go about making said request?
Ah, Dear Reader, here is where we jump into the rabbit hole, munch a mushroom with Alice and tunnel through The Matrix, all in one swift stroke.
The answer is that we obtain permission from our benevolent overlords by (wait for it…) making application. By requesting the exercise of said privilege. And we do this of our own free will.
In the case of paperwork (much of this is done online today), you fill out a form, enter your most personal information, and then agents of the Governor grab your arm and wrestle your hand down to the writing surface whereupon your signature is forcibly extracted from you under protest as you resist with all your might.
No? Really? That's not what actually happens? I see.
You mean to say that you actually sign the document of your own free will? Thereby converting a right—for which your forefathers (and mothers) shed their precious blood—into a mere administrative privilege to be granted at the whim of a bureaucrat?
No kidding? You actually consent to apply your signature, freely and voluntarily, in the hopes that his Excellency will allow you to get married, cut hair, fish on public property, even build your own home on your own property?
...AND YOU WANT TO CELEBRATE INDEPENDENCE DAY?
At this point I would ordinarily try to interest you in some oceanfront property in Kansas, but we're not in Kansas anymore.
A dog with its leash clipped to a rope strung between two trees may be free to move back and forth, but is not at Liberty. So are you at liberty, Dear Reader, or merely 'free' to operate within administratively permitted bounds?
With the collapse of the economy accompanied by a visceral sense that the heavy hand of government may be turning into a fist, countless Americans today beat their breasts on YouTube and rail against the government on countless blogs for trampling their freedoms and limiting their lives in countless ways.
Yet they should ask themselves, if they feel so restrained by their fetters, who forged their chains?
Mr. Government did not require them to do anything. He simply invited them to apply for permission. Once they did so, and of their own free will, they voluntarily demoted themselves to subservient status by placing themselves at his whim.
Did you ever stop to ponder that everything you have ever signed throughout your entire life, and I do mean everything, has been an overt act of voluntary consent?
Forms and applications of all kinds, bank signature cards, library cards, greeting cards from Hallmark, you name it—all done as an act of your own free will.
Again, did anyone forcibly extract your signature from you? You see, the administrative process can be quite deceiving.
You are told that you are “required” to do such and such, that everyone else does it because it is compulsory, mandatory, required and so forth.
If you do not do as you are told, you will be fined, perhaps even convicted and thrown into a cage, fed three times a day and allowed out for exercise.
But reality is quite different from illusion. The Administrative Procedure Express is a mighty train indeed. It rumbles down the tracks straight towards you (Woo! Woo!), thundering and belching smoke.
It stops directly in front of you and a door opens. A Little Man steps out with a clipboard in his hand and says, "I am from the Licensing Department. I am here to help you process your application. Please sign here: ______________."
You take the pen that is proffered and apply your signature, whereupon the Little Man thanks you, the door closes and, Woo! Woo!, the Administrative Procedure Express gets back up to speed and heads for the Emerald City where your application is processed.
A short time later the government (local, county, state, national, global and no doubt soon, interplanetary) approves your application, while reminding you that you now come under the rules and limitations that apply to all applicants (of course, to applicants only, but that's in the fine print).
If you find those rules restrictive or in any way violative of your rights as a free man or woman, please do not complain. After all, the government is just doing its job which is to exercise control over you as any owner would over a frisky pet.
Remember, you are the one who requested permission! Did his most Honorable Excellency forcibly extract your signature? Torture you? Threaten your family? Of course not. He didn't compel you to do anything.
Why would he want to anger you? After all, he needs you as a licensed participant so he can fine you when you disobey his rules.
Otherwise, where would he get the funds to feed his growing bureaucracy, let alone feed the families of the thousands of other functionaries who manage and operate the entire regulatory licensure apparatus?
One can only wonder whether the preacher whom Mr. Henry saw being scourged, were he alive today, would rush to apply for a 501(c)(3) "exemption" to operate his church with supervisory approval from the IRS? Or to cut hair for a few dollars on the side.
When we contemplate the raw sacrifices made by so many of our nation's forebears, we are reminded that Patrick Henry did not exclaim: "Give me liberty, or give me benefits!"
It is remarkable how little our nation's Founders expected from the government they forged.
Yet, today, with hundreds of millions of adult Americans licensed and regulated in almost everything they do, I think it only fair to call the 4th of July by its proper term: "Co-Dependence Day"
Below for your reading pleasure is the full transcript of the great orator's legendary speech, followed by the observations of John Roane who was present and had the great pleasure of watching Patrick Henry deliver it.
If Roane's remarks don't give you a lump in your throat, perhaps you need to apply to the Ministry of Lumps for permission to develop one!
Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death!
Patrick Henry, March 23, 1775
"No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as the abilities of the very worthy gentlemen who have just addressed the house.
"But different men often see the same subject in different lights, and, therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen, if, entertaining as I do, opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, I should speak forth my sentiments freely, and without reserve.
"This is no time for ceremony. The question before the house is one of awful moment to this country. Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the majesty of heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.
"Mister President, it is natural for man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth - and listen to the song of that siren, till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those, who having eyes, see not, and having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation?
"For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it. I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided; and that is the lamp of experience.
"I know of no way of judging the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years, to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves and the house?
"Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has been lately received? Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss.
"Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with those warlike preparations which cover our waters and darken our land.
"Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled that force must be called in to win back our love?
"Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation - the last arguments to which kings resort. I ask gentlemen, sir, what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission?
"Can gentlemen assign any other possible motive for it? Has Great Britain any enemy in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies?
"No sir, she has none. They are meant for us; they can almost be meant for no other. They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains, which the British ministry have been so long forging. And what have we to oppose them?
"Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years. Have we anything new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the subject up in every light of which it was capable; but it has been all in vain.
"Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What terms shall we find that we have not already exhausted? Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves longer.
"Sir, we have done every thing that could be done, to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned - we have remonstrated - we have supplicated - we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and parliament.
"Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne.
"In vain, after these things, we may indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free - if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending - if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon, until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained - we must fight! - I repeat, sir, we must fight!
"An appeal to arms and to the God of Hosts is all that is left us!
"They tell us, sir, that we are weak - unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be next week or the next year?
"Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs, and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot?
"Sir, we are not weak, if we make a proper use of those means the God of Nature hath placed in our power. Three millions of people armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us.
"Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations; and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us.
"The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we are base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest.
"There is no retreat, but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged. Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable - and let it come! I repeat, sir, let it come! It is in vain, sir to extenuate the matter.
"Gentlemen may cry, peace, peace - but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle?
"What is it the gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God - I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"
Observations of John Roane who was present and witnessed the speech:
"You remember, sir, the conclusion of the speech, so often declaimed in various ways by schoolboys, 'Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!'
"He gave each of these words a meaning which is not conveyed by the reading or delivery of them in the ordinary way. When he said, 'Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?' he stood in the attitude of a condemned galley slave, loaded with fetters, awaiting his doom. His form was bowed; his wrists were crossed; his manacles were almost visible as he stood like an embodiment of helplessness and agony.
"After a solemn pause, he raised his eyes and chained hands towards heaven, and prayed, in words and tones which thrilled every heart, 'Forbid it Almighty God!'
"He then turned towards the timid loyalists of the house, who were quaking with terror at the idea of the consequences of participating in proceedings which would be visited with the penalties of treason by the British crown; and he slowly bent his form yet nearer to earth, and said, 'I know not what course others may take,' and he accompanied the words with his hands still crossed, while he seemed to be weighted down with additional chains.
"The man appeared transformed into an oppressed, heart-broken, and hopeless felon. After remaining in this posture of humiliation long enough to impress the imagination with the condition of the colony under the iron heel of military despotism, he arose proudly, and exclaimed, 'but as for me,' -- and the words hissed through his clenched teeth, while his body was thrown back, and every muscle and tendon was strained against the fetters which bound him, and, with his countenance distorted by agony and rage, he looked for a moment like Lacoon in a death struggle with coiling serpents; then the loud clear, triumphant notes, 'give me liberty' electrified the assembly.
"It was not a prayer, but a stern demand, which would submit to no refusal or delay. The sound of his voice, as he spoke these memorable words, was like that of a Spartan paean on the Field of Plataea, and, as each syllable of the word 'liberty' echoed through the building, his fetters were shivered; his arms were hurled apart, and the links of his chains were scattered to the winds.
"When he spoke the word 'liberty' with an emphasis never given it before, his hands were open, and his arms elevated and extended; his countenance was radiant; he stood erect and defiant; while the sound of his voice and the sublimity of his attitude made him appear a magnificent incarnation of Freedom, and express all that can be acquired or enjoyed by nations and individuals invincible and free.
"After a momentary pause, only long enough to permit the echo of the word 'liberty' to cease, he let his left hand fall powerless to his side, and clenched his right hand firmly, as if holding a dagger with the point aimed at his breast.
"He stood like a Roman senator defying Caesar, while the unconquerable spirit of Cato of Utica flashed from every feature, and he closed the grand appeal with the solemn words, 'or give me death!' which sounded with the awful cadence of a hero's dirge, fearless of death, and victorious in death, and he suited the action to the word by a blow upon the left breast with the right hand, which seemed to drive the dagger to the patriot's heart."
So Happy Co-Dependence Day, America!
Eat your hot dogs, fly your flags and enjoy the fireworks. I'll leave you with a quote from Samuel Adams, father of the American Revolution:
“If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms.
"Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.”
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