British on the 4th of July
America's 4th of July celebrations are deservedly extravagant. As for me, one of the things I celebrate is that England founded the original thirteen colonies and buttressed what became known as "the shining city on a hill."
While the majority of America's founders were of British extraction, Sam Adams and Thomas Paine often contest for title of "Father of the American Revolution."
Sam Adams argued for independence long before shots were fired at Lexington. His lineage was English, and he was a devout Puritan born in the British colony of Massachusetts in 1722.
Thomas Paine really stoked revolutionary fervor with his hugely influential pamphlet Common Sense, which was anonymously "Signed by an Englishman." He moved from England to the American colonies in 1774.
Jefferson's inspirational words in the poetic Declaration of Independence extend English philosopher John Locke's musings on the "consent of the governed."
Most of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 had British heritage; so did America's first seven presidents.
I'm grateful for all this British influence; after all, the British fine-tuned the instruments of a great democracy and conducted a symphony of classical liberalism that touches the souls of all freedom-loving people.
Indeed, none other than Alexis de Tocqueville wrote this is his seminal treatise Democracy in America: "The English colonies (and this is one of the main causes of their prosperity) have always enjoyed more internal freedom and more political independence than the colonies of other nations[.]"
In short, it was simply more salubrious to live under British administration than to be subject to the whims of supercilious French officials, by Jove.
Of course, over an empire so vast that the sun always shined, there were a few trouble spots. But historical events are best judged by the standards of their time. Occasionally, a pro-consul or viceroy had to be strict when dealing with uncouth people who would mistreat their women and engage in preposterous violations of human dignity like cannibalism or suttee.
Yet the British Empire, as far as empires go, was relatively benign, and its residents benefited from communications, railroads, civil service, common law, technology, and education.
View a world map, and you'll notice that most of the prosperous nations share some things in common: an established civil service, sound financial system, common law, and English as a first or strong second language. Beyond the obvious English-speaking nations, the flourishing commercial enclaves of Singapore and Hong Kong can trace their vibrancy to British influence. Even India, the old Jewel in the Crown, is doing well thanks largely to its adoption of the English language.
Over the course of centuries, America has experienced upheavals even the most prescient leader couldn't imagine. Yet, following a sequence of political, industrial, social, and digital revolutions, Americans still revere the visionary English leaders who established a bastion of freedom that affords opportunity and encourages immigration.
The sentiments expressed by John Hector St. John in 1781 are relevant today: "[The Englishman] must greatly rejoice that [he] lived at a time to see this fair country discovered and settled; he must necessarily feel a share of national pride, when he views the chain of settlements which embellishes these extended shores."
No wonder America celebrates its founding so enthusiastically. No wonder my overzealous neighbors keep me up all night. It's not because they have an extra day off -- they're joyful because Britain bequeathed such a strong tradition of classical liberalism.
This Fourth of July, we'll rejoice in our Independence. Sure, we kicked out the nutty King George III, but we may not be as disconnected from the monarchy as our founding documents suggest.
Almost all of us would instantly recognize Queen Elizabeth II; after all, she's a perennial member of Gallup's top-ten list of most admired women. Many of us would also recognize many of her children and grandchildren. But I challenge you to name a Royal who is not British.
I bet all you came up with was a few kings and queens from the world of pop.
Light up those firecrackers, you Yankee Doodles.