Birth of a Nation
The birth of a nation may look grand in history books, but in reality a birth can be a rather painful experience.
George Washington was the first president of the United States. He served two terms (1789-1797).
During this period, the region west of the Appalachian Mountains (western Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland and Kentucky) was in turmoil. People were at odds with the new government, which led to various protests and acts of violence. It was a spontaneous insurrection by those seeking regional secession from federalism.
Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton referred to this problem as "the Whiskey Rebellion" because distilled liquor played an important role in the economic lives of the people in the area and Hamilton blamed the recently enacted federal tax specifically on whiskey for the rebelliousness. It was also his way of insulting the rural population (Hamilton was a New York City lawyer) and trivializing criticism of his federal economic policy.
In the summer of 1794, George Washington dispatched General Henry Lee to the region, without warrants or approval of Congress, whereupon mass arrests of citizens were made. Federal troops rounded up hundreds of people and detained them without any evidence or charges against them. Detainees were subjected to harsh conditions and interrogations where they were told they would be hanged if they didn't cooperate.
During the operation, federal troops visited every home in the region and required every male over the age of 18 to sign an oath of loyalty. Only then were some of the detainees released. The remaining detainees were forcibly marched 400 miles to the capital, paraded through the streets and imprisoned under extreme conditions.
Welcome to America -- a brand new nation based on freedom, with liberty and justice for all.
Alexander Hamilton, an influential force during the birth of the nation, advocated a powerful national government to manage the economy and society through massive federal borrowing, supported by an elaborate scheme of taxation, to achieve a social agenda based on the consolidation of business and finance.
Small enterprises would be absorbed into corporate structures with close ties to the executive branch of the government, and a large military establishment would be created to impose national unity, by force, even if it meant the systematic violation, by the executive branch, of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution -- the Bill of Rights.
Hamilton (and others in the administration) wanted big government to control every aspect of American life. Like today's liberals, they yearned to manipulate society and manage business. Like today's conservatives, they yearned to dominate people by force. But big government costs big bucks and tends to suffocate the masses.
In 2006, we spend tons of money on social engineering (government as a charity) and tons of money on military items (more than all other countries in the world combined). Our national debt now exceeds $8 trillion and continues to rise every day. Divided evenly among all Americans, each of us is about $30,000 in debt.
The Whiskey Rebellion was a prime example of the need for a limited, balanced government. Prior to federal intervention, ordinary folks, with their meager earnings, fell prey to either lawless thugs or local government cronyism. In the aftermath of the uprising, the federal government exercised excessive authority over innocent citizens.
In a perfect world, there would be little need for government. But the world isn't perfect, thereby necessitating a need for a collective decision-making body to make reasonable rules, adjudicate disputes and ensure freedom.
Without government, the greedy bully rules by force. With too much government, the government becomes the greedy bully. The solution lies somewhere in between. Less is usually better, but only to a certain point.
Our country was born in 1776. Over the last 230 years, we've shed sweat and blood to become the richest, most powerful nation on earth. Yet we still spend more money than we earn and lust for more.
With wealth and power comes responsibility. Perhaps one of these days we'll grow up.
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Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels, which are available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.