In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 4th 1776, the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, which proclaimed the independence of the United States of America from Great Britain and its King. The declaration came 442 days after the first volleys of the American Revolution were fired at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts and marked an ideological expansion of the conflict that would eventually encourage France’s intervention on behalf of the Patriots. This French intervention clouded the conflict as it was, in reality, the second English civil war. The first was fought in England, Scotland and Ireland in the 1640s and this second Anglosphere civil war took place in America in the 1770s.
Whilst the revolution took place in America, the principles over which the war was fought, were very British. Initially, both the Americans and the British saw the conflict as a kind of civil war within the British Empire: To King George III it was a colonial rebellion and to the Americans it was a struggle for their rights as British citizens – freedoms which they believed had been trampled over by a Hanoverian King and his hirelings. When they called themselves Patriots they meant that they were British Patriots, cherishing the peculiar liberties that had come down to them since Magna Carta: jury trials, freedom of speech, religion and thinking as well as human rights such as habeas corpus, parliamentary representation, liberty of conscience and the rule of common law. As the Virginia-born Lady Astor later put it, the war was fought "by British Americans against a German King for British ideals."
This does much to explain the ‘special relationship’ that has long existed between Britain and America. The American Revolution was motivated not by a rejection, but by an intense reaffirmation, of the British national identity. No one understood this better than the great Edmund Burke, whose 1775 speech pleading for an end to the war is as fine as any that has been delivered in the House of Commons:
The colonists emigrated from you when your love of freedom was most predominant; and they took this bias and direction the moment they parted from your hands. They are therefore not only devoted to liberty, but to liberty according to English ideas, and on English principles.
So this declaration – with all of its flaws – still symbolises a promise: one that explains why large parts of the world remain prosperous, free and self-governing. It is why, taking the bad along with the good I, none the less, on this of all days, say God bless America!