American independence? That would be folly


By George Kerevan
THE following editorial reputedly appeared in Ye Washington Poste, a defunct coffee house news sheet published in Washington in Tyne and Wear, sometime in the year 1776. Any parallels with present day events are for the reader to decide.
Does it make sense for Virginia, or any other British colony in the Americas, to become an independent nation, ending 200 years of union with England? And would it make any difference to Britons here at home, 3,000 miles away across a stormy ocean that takes months to cross?

Consider first the economics of such a risky venture. Leaving aside Canada and the Caribbean, the 13 principal colonies have a population of only 2.4 million, including slaves and indentured workers. How could such a tiny people hope to prosper outwith the British Empire? Or, indeed, protect themselves on a hostile continent without the aid of the British Army or Royal Navy?

The politicians claiming to represent the colonists have yet to tell us (or their fellow citizens) in any detail how they propose to run their new states. Their so-called Declaration of Independence consists of nothing more than a list of alleged grievances. These include the lack of devolved government and various (supposedly) illegal military acts perpetrated by His Majesty’s armed forces. To this is affixed a vague and somewhat romantic foreword calling for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. You might as well call for motherhood and apple pie.

Yet this vacuous document says absolutely nothing about what currency the new states will adopt, what their trading position will be with England (assuming England agrees), what kind of defence arrangements they propose, or what taxes they intend to introduce. The declaration was written by a certain Thomas Jefferson who is a small town solicitor, not an economist. It shows.

We are surprised to learn that no less than nine of the 56 signatories to this notorious “declaration” claim to be hard-headed Scotsmen, generally known for their canny way with money. We can only hope they come to their senses and convince their fellow colonists of the folly of their intended ways.

As to our second question – is American independence against our own interests here on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean? – the answer must be an unequivocal yes. For a start, any secession by one or all of the 13 colonies will Balkanise the British Americas, which stretch from Canada in the north, with its rich fur trade, to the Caribbean islands in the south, whose sugar plantations are Europe’s primary source of imported wealth.

Secession would shatter the British Economic Union and create a terrible security hazard for the Empire. It would be a matter of time only before France used its colonial base in Louisiana and Haiti, allied with the Spanish in Florida and California, to try to dominate the Americas and transatlantic commerce. Clearly it is not in the interests of Britain – a land founded on liberty and free trade – to allow the Boston mob to threaten our security or our tea exports. Besides, can you imagine an independent America ever sending troops across the Atlantic to protect our liberties?

Worse, allowing the American colonists to secede could start a dangerous trend. Where will this demand for “independence” lead? Will the Irish want an independent Ireland? Will Norwegian farmers want independence from mighty Sweden? Will Spain’s rich colonies in South America demand to go their own way, shattering the world into fragments and hindering economic growth?

Modern Europe is living in an golden age of enlightened despots, not of disgruntled minorities. It is only four years since 1772 when Prussia, Russia and Austria divided up Poland and incorporated it into their respective Empires, thus removing a permanent source of political friction in Europe. Nevertheless, it would be churlish not to examine the arguments put forward by the American colonists, spurious as they are. Mr Jefferson might claim that what large empires gain in economies of scale and domestic paternalism, they often lose in bureaucratic inefficiency and the centralisation of absolute power. Conversely, he believes that a free people is the best judge of its own interests, and that co-operation of such free peoples promotes trade that is beneficial to all.

Alas, such “freedom” all too often becomes license. Witness that notorious firebrand Tom Paine, whose wicked book Common Sense calls on the American colonists to abolish the monarchy and let men without property have the vote. Whatever next, votes for women and the abolition of slavery?

Mr Jefferson also claims that the recent decision by His Majesty’s government to make the colonies pay for our new military deterrent against France stationed on their shores, is an intolerable imposition. Indeed this tax seems to lie at the heart of their alleged grievances. No taxation without representation, he demands.

It is true that there are moderates among the rebels (principally among the Quakers of Pennsylvania) who would elect to stay in the empire if only they can set their own taxes. This position they often refer to as “devomax”, from an old Delaware Indian word meaning “compromise”. However, even hinting at a compromise will only embolden the minority of radicals who signed the Declaration of Independence. It is well known that a third of the colonists are rebels, a third loyalists, leaving a third still to decide. We must force every man to choose unambiguously between crown and duty, on the one hand, and secession and ruin, on the other.

There are some who caution otherwise. For instance, Mr Edmund Burke MP argues: “To prove that the Americans ought not to be free, we are obliged to depreciate the value of freedom itself.”

History will prove him wrong.

Courtesy of George Kerevan and the Scotsman newspaper