Reflections on Independence


Mill Hall

As we finish celebrating the 243rd anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Second Continental Congress, it is useful to reflect on its meaning and implications.

Independence is a strange thing — as a nation, we gained independence through an armed struggle that led to our successful secession from the British Empire. But, we did not really gain any personal independence in the process since the colonial/state governments that controlled that were continuous throughout the war.

All we did was establish American control over our national affairs and prevent British interference in local affairs.

As a nation, we talk about how we revolted because of taxation without representation and all of the restrictions placed on American commerce and self-governance by the British. However, the U.S. currently has five “colonies” (we like to call them territories and commonwealths) of its own, and we treat them at least as badly as the British treated us 245 years ago — and in very similar ways. Not only do they not have voting representation in Congress, but they are restricted from trading with anyone other than the U.S. (except by special waiver), no matter how close those other potential trading partners may be.

Even now, Samoans in American Samoa don’t even gain U.S. citizenship at birth, though Puerto Ricans, Virgin Islanders, Guamanians, and Mariana Islanders are born U.S. citizens. And then there is the District of Columbia, which puts “Taxation without Representation” on its license plates because it is ruled by, but not represented in, Congress.

No wonder Puerto Rico, the most populous of our current colonies, has revolted three times since we acquired it from Spain in 1898. And, it isn’t surprising that we fought a nearly continuous war against a nationalist insurgency in the Philippines, one of our former colonies, until we granted them independence in 1946.

So, as we celebrate our “independence”, maybe we need to look a little more closely at our own practices and see our own hypocrisy. This is especially needed as we approach the celebrations next year of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of our most notable illegal immigrant ancestors – the Pilgrims who established Plymouth in what is now Massachusetts.

It should be noted that the Mayflower Compact was signed to rein in the anarchistic tendencies of some of the crew who recognized that they were outside of the authority of English law because they were landing in land that they were not authorized to be in — i.e., the compact established a local government in order to restrict their exercise of personal freedom.