King George III, Lord North, John Dunning, Oliver Cromwell, New Model Army, Caesar, King Louis XVI, General Washington and Cincinnatus

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 12th, 2012

Politics 101

Had the Time of Kings Come to an End?

The British people grew weary of the war in America.  And the cost.  Many felt that the relationship between King George III and Lord North was a little too cozy.  And a little too unconstitutional.  John Dunning entered a motion in the House of Commons in 1780.  Stating that “the power of the Crown has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished.”  And the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781 didn’t improve the political climate.  On March 20, 1782, Lord North resigned as Prime Minister.  Even King George penned a letter of abdication.  Though he never sent it.  He did go mad for awhile.  In 1788.  But he got better.

They questioned the very idea of monarchy.  Whether the time of kings had come to an end.  It was done before.  They got rid of the king following the English Civil War.  Even executed him.  King Charles I.  And Parliament ruled without a king.  Under Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector.  After his New Model Army won the English Civil War for Parliament.  And the New Model Army was loyal to Cromwell.  Giving him a lot of power.  As a standing army in peacetime is wont to do.  Just like Caesar’s army crossing the Rubicon.  Allowing Caesar to declare himself Roman emperor.  Cromwell used his army to suppress the enemies of Parliament.  And the enemies of the Protestant Church.  But the government didn’t survive long after Cromwell’s death.  And Britain would soon have a king again.  Charles II.  The son of the king they beheaded.

But things settled down in Britain.  And King George remained king.  Until 1820.  Even though he lost about half of the British Empire.  Giving up his Crown only in death.  By natural causes, of course.  Unlike that of Charles I.  But things would not end well for another European monarch.  In particular the one that helped America gain their liberty from the British Crown.  The French king.  Louis XVI.  Whose country imploded under the cost of war.  The peasants suffered through famine while the monarchy and the Church lived fairly well.  Igniting the French Revolution in 1789.  And it didn’t end well for King Louis.  Or his wife Josephine.  The French Revolutionaries beheaded them both.  The time of kings had come to an end in France.  Ditto for the Catholic Church.  For awhile.  Napoleon would rise up and declare himself emperor.  Which is just like being a king.  Marching to Paris at the head of his army.  The source of his power.  But it didn’t last.  After Napoleon the French would bring back the monarchy.

History has Shown (and Continues to Show) that a Disgruntled Army is a Dangerous Army

So the American Revolution shook things up in Europe.  Causing one monarchy to tremble.  And another to fall.  But it wasn’t smooth sailing in America, either.  For winning the war was one thing.  But governing the new nation was another.  Would a new American nation arise?  Or would the states abandon their common interests now that the common enemy was no more?  Would Congress be able to keep the promises they made?  Or now that the war was over would the states cease funding the Congress?  Making it impossible to keep their promises.  Like the pensions they promised those who served in the Continental Army.  Who sacrificed so much to win America’s independence.

History has shown (and continues to show) that a disgruntled army is a dangerous army.  A wronged army with a popular leader could very well seize power.  And there was a real fear of this happening following the war.  In 1783 some officers began a movement to demand what the Congress had promised them.  Alexander Hamilton, then serving in Congress, became alarmed.  And wrote General Washington.  Asking him to advance these officers demands to prevent it from getting out of control.  Washington refused to get involved.  Then it escalated.  Some were advocating more forceful measures.  Calling for a meeting to discuss these measures.  And General Horatio Gates supported this meeting.  Gates was the general who won at Saratoga (but it was really Benedict Arnold and Daniel Morgan who won the day).  Gates was involved in the Conway Cabal, an attempt to smear the reputation of General Washington in order to replace him.  And Gates was, of course, a leading candidate to replace Washington.  And General Gates suffered one of America’s most humiliating defeats at the Battle of Camden.   Which he fled from on horseback.  Fleeing until he fled some 60 miles from the battlefield.  So Gates’ involvement spelled trouble.

An anonymous driver of the movement was urging the army to retire to the frontier if the war continued.  To abandon an ungrateful people.  Letting them meet their fate at the hands of the enemy.  Or to turn their arms on that ungrateful people.  To get what the Congress promised them.  And more.  Fearing a military coup General Washington issued an order forbidding the meeting Gates supported.  Then called a meeting of his officers to discuss their grievances.  And at this meeting General Washington once again saved the country.  By his presence.  His devotion to duty.  And his failing eyesight.  He pulled out a prepared speech and began to read.  Then paused.  He pulled out a pair of spectacles.  An officer in that meeting recorded what happened.  Major Samuel Shaw.  Washington “begged the indulgence of his audience while he put them on, observing at the same time that he had grown gray in their service, and found himself growing blind.”  There wasn’t a dry eye in the house after this.  These guys still loved Washington.  And would go to hell and back for him.  If he wanted them to support the civilian government they would support the civilian government.

General Washington Submitted his Resignation and Returned to Civilian Life like Cincinnatus 

Of course, having the army do whatever their leader asked could prove to be a problem, too.  If that leader had designs on power.  Especially when that leader had more power than any single man in the new nation.  Washington may have defused one military coup.  But a lot of people worried about his intentions.  Especially when a lot of people were asking him to be king.  Caesar may have been ancient history to some.  But Oliver Cromwell and the New Model Army were not.  Washington.  A standing army.  It made people nervous.  Even foreign powers never believed that Washington would give it all up.  Even King George.  Who said if Washington refused to be king he would be “the greatest man in the world.”

The last of the British troops left New York on December 4, 1783.  The war was truly over.  It was time to go home.  Washington had one last meeting with his officers.  On the evening of the 22nd of December there was a ball in his honor.  He danced until every lady had a chance to dance with the general.  Then he addressed Congress on the 23rd of December.  And became the greatest man in the world.  By submitting his resignation.  And returning to civilian life.  A regular Cincinnatus.  Called to serve his country.  And after serving his country he surrendered all power to return to his farm.

The war was over.  And it ended in peace.  More the exception than the rule when it came to revolution.  Thanks to George Washington.  And the other Founding Fathers.  Benjamin Franklin.  John Adams.  Alexander Hamilton.  Thomas Jefferson.  John Jay.  And everyone else of that unique generation.  Men of exceptional character.  Who never sacrificed their principles.  Or their sacred honor.

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Charlemagne, Christian Kingdoms, Holy Roman Empire, Divine Right of Kings, Magna Carta and English Parliament

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 12th, 2012

Politics 101

The Divine Right of Kings gave Kings Absolute Earthly Authority

With the collapse of the Western Roman Empire there was chaos.  Anarchy.  It was a free for all when it came to power.  Until, that is, a strong regional king came along.  Who could unite the manors and the nobles.  Usually in the face of a superior enemy.  One of the greatest post-Roman kings was Charlemagne.  King of the Franks (modern day France).  Who united most of Europe.  Then converted to Christianity.  Something that impressed the Pope.  Who did Charlemagne one better.  And anointed him emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.

The Holy Roman Empire had little to do with the old Roman Empire.  It wasn’t even centered on the Mediterranean.  It was up there in the land of the barbarians.  Northern Europe.  In and around modern day France and Germany.  Where many Christian kings ruled many Christian kingdoms.  But the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire was the Pope’s choice to rule them all.

The key here is a religious authority anointing someone to make him king.  Not necessarily a new concept.  For Samuel anointed Saul as the first king of Israel.  With the Pope doing it in post-Roman Europe he was bringing back the concept.  The Pope being God’s representative on earth meant that his appointment was God’s appointment.  And hence the divine right of kings.  Which basically gave the king absolute earthly authority.  Who answers to no one but God.  And, of course, the Pope.

The Magna Carta changed History by curtailing Absolute Monarchial Powers

Well that was all well and good but the kings earthly powers came from the nobility.  The landed aristocracy.  Who owned the manors and produced the food.  That gave rise to the cities that produced the other necessities of a kingdom.  Not to mention all the soldiers the king needed to expand his power.  Or maintain his power.  Which the nobility raised from those towns and manors.  And picked up the bill to arm them as well.  So, yes, the king had absolute authority.  But his power came from the nobles.  And the armies they raised could be turned against him just as easily as on his enemies.

And an English king would learn this lesson.  Around 1215.  King John.  When King John became king the English Kingdom extended through much of France.  John then lost these French lands.  And spent a fortune trying to recapture them.  A fortune which, of course, he took from his nobility.  His barons.  His tenants-in-chief.   Who revolted.  Then came to terms.  When King John placed his seal on a list of their demands.  The Magna Carta.  It didn’t change much at the time.  But the days of absolute monarchy were numbered.  At least in England.

The Magna Carta may not have changed much in 1215.  But it changed history.  Soon there was an English Parliament.  And it began to curtail absolute monarchial powers.  Especially on that very testy issue of taxes.  Soon the power of the purse belonged to Parliament.  Not the king.  Which really put a dent in kingly ambitions.

In the English Parliament Government ruled at the Consent of the Governed

William the Conqueror introduced feudalism to England in 1066.  After the Battle of Hastings.  And the Norman Conquest.  Which changed England forever.  Giving rise to the landed aristocracy.  Among other things.  And a strong central government.  The impetus to absolute monarchy.  Only to have his great-great-grandson, King John, introduce the beginning of the end of absolute monarchy.  Against his will, of course.  Which took us to a novel new idea of government.  Embodied in Parliament.  Where government ruled at the consent of the governed.  Which would cause a lot of turmoil in England.  And influence a lot people to come.

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