The Declaration of Independence is, without any doubt, one of the most influential pieces of writing in the history of the United States of America. It is a systematic list of grievances that the American Colonists and Founding Fathers felt were perpetrated against them by the British. The ratification of this declaration led to many events, including the Revolutionary War, and ultimately, the founding of a nation. Soon after independence, however, the United States of America started passing policies and acting very similar to the very same British policies and actions that the Founding Fathers had taken such an issue with.
First, I’ll analyze the 1791 tax on liquor. Created by Alexander Hamilton, this tax was a great issue among western farmers, primarily because the only way they had to transport grain was in the form of whiskey, which unfortunately, fell under the umbrella of the liquor tax (Ripper 127). It was implemented in part due the fact that Alexander Hamilton, according to our textbook, Hamilton had an intense focus on building up the economy of the country, especially through manufacturing, banking and trade (Ripper 125). However, taxes, such as the liquor tax, were very similar to taxes imposed by the British, such as the infamous Stamp Act, a tax on paper. They were both taxes on products that people used regularly and had a very negative impact on the population being taxed.
Additionally, this liquor tax was very similar to taxes that the early colonists had explicitly condemned the British for implementing. The American Colonists originally feared and protested heavy taxation by the British, manifesting in well-known events like the Boston Tea Party. Specifically, though, this liquor tax brought on what was known as the “Whiskey Rebellion of 1794” (Ripper 127). Both were protests what James Otis famously said, “taxation without representation,” just implemented by different governments. The Founding Fathers were aware of this attitude as well, as our textbook brings out: “internal taxes were the devil that set off the Revolution” (Ripper 125). It even goes against what was clearly written in the Declaration of Independence: “for imposing taxes without our consent” (The Declaration).
Secondly, I’ll discuss the Alien and Sedition Acts. These laws, enacted by John Adams allowed any non-naturalized male older than fourteen to be “apprehended, restrained, and removed, as alien enemies” (Ripper 128). Right off the bat, this also conflicts with something written in the Declaration of Independence. There it reads: “He has endeavored [sic] to…[obstruct] the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners” (The Declaration). While not exactly, the same, the principle holds that both countries were violating the rights of non-naturalized residents of the United States.
Furthermore, the Alien and Sedition Acts allowed “anyone who criticized the administration” to be imprisoned. It was very similar to seditious libel laws imposed on Americans by the British, which, according to the article “Seditious Libel in Colonial America” by Assistant Professor of Journalism at the University of Wisconsin, Harold L. Nelson, allowed the British government to arrest people for criticizing the government, public officials, or the King himself. According to our textbook, the Alien and Sedition Acts caused the two-year disappearance of Freedom of the Press (Ripper 129), and seditious libel laws were one of the primary governmental “controls over the press” for the British (Nelson). This clearly also goes against the First Amendment of the Constitution which guarantees the Freedom of Speech and Free Press for all people.
These acts were very similar to the actions executed by the British government that the Founding Fathers wrote about as grievances in the Declaration of Independence and that directly influenced the Constitution of the United States. Policies such as the liquor tax of 1791 and the Alien and Sedition Acts violated many of the principles that the American Founding Fathers stood for.
So, in light of all that, my questions are: why do you think these actions occurred? Were they necessary to form a functional central government?