Wednesday, June 17, 2009

June 17: Bunker Hill, Smoot-Hawley, and Atheism

Today is a legal holiday in Suffolk County, Massachusetts (which includes the city of Boston), in commemoration of the Battle of Bunker Hill, which took place on this day in 1775, two months after the battle at Lexington and Concord, and a year before the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Massachusetts was a hotbed of anti-government sentiment in 1775. Isn't that ironic. They were serious when they said "No Taxation Without Representation." The Battles at Lexington and Concord, in Middlesex County, were essentially a rebellion against Gun Control acts, with the British attempting to confiscate stores of ammunition, which were going to be used by the American colonists to resist the British tax collectors.

155 years later to the day, in 1930, Herbert Hoover signed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act into law. Lawrence Reed describes the taxes (which is what "tariffs" really are):

Tariffs on linseed oil, tungsten, and casein hammered the U.S. paint, steel and paper industries, respectively. More than 800 items used in automobile production were taxed by Smoot-Hawley. Most of the 60,000 people employed in U.S. plants making cheap clothing out of imported wool rags went home jobless after the tariff on wool rags rose by 140 percent.

Officials in the administration and in Congress believed that raising trade barriers would force Americans to buy more goods made at home, which would solve the nagging unemployment problem. But they ignored an important principle of international commerce: Trade is ultimately a two-way street; if foreigners cannot sell their goods here, then they cannot earn the dollars they need to buy here. Or, to put it another way, government cannot shut off imports without simultaneously shutting off exports.

With a stroke of the presidential pen, farmers in this country lost nearly a third of their markets. Farm prices plummeted and tens of thousands of farmers went bankrupt. A bushel of wheat that sold for $1 in 1929 was selling for a mere 30 cents by 1932.

With the collapse of agriculture, rural banks failed in record numbers, dragging down hundreds of thousands of their customers. Nine thousand banks closed their doors in the United States between 1930 and 1933. The stock market, which had regained much of the ground it had lost since the previous October, tumbled 20 points on the day Hoover signed Smoot-Hawley into law, and fell almost without respite for the next two years

Did Hoover really subscribe to a “hands-off-the-economy,” free-market philosophy? His opponent in the 1932 election, Franklin Roosevelt, didn’t think so. During the campaign, Roosevelt blasted Hoover for spending and taxing too much, boosting the national debt, choking off trade, and putting millions on the dole. He accused the president of “reckless and extravagant” spending, of thinking “that we ought to center control of everything in Washington as rapidly as possible,” and of presiding over “the greatest spending administration in peacetime in all of history.” Roosevelt’s running mate, John Nance Garner, charged that Hoover was “leading the country down the path of socialism.”

Contrary to the conventional view about Hoover, Roosevelt and Garner were absolutely right.

Today the sympathies of the people of Boston and Cambridge are on the side of the massive taxation and government control which produced and prolonged the Great Depression, not on the side of the militia who fought at Bunker Hill.

Last fall, when President Bush proposed his massive "bailout" bill, the American people expressed with undeniable clarity their opposition to the bill, sending their representatives in Congress a huge amount of letters, noted not only for their number, but for their passion. The House of Representatives voted against the "bailout."

Then they were apparently "taken out to the woodshed" by the "powers that be," and they returned to Congress with their tails between their legs and voted a second time -- this time in favor of the bailout.

In just the last few years, the federal government has confiscated and redistributed trillions of dollars of wealth through a process called "monetization of debt." The colonists at Bunker Hill took up arms against a ridiculously small amount of taxation and government control, compared to what Americans put up with today.

Which is not to advocate taking up arms against the government in 2009. But never has this nation seen such flagrant "taxation without representation."

188 years to the day after the Battle of Bunker Hill, in 1963, the federal government prohibited Pennsylvania (and the rest of the nation) from permitting voluntary Bible reading in public schools (School District of Abington Township, Pennsylvania, et al. v. Schempp et al., 374 U.S. 203).

In his dissent, Justice Stewart charged that the U.S. Supreme Court had assumed "the role of a super board of education for every school district in the nation."

It might also be argued that parents who want their children exposed to religious influences can adequately fulfill that wish off school property and outside school time. With all its surface persuasiveness, however, this argument seriously misconceives the basic constitutional justification for permitting the exercises at issue in these cases. For a compulsory state educational system so structures a child's life that if religious exercises are held to be an impermissible activity in schools, religion is placed at an artificial and state-created disadvantage. Viewed in this light, permission of such exercises for those who want them is necessary if the schools are truly to be neutral in the matter of religion. And a refusal to permit religious exercises thus is seen, not as the realization of state neutrality, but rather as the establishment of a religion of secularism, or at the least, as government support of the beliefs of those who think that religious exercises should be conducted only in private.

This decision would have generated more revolutionary alarm in 1775 than all the Stamp Acts put together.

Can anyone seriously deny that America, once a land of "Liberty Under God," has now become an atheistic dictatorship? The decisions to remove voluntary prayer (1962) and voluntary Bible reading (1963) from public schools eventually resulted in our becoming a nation where it is illegal for students to be taught that the Declaration of Independence is really true. Students can be taught that Americans in 1776 -- like those who fought at Bunker Hill -- believed that the Declaration was true, but students in 2009 cannot be taught that the propositions contained in the Declaration of Independence really are true, true outside my own head, objectively true, regardless of what mere mortals believe.

While the anti-religion Court decisions in 1961-63 were important, they also represented trends which had been developing for decades. Many of these trends originated in Massachusetts. They were first to load their muskets (a mistake), first to repudiate Trinitarianism in favor of unitarianism (a mistake), and the last to repudiate government-funded clergy (taxes and clergy are both mistakes). These are the roots of secular statism. Back in 1892, when the Court was more conservative, it saw these secular trends, and tried to warn America against them. In the case of Holy Trinity Church vs. United States, the Court reminded the nation that America was officially and legally a Christian nation. Though this blog takes the position that the American Revolution was an unChristian violation of Biblical commands against violent resistance against the State, it was also Christian morality that formed the foundation for the moral outrage against taxation and government control of the colonies.

Today the only idea that creates "moral outrage" is the claim that Christianity is the only true religion. We tolerate everything that Christianity prohibits, including massive government theft. Americans don't even want to audit the government and learn the dimensions of its theft -- much less actively oppose it.

I am an intolerant Christian pacifist in a land of "tolerant" secular statists. It is a land that those who fought at Bunker Hill would not recognize.

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