Throughout the world, and throughout history, man has desired the freedom to live in peace, to live a good life, and to be in charge of his own destiny. Countless revolutions have been waged to ensure freedom from tyranny. As governments grow large and unchecked, citizens rise up to throw off their chains.
Americans know all about this. And British history is alive with tales of overthrowing Roman rule. Britons went on to enjoy a 2,000-year reign as an independent nation, until they very recently joined the European Union.
History was made on June 23, 2016, when British voters chose to leave the EU and regain their independence. Amid the emotionally-charged clamor from both sides of the issue, I immediately began to see similarities to the American Revolution. Some of the details are different, but many of the arguments and fears on both sides are the same.
In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson summed up the many complaints of the colonists in one phrase: “no representation.” They were forced to obey laws and submit to taxes that did not benefit the unique situation that Americans were living in, and their continual pleas for peace and compromise were ignored.
At the heart of the Brexit campaign is the frustration laws made by an unelected group of rulers in the European Union. Watch Nigel Farage (leader of the Independence Party) as he confronts Herman Van Rompuy, the President of the EU appointed by the European Council.
You can see the frustration with having to bow to an unelected leader in another country.
As the American founders knew, throwing off a tyrannical leader is much harder work than keeping the status quo, however unpleasant that may be. Though the “Leave” campaign won the referendum in Great Britain, it was not a landslide. There were many, many British citizens who wanted to remain part of the EU. Their fears include:
- Economic destabilization
- Loss of jobs
- Loss of trade
When a nation chooses to dramatically reset their future, turbulent changes are bound to happen. There will be some financial havoc, and there will be political turmoil, especially in this global world of the 21st Century. But we Americans can say with complete confidence that freedom and sovereignty are well worth the risk.
With 240 years of Independence under our belts, it’s hard for Americans today to imagine that anyone in Colonial America would have chosen to side with the King of England. But they definitely existed, and in large number. They had several names, including Tories and Loyalists.
One such Loyalist was Daniel Leonard, who penned three famous letters to the Massachusetts Gazette to beg Americans to “remain.”
“It is our highest interest to continue a part of the British empire; and equally our duty to remain subject to the authority of parliament.” (Read the full letter, dated January 9, 1775, here).
One year later, Thomas Paine pressed the case for revolution in his famous “Common Sense” in order to persuade the colonies to disengage themselves from the tyranny of King George. In response, William Smith, an American clergyman, writing under the name of “Cato,” begged Pennsylvanians to see the benefits of remaining a British Colony:
“Upon such a footing [peace with Britain], we may again be happy. Our trade will be revived. Our husbandmen, our mechanics, our artificers will flourish. Our language, our laws, and manners being the same with those of the nation with which we will again be connected, that connection will be natural; and we shall the more easily guard again future innovations. Pennsylvania has much to lose in this contest and much to hope from a proper settlement of it. We have long flourished under our charter government. What may be the consequences of another form we cannot pronounce with certainty; but this we know, that it is a road we have not traveled and may be worse than it is described.”
Another Loyalist clergyman, the Reverend Charles Inglis, wrote:
“But if America should now mistake her real interest — if her sons, infatuated with romantic notions of conquest and empire, ere things are ripe, should adopt this republican’s scheme — they will infallibly destroy this smiling prospect. They will dismember this happy country, make it a scene of blood and slaughter, and entail wretchedness and misery on millions yet unborn.”
“…the common bond that tied us together, and by which our property was secured, would be snapt asunder. It is not to be doubted but our Congress would endeavor to apply some remedy for those evils; but with all deference to that respectable body, I do not apprehend that any remedy in their power would be adequate, at least for some time.”
That whole U.S. Constitution thing turned out pretty well, huh Charles?
Inglis also wrote:
“Besides the unsuitableness of the republican form to the genius of the people, America is too extensive for it. That form may do well enough for a single city, or small territory; but would be utterly improper for such a continent as this. America is too unwieldy for the feeble, dilatory administration of democracy.”
Again, his fears were so wrong. Read his entire response to “Common Sense” here.
There was a time of instability after the American Revolution. A brand new nation was forming. They had to form a brand new government and establish trade (both domestic and foreign), while dealing with the ongoing Indian problem, the question of slavery, and the expansion of territory. It was quite the task! But with the dawn of a new nation came endless opportunity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!
Obviously, hindsight is 20/20. We know how the story turned out. But, as you might imagine, being a Loyalist was unpopular. The idea of Independence reigned supreme in the Colonies. Loyalists were bullied, intimidated, and assaulted. Tarring and feathering was a famous punishment.
Today, it’s a little different. There is a lot of sentiment against those who won in in the EU referendum. Social media makes an issue of this magnitude a completely different playing field. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry gets to blast their opinions, no matter how ugly or hateful, to the world.
But the vote speaks for itself. More than 70% of Brits turned out for this referendum, and British Sovereignty won.
The American founders knew:
“THAT TO SECURE THESE RIGHTS, GOVERNMENTS ARE INSTITUTED AMONG MEN, DERIVING THEIR JUST POWERS FROM THE CONSENT OF THE GOVERNED –THAT WHENEVER ANY FORM OF GOVERNMENT BECOMES DESTRUCTIVE OF THESE ENDS, IT IS THE RIGHT OF THE PEOPLE TO ALTER OR TO ABOLISH IT, AND TO INSTITUTE NEW GOVERNMENT, LAYING ITS FOUNDATION ON SUCH PRINCIPLES AND ORGANIZING ITS POWERS IN SUCH FORM, AS TO THEM SHALL SEEM MOST LIKELY TO EFFECT THEIR SAFETY AND HAPPINESS.”
The British have a long, rich history going back 2,000 years, and as an American, I proudly share that history. Frankly, I’ve been worriedly watching world events and fearing that England would lead the way in the downfall of Western Civilization. So this British Independence Day is exciting to watch.
May Brexit be the U-turn in the road that is needed to boost all people seeking government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
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You might also like my post on The History of the Declaration of Independence.
Before you go, let me recommend one of my favorite books on British History: The History of the English Speaking Peoples by Winston Churchill.