What Independence Means to Us

It’s been quite a while since our last U.S. history class, so the details on just what led up to the American colonies declaring their independence may be a bit fuzzy. But brushing up on the injustices the eventually led to the Revolutionary War may help us better appreciate our freedoms now, 236 years later.

Taxation without Representation

Colonists began to bristle against British rule for well over a decade before the Declaration of Independence was signed, sealed and delivered. The British government was in need of new revenue streams to support the cost of protecting their New World investments, and new taxes levied on the colonists were thought to be the answer. Between 1764 and 1774, several new tax programs were rolled out, including:

  • The Sugar Act taxed sugar imported from the West Indies
  • The Stamp Act required a stamp (which required a fee) on all papers, including official documents like marriage licenses, newspapers and playing cards.
  • The Townshend Acts taxed paper, glass and tea.

In addition to being taxed without having any say in the matter, the Tea Act gave the British East India Company a monopoly on the tea trade with the American Colonies.

Freedoms Won

As a result of the Declaration of Independence and the ensuing Revolutionary War, the American colonists became American citizens free of the tyranny of taxes…

Except for those levied on ourselves through the representative process (actually, those aren’t so great either, but at least we can trust our elected officials to make decisions in our best interests, right?)

We are now free to consume sugar in 44-oz doses (with the possible exception of New Yorkers), buy new decks of cards for every poker night and choose from nearly 17,000 different teas (okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but only a bit). We can have as many town hall meetings as we can post on Meetup and Facebook events. And we no longer have to insert useless u’s into words like favorite and color.

Freedoms Paid For

These freedoms aren’t trivial; they are merely limited expressions of something far greater: the belief that no one person should be ruled over by another, that every person should have equal say in who makes up “the government” and a way to address issues with that government.

These freedoms came at great cost—over 25,000 American lives between 1776 and 1783. And we continue to pay this price when our freedoms are threatened. The United States has lost over 1,285,341 lives since the Revolutionary War to protect our freedoms from threats home and abroad.

Even when we complain about the financial and the human cost of protecting our freedoms, these complaints are reason to celebrate our independence, as we can make them freely without the threat of arrest and imprisonment. While our basic freedoms are summed up in ten short statements—i.e. The Bill of Rights—what they really mean to us can’t be captured in so few words.

Happy Independence Day!