Collective Action and the Declaration of Independence
Religion & Liberty Online

Collective Action and the Declaration of Independence

“Modern Americans read the Declaration of Independence too individualistically,” says James R. Rogers. “We think of it as a revolt against high taxes and big government.”

Take the Declaration’s best-known complaint against the King, “for imposing taxes on us without our consent.” This is not about high taxes. Any tax, no matter how mild, that is imposed without a people’s “consent” would violate this principle. On the other hand, a very high tax, imposed with the consent of the people, would be unobjectionable.

As much as they objected to violations of individual liberty, the colonists objected to the King’s preventing them from exercising a collective liberty–to be governed by laws established by their own consent through their representatives. This aspect of the Declaration’s argument has been largely lost in the emphasis we place on individual rights.

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Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).