<p>On July 4th in 1776, the Continental Congress in Philadelphia adopted the <a href="http://www.archives.gov/exhibit_hall/charters_of_freedom/declaration/dec... of Independence</a>, a document that announced the colonies’ freedom from the British Crown. Written by Thomas Jefferson, the declaration of freedom signaled a new approach to governance, rejecting tyranny and despotic rule in favor of a government whose power was limited in scope and whose authority was drawn from the people it governed. As so eloquently stated by Jefferson, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness— That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” Today, with the federal government alone consuming roughly <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/fy2004/pdf/spec.pdf">20 percent of the nation’s output,</a> it may be useful to revisit the original tenets outlined by Jefferson.</p>
<p> The Declaration of Independence is elegant in its simplicity, yet powerful enough to remain an inspiration for individual liberty and free societies to this day. Jefferson crafted a concise statement of the problem, outlined ways in which the king of England oppressed the colonies, and concluded that the only course for free men to follow was to break the ties with England and create a new nation. The problem, as the Founders saw it, was that England rejected the notion that individuals were born with an innate freedom to pursue “life, liberty, and happiness” in favor of tyrannical rule bent on exploiting the resources of the colonies. </p>
<p> Examining the list of grievances that Jefferson included in the Declaration provides important insights into the Founders’ vision of limited government constrained by the consent of the citizenry. Beyond the basic objections to restrictions on self-governance and rule by a foreign power, Jefferson outlines the fundamental elements of a free society by demonstrating where the Crown failed to foster free markets and individual liberty.</p>
<p> First, Jefferson addresses the need for the rule of law administered by a fair and independent judiciary that protects property, enforces contracts, and resolves disputes quickly. He accuses the Crown of abandoning these principles in favor of judges loyal only to the king for their position and their salaries. Although today’s judges are not beholden to foreign governments, the rule of law is in jeopardy. Trial lawyers and others have found ways to exploit the legal system for profit rather than justice. The role of contracts has been minimized and resolving disputes has become a lengthy and arduous process due to the frivolous lawsuits that clog the courts. The rule of law, an important cornerstone to a free society, must be restored to insure future prosperity.</p>
<p> The Declaration of Independence also identifies taxation without consent as a threat to a free society. Today’s tax code has become unfair, complex, and punitive. Today, taxpayers face double taxation and a tax code that treats similarly situated individuals completely differently. Moreover, the tax code is becoming increasingly arbitrary as the Alternative Minimum Tax extends to more individuals. President Bush has initiated important tax cuts, but fundamental reform is ultimately required to replace today’s incomprehensible tax code with a new system that is simple, fair, and honest. One option is a flat tax, which treats all taxpayers the same and taxes income only once.</p>
<p> The Declaration of Independence also notes the importance of markets and trade, claiming that England restricted trade, plundered the colonies, and harassed the people with the appointment of a “multitude of New Offices.” Today’s government has grown to the point where citizens face a regulatory burden of $800 billion annually, in addition to their tax burden. The federal government alone employs more than a million employees (excluding military employees) and regulations can create new threats to property rights while spawning needless red tape and restrictions on market activities.</p>
<p> There has always been a tendency for government to grow, and the Founders were acutely aware of the need for to constrain the growth of government. Jefferson’s list of grievances can describe any intrusive government, colonial or domestic. These grievances provided the basis to shed a tyrannical government in favor of a free society. As stated in the Declaration, “A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”</p>
<p> Drawing on the works of John Locke, Adam Smith, and other thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment, the Founders envisioned a government limited in scope and responsible to the people. Individuals did not exist to fund government activities; government was established to promote and protect individual pursuits and exchange in the marketplace. In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson made the case for abandoning the government-driven model of society. Once freedom was achieved, <a href="http://www.archives.gov/exhibit_hall/charters_of_freedom/constitution/co... U.S. Constitution</a> established the framework for limited government that protected the rights of the individuals and constrained the role of government. Celebrating the Fourth of July provides a reminder of the “eternal vigilance” required to protect our liberties and safeguard our free society.