American Revolution, British Empire, Edmund Burke, England, English Civil war, English Reformation, Henry, United States
Too often I find myself frustrated with young men (and it does seem to be mostly men), it often seems that they have no idea of things that have gone before. It also strikes me that they are much too given to teleological argument in history. Especially since the history of English (and American) resistance has been almost invariably a desire to go back to “the good old law”. Eventually, I cool off and remember how smart my dad got when I went to college, and even more so, work. But, I have long since decided that I tell the truth as I see it, if you don’t want it with the bark on, don’t deal with me.
This will go somewhat off topic, although it is as applicable to our faith as it is anything else, so if you’re reading it, it was because Jessica in her kind heart approved the digression.
In comments the other day Pancakes denigrated American exceptionalism with the catch phrases we always hear, and as always, it set me off, so let look at it a bit.
Firstly, American Exceptionalism is a bit of a misnomer, in reality it is transplanted British Exceptionalism. As Alexis de Tocqueville told us: “The American is the Englishman left to himself.” But in addition to that, the whole theory runs in a nearly straight line from King Alfred the Great through that meadow at Runnymede, through Henry VIII, through the first British Civil war and the Glorious Revolution, and didn’t split until what many call the Second British Civil War (that’s what is popularly called The American Revolution). That why I often say that American history started in 1776, until then it was just a facet of British history. In truth, hopes of a reconciliation didn’t die until the Hessian mercenaries landed, it never pays to use foreign troops in an internal Anglo-American dispute. And as Edmund Burke said on 22 March 1775
First, the people of the colonies are descendants of Englishmen. England, Sir, is a nation, which still I hope respects, and formerly adored, her freedom. The colonists emigrated from you when this part of your character was most predominant; and they took this bias and direction the moment they parted from your hands. They are therefore not only devoted to liberty, but to liberty according to English ideas, and on English principles.
He was right. We should probably note that in the English Civil War many (especially New Englanders) went back to England to take up arms with their families. And for Parliament, most of the New England colonists were from what has come to be called the Eastern Association. And there have always been rumors a couple of the regicides were sheltered for the rest of their life in New England. Virginia was mostly settled by low church Anglicans, who also supported Parliament. In the Revolution, we see the same split, both in America and in England as well. This may well be the only time when Edmund Burke, William Pitt the Elder and Charles James Fox found themselves on the same side of anything, and it was the American side, opposed to the North Ministry. George the Third referred to it for the rest of his life as “my Presbyterian War”.
As a bit of aside, Geoffrey wondered last week why we conflate political terms into church politics, and this may well be the answer, we’ve been doing it since the English Civil war, maybe since Magna Charta, and maybe even longer.
The American Revolution pitted the same sides against each other as the Civil War had, even many of the same families.
Did you notice that I called Henry VIII a major waypoint in American history? I did that for a reason. Henry is amongst other things the man who turned England’s face away from Europe out into the world. This is the major effect of the English Reformation. When England has thought itself to be an adjunct of Europe, it has always demeaned itself, during the Norman occupation, during the Angevin Empire, and now as well. England (in the classical sense meaning Great Britain, actually) has at almost all other times, during the Anglo-Saxon age when England came close to establishing a Nordic confederacy before “1066 and all that”, and after the Reformation, when the Royal Navy, which Henry VIII established, came to rule the waves, everywhere, only giving up that rule for parity with the United States in 1921. The British Empire, especially the first empire is quite simply, a Tudor enterprise
I also think that the Protestant faith(s) themselves have contributed greatly to the spread of English values, with the emphasis on vocation and hard (and superb) work in any sphere being very pleasing to the Lord, especially as compared to the ascetic tradition of Catholicism.
I think it probably important to note that the industrialization of the United states was heavily underwritten by British firms and banks. Why? I’d say most likely because here, like there, the rule of law prevailed, even above the government. Their money, if their investment was wise, was safe. Some tin pot dictator was not going to steal it.
Daniel Hannan, in his latest book, speaks of that day in August of 1941 when Roosevelt walked (really he did) across the gangplank from USS Augusta to HMS Prince of Wales for Church parade, as the band of the Prince of Wales struck up the Stars and Stripes Forever. Churchill later exulted, and correctly, “The Same Language, The Same Hymns, the Same Ideals. The lesson for the day came from Joshua 1:
As I was with Moses, so I will be with you
I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee
Be strong and of good courage
I can’t remember for sure but I am quite sure that the final hymn that day was this:
After all the former First Sea Lord and the former Assistant Secretary of the Navy would have known that it is the official hymn of both navies. They also both knew on that foreboding Sunday morning that freedom had become a fugitive in the night, she existed almost no place where English was not spoken. From Brest through the Japanese home Islands, from the North Pole to Africa all was either communist, nazi, fascist or some other variant of totalitarianism. Freedom in the world is a gift from the English Speaking peoples, and none other, purchased at a very high price, in both blood and treasure.
On that day, and on many others they pledged themselves, and us to make the world safe for
Government of the People, by the People, and for the People.
And no, I didn’t quote Lincoln here, he borrowed the quote himself. It was originally written in 1384 by John Wycliffe. Such a phrase in the 14th century could not have been written in anything but English.
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