America: Still independent after all these years

Self-reliance must be nurtured. Photo: National Park Service

RENO, July 10, 2013—All societies reach an apex at some point; often defined by material wealth or military power.

The United States was founded on neither. Rather, America is a nation based on the independence from obnoxious government.

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“That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States” followed a list of grievances that, together, made life in the colonies less fulfilling than it could have been.

Adopted by the Continental Congress, Jefferson’s declaration was a creed against King George III, but it culminated the antagonism against the British Parliament, who enacted sundry cumbersome laws that were a nuisance to the colonists.

The British government did not set out to oppress its people in North America. The Stamp Act, the Sugar Act, and the Tea Act were designed to streamline colonial governance and make things easier for British North America.

After all, the frontier had to be protected, and that took revenue. British regulars were best suited to do the job, so Parliament merely had to raise money from Americans to fund their service. As we know from recent Fourth of July celebrations, the rest is history.

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That desire for independence from a patronizing government endured. In 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner propounded his “Frontier Thesis” to a group of historians in Chicago. His theory was that the frontier essentially defined Americanism. Independence, self-reliance, hard work, and prosperity were forged where man met nature.

On the frontier, where land was free and vast, people had to work. They shed their old forms and assumed new American ones. In 1890 the U.S. government declared the frontier closed and conquered. Since then, many have feared that American independence has been at risk.

A short example with which we might all be familiar. During an Independence-Day vacation out West, I came across some construction on a two-lane highway. Though no workers were on duty, presumably because of the holiday, a temporary signal moved the traffic. Small sorties of automobiles went one way on the lone open lane, then groups of cars heading the other direction went their way once the lane was clear.

It all depended on the light functioning properly. It wasn’t. For 25 minutes I sat in a long line of cars, waiting for a red light to turn green so we could make our way safely down the highway. We sat and watched several iterations of cars come the other way, making it obvious that we could have been given a green light.

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Eventually, several of us drivers got out to inspect the traffic signal. The semi in the pole position had missed the sensor. He backed up and it reset the light.

But for too long we waited, assuming that the system would take care of us. We had forgotten how to be self-reliant.

Government naturally wants to do more. But when it does, the citizen does less. Over time, an independent people can lose the skills and the capacity to act independently.

Turner wrote in 1920,

We are at war that the history of the United States, rich with the record of high human purposes, and of faith in the destiny of the common man under freedom, filled with the promises of a better world, may not become the lost and tragic story of a futile dream.

More than two centuries after the bold assertion of independence from their British overseers, and more than 100 years after the physical frontier disappeared in the United States, we are at war.

It will not be military power that saves the United States, but the ability to remain independent, self-reliant, and pioneering. 


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Rich Stowell

Rich Stowell has written about politics and travel for the Washington Times Communities since 2011. He is a soldier in the Utah National Guard and a fellow at the Center for Communication and Community at the University of Utah. Rich is the author of "Nine Weeks: A Teacher's Education in Army Basic Training"and continues to blog about military issues at “My Public Affairs.”

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