Argument

Stronger In! (The British Empire)

A colonial Remainer on why the Declaration of Independence was a huge mistake.

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Perhaps I should not be so astonished. I’ve been privy to the debates; empire-skepticism has flourished in certain corners of the colonies for years. It’s true that our Second Continental Congress was stacked with Leavers, offering dishonest arguments and claiming to be representative of the country as a whole. But never had I dreamed that these agitators would pull the wool over the eyes of so many.

And yet here we are: the Continental Congress has ratified a document, freshly inked on this day, July 4, 1776, declaring that we, the thirteen American colonies of the British Crown, are no longer colonies but independent sovereign states, joined together as one nation, the united States of America. Those who would replace our Great Britain with a Little America have gotten what they wanted.

The vote for independence, as my friend James Chalmers has written, is “ruinous, delusive, and impracticable.” John Adams, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, and other dangerous populists who believe in an inward-looking, self-governing New England, claim that a distant capital overrun with cacophonous, bickering lords has forced upon us unwarranted over-regulation, and subjugated our laws in order to send our money to a sclerotic, undemocratic empire. This is caricature: The British Empire, that great economic bloc of which until today we were a part, has brought a new prosperity to the civilized world. Trade across the Atlantic, to the great continent of Africa, and even as far as the exotic East is flourishing because of the unity and strength of the Crown. Man’s greatest invention, the modern economy, issued forth from London’s esteemed financiers, its able bureaucrats, its intrepid merchants, its cultured minds. The island has produced new breeds of enterprise — a particular British company’s innovative privatization of governance now being attempted in portions of India, for instance. This kind of thinking is surely the future. If we do not reconcile, no such companies will be chartered in Boston or Philadelphia. We will be left behind — a backwards testament to the fallen glory of an empire rejected.

London is also the world’s financier. We are now cut off from that city’s great houses of credit, and even if we manage to reorder our relationship with the Crown, our trustworthiness is surely irreparably downgraded. That doesn’t even begin to address the problem of an independent currency. Without the regal splendor of a monarch, whose august visage would grace it? Mr. Franklin, perhaps, with his bald pate, and flaring tresses? What a sight.

Yes, it is true that the Empire has controlled our commerce, at times out of accordance with our satisfaction, as is presently the case. But in the long run, we still benefit from an alliance with the Crown’s monumental trade interests. The Kingdom of Great Britain, once an amalgam of warring fiefdoms, has worked hard to forge beneficial trade policies with foreign lands. I imagine that one day, in the not so distant future, a united Crown might even bring mighty China to its knees, opening vast new markets for any of us bold enough to ensconce ourselves there. But what chance would we have, as an infant nation barely out of the womb, to start afresh and renegotiate our own trade treaties with members of our former commonwealth, much less the realms beyond it? Britain has just recently saved us from France’s expansionist hunger. Only a fool would expect that yesterday’s foe would suddenly approach an infant nation at the bargaining table with favorable terms of trade.

Yet it is the barefaced bigotry of the Independence vote that brings me the most shame. The winds of abolition are blowing in England. But here in the colonies, the landed classes are seeking to prevent that liberating breeze from wafting over to this side of the Atlantic. Their fear of a dark-skinned peril – that it might swarm out of its current confines and overburden the resources of an economy carefully balanced for the comfort of the white man — disgusts me. I cannot fathom how so many of my fellow colonists so diligently heed Thomas Jefferson – a man who proclaims equality and independence on the one hand, while earning profits from the labor of African slaves with the other. It’s 1776, for heaven’s sake; we reside no longer in the barbarous 14th century. Aren’t we supposed to be beyond such practices? I would at the very least expect a so-called revolutionary to comport himself with some semblance of principle rather than the outright hypocrisy of this frizzy-haired numpty over whom half of Philadelphia is fawning.

And what, pray tell, shall we now do about the ongoing war on Islamic piracy? We have enjoyed, and it would seem taken for granted, the protection of an empire with highly advanced counter-piracy expertise and the largest navy in the world. Lofty notions of republicanism and sovereignty will not prevent Muslim marauders off the Barbary coast from commandeering our merchant ships and taking our sailors captive. We cannot fight when we have no navy. Our only choice would be to surrender a ruinous fortune in tribute in exchange for safe passage. It would be far cheaper to simply pay the blasted stamp tax and get on with our lives.

Can we even make it as an independent nation? This voluntary union of thirteen states seems viable for now. It is easy to be unified in the face of a single antagonist. But it is unwise to ignore the formidable differences of society, economy, and philosophy among our precious thirteen that lie churning below the surface. These shall assuredly emerge with great force once our altercation with Britain has passed. What’s to stop our southern brethren from forming a Congress of their own and voting, as we just have, to leave? The coming struggle for independence may only be followed by bitter internal strife, rending our newly isolated country into fragments.

The British Crown has for so long guaranteed the prosperity and security of much of the world. From its liberal constitution, we have all accrued such great benefit. In return, we have spat in its face. It is likely to be a nasty divorce; our former lords will not let us walk away scot free. One way or the other, we must fight our way through the madness the Leave vote has thrust upon us.

Photo by MPI/Getty Images

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian is a contributing writer at Foreign Policy. @BethanyAllenEbr

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