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Friday, May 8, 2015

British Colonies Forge an American Empire: A Basis for Equitable Trans-Atlantic Relations

By the end of twenty-first century, Americans typically took it for granted that the United States constitute a nation equivalent to France or Spain.  That the Union could have been referred to as the New Empire in its early days would seem nonsensical or flatly erroneous.  Claims that the constitutional convention delegates could have differed on whether they were designing a national or international government would likely get blank stares.  Well into the 2010s, the American and European political and media elites were lock-step agreement: the E.U. was not to be portrayed as equivalent to the U.S.; rather the E.U. was a “supranational organization.” Hence, The New York Times consistently referred to the European Commission as the E.U.’s executive arm rather than branch. Meanwhile, European politicians and journalists were falling over themselves to stress that France, Germany, the U.K., Italy, and other states are member-states, lest anyone confuse an E.U. state with a U.S. state. Referring to an American state as a member-state simply was not done. That in being represented in the U.S. Senate made the American states members of the U.S. was not enough to get them “member state” status. That the U.S. Senate is founded in international principles, wherein each polity gets the same number of votes, whereas the European Council adjusts how many votes a state gets according to population (roughly) was simply ignored or even unknown. The axis of proper comparison was etched in stone, or it appeared to the general public.

That the default reflexively used for trans-Atlantic comparisons might itself be a category mistake—for instance, in treating one Union as commensurate with a State in another Union—would not have been questioned strikes me as bizarre, given the founding and early history of the United States as an international alliance, confederation, and only then was a federal government (and of limited governmental sovereignty) added. 

Access the book here.

In this book, I go back to the colonial period to argue that the United Colonies and subsequent United States were (and are) properly regarded as constituting an empire—using this term both as a political type and a territorial scale distinct from those of (member) states.

Accordingly, I argue that the American colonies and the subsequent individual generically-termed States were commensurate with European kingdoms of the time (and thus with European countries in the twentieth century). In other words, the British colonies in North America were colonies in the Greek rather than Roman sense; the Greek city-states colonized to replicate themselves whereas Roman colonies were designed to be a part of a Roman city rather than eventually cities in their own right. My argument turns on the following point: a Greek city-state would create a colony to become a city-state rather than a part of the founding city-state, and the British created colonies in North America with this model (rather than that of the ancient Romans) in mind.