A light-hearted American (and British) perspective on Independence Day

The Fourth. Independence Day. July 4th… No matter what you call it, this day is a big one for the majority of us stateside. A day to BBQ and drink cold ones in the backyard. A day to reunite with friends and family. A day to swelter under the summer sun or refresh in the pool. While many might argue that the significance of this day has faded, most of us remain clear on what it recognizes (thanks in no small part to Hamilton, the heroic venture and brainchild of Lin Manuel Miranda): the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 following years of discussions, negotiations and much bloodshed, through which the 13 colonies made it known that they would no longer subject themselves to British rule. A divorce of sorts, after which the colonies became the United States of Americas. Tea was tossed into the harbor and this was the final break. There could be no reconciliation after this declaration was signed and a copy sent by ship to King George III.

At least, that’s what we were taught as Americans who were schooled on U.S. history as kids and then again as teens in our junior year of high school. But what do Brits know about this date, besides the fact that it is (their words, not mine) another “Bank Holiday” (aka federal holiday) when offices are closed and Americans take off? 

So we thought we’d have some fun with it, given that Propeller Group is, after all, a UK-founded PR agency with a U.S. division based out of New York, to share our perspectives on the significance of this separation, and dare we say it, the re-joining together to design and deliver epic PR programs for our B2B clients on both sides of the pond. How has the way July 4 has been communicated on both sides of the Atlantic framed our perceptions? 

July 4th as an American

by Mary Cirincione, VP, U.S.

I will forever remember the phrase “no taxation without representation”—the phrase which led to the colonies’ separation from Britain and the Revolutionary War. As I learned things growing up—and admittedly, I have always been a bit of a history buff—had the King and Parliament agreed to greater representation for the U.S. colonies and loosened their tax grip, things would have never come to blows. But King George III wanted more and more from his 13 colonies and put import schemes in place which meant that the colonists had no option but to buy overpriced British goods. For instance, restrictions were firmly in place to block or reduce trade with France and Spain, and therefore ensure that British goods forever had the market cornered. Not exactly in line with what was to become American capitalism, but I digress. As I learned it, the Continental Congress which first descended upon Philadelphia in 1774 and which returned for the next few years, was an expression of last resort—a response to tyranny. They sent letter after letter, appealing for some sort of compromise, but Britain never gave an inch. The King refused to loosen his grip; refused to give the colonies a seat at his table and brought over more British soldiers to enforce his rule on the ground. American independence was never a given, but the result of a perfect storm created by British policy that forever changed the course of history.

4th of July as a Brit

by Ben Titchmarsh, Director of Partnerships
(nervously clears throat) Before I go any further, I would like to caveat my requested views on this topic by saying I am not the poster boy for British imperialism. Growing up, my Scottish and Irish relatives would not mince their words when talking about the impact ‘the English’ had on Celtic countries. On that basis, I’m in no mood to defend King George III’s actions in what he regarded as ‘The New World’ and by all accounts he was definitely the sort of person you’d definitely consider a ‘trial separation’ from. So what’s perhaps more interesting is to reflect on how little July 4th, (or ‘4th of July’ as us Brits prefer to order calendar dates) is taught in UK schools. Winston Churchill famously said “History is Written by Victors” and when us Brits lose we seem to try and just forget what happened entirely.

I studied history at university and have been a nerd about history my entire life. Perhaps because the War of Independence doesn’t paint the British Isles in the best light, it’s actually quite instructive how little this particular historical epoch is covered in textbooks and higher educational establishments. It clearly wasn’t our finest hour by any stretch of the imagination, so when it is covered, it’s explored in the context of America’s rise to becoming a superpower and America’s founding ‘origin story’ which informs so much of the country’s civic life.

Since the end of the Second World War, successive British Prime Ministers and American Presidents have been at pains to describe ‘the special relationship’ between our two countries and working for what is increasingly an Anglo-American company, I can tell you we hope the feeling is still mutual. Yes, we’ve had our run ins and yes, you did waste an awful lot of perfectly good tea demonstrating in Boston in 1773. But British and American people have far more in common that unites us than divides us. On that basis I’m less interested in talking about colonial subjugation and more keen to talk about the 1960s British pop invasion. Instead of focusing on the Battle of Lexington and Concord, let’s bring back supersonic Concorde flights from London to New York. Instead of George Washington’s riverboat crossing of the Delaware, let’s cross the Atlantic and share that cold beer. This July 4th, I for one will raise a glass to American friends – and I hope when I’m next in the States your notoriously friendly immigration officers will smile and wave me through on arrival unimpeded “in the name of Her Majesty” as our British passports so bizarrely and anachronistically still put it. Enjoy the bank holiday chaps. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of independence right?!