If your secondary education was like mine, British history was taught as part of “world history” (in my days, essentially Greco-Roman antiquity and Western European history). We were taught about William the Conqueror, the Magna Carta, the War of the Roses, Henry VIII and his marital troubles, Elizabeth I and her lack of marital troubles, Charles I and his head troubles, perhaps a mention of Cromwell, but that was about it with England. I think I learned more about Cromwell from a Monty Python song than I did from school. As far as the English-speaking world went, there was nothing of interest to an American classroom after Cromwell until WWII. The discussion shifted to Plymouth Colony and Puritans in America, and went on from there, with American history.
Now, to be sure, there are only so many hours a year available for teaching history in public schools, and it is proper for an American school to focus on American History, and that portion of world history that particularly influenced American history. But by these criteria I still believe I was short-changed by not having been exposed, in my early years, to the story of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the downfall of James II, the parliamentary election (essentially) of William and Mary as dual-monarchs, and the English Bill of Rights that followed.
The fact is, these events were American events as well as British events, since they came at a time when the colonies were still yoked to Mother England. Although they were not alive at the time, the American Founding Fathers were students of the the Glorious Revolution, internalized its lessons, and had it in their minds as they crafted a new government. You can see this in our own Bill of Rights, which essentially cribbed from the 1689 English Bill of Rights items such as the right to bear arms and the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. We cannot fully understand our own American history without understanding the Glorious Revolution.
Michael Barone’s Our First Revolution: The Remarkable British Upheaval that Inspired America’s Founding Fathers is an excellent introduction to the topic, and an easy and engaging read. He targets an American audience, which is most welcome. (Some other treatments, out of England, tend to assume greater background knowledge in English history.) He does a good job presenting the historical context, in England, the Netherlands, France, Scotland and Ireland (a big task), as well as the personalities involved, not only the principals but also the supporting cast, like John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, whose shift of allegiance tipped the balance in William’s favor.
Although neither this book nor the author are particularly libertarian in outlook, I recommend the book to libertarians for a few reasons:
- It is important history that I suspect is missed by most American students.
- It does provide important context for understanding our American Bill of Rights, for example understanding the 2nd Amendment. A good response to those who say the 2nd Amendment existed only to prevent slave revolts would be to point out its antecedent in the 1689 English Bill of Rights, where slavery was not even relevant to the debate.
- Similarly, it helps understand why the Founders were skeptical of standing armies and instead favored militias.
- There is ample material provided in Barone’s history to suggest a revisionist interpretation, where a tolerant monarch (James II) was overthrown by paranoid Protestant supremacists, bent on forming a military superpower, with a strong, central government, and a new Bank of England to fund it. It is worth exploring whether this was all as “glorious” as the Whigs would claim.