Murray Rothbard wrote that “There have been only two wars in American history that were, in my view, assuredly and unquestionably proper and just”: “the American Revolution, and the War for Southern Independence.” Now these wars may be just under “just war” theory, but in my view they were all unjust by libertarian standards. The use of conscription and taxation alone–by the US in the former, and the CSA in the latter–is enough to condemn the actions of these states as criminal.
Libertarians are not usually reluctant to condemn state crime and war, but for some reason if you make similar observations about the Revolutionary War, or the Civil War (either Lincoln’s, or the CSA’s, criminal actions), libertarians become apoplectic. Case in point: the reaction to my post Happy We-Should-Restore-The-Monarchy-And-Rejoin-Britain Day! “Proud Patriot” in the comments says that I “blame the freedom-loving patriots of the American Revolution for the mass murdering tyrants of the twentieth century”.
Well, some libertarians may want to overlook the typical crimes committed by states anytime there is war, but I don’t. The Declaration of Independence of course led to all the standard evils of war and raising an army-as Hummel noted, “unfunded government debt, paper money, skyrocketing inflation, price controls, legal tender laws, direct impressment of supplies and wide-spread conscription.”
Casual googling leads to all kinds of information on this. E.g.: as noted here:
The absence of a strong, central, colonial government resulted in a vast shortage of funding and human resources. Paper money and bills of credit financed the war, and while the paper money became almost valueless, inflation rocketed. Profiteers took advantage of these conditions to make money while workers held strikes for higher wages. Soldiers were also in short supply, with state militias sometimes competing against the Continental Army for them. Soldiers were generally ill fed, poorly clothed, and lacked weapons.
Around 5,000 blacks served in the colonial army. At first only free blacks were accepted, but the shortage in soldiers led to the conscription of slaves. Blacks fought with whites in unsegregated units. Americans Indians, threatened by colonial expansion, most often fought for the British, and after the revolt ended their claims to land and self-rule were largely ignored.
As the war dragged on, it became more difficult to find soldiers. States increased bounties, shortened terms, and reluctantly forced men to serve. But conscription was such a distasteful and dangerous exercise of state power that legislatures would use it only in extreme circumstances. More frequently, legislatures tried to reinforce the army with men drawn by incentive or compulsion from the militia for only a few months of summer service. The army’s composition thus reflected a bewildering variety of enlistment terms. After 1779, for example, a Connecticut company might have eight or ten privates serving for three years or the war, and twice or three times that number enlisted only for the summer. Washington’s complaints to Congress have obscured his genius in building an effective army out of the limited service most Americans were willing to undertake.
During the Revolutionary War, state governments assumed the colonies’ authority to raise their short?term militias through drafts if necessary. They sometimes extended this to state units in the Continental Army, but they denied Gen. George Washington’s request that the central government be empowered to conscript. As the initial volunteering slackened, states boosted enlistment bounties and held occasional drafts, producing more hired substitutes than actual draftees.
Even with their powerful new ally, the Americans remained in dire straits. Enlistments were down and conscription, while utilized, was unpopular.
This book mentions the execution of soldiers during the Revolutionary War for desertion and other things — “For examples of soldiers executed without recourse to a trial by courts-martial, see Henry Lee, Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department of the United States ..”
As my friend Manuel Lora wrote me: “In order to be free we shall establish a state, inflate the money supply, control trade and enslave people to work the fields and the killing fields. … Happy 4th of July.”
Update: ¿Feliz día de la Independencia? by Albert Esplugas: an excerpt: “I am not convinced that [July 4th] should be celebrated in America either”
A good comment on Don Boudreaux’s post The Founders Would Be Appalled:
I agree with you when you wrote that “the form of government that was laid down by these men set the stage for the most dynamic, and freest civilization the world has ever known.”
But I passionately hate this romantic notion regarding the founders of this country, purported by many libertarians and conservatives, as somehow being noble and good, and different from modern politicians, when in fact, many of them were hypocritical slaveholders.
To debunk this nonsense about these people as somehow being outstanding American citizens, I will emphasize my last post for the other readers to be perfectly clear:
“…these men knew what they were doing was not only morally reprehensible, but entirely against everything which they were fighting for, and yet they still held these people as slaves!
To be clear, they were hypocrites who talked a big game about liberty and justice, but were abject failures because they lacked the courage to follow their passionate convictions. They were pure cowards, and nothing better.”
That’s my beef…….that so many libertarians and conservatives look up to these cowards as somehow superior and worthy of emulation, when they failed at following up on even the most basic tenets of their writings and speeches.
In fact, had they not enslaved people, then yes, I probably would be exalting the things they wrote about too, but unlike many other libertarians, I see them for the complete cowards they were.
I mean, how can a man think, write, speak and fight for liberty and justice all day from the comforts of his home while looking out the window as the people he “owns”, his slaves, are being forced to work against their will.
Really, let’s stop this foolishness about the “founders” being so great and “better” than today’s politicians, and get a proper perspective of history here.
And from Trevor Bothwell:
Today I will be celebrating friendships at the Fourth of July party I’ll be attending. Unlike the vast majority of people, however, I will not be celebrating my country’s decision to shed one criminal enterprise for the formation of another, nor will I delude myself into thinking that the United States is in any capacity a free country in terms of libertarian values.
And in Los padres fundadores, con perspectiva histórica, Albert Esplugas discusses this post.
Update: Hurrah for King George!, by John Attarian.