America Needs a New Independence Day
The Fourth of July weekend is a time when Americans celebrate the anniversary of the United States' independence. But, in the 242 years since achieving our liberty from the British Empire, our government has slowly become what it beheld. You see, while many erroneously claim that our move for independence from the British Empire was "revolutionary," it was, in fact, far from revolutionary (in the sense of other famous revolutions, such as those that befell France and Russia – or even the "Cultural Revolution" that swept across campuses and major cities in the United States in 1968).
At its core, America's war for independence was predicated upon the understandable desire for Americans to have equal and fair representation in Parliament. Initially, the colonists were generally opposed to separating from the Mother Country. But, as Andrew O'Shaughnessy documents in The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution, and the Fate of Empire, King George III – far from the mad tyrant he's depicted as in popular history – began as sympathetic to the American calls for greater representation in Parliament.
Yet the Boston Tea Party was viewed by King George as a terrible waste of tea (and a clear sign of disloyalty), so his opinion on the situation in the American colonies changed from that of reluctant participant in the matter to the leading war hawk. Naturally, the more intractable the king's position became, the farther the Americans were pushed into full independence.
As the Founders wrote in the Declaration of Independence:
We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United States are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.
What began as a serious – though entirely rectifiable – complaint rapidly devolved into what we (erroneously) call the Revolutionary War. It's a great tale we tell ourselves (and the world). To be sure, I would not have opted to remain a part of the British Empire. The values and beliefs that the Founding Fathers based this country upon, I believe, are superior to all other notions in the world.
Unfortunately for us, the story doesn't end there.
Writing in his 2013 magnum opus, The Once and Future King: The Rise of Crown Government in America, F.H. Buckley makes the controversial (though accurate) argument that the United States has mostly come full circle in its great experiment with democracy. (For the record, the United States is, technically, a constitutional republic, which is classified by most political scientists as a representative form of democracy.) While the country did start out as a relatively free system, it rapidly devolved into what George Mason famously called an "elective monarchy."
Buckley (evoking Mason's fears) believes that the United States revolted against crown rule only to revert back to crown rule in the form of an all-powerful executive branch that supersedes all other aspects of American life and government. Sure, we change presidents every four to eight years, but the drift into elective monarchy continues unabated. There are nearly 2.5 million federal employees (excluding military personnel) that serve in the executive branch, and the federal register of regulations numbers in the many thousands of pages. Meanwhile, thanks to a series of bipartisan spending bills over the years, the power and scope of the "elective monarchy" has only increased.
This was not what our Founders fought the British for!
The idea behind the American system of government was to diffuse as much power as possible away from Washington and into the hands of the local and state authorities. Within the federal government, while all three branches (the executive, legislative, and judicial) were equal, the authors of the American Constitution were obsessed with the potential for an "elective monarchy." James Madison wrote in Federalist no. 51 of the concept that having co-equal branches of government would counteract the ability of any one branch to supersede the other.
Yet, as Buckley rightly points out, "the legislature is composed of many people, and the executive of only one," and "it is more difficult for a group of people to coordinate on a course of action than it is for a single person."
The Framers believed that the Congress was the best antidote to the evils of an "elective monarchy" in the executive branch. The same holds true today.
Ever since the rise of the Progressive movement at the turn of the twentieth century, the American presidency has become increasingly imperial in its disposition. By the middle of the last century, the president's power was so great that he could effectively take the country into a ruinous war (Vietnam) with little congressional oversight. As the president's power has reached epic new levels, congressional power has faded. Thus, we have begun to look more like the British Empire of yesteryear than the liberty-loving republic of our Founders.
Just as the Continental Congress guided us through the last Independence Day, today's Congress will have to chart a course away from the monarchical presidency. God help us all. Yet it is a fight worth waging – if only because we risk embodying the tyranny that our Founders bled to free us from.
A new Independence Day is needed – not one delivered by force of arms, but one heralded by enlightened legislation. Otherwise, the republic will be lost forever, and a new sort of empire – an incoherent one that preaches liberty but tyrannizes its citizenry – will be unleashed upon the world.
Brandon J. Weichert is a geopolitical analyst who manages The Weichert Report: World News Done Right and is a contributor at The American Spectator, as well as a contributing editor at American Greatness. His writings on national security and Congress have appeared at Real Clear Politics, Space News, and HotAir.com. He has been featured on CBS News.com, the BBC, and the Christian Science Monitor. Brandon is a former congressional staffer who holds an M.A. in statecraft and national security affairs from the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C. and is currently working on his doctorate in international relations.