Missing the Point on July 4: The Right to Vote Was Not The Main Achievement in 1776

From my column in Forbes this week, an update of a regular feature here in the past:

Every Independence Day, I am struck by how poor an understanding Americans have as to what the Revolution of 1776 was really all about.  For example, I would bet that a depressing number of people in this country, when asked what their most important freedom was, or what made America great, would answer “the right to vote.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, the right to vote in a representative democracy is useful and has proven a moderately effective (but far from perfect) check on creeping statism.  A democracy, however, can still be tyrannical.  After all, Hitler was voted into power in Germany, and without checks, majorities in a democracy would be free to vote away anything it wanted from the minority – their property, their liberty, even their life.    In the US today, majorities routinely vote to take money from or impose their will upon various minorities.

In my mind, there are at least three founding principles of the United States that are far more important than the right to vote:

What three?  You will have to click through to find out.  Have a great July 4 weekend.  Happy 235, United States!


  1. Doc:

    "After all, Hitler was voted into power in Germany"--this is often said when voting is discussed, but never in his life did Hitler hold elected office. Hitler ran for the office of President in the election of 1932, in which 70% of the voters voted against him. Of the four candidates, however, none received a majority of the votes, forcing a runoff election, in which Hindenburg beat Hitler by a margin of about 53% to 37%.

    Neither was Hitler elected chancellor--he was appointed chancellor by President von Hindenburg (at the urging of former chancellor Franz von Papen).

  2. Kevin R:

    Was about to post something about that, but Doc beat me to it.

  3. stuhlmann:

    Since this is an Independence Day article and not one for Constitution Day, let me say that the American colonists already did benefit from the rule of law and the protection of individual rights, no matter how imperfectly these were applied by the English to the colonies. I think the real revolutionary concept was your 3rd point, that we were citizens and not subjects of the crown.

  4. Jens Fiederer:

    I doubt ANYBODY else would come up with the same three you picked. All of them are good, but not especially connected with independence.

    Rule of law and individual rights were ALREADY recognized in English common law - our own Bill of Rights was inspired by those already recognized by the prior English version ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_of_Rights_1689 ).

    Government as servant of the people sounds nice, and is a good attitude to keep in mind, but is largely meaningless since "the people" is too vague a concept.

    Individual rights are key, and the insistence of people that they HAVE them is vital - the prettiest constitution that is not really observed is useless (just look at ours). Independence did at least affirm that.

  5. damaged justice:

    No society in human history has ever voted itself out of slavery.

  6. caseyboy:

    The Founding Fathers knew that the promise of a new nation could only be fulfilled if its government were nested carefully in the center of what they saw as the political extremes, tyranny and anarchy. Enough government so that society had structure and recourse by law, but not so much government as to stifle individual liberty. Our Founding Fathers were intelligent and principled men. They were well read and very knowledgeable in the history of nations. Most were very religious men who drew upon their Faith and the Bible for inspiration. As their deliberations continued and the circle of participants expanded the people grew more confident that they could indeed form a government of the people. As confidence grew and their grievances with England increased the idea of independence gained general acceptance.

    The important lesson here is that the colonists didn’t just strike out in anger and revolt over taxes. There was a growing realization that they could do something that had never been done in the history of man. That they could create a new Republic carefully centered to secure liberty while protecting the general welfare. A Republic that empowered men to worship in freedom, pursue happiness and secure property. All of a sudden the thought of taking on the most powerful military in the world didn’t seem as daunting because the prize was so worthwhile. “… but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death.” Patrick Henry, March 23, 1775

    The problem we are having today was pretty well defined for us by President John Adams, “Our Constitution was made only for a religious and moral people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.”

    Now ain't that a fact?

  7. Mark:

    235 United States, and I thought there were only 57 of them :P

  8. Chris:

    I try not to get too hung up the past and the constitution and the founders because none of that shit matters now.

  9. rox_publius:

    just awesome

  10. caseyboy:

    Chris, you throwing in the towel? Just going with the flow or should I say going down in the flush? Do you have a vision for the country? There are a growing number of citizens who are reacquainting themselves with Constitutional principles. Things like Enumerated Powers are starting to make sense to more and more people as we witness the alternative. It isn't a matter of nostalgia, it is a matter of practicality. We are headed toward tyranny at warp speed.

  11. Chris:

    I'm leaving. As soon as I get the money together I'm off to greener pastures.
    My ancestors did it FROM Germany in the 1850's seeking a better life. I'm doing the same.
    I have no interest in "Fighting the good fight" or "The American way of life", My interest is for me and mine. And that means going somewhere else.

  12. marco73:

    I'm so damn proud to be an American, Sure I was born here, my ancestors managed to migrate here only about 120 years ago. I have many in-law relatives and friends who came here from all over the world, and became citizens. Some have had to wait decades to swear to become citizens.
    Traditionally, many new citizens become Americans on July 4. So this Monday is their birthday as Americans, too. I've already sent several congrats emails to family and colleagues.
    If you ever want to refresh your faith in the ideas of America, just go to any courthouse that will be having citizenship ceremonies on Monday.

  13. caseyboy:

    Chris, to which planet are you moving? Good luck finding liberty elsewhere in on this planet. The US has problems, but it is the last stand for Liberty. Dig in and fight for it or leave, definitely leave. We've going to need men and women with passion for Liberty and brass for balls.

  14. Dr. T:

    "Every Independence Day..."

    Hooray! This is the first time in years that I've read an article that referred to Independence Day and not the valueless 4th of July. We shouldn't celebrate a calendar date. We should celebrate declaring our independence from an intolerable government that was unresponsive to the people.

  15. Brooks:

    People shouldn't be afraid of their governments. Government should be afraid of the people.

    Alan Moore, V for Vendetta

  16. Chris:

    You obviously have never traveled.

    I don't care about fighting. That's not my thing. I care about living.

    So while your busy "fighting" I'll be sitting back drinking umbrella drinks.

    Good luck with that.

  17. caseyboy:

    Chris, hit the beach big guy, you deserve all that that life has to offer. And how long do you think it will take for the progressive tyrants to find your little paradise island? Good luck with that yourself.

    I think I'll fight for my children and grandchildren, like my father and grandfather did for me.