By James Henry
The American Revolution was fought over freedom…or was it? Tax-wise, the British colonists in North America had it pretty easy. That’s why they came to the New World—to get away from the crowded over-taxed opportunity-starved Old World. The colonists had the opportunity to own land, enjoy the fruits of their labors and have a more prosperous life.
In the British American colonies, before independence, the cost of the colonial government was born by the English and not the colonies. Government at that time did next to nothing and consisted of just a garrison of troops and a Governor. But when the British began asking the colonists to foot the bill for the Crown to rule them, confidence in Crown dwindled. Even though greater servitude was over the horizon, the idea of sending money back to the British government ran contrary to their having come to the colonies in the first place.
So was the American Revolution fought over taxes? Yes, but it didn’t lower them. The Revolution was fought over the Sugar Act, the Molasses Act, the Stamp Tax, and the Intolerable Acts. A third of the colonists supported a revolt against England, a third supported the Crown and a third didn’t care one way or another. In short, the revolution was fought over the optics whether the colonists should be paying the Crown at all. The result was that the colonies were now saddled with $80M in war debt and the first central bank, The First Bank of the United States, which was created to restructure and pay off the debt. In fact, George Washington, who was vocally critical of establishing a central bank and was expected to veto it, approved the creation of the bank in exchange for placing the capital of the new country next to his land. His land values skyrocketed as a result.
Just as the Revolutionary War ended, Alexander Hamilton, one of the leading Federalists, approached George Washington to overthrow civilian rule and establish himself as King of America with Hamilton as his key advisor. Fortunately, Washington declined Hamilton’s proposal, but these Federalist voices became the dominant shapers of the new country and are the only perspective taught today about this period. A loose confederation, the Articles of Confederation was created. The newly created states hardly agreed on anything, just as they still don’t today. Within seven years of the war ending, the Federal Constitution was signed. We got a central bank, the predecessor of the Federal Reserve Bank, and a powerful Federal government. Many of the colonists argued against the constitution as a giant power grab. These voices lost to history were the Anti-Federalists, whose writings are barely read by scholars today. They opposed the establishment of a new oligarchy that replaced the old British one and made the strongest arguments against state centralization in western history. It was due to the vocal complaints of Patrick Henry and other Anti-Federalists that led to the inclusion of the Bill of Rights into the Constitution that we cherish so dearly to this day.
Let us know the past to understand the present and have a better future. As Patrick said “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 of the future but by the past.”