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Jefferson’s key arguments for independence consisted primarily of the Crown’s imposition of taxes and trade restrictions onto the Colonies, but was quite clear about the issue not being the severity of the offense but much more in that the Crown had overstepped lines of mutual respect and consent, ie “No Taxation Without Representation.” The Colonists, at the end of the day, took issue primarily with the King’s open disrespect for them, forcing all trade to go through Great Britain and forcing them to provide quarter for soldiers.
The Declaration of Independence should not be considered an actual declaration of war, although it is very close. This is mostly a position of semantics — I believe a declaration of war needs to be explicit, or at the very least threaten violence, which the Declaration does not. For example, India, Costa Rica, and arguably South Africa all issued declarations of independence in some form and never fought a war or even had widespread violence during their period of gaining independence. Therefore, we must conclude that a declaration of independence and a declaration of war are necessarily distinct and neither mutually exclusive nor inclusive.
Jefferson defines the role of government to be very limited in its duties, essentially just securing our rights, maintaining a defense of the nation, and to be accountable the wishes of the people. He makes his strongest argument in asserting that rights are God-given, rather than granted by the state, and that “to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men.” This is a pretty clear statement in our nation’s founding document, and especially coupled with basic Enlightenment concepts such as governments deriving power from the people, Jefferson effectively rebuts any counter-argument. He further states that should the state overstep these limitations, Americans would cease to be free.
Obviously, a confederation of small republics is the most likely to protect individual liberty — for one, politicians are held directly accountable, as elections can be swung much more easily by small groups of people and they are more likely to personally know their subjects. A confederacy is also explicitly limited in scope – if the national government cannot impose laws onto citizens without the consent of the smaller state government, it is effectively rendered impotent and only capable of making suggestions, rather than impositions,
A larger republic is inherently unable to permanently protect individual liberties. Although it may succeed, even for many years, the sheer distance and lack of accountabiltiy make preservation of such liberties impossible. In theory, today’s strong federal government derives its authority from the consent of the governed, but if that were true we wouldn’t have a concept of parties, nor would we see unpopular candidates like Clinton being pushed around various offices. A federal government is a recipe for oligarchy at best, and Soviet-like tyranny at worst – theirs is an interesting historical example, as individual freedoms were relatively protected until the Soviet councils were made subservient to the central government. In America, we have some level of protection through the Constitution, but even that is quickly failing due to an inability of the people to enforce it, let alone a majority caring enough to. Then again, the majority of citizens will always be content with the status quo – meaning the concept of the “consent of the governed,” at least when interpreted to mean the consent of the majority, is effectively meaningless and serves only as an enforcement of the current state.
The Federal government should not be able to impose laws to “promote the general welfare” upon states without their consent, except through a constitutional amendment. This is clearly defined by Amendment 10: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Except in times of national emergency, any imposition or action by a Federal government is inherently dogmatic and unable to respond dynamically or effectively to the local needs of the people. For instance, a tax on blue-collar manufacturing jobs would have little effect on states like Washington or California but would be potentially devastating to Appalachia or much of flyover America. Each expansion of federal power is irreversible — which is why the line must be drawn as early as possible.
Brutus raises a valid point, as significant differences in opinion can make a federal government ineffective. Many modern governments choose to mitigate this by either suppressing dissent or opting for a Parliamentary government, but a better solution is clear: a confederation of states, each responsible to their own group of like-minded people. Brutus’s claim that similar-mindedness in government is essential is true, but the extrapolation to include large federal governments is a dangerous one.
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