When it came, the American Revolution was a very British affair. Its supporters cited British writers like John Locke and Algernon Sidney; long-standing liberties under the informal British constitution; and their own rights as Englishmen. “Perhaps there was never a people,” Samuel Adams wrote, “who discovered themselves more strongly attached to their natural and constitutional rights and liberties than the British Colonists on this American Continent.”
History didn’t come full circle, but it did look over its shoulder when a leading advocate of Brexit, the Tory politician Michael Gove, cited the American Revolution as inspiration for Britain’s separation from the EU.
Of course, the circumstances are vastly different. The EU didn’t suspend the British Parliament. It isn’t sending a fearsome fleet across the Channel to crush all resistance and to hunt down Nigel Farage, leader of the U.K. Independence Party, and have him hanged (although some EU officials might harbor this fantasy). Britain obviously didn’t become a newly independent nation upon the passage of Brexit.
But the Brexit vote is a reminder that the threat to self-government never truly abates; it just takes different (and more or less benign or noxious) forms. This is why self-government always needs to be jealously and zealously guarded — something our forefathers understood and acted upon.