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Even small encroachments on liberty were met with defiance. When the Stamp Act was passed in 1765 — an act which levied only a very small tax on certain transactions — the strength of the resistance forced a repeal of the law in less than a year. A prominent Boston preacher, Jonathan Mayhew, said that while a few people quietly accepted the stamp tax, most Americans “were firmly united in a consistent . . . plan, to run all risks, to tempt all hazards, to go all lengths, if things were driven to extremity, rather than to submit; preferring death itself to what they esteemed so wretched and inglorious a servitude.”
And we all know how the Sons of Liberty reacted to a two-cent tax on tea. They took their rights — their liberty — seriously. They knew that when a tyrant gets his foot in the door, the rest of the beast is sure to follow. As George Washington said in 1774, “The crisis is arrived when we must assert our rights or submit to every imposition which can be heaped upon us, till custom and use shall make us . . . slaves.”
The contempt felt for those who would not fight for their own liberty was expressed by Samuel Adams: “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.”
Imagine that men from that era were observing us today. They would see that we send up to 50% of our income to different levels of government, and we are told that this is not sufficient — that our duty is to sacrifice more. (Consider this shocking fact: the colonists paid approximately 1% of their incomes in taxes.) They would see an incredible number of regulations on all types of domestic and foreign commerce. They would see an immense army of bureaucrats to enforce the regulations and another army of real soldiers residing more or less permanently in other countries. It would be clear to them that Jefferson’s statement is unfortunately still true that “even under the best forms [of government] those entrusted with power have, in time and by slow operation, perverted it into tyranny.”
The biggest surprise to our observers would not be that those in power seek to expand their power. They would have expected that. The biggest surprise would be the degraded state of many Americans who have lost the stature that comes from taking responsibility for one’s own life. They would see millions of dependent creatures, comfortable in their dependency, crouching and licking the hands that feed them, and begging for more, asking only that the benefits they get are paid for by the sacrifices of other people.
Can any of us deny that the citizens are primarily to blame for the erosion of their own liberties? Most are traveling the road to serfdom willingly. But the road goes nowhere new. It leads only to the same forms of tyranny that have characterized most societies in history.
There is liberty … and there are thousands of forms of tyranny. There are men’s rights … and thousands of rationalizations for violating them. When it comes to liberty, everything but the real thing is the wrong thing. We must accept no substitutes.
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