Can an Englishman ever be an American? It is a simple enough question, to which, perhaps, there is ultimately a simple enough answer: Yes or no. The problem is that the simple answer begins as a tougher question: Yes or no? And this question is difficult to answer because it raises further questions. What exactly is an Englishman? What, for that matter, is an American? How can we know whether one can become the other until we know the meaning of each? And yet, as logical as all this seems, I can hear the Devil’s advocate in my head dismissing all such questions as irrelevant.
You are yourself the answer to the question, says Satan’s emissary, you are an Englishman who became an American! At this point, technically speaking, I am forced to concede that the devil is right. I am an Englishman by birth who became an American citizen several years ago. Is, therefore, the answer to our original question a simple and unproblematic “yes”? Is being an American simply a matter of being a citizen? If so, an American is nothing more than that which is defined by law. Once you are given the piece of paper, issued by the Federal Government, you become an American. This means that the Federal Government is bigger and more important than America since it is the former which defines the latter. This legalistic understanding of reality, in which that which is de jure trumps that which is de facto, has enabled the government to redefine the meaning of human life so that babies in utero can be exterminated by their mothers and has enabled the government to redefine the meaning of marriage so that it is no longer the union of a man and woman for procreative purposes but is a simple legal ménage between two (and soon three, or four, or five) consenting individuals.
In truth, human life and the primeval institution of marriage, the latter of which exists solely to protect the former, are larger than any manmade law. But can the same be said of a nation, such as England or America? Are nations larger than any manmade law? The answer is “yes” because a nation is analogous to the family, the integrity of which transcends human law. (I am married to my wife because of the sacramental union that exists between us in the eyes of God. Our marriage is, therefore, not dependent on any certificate issued by the government.)
A nation is best understood as an extended family united by a common culture. To illustrate the point, my own nation, England, does not exist in law. It was legally swallowed by the imperialism that led to the political construct that we know as Britain. Yet England clearly exists de facto even if it has no existence de jure. Similarly Ireland in the nineteenth century had no existence de jure but clearly was a nation de facto. As for Scotland, which was also declared defunct de jure with the Acts of Union of 1706 and 1707, its people will vote in a referendum this September to decide whether to remain part of the United Kingdom or whether to declare Scotland’s independence. Regardless of the outcome of the referendum, Scotland clearly exists de facto as a nation irrespective of whether it will exist as a politically independent country de jure. As an Englishman, I hope that the Scots vote for their independence, partly because, as a nation, they have a right to do so, and partly because my own nation will be as liberated from Scotland as Scotland will be liberated from England. As neighbours, we have nothing to lose but the chains that have shackled us together! And speaking of chains, Scotland’s and England’s independence will mean very little politically if both nations remain shackled to the tyrannical and imperialist monstrosity known as the European Union.
All of this talk of independence brings us to America and its own “independence day.” As an Englishman, as distinct from a Briton, I can as wholeheartedly celebrate America’s independence from British imperialism as I can celebrate the prospect of Scotland’s and my own nation’s independence from it. It should be remembered, however, that the American colonies were already a separate nation (or nations) prior to the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration was the formal acknowledgment de jure of a nation that already existed de facto. If this were not so, the people would not have fought as a nation to make the declaration a living reality and not merely a piece of paper.
Having pondered the question and its sundry ramifications at some length, are we able to answer the original question that we asked? Can an Englishman be an American? I have no hesitation in answering emphatically in the affirmative. I am a member of the family, which is America, because of my membership of my own family, which is American. My wife was born in California and our children were born in Michigan and South Carolina. As with so many generations before them, my children will grow up as Americans, mindful I hope of their English heritage, much as my wife, whose mother was born in County Tyrone in Ireland, is mindful of her Irish heritage. In marrying into one family, we do not forget the family into which we were born. Indeed, we are always members of both families. I am, therefore, an American who will always be an Englishman. Deo gratias!
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