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Terence Jeffrey / Feb. 28, 2018

Pioneer Nation vs. Welfare State

When the British Parliament was debating in 1765 whether to impose a direct tax on the American colonies through the Stamp Act, Charles Townshend rose in the House of Commons to defend that taxation — and insult the colonists.

When the British Parliament was debating in 1765 whether to impose a direct tax on the American colonies through the Stamp Act, Charles Townshend rose in the House of Commons to defend that taxation — and insult the colonists.

“And now will these Americans, children planted by our care, nourished up by our indulgence until they are grown to a degree of strength and opulence, and protected by our arms, will they grudge to contribute their mite to relieve us from the heavy weight of that burden which we lie under?” Townshend asked.

The tone and substance of Townshend’s question outraged Col. Isaac Barre, who before serving in Parliament had served with Gen. James Wolfe in the Battle of Quebec — where he survived being shot in the face.

Barre was both intimidating and eloquent.

In his memoirs, Horace Walpole described hearing Barre speak in Parliament for the first time with what Walpole described as “very classic and eloquent diction.”

“I turned, and saw a face equally new; a black, robust man, of a military figure, rather hard-favoured than not young, with a peculiar distortion on one side of his face, which it seems was owing to a bullet lodged loosely in his cheek, and which gave a savage glare to one eye,” Walpole wrote in a passage memorialized on the History of Parliament website.

Barre’s response to Townshend during the Stamp Act debate has been published online by the National Humanities Center.

“They planted by your care? No!” said Barre. “Your oppressions planted them in America. They fled from your tyranny to a then uncultivated and unhospitable country — where they exposed themselves to almost all the hardships to which human nature is liable. …

"They nourished up by your indulgence?” said Barre. “They grew by your neglect of them: As soon as you began to care about them, that care was exercised in sending persons to rule over them, in one department and another, who were perhaps the deputies of deputies to some member of this House — sent to spy out their liberty, to misrepresent their actions and to prey upon them. …

"They protected by your arms?” Barre said. “They have nobly taken up arms in your defense, have exerted a valour amidst their constant and laborious industry for the defense of a country, whose frontier, while drenched in blood, its interior parts have yielded all its little savings to your emolument. And believe me, remember I this day told you so, that same spirit of freedom which actuated that people at first, will accompany them still. …

"God knows,” Barre said, “I do not at this time speak from motives of party heat, what I deliver are the genuine sentiments of my heart, however superior to me in general knowledge and experience the reputable body of this House may be, yet I claim to know more of America than most of you, having seen and been conversant in that country.

"The people I believe,” he concluded, “are as truly loyal as any subjects the King has, but a people jealous of their liberties and who will vindicate them, if ever they should be violated, but the subject is too delicate and I will say no more.”

Across the water in Massachusetts, as his fellow colonists reacted with outrage to the Stamp Act, John Adams expressed a similar understanding of the American spirit.

“Let us read and recollect and impress upon our souls the views and ends of our own more immediate forefathers, in exchanging their native country for a dreary, inhospitable wilderness,” wrote Adams.

“Let us examine into the nature of that power, and the cruelty of that oppression, which drove them from their homes,” he said. “Recollect their amazing fortitude, their bitter sufferings — the hunger, the nakedness, the cold, which they patiently endured — the severe labors of clearing their grounds, building their houses, raising their provisions. …

"Recollect the civil and religious principles and hopes and expectations which constantly supported and carried them through all hardships with patience and recognition,” he wrote.

“Let us recollect,” Adams said, “it was liberty, the hope of liberty for themselves and us and ours, which conquered all discouragements, dangers and trials.”

Col. Isaac Barre and John Adams understood that American freedom was rooted in the pioneering spirit of its people. They understood it rose from self-reliance.

Americans did not want Parliament to take care of them. They wanted Parliament to refrain from taxing them.

Generations of Americans would bring the pioneering spirit Barre warned Parliament to recognize and respect and Adams called on Americans to remember and re-embrace across the Appalachians, beyond the plains and over the Rockies to the Pacific shore.

Along the way, they would build the world’s greatest nation: independent, prosperous and free.

Today, about 40 percent of American babies are born to unwed mothers.

There are more than 42 million on food stamps; 58 million on Medicare; 61 million on Social Security; and 74 million on Medicaid.

With the federal government collecting record tax revenues, the federal debt will soon top $21 trillion.

And our politicians sound more and more like Charles Townshend and less like Isaac Barre.

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