Jefferson's love of Britain and passion for American independence sprang from the same sources. The works of the English political philosopher John Locke supplied him with the arguments for inalienable natural rights, including the right to rebel against overreaching governments. Jefferson modified Locke's "life, liberty, and property" to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," lifting the last phrase from Scottish philosopher Henry Home.
Free markets? Thank Adam Smith, another Scot. Limited government? First established by the Magna Carta (1215), English common law, and the English Bill of Rights (1689).
The trifling duties imposed on the colonies after the budget-busting Seven Years' War found disfavor with colonists more as a breach of English constitutional principles than for their rapacity.
Our country's core concepts - including democracy, individual freedom, a free press, and a constitution - were English imports, just like the infamous tea. Had the Brits imposed duties on political thought, the colonists would have had to stage a Boston Idea Party.
So, as this Fourth of July approaches, I propose that the United States join the Commonwealth of Nations, formerly known as the British Commonwealth - the federation of former and current crown territories.
The Commonwealth is not a military juggernaut, like NATO; an exclusive economic clique, like the G8; or a bureaucratic behemoth of democracies, dictatorships, and everything in between, like the United Nations. But it is a "country club" we should belong to.
The alliance of 54 sovereign nations - small, medium, and large; rich and poor - is united by ideals we share: democracy, liberty, rule of law, equality, and free trade. The Commonwealth is itself a democracy, ruled by consensus, and its deliberations are conducted in English, the common language of the former British colonies. Given that it has members on all six inhabited continents, the sun never sets on the Commonwealth, or its ideals.
As a plant breeder, I am keenly aware of the "hybrid vigor" that arises from crossing different strains. The same phenomenon is evident in culture. But Americans have gradually lost the receptivity to foreign ideas that helped inspire our Founding Fathers. Just as Jefferson, a plant breeder himself, adapted ideas from British philosophers, we can integrate the insights and ideas of our Commonwealth friends, and they ours.
For instance, throughout the former British Empire, people use the English language with a fluency and flair that Americans lack. Whether in Parliament, the press, or the pub, Brits relish the give-and-take of debate, as do others in the Commonwealth. In the United States, verbal cleverness and wordplay are more despised than prized, to our detriment.
So let's sharpen our wits and join the scrum of liberal democracies that is the Commonwealth of Nations. Jefferson would surely approve.
George Ball is chairman
of W. Atlee Burpee & Co. in Warminster. He can be reached at email@example.com.