What do the Fourth of July and Brexit have in common?
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What do Britain's Brexit vote — its declaration of independence from the European Union two weeks ago — and America's Declaration of Independence from Britain 240 years ago have in common? The answer is as simple today as it was back then. Anger. Kindled by a sense of injustice.


While most members of today's Parliament and the U.K.'s major party leaders wanted to stay in the European Union, anger over economic and cultural changes fueled the fire leading to the British people's vote to leave the EU on June 23, 2016.

A similar ire fueled a series of fires, both literal and figurative, that led to the birth of the U.S. 240 years ago.

Britain's King George III infuriated his American colonists in 1765 by issuing the Stamp Act, which taxed almost every sheet of paper they touched, from playing cards to stationary. Some protested with their pens by sending petitions to Parliament. Others set fires. Literally.

Boston attorney Josiah Quincy reported that a gang lit torches and burned the houses of two "gentlemen of distinction" who "were accessories to the present [burdens]" of the Stamp Act.

Then they marched to the house of Chief Justice Thomas Hutchinson, the royal governor of Massachusetts. He escaped before this "rage-intoxicated rabble beset the house on all sides and soon destroyed everything of value. ... The destruction was really amazing; for it was equal to the fury of the onset." The fire not only destroyed all of Hutchinson's belongings, but also many of the colony's most valuable documents.

While Quincy described New Englanders "as the warmest lovers of liberty," he understood that anger can turn to rage if not controlled and channeled in a positive direction.

"Though undoubtedly, in the fury of revenge ... for that of enslavers and oppressive tax-masters of their native country, they committed acts totally unjustifiable," Quincy concluded.

While anger is a natural emotion, anger alone cannot solve a problem. Anger management professionals will tell you that while anger is a signal that something is wrong, how you respond to anger is what matters.

Turning anger into something positive is exactly what the Continental Congress did for America when they issued the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.

In that document, author Thomas Jefferson was tasked with channeling all of the anger against King George III into hope for a new beginning. He believed the king had become a tyrant who had "plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns and destroyed the lives of our people."

Jefferson named many of the sparks of anger against this royal tyrant, such as:

  • "For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us."
  • "For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world."
  • "For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent."
  • "For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury."
  • "For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws."

And many more.

But that wasn't all. Just as fireworks ignite a spark into something beautiful, so Jefferson and the other members of Congress forged the colonists' anger into a vision for a new country based on self-government.

"We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America ... declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown."

Gen. George Washington's troops were so excited to learn of the Declaration of Independence that they created some fireworks of their own in New York. They melted a statue of King George III and turned it into 40,000 musket balls that were used in a war lasting eight years before the king gave up and gave America independence.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has listened to the anger of Britons who voted to leave the EU and has offered to step down — a peaceful change.

Likewise, today in the U.S.A. anger over terrorism, the shrinking middle class, trade issues, slow economic growth, out-of-control illegal immigration and other issues have reflected an angry, dissatisfied electorate.

But because America declared independence 240 years ago, we no longer need a bloody revolution to express our anger.

We can celebrate our nation's birthday with fireworks this July 4 because we know that we have a November election to reform and revise our country's policies. Representation, not royalty, is still the best way to turn sparks of anger into fireworks of change.

Happy Independence Day, America!

Cook is the author of nine books, including "American Phoenix," "Stories of Faith and Courage from the Revolutionary War" and the soon-to-be released "The Burning of the White House: James and Dolley Madison and the War of 1812." She is a cast member in a new Gingrich Productions documentary about George Washington, "The First American."