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American Declaration of Independence: Ideology or Economy?

Written By: Jason Shafrin - Feb• 20•12

On this President’s Day, let’s revisit America’s founding document: the Declaration of Independence.  The Declaration of Independence includes broad ideological statements such as “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” and claims that the British have violated “certain unalienable rights.”

But were the real reasons for the American Revolution economic?  According to to Lynd and Waldstreicher, the answer is yes.  Wilson Quarterly reports:

Scholars tend to view the ideological arguments for independence as building to a critical point and preoccupying the colonists thereafter. That’s inaccurate, Lynd and Waldstreicher write: From the mid-18th century right up to the signing of the Declaration, Americans objected to a myriad of British imperial policies principally on economic grounds. The antitax sentiment of the Boston Tea Party in 1773 is well known, but Americans also protested British attempts to requisition resources during the Seven Years’ War (1756–63), imperial currency manipulation that left the colonies strapped, and prohibitions on trade with the French West Indies, along with many other policies.

The authors claim to make the strongest case for their course of action, these early Americans subsumed their economic frustrations within a broader argument for sovereignty based on the violation of rights.

In today’s Presidential races, we also see economic arguments couched in ideological terms.  Obama’s argument to raise taxes is delivered under a fairness argument.  President Obama says it’s the ‘height of unfairness‘ that the very wealthy can pay a lower percentage of their income in federal taxes than many in the middle class.

Tea Party candidates that argue for lower taxes do so using the language of “fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government, and free market economic policies.”

The take-away is that political rhetoric–both now and in colonial times–often is used to justify fundamentally economic arguments.

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