Listening to politicians it can be difficult to discern between opponents. Both sides often claim to want the exact same outcome, and to only disagree on how to get there.

I Have My Doubts.

Yes, every American politician would claim to want a peaceful, prosperous America, but if you ask them to define their view of peaceful and prosperous you might be surprised.

Recently I read Jeff Shaara’s Rise to Rebellion (highly recommended) and one scene involving Benjamin Franklin in Ireland led me to research further. No surprise, I found Mr. Shaara’s account to be very accurate.

In the early 1770s most colonists were loyal to their King and their country. They considered themselves British and trusted that the King and Parliament were trying to secure for them all the blessings of prosperity and freedom that the other British subjects enjoyed. When they were taxed they understood it to be their responsibility to pay as active participants in their empire. When the government set up a monopoly and only allowed them to purchase goods that they approved, they also accepted this as the king’s prerogative. After all, he had their best interest at heart. He wanted his empire to prosper and they were part of that empire.

Benjamin Franklin spent years in London prior to the revolution, acting as an agent for several of the colonial assemblies and even he was puzzled by the treatment of the colonies by the British. Weren’t they all working toward the same goal? Didn’t they all want America to grow in wealth and culture?

A Nasty Surprise

But a trip to Ireland, opened his eyes. There he saw a country where 95% of the available land was owned by absentee British landlords. Tenant farmers grew crops that were taken from them and sold to fill the coffers of Great Britain. In Franklin’s words – “three fourths of the People of Ireland, live the Year round on Potatoes and Butter milk, without Shirts, then may their Merchants export Beef, Butter and Linnen.”

Franklin realized that the future the British government envisioned for the American colonies didn’t include freedom and dignity. In the name of protection, they would bleed the continent’s resources dry and not allow the workers to keep their wages. Seeing what Britain had done in Ireland was a warning of what the American colonists could expect. Was Ireland peaceful? Yes. Was it prosperous? The British government was certainly expanding, but at the citizens’ expense.

What is Your Vision?

So much of politics involves promising everything to everybody, and yes, if someone could deliver unlimited benefits without cost, I’d be all for it. But that’s not how the world works. Instead of assuming we all desire the same outcome, instead of arguing about the next turn in the road, maybe we need to ask where this path is ultimately taking us. Ask those running for office what their vision of a successful America looks like and compare it to your own. How much freedom are they willing to rescind to make us feel secure? How much risk will you tolerate to have opportunities? In your ideal America will people have more choices or less? Will we be taken care of or will we have the freedom to succeed and/or fail?

And do your research. Are there “Irelands” that we can study who’ve gone down this path before us?

I doubt anyone’s wish for America’s future is exactly the same, but knowing where you want to go is the first step to getting there.

Happy Independence Day!

(photo by Sam LeVan)


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