Cousins’ Wars

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Our last British flag and the flag raised on Jully 4th, 1776

Audre innocently opened up a big can of worms yesterday with her post about her friend and bringing up the Civil War. Is there anything in American history, more compelling than that war, its people and causes in American history? I don’t think so, from children to adults, even to American soldiers (with whom I have occasionally spent rewarding nights, and we were still going over eggs and beer for breakfast.

But the most amazing thing is that it often seems to affect the British the same way, even granting that Ken Burns is a most gifted storyteller. But why? Sure, it was important for both countries, but it’s deeper than that, so let’s back up a bit. My former co-blogger, Jessica, is English, well actually Welsh, and this post is one that talked about English speaking revolutions. I think it also has bearing on the present in both countries, as the same messages are stirring about.

So, to echo Audre, let’s see what you think.

Last spring in one of our posts commemorating the life of Maggie Thatcher, Jess said this:

Here I will raise hackles. Americans, being the product of a revolution, cannot be true conservatives. America owes its existence to a rebellion against lawfully constituted authority, so American and British Conservatism are bound to differ. Mrs Thatcher was, indeed, the closest Britain has produced to an American style Conservative, but she always was different to many in her party, and the fact that that is true today says nothing about her legacy and everything about the enduring deep-rootedness of native British Conservatism and its respect for the authority of the Crown.

Which didn’t sound quite right to me then, although I saw her point. It still doesn’t and today we’re going to talk about why, for maybe the very first time here, Jess was wrong. Not that we aren’t successors of revolutionaries, we are, and conservative ones at that. Lady Astor wasn’t all that far wrong when we said that the Revolution was fought by “British Americans against a German King for British ideals”.

The real problem with Jess’s statement is that so is she, every bit as much as we are. So if that means we can’t be true conservatives, neither can she, or any Briton.

Let’s work this out a bit.

The title comes from The Cousins’ Wars by Kevin Phillips, and I suspect this will turn into sort of an irregular series. A lot of what Phillips says is backed up by what Daniel Hannan, MEP says in his Inventing Freedom: How the English Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World, those are the sources for most of this. Both of which I recommend highly especially Inventing Freedom.

What we are positing here is that the English Civil War (including the quasi-legal regicide) with its follow-on of the Glorious Revolution had exactly the same cause (and for the most part sides) as the second English Civil war (the one we call the American Revolution) and even pretty much the same players and thinking animated the American Civil War. By the time William and Mary were given the throne, it was pretty obvious that the monarch was the creation of Parliament.

Cromwell’s support (as did he) came most strongly from the Eastern Association, centered in East Anglia, and the borderlands of England and Scotland, which were also strangely, or not, where most of the strongest Patriots in the Revolution came from. In fact, many of their ancestors had returned to England to fight with Cromwell. From East Anglia came the dissenters who made up the Congregationalists of New England, and from the borderlands came the Scots-Irish (as we call them) and especially the low church Anglicans of Virginia. In many cases, these were second sons of the lower aristocracy who would not be inheriting the family estates because of primogeniture. This pattern persisted down through the American Civil War as well, and is greatly important in seeing how America became Britain intensified.

And in truth, the Revolution divided England in very much the same manner as it did the colonies. Hannan tells us:

In 1775, William Pitt the Elder proposed to repeal every piece of legislation that the American Patriots had found objectionable, beginning with the Sugar Act, and to recognize the Continental Congress as, in effect, as an American parliament, coequal with Britain’s

This would have been, essentially, Commonwealth status, and it would very likely have been accepted.

Not to put too fine a point on it though, this battle has been the one that made the Anglosphere the preeminent supporter of liberty in the world. Nor was it a new fight in the seventeenth century either. Tacitus tells us, in Hannan’s words:

The primitive German tribes, he wrote, were in the habit of deciding their affairs through open air clan meetings. Their chiefs were not autocrats, but governors by consent Their rule rested on auctoritas (the ability to inspire) rather than postestas (the power to compel). Their peoples were not subjects but free and equal participants in the administration of their affairs.

Feudalism overcame this in the eleventh and twelfth centuries all over Europe, except in Great Britain, Switzerland, and parts of Scandinavia. Even in England, it was dealt a nearly mortal blow in 1066. The wonderful stories of charters (including Magna Charta), the Peasant’s Revolt (which was certainly misnamed because there were no peasants in England) and all the rest is the story of the recovery of ancient rights and principles.

The other thing that has always struck me is this: What the French call “les anglo-saxons”, which is all of the core (UK, USA, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia), Anglosphere is different. In truth, for a great part we in the United States are wont to talk of “American Exceptionalism”, and it’s true enough. But a better term might be Anglosphere exceptionalism. Our revolutionaries have always operated on the old meaning of revolution, the one we use in engineering, to complete the revolution so that it is upright again. They have always been conservative, in American Constitutional terms: Originalist. Which is completely different from the French and Russian revolutions which sought to destroy the old order. We have always sought to restore.

And we still do


And yes, there will be several more of these, which are repeat posts from 2013 and 14. As we look over our parapets, or perhaps more cogently, peek between the drawn curtains in our house arrest, well such a life is both unEnglish and unAmerican,  and I doubt our peoples will submit very long, and any government that tries is very foolish, indeed.

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12 Responses to Cousins’ Wars

  1. the unit says:

    Worms? Questions? The same?
    Er…what is the subject at the bottom line?
    “If you got the money Honey, I got the time.” 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nicholas says:

    I was actually remarking on similar material yesterday lunch time and was revisiting the American Civil War recently. I don’t wish to comment much on the American Civil War, except to note that I am not sympathetic to the Confederacy.

    I view the American constitution as in principle having an analogous source of authority as the United Kingdom’s but in both cases it is largely forgotten by contemporary society. The abandonment of the Crown by Brits is a significant part of our death as is the abandonment of God in America. In the UK the Crown is God’s viceregent: in the USA you have no viceregent per se, but acknowledge that all authority descends from God. Our societies today do not function according to those principles however, so they are largely estranged from their ancestors in that regard. In the UK the process began with WWI, but was accelerated in the Blair years, which witnessed active attacks on the authority of the Crown by Parliament and the government. In the USA Roe V Wade was actually of constitutional significance, in my outsider’s estimation, because it made man, rather than God, the measure of all things.

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      If we get that far, there are some thoughts hiding here about the Great War, and Britain’s role. For the rest, you have much right, but also, if you haven’t read PP’s comments yesterday, he said much of what I feel about it. I am sympathetic to the Confederacy, not on slavery, of course, but the slaves in the Confederacy were freed by Jefferson Davis, not Lincoln, but a lot of Southrons thought they were fighting for ‘the good old law, even as we did in 1776, and you guys did 1642 and 1688. Motive matters, even in history.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Nicholas says:

        I’m less convinced of that interpretation these days. I have considered more recent historical inquiries that suggest a lot of Southerners were fighting for slavery, which paints them in a rather different light than the Lost Cause narrative would have us believe.

        Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Some, sure? About 10% of southerners owned 1 or more slaves. The rest may have felt as we do about illegal aliens – who needs more cheap labor. most northerners felt the same way.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Nicholas says:

          To be sure it’s complex. I’m just worried that I have been overly influenced by a pro-Southern narrative to date. This is something I want to consider further and I had not considered the chronology in as much depth as I have recently. There’s a guy from Louisiana who has done a good job assembling relevant material.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. the unit says:

    Ok, won’t get into mansplaining (well, for Andre’s friend in England) about it all.
    Got to put on the new lawn mower blades for the weekend. See picture day or two before. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. audremyers says:

    Fascinating! All that from one little question. I so enjoy the discussion among the historians who visit here (well, and the ‘resident’ one) – I learn so much.

    Liked by 1 person

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