- Jefferson, like other Virginia radicals, saw himself as a British Whig, heir to the tradition of Edward Coke (1552–1634), John Hampden (1595–1643) and Algernon Sidney (1623–1683). He did not believe he was laying claim to any new rights; rather, he was defending the liberties that he assumed he had been born with as an Englishman. Right up to the end, he had hoped that such liberties might flourish under the Crown, but George III dashed his ambition. We sense Jefferson’s bitterness in the Declaration’s telling complaint about the king ‘transporting hither foreign mercenaries’. Foreign! How historians have glossed over the significance of that word. In sending his Hessian hirelings against Britons, the Hanoverian monarch was in effect annulling their nationality.
The American Revolution is now described with anachronistic terminology. History books and tour guides talk about how, in 1775, minutemen and militias swarmed to resist ‘the British’ – language that no one would or could have used at the time. Everyone involved was British, and public opinion in the British Isles was divided in exactly the same way as in the colonies. The American conflict was, in truth, a settlement by force of the ancient Tory–Whig dispute which, at least in New England, had passed the point of peaceful resolution. What we now call the American War of Independence would more accurately be termed the Second Anglosphere Civil War – the First having been fought across England, Scotland, Ireland and America in the 1640s.