July 4, 2014

FROM THE ARCHIVES : IF ONLY GEORGE HAD PAID SUCH CAREFUL ATTENTION:

Why Britons should celebrate the American Declaration of Independence (Daniel Hannan, July 4th, 2013, The Telegraph)

The men who raised that standard believed that they were fighting for their freedoms as Britons - freedoms which had been trampled by a Hanoverian king and his hirelings. When they called themselves Patriots - a word that had been common currency among Whigs on both sides of the Atlantic long before anyone dreamed of a separation - they meant that they were British patriots, cherishing the peculiar liberties that had come down to them since Magna Carta: jury trials, free contract, property rights, habeas corpus, parliamentary representation, liberty of conscience and the common law.

It was these ideals that, as I blog over at ConservativeHome, were set to paper in a small secular miracle at Philadelphia's old courthouse. As the Virginia-born Lady Astor later put it, the war was fought "by British Americans against a German King for British ideals."

Don't take her word for it: look at the primary sources. The resolutions of the Continental Congress are a protracted complaint about the violations of traditional British liberties. The same is true of the Declaration of Independence itself. As that great Anglo-American, Winston Churchill, put it:

The Declaration was in the main a restatement of the principles which had animated the Whig struggle against the later Stuarts and the English Revolution of 1688.

Indeed it was, often in the most literal way: the right of petition, the prohibition of standing armies, the protection of common law and jury trials, the right to bear arms - all were copied from England's Glorious Revolution. Some of the clauses of England's 1689 Bill of Rights were reproduced without amendment. Here, for example, is the English Bill of Rights on criminal justice:

Excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

And here is the U.S. Constitution:

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

The American Revolution was motivated, not by a rejection but a reaffirmation - indeed, an intensification - of British national identity.

[originally posted: 7/05/13]
Posted by at July 4, 2014 12:23 AM
  

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