So I’m standing in line at the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles License Plate Office, and I’m reflecting on the nature of freedom. (Doesn’t everyone reflect on the nature of freedom when standing in a long line to pay good money to purchase a little sticker proving they have Big Brother’s permission to drive a vehicle they bought with their own money? They don’t? Why not?)
Then I see a sign saying that the new North Carolina First in Freedom license plates had arrived! That would be this pretty little objet d’art:
If you've not heard of it, here's the tale as chronicled by one news source:
“North Carolina is unveiling a new state license plate ahead of July Fourth.
“Beginning Wednesday, North Carolina motorists can choose a new ‘First in Freedom’ standard state license plate for the first time since 1982.
"The ‘First in Freedom’ plate joins the ‘First in Flight’ plate, as the second standard-issue option for vehicle owners and recognizes the state's historic role in the creation of the United States.
"'North Carolina is a state of firsts and we continue to be a leader in innovation,’ said Governor Pat McCrory. ‘What a great way to celebrate North Carolina's rich history and the birth of our nation by offering drivers a chance to proudly display a plate that honors our contribution to freedom, here in one of the most military friendly states.’
“The phrase ‘First in Freedom’ recognizes two ‘firsts’ established by North Carolinians during the early stages of the American Revolution. The Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence and the Halifax Resolves have been noted throughout history as the first steps by one of the original 13 colonies to secede from Great Britain.
“This new version was designed by Charles Robinson, a historian and license plate collector who lives in Troy.”
“Huh,” I says to myself. “Next time I get a license plate, I think I’ll have to decline the ‘First in Freedom’ plate.”
Not that I’m against Freedom, or even being First in Freedom. I just don’t think I could stand the irony of proclaiming my “freedom” on a government-issued permission slip. A bit silly, what? Kind of like Pharaoh issuing “I Love Liberty” t-shirts to the Hebrews. (And no, I'm not saying our plight is like unto theirs; just a minor and legitimate use of hyperbole to make a point).
Surely you see that, dear reader? In the Land of the Free today, you cannot exercise the basic freedom to move about town or travel without (1) A state-issued license to drive, updated every few years, (2) a state-approved inspection of your vehicle, updated every year, and (3) a state-issued registration of your vehicle, with the accompanying license plate to prove it. Not to mention, having paid (4) the various taxes and fees for all these proofs of your government’s approval to do what free men in America used to do without anyone’s permission. And of course, if you were to attempt to drive around in your vehicle without any of these (in other words, if you make the mistake of acting like a free man), you run the risk of getting stopped by the police, and having your “papers” (license and registration) demanded.
Followed, of course, by more fees, and possibly the withdrawal of permission to move about freely.
This is freedom?
So anyway, I get up to the counter to renew my registration, and am informed that I actually do need a new license plate, after all, since it’s for a vehicle that has been off the road for more than a year (and of course that costs more; nice little racket). And the clerk looks at me and asks the question: “Would you like the First in Flight or First in Freedom plate?”
And I start to go into my spiel about irony. Only, I don’t. I suddenly have a new thought: irony cuts both ways. If it’s ironic for a supposedly free man to proclaim his freedom on a government permission plate, it’s equally ironic for the government to issue a plate celebrating freedom from government overreach. The Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence* and the Halifax Resolves were, after all, declarations of independence and secession from tyrannical government. Notice the plate above, which gives the dates of these notable resolutions. Is it such a bad thing, I think to myself, to spread knowledge of these freedom declaration documents throughout our state?
What might happen if a million motorists start tooling around on North Carolina roads proclaiming their government’s approval of independence and secession from government? Maybe nothing. Or maybe a few dozen, or a few hundred, or a few thousand, might begin to notice the irony, too, and begin to think, just a little more, like free men, even if they are not yet really free.
“First in Freedom,” I says to the clerk, as I pay for my permission plate.
* I am aware of the controversy surrounding The Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence (as distinct from The Mecklenburg Resolves), but it is beyond the scope of this article to attempt to deal with that. The point is, North Carolina’s pioneering role in American independence is celebrated on the new “First in Freedom” plate, and the plate does honor the genuine spirit of liberty that broke off the shackles of a tyrannical government. It’s worth noting that there is no similar controversy over the Halifax Resolves, which are also celebrated on the new license plate, and which predated the American Declaration of Independence by almost three months.