As I spend some wonderful time with family in my home state of Alaska, I watched with intrigue as the UK appears to have decided to exit from the European Union. I am an Alaskan by birth and a U.S. citizen, and now reside in Tennessee. So, my perspective or stake in the UK’s decision is not rooted in how I will live my life, nor will the UK people’s decision likely effect me to a great degree. Nonetheless, I watch with interest from this side of the Atlantic. Our family will travel in less than a week to the UK for a lengthy time of study.
I have many friends in the UK—some of whom likely favor leaving the EU, and some of whom likely favor remaining in the EU. So, my reflections here are not rooted in any animus to any position. Anyway, who am I, an American, to weigh in on what the Brits do? Nonetheless, it is perhaps worth stating a few obvious things.
Perhaps most importantly, what we are witnessing is an act of secession. For some, to even say, think, or hear this word—and for this to be done in a positive light—smacks of bad taste, if not worse. But it is secession nonetheless. Great Britain is simply deciding to leave. The different sides have made their cases, people have debated and argued, and there has been a nation-wide vote. And the Brits have decided to say “goodbye” to the EU. The motives of those wishing to leave may be brim full of virtue, or they may be brim full of vice, but that does not ultimately matter. The Brits have simply decided to leave peacefully.
Doubtless business persons in Great Britain are eager to trade with various entities around the world, including governments, businesses, and individuals around the world—including those in the (soon-to-be) slightly smaller EU. Doubtless the government leaders of Great Britain are eager to maintain, or some cases to develop, peaceful and mutually beneficial relationships with all (or most) nations around the world—including those in the (slightly) shrinking EU.
But also important to note, it is a good thing that the current leaders of the European Union do not (as far as I know) have the intention of using force of arms, military invasion, etc., to force the British back into the EU. In this sense, it is very different than the situation between the United States of America and the Confederate States of America of the 1860s. In that unfortunate time, Abraham Lincoln decided to raise an army—to the shock of many of the British, incidentally—to invade the Confederate States of America. And invade Lincoln did. And some 700,000 lives and four years later, Lincoln had “saved” the Union.
Interestingly, Lincoln was quite clear that his goal was to force the Confederate States back into the Union—whether this meant freeing slaves or not.
Lincoln said, in a letter to Horace Greeley:
“I would save the Union . . . . If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it . . . . What I do about Slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save this Union” (letter dated August 22, 1862; published in the New York Tribune, August 25, 1862).
Great Britain peacefully joined the European Union, and now they are peacefully leaving. The various states that came to be known as the “United States” formed/created and peacefully joined the United States of America, and peacefully left. Sometimes forgotten about our own history is the obvious—the various Southern states had peacefully seceded from the United States, and had formed the Confederate States. They did not invade Washington, D.C. and assassinate the President—this was not the US version of the French Revolution. In reality, it was not a revolution at all. Up to a point, it was exactly what is happening now with Great Britain leaving the European Union. The Southern states simply and peacefully said “good bye.” They drafted a constitution (most of it verbatim from the Constitution of the United States, with various changes—including the abolition of any future importation of slaves). They formed a congress, and they chose a capitol—Montgomery, Alabama, then Richmond, Virginia, and elected a President—Jefferson Davis.
There is no reason for the leaders of the European Union to use physical force or military invasion to force Great Britain into the EU. Imagine if: European Union leaders begin to raise an European Army and begin to fly into Great Britain and cross the English Channel. What would the world think? Most likely there would be almost universal condemnation of such a senseless and brutal and repressive act. And that was what much of the world thought in 1861 when the world saw Lincoln begin to raise an army for the purpose of invading the Confederate States.
So, from this Southerner’s perspective, good for the Brits. Good for you for resisting the almost universal tendency in our day to centralize power. We seceded from you back in the 1770s; good for you for seceding today.