Kings, Court and Civil Servants

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 7th, 2014

History 101

(Originally published June 4th, 2013)

King Louis XVI became the Face of the Ancien Régime during a Period of Great Debt from Decades of War

“It’s good to be the king.”  For you can pretty much do anything you want.  Right up to the point your subjects go French Revolution all over your ass.

“It’s good to be the king” was a constant refrain in the classic Mel Brooks movie History of the World: Part I.  During the French Revolution the people arrested King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette.  And sent them both to the guillotine.  Even though Louis was not really that bad of a king.  Certainly not like Mel Brooks portrayed him in his movie.  He even tried to modernize France with Enlightenment ideals.  And made America’s independence from Great Britain possible.

Louis had some faults.  But it was more bad timing.  Being the face of the Ancien Régime during a period of great debt from decades of war.  High taxes.  And the occasional famine.  The people had suffered for a long time.  In large part thanks to Louis’ predecessor.  Who fought a lot of wars.  And ran up a lot of debt.  While losing most of New France to Great Britain.  Losing a source of wealth and income just as the bill for all those wars were coming due.

Court was where all the Movers and Shakers Gathered

King Louis XIV (aka, Louis the Great; aka, the Sun King) ruled for 72 years and 110 days.  One of the longest reigns in European history.  He believed in the divine right of kings.  Which stated kings answered to no one but God.  Louis XIV created one of the most powerful absolute monarchies in Europe.  He transformed the Palace of Versailles into one of the largest and most lavish palaces in the world.  And moved his court there.  Where it remained
until the French Revolution.

The king’s court was an extended household.  Where the king’s blood family lived.  And all the bureaucrats that helped him run his personal life.  And his kingdom.  For not only is it good to be the king it can be very exhausting to be the king.  Officials took care of business at court.  World leaders sent their ambassadors to court to handle their international business.  And officials from around the country went to court to settle domestic business.  Court was where all the movers and shakers gathered.  And the Palace of Versailles was home to a lot of treaty writing.

This required a large palace to accommodate these people.  And a lavish one to impress them.  To make their image abroad more glorious.  These people needed spaces to live in.  And food to eat.  As did the king.  Who had the finest quarters.  And when he got up in the morning he did not make his own bed.  One of the thousands of his servants attended to that.  For running one of the world’s largest palaces took a lot of servants.  And a lot of organization.

It is Good for your Career to be Close to, and Loyal to, the Person who holds the most Power in the Land

As households grew larger nobles and royals established household offices.  And a big part of these larger households and courts was feeding the people.  Kitchens had a pantry for foods and a buttery for beverages.  A pantler ran the office of the pantry.  And a butler ran the office of the buttery.  Beneath these were other offices.  At the top in charge of managing the household was the chamberlain.  Some of these were positions with a lot of responsibility.  But, surprisingly, some other positions people probably wouldn’t want today were even more powerful.

The cup bearer was very intimate with the king.  And was someone the king trusted with his life.  For the cup bearer served the king drinks at the royal table.  With there always being someone who wanted to kill the king someone had to make sure that didn’t happen through poison in the king’s cup.  Sometimes, just to be sure, he had to drink from the king’s cup before the king did.  To prove it was poison-free.  Making the cup bearer one of the closest confidants of the king.

Then there was the groom of the stool.  The most intimate of the king’s servants.  Who spent time with the king while he was on the toilet.  And de-soiled the king’s bottom after a royal poop.  Only the most trustworthy people could be the groom of the stool.  For no one was closer to the king.  Who knew the king’s secrets.  Because he heard them directly from the king.  And people feared him.  For he could tell the king anything they said or did.  Making this one of the most coveted positions in the king’s court.

When the United States won their independence from Great Britain the king was no longer sovereign.  The people were.  So the king’s court became our civil servants today.  But they don’t physically wipe the president’s bottom these days.  Today they just kiss it.  Figuratively, of course.  Because despite the changes it is still good for your career to be close to, and loyal to, the person who holds the most power in the land.

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Kings, Court and Civil Servants

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 27th, 2013

History 101

(Originally published June 4th, 2013)

King Louis XVI became the Face of the Ancien Régime during a Period of Great Debt from Decades of War

“It’s good to be the king.”  For you can pretty much do anything you want.  Right up to the point your subjects go French Revolution all over your ass.

“It’s good to be the king” was a constant refrain in the classic Mel Brooks movie History of the World: Part I.  During the French Revolution the people arrested King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette.  And sent them both to the guillotine.  Even though Louis was not really that bad of a king.  Certainly not like Mel Brooks portrayed him in his movie.  He even tried to modernize France with Enlightenment ideals.  And made America’s independence from Great Britain possible.

Louis had some faults.  But it was more bad timing.  Being the face of the Ancien Régime during a period of great debt from decades of war.  High taxes.  And the occasional famine.  The people had suffered for a long time.  In large part thanks to Louis’ predecessor.  Who fought a lot of wars.  And ran up a lot of debt.  While losing most of New France to Great Britain.  Losing a source of wealth and income just as the bill for all those wars were coming due.

Court was where all the Movers and Shakers Gathered

King Louis XIV (aka, Louis the Great; aka, the Sun King) ruled for 72 years and 110 days.  One of the longest reigns in European history.  He believed in the divine right of kings.  Which stated kings answered to no one but God.  Louis XIV created one of the most powerful absolute monarchies in Europe.  He transformed the Palace of Versailles into one of the largest and most lavish palaces in the world.  And moved his court there.  Where it remained until the French Revolution.

The king’s court was an extended household.  Where the king’s blood family lived.  And all the bureaucrats that helped him run his personal life.  And his kingdom.  For not only is it good to be the king it can be very exhausting to be the king.  Officials took care of business at court.  World leaders sent their ambassadors to court to handle their international business.  And officials from around the country went to court to settle domestic business.  Court was where all the movers and shakers gathered.  And the Palace of Versailles was home to a lot of treaty writing.

This required a large palace to accommodate these people.  And a lavish one to impress them.  To make their image abroad more glorious.  These people needed spaces to live in.  And food to eat.  As did the king.  Who had the finest quarters.  And when he got up in the morning he did not make his own bed.  One of the thousands of his servants attended to that.  For running one of the world’s largest palaces took a lot of servants.  And a lot of organization.

It is Good for your Career to be Close to, and Loyal to, the Person who holds the most Power in the Land

As households grew larger nobles and royals established household offices.  And a big part of these larger households and courts was feeding the people.  Kitchens had a pantry for foods and a buttery for beverages.  A pantler ran the office of the pantry.  And a butler ran the office of the buttery.  Beneath these were other offices.  At the top in charge of managing the household was the chamberlain.  Some of these were positions with a lot of responsibility.  But, surprisingly, some other positions people probably wouldn’t want today were even more powerful.

The cup bearer was very intimate with the king.  And was someone the king trusted with his life.  For the cup bearer served the king drinks at the royal table.  With there always being someone who wanted to kill the king someone had to make sure that didn’t happen through poison in the king’s cup.  Sometimes, just to be sure, he had to drink from the king’s cup before the king did.  To prove it was poison-free.  Making the cup bearer one of the closest confidants of the king.

Then there was the groom of the stool.  The most intimate of the king’s servants.  Who spent time with the king while he was on the toilet.  And de-soiled the king’s bottom after a royal poop.  Only the most trustworthy people could be the groom of the stool.  For no one was closer to the king.  Who knew the king’s secrets.  Because he heard them directly from the king.  And people feared him.  For he could tell the king anything they said or did.  Making this one of the most coveted positions in the king’s court.

When the United States won their independence from Great Britain the king was no longer sovereign.  The people were.  So the king’s court became our civil servants today.  But they don’t physically wipe the president’s bottom these days.  Today they just kiss it.  Figuratively, of course.  Because despite the changes it is still good for your career to be close to, and loyal to, the person who holds the most power in the land.

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Kings, Court and Civil Servants

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 4th, 2013

History 101

King Louis XVI became the Face of the Ancien Régime during a Period of Great Debt from Decades of War

“It’s good to be the king.”  For you can pretty much do anything you want.  Right up to the point your subjects go French Revolution all over your ass.

“It’s good to be the king” was a constant refrain in the classic Mel Brooks movie History of the World: Part I.  During the French Revolution the people arrested King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette.  And sent them both to the guillotine.  Even though Louis was not really that bad of a king.  Certainly not like Mel Brooks portrayed him in his movie.  He even tried to modernize France with Enlightenment ideals.  And made America’s independence from Great Britain possible.

Louis had some faults.  But it was more bad timing.  Being the face of the Ancien Régime during a period of great debt from decades of war.  High taxes.  And the occasional famine.  The people had suffered for a long time.  In large part thanks to Louis’ predecessor.  Who fought a lot of wars.  And ran up a lot of debt.  While losing most of New France to Great Britain.  Losing a source of wealth and income just as the bill for all those wars were coming due.

Court was where all the Movers and Shakers Gathered

King Louis XIV (aka, Louis the Great; aka, the Sun King) ruled for 72 years and 110 days.  One of the longest reigns in European history.  He believed in the divine right of kings.  Which stated kings answered to no one but God.  Louis XIV created one of the most powerful absolute monarchies in Europe.  He transformed the Palace of Versailles into one of the largest and most lavish palaces in the world.  And moved his court there.  Where it remained until the French Revolution.

The king’s court was an extended household.  Where the king’s blood family lived.  And all the bureaucrats that helped him run his personal life.  And his kingdom.  For not only is it good to be the king it can be very exhausting to be the king.  Officials took care of business at court.  World leaders sent their ambassadors to court to handle their international business.  And officials from around the country went to court to settle domestic business.  Court was where all the movers and shakers gathered.  And the Palace of Versailles was home to a lot of treaty writing.

This required a large palace to accommodate these people.  And a lavish one to impress them.  To make their image abroad more glorious.  These people needed spaces to live in.  And food to eat.  As did the king.  Who had the finest quarters.  And when he got up in the morning he did not make his own bed.  One of the thousands of his servants attended to that.  For running one of the world’s largest palaces took a lot of servants.  And a lot of organization.

It is Good for your Career to be Close to, and Loyal to, the Person who holds the most Power in the Land

As households grew larger nobles and royals established household offices.  And a big part of these larger households and courts was feeding the people.  Kitchens had a pantry for foods and a buttery for beverages.  A pantler ran the office of the pantry.  And a butler ran the office of the buttery.  Beneath these were other offices.  At the top in charge of managing the household was the chamberlain.  Some of these were positions with a lot of responsibility.  But, surprisingly, some other positions people probably wouldn’t want today were even more powerful.

The cup bearer was very intimate with the king.  And was someone the king trusted with his life.  For the cup bearer served the king drinks at the royal table.  With there always being someone who wanted to kill the king someone had to make sure that didn’t happen through poison in the king’s cup.  Sometimes, just to be sure, he had to drink from the king’s cup before the king did.  To prove it was poison-free.  Making the cup bearer one of the closest confidants of the king.

Then there was the groom of the stool.  The most intimate of the king’s servants.  Who spent time with the king while he was on the toilet.  And de-soiled the king’s bottom after a royal poop.  Only the most trustworthy people could be the groom of the stool.  For no one was closer to the king.  Who knew the king’s secrets.  Because he heard them directly from the king.  And people feared him.  For he could tell the king anything they said or did.  Making this one of the most coveted positions in the king’s court.

When the United States won their independence from Great Britain the king was no longer sovereign.  The people were.  So the king’s court became our civil servants today.  But they don’t physically wipe the president’s bottom these days.  Today they just kiss it.  Figuratively, of course.  Because despite the changes it is still good for your career to be close to, and loyal to, the person who holds the most power in the land.

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FT162: “It’s Good to be King or in the Upper Echelons of the Aristocracy or in the Federal Government.” —Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 22nd, 2013

Fundamental Truth

King Louis XVI of France enjoyed all the Benefits that came with being King until his Arrest and Execution

In Mel Brooks’ The History of the World Part: I we see a satirical look at a broad swath of history.  It’s funny.  And often crude.  Such as the first art critic.  Who is a caveman reviewing a cave painting.  Everyone waits with bated breath for his critique.  After a long and serious consideration of the work of art the critic picks up the front of his animal skin clothing.  And urinates on the artwork.  To the displeasure of the artist.

Then Brooks looked at Rome and the excesses of Caesar.  Roman Emperor.  Absolute ruler of much of the known world.  Who lived in the lap of luxury.  And enjoyed arbitrary power.  Who could do pretty much whatever he wanted to do.  And did.  In the movie we see his legions bringing him treasures from conquered lands.  Which they poured over him in an alabaster bathtub.  Later, when a stand-up philosopher accidentally called the emperor fat and corrupt he sentenced him to death.  As he did to the wine steward who spilled wine on him.  Brooks made this funny in the movie.  But the best comedy is based in truth.  Suffice it to say you wouldn’t insult Caesar if you knew what was good for you.

Then we see Brooks have fun with King Louis XVI of France.  Who ruled just before the American Revolutionary War.  Until his arrest and subsequent execution in the French Revolution.  The French monarchy was an absolute monarchy.  The king could do whatever he wanted.  During his reign France was going broke thanks to his predecessor’s numerous wars.  And Louis’ support and financing of the American Revolution.  Which he paid for mostly with borrowed funds.  Leaving French finances in a mess.  Some bad harvests led to a famine or two.  So the common people were suffering during his reign.  While Brooks showed Louis enjoying his luxurious life at the Palace at Versailles.  With little regard for his people.  Enjoying all the benefits that come with being king.  As he groped the pretty ladies that caught his eye.  And said into the camera, “It’s good to be king.”

A King needs an Aristocracy so he can trade Privilege for Wealth to Secure his Power

The portrayal of Louis the XVI is not exactly accurate.  Or fair.  For he was a decent man.  Who tried to get his people to love him.  He’s greatest fault was probably being a weak and indecisive king.  Something most tyrants aren’t.  And there wouldn’t have been a United States of America without him.  Something else in Louis’ favor.  But the life of luxury he enjoyed at Versailles wasn’t that far off the mark.  For kings lived like kings.  And if you had the right dad that exceptional life could be yours.  Something a lot of people wanted.  Even killing off some heirs to the throne to put themselves next in the line of succession.  For the words of Mel Brooks ring true.  “It’s good to be king.”

But the interesting thing about kings is that they can’t be king alone.  They need an aristocracy.  Rich people who the king allows to get rich.  As long as they share some of their riches with the king.  In the days of kings that meant landowners.  So those in the king’s court who ran the government were wealthy landowners.  They used their positions of power to secure their wealth.  And they used their power to amass more wealth.  Which they shared with the king.  And because they did the king maintained their privilege.  Which secured his power.  So it was not only good to be king.  But it was good to be in the upper echelons of the aristocracy.  Who lived almost as good as a king.

Meanwhile the poor masses toiled on the land.  Enriching the landowners.  And the king.  Who worked hard and got little in return.  For their life was often “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”  As Thomas Hobbes wrote in Leviathan.  For the times of kings was the age of feudalism.  Where the masses were attached to the land.  Bonded to it.  And forbidden to leave it.  They were born on it.  They lived on it.  They worked on it.  And they died on it.  As their children would, too.  With no hope of ever doing something different than your father did.  Because in feudalism there was the king.  The aristocracy.  And everyone else.  Those whose lives were “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

There is no way the President can live like a King without the Privilege he gets with his Position of Power

This is what bothered Thomas Jefferson.  The connection between money and government power.  For it was only when they came together could they oppress the masses.  He wanted to keep the money as far away from those in government as possible.  He didn’t want to see only a few rich landowners.  He opposed the expansion of government.  And when he was president he cut government spending.  Not cuts in the growth rate of future spending.  But actual cuts in spending.  Unlike today.  Where government spending only increases.  Even when they cut it.

The country continues to struggle in the worst recovery since the recovery following the Great Depression.  If you look at the labor force participation rate (LFPR) you’d conclude we’re still in the worst recession since the Great Depression.  Yes, the official unemployment rate has fallen some.  But the LFPR has fallen off a cliff.  The only reason why the unemployment rate has fallen is that they have stopped counting hundreds of thousands of people who can’t find full-time work.  People are hurting.  There are fewer jobs now than when President Obama took office.  People are underwater in their mortgage.  The median income has fallen.  While gasoline and food prices soar.  But the stock market is doing well.  Thanks to the quantitative easing.  As rich investors can borrow large sums of cheap money to invest in the stock market.  Especially those with friends in the federal government.  Who don’t even have to risk their own money to get rich.  No.  Like aristocracies of old, they get large sums of taxpayer funds.  In return they collect and bundle money from campaign donors to give back to their friends in power.  To help keep them in power.  So they can continue to get large sums of taxpayer funds.

Meanwhile President Obama and the First Lady have been living it up.  There was the lavish vacation to Spain for the First Lady and her friends. The Christmas vacations in Hawaii.  The summer vacations on Martha’s Vineyard.  Ski trips to Vail.  Golfing with Tiger Woods.  Zipping back and forth across the U.S for fundraisers in Air Force One.  Often hobnobbing with the Hollywood Elite and music royalty.  The National Review Online reports the Obama White House annual household expenses are $1.4 billion.  For these traveling costs add up.  As the president enjoys the trappings of his high office.  And who wouldn’t want to spend $1.4 billion on their household expenses?  With that kind of money we wouldn’t be spending summer vacation in our backyards anymore.  But we don’t get to live like a king.  No.  Our lives are more “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” these days.  As jobs continue to disappear from the economy.  And median income falls.  So why does the president continue to live like a king when so many of the people are suffering?  Because it’s good to be king.  It’s good to be in the upper echelons of the aristocracy.  And especially good to be in the federal government.  For there is no way the president can live like a king without the privilege he gets with his position of power.

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Franco-American Treaties, Spanish Louisiana, French Republic, Edmond Genêt, Proclamation of Neutrality and Petit Démocrate

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 11th, 2012

Politics 101

The US enjoyed a Booming Economy due to Trade with Great Britain and the Protection of that Trade by Britain’s Royal Navy

In politics there is domestic policy.  Where politicians can really make a mess of the nation.  And then there’s foreign policy.  Where politicians can make an even bigger mess of things.  Because nations are not isolated from other nations in the world.  And what they say or do can have a great impact on those nations who threatened them.  And those nations who peacefully coexist with them.  Bad foreign policy can do anything from hurting the economy (by disrupting international trade).  To causing war.

America came into being in part due to the treaties they made with the King of France.  Louis XVI.  Who helped them overthrow their king’s rule.  An interesting thing for a king to do.  What with Louis being a king himself.  And the last thing he wanted was his subjects to overthrow him.  Which they would do a decade or so later.  As they were inflamed with the spirit of liberty.  Thanks to the American Revolution.  The very thing that Louis helped the Americans win.  Who did so to improve his position against his perpetual enemy.  Great Britain.  But in the end he lost his own kingdom.

The Franco-American treaties included a perpetual military alliance.  Such that if a hostile nation attacked France the U.S. was obligated to help protect the French West Indies.  Under a commercial treaty French privateers could use U.S. ports.  Meaning that if they captured an enemy ship, say a British ship, they could bring that prize into a U.S. port.  Even refitting the ship into another French privateer to go out and attack more British shipping.  All sensible and reasonable considering the U.S. was at war with Great Britain at the time they entered those treaties.  But the U.S. did not remain in a perpetual state of way with Great Britain.  In fact, the U.S. enjoyed a booming economy in part due to trade with Great Britain.  And the protection of that trade by Britain’s Royal Navy.  The most powerful navy in the world.

The Port of New Orleans was the Gateway for all American Farm Goods West of the Appalachians

So as war clouds loomed over Europe again with the outbreak of the French Revolution these treaties complicated matters for the young nation.  She had no navy.  Not much of a standing army.  And a lot of debt from the last war.  Which was not an enjoyable experience having lasted some 8 years before the Treaty of Paris of 1783 officially ended it.  Now the nation was enjoying peace and economic growth.  And the last thing they wanted was another war.  Which was going to be difficult to avoid.  And the animosity between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson didn’t help.  As they both wanted the young nation to remain neutral.  But they each wanted that neutrality to lean in opposite ways.

In 1790 war loomed between Great Britain and Spain.  The Spanish had allied themselves with France in the American Revolution to settle some old scores with Britain.  That war did not end as well as they had hoped.  As Gibraltar was still British.  So there was that.  Among other deeply held…differences.  When it looked like they would return to war the British in Canada sent an official to meet with the Washington administration.  To get permission for the passage of British troops on American territory to attack Spanish Louisiana.  Which is where the Mississippi River flowed through to the Port of New Orleans.  The gateway for all American farm goods west of the Appalachians.

This was a complex issue.  For the Spanish didn’t really like the Americans.  Wanting to keep them as far east of the Mississippi river as possible.  So on the one hand getting the Spanish out of North America completely might have been a good thing.  But replacing the Spanish with the British not so good.  Alexander Hamilton wanted to grant the British this passage.  In exchange for a guarantee of navigation rights on the Mississippi River.  He also wanted to grant them passage as he feared they would take it with or without the American’s permission.  And if they did without that permission the Americans would have no choice but to go to war to preserve American honor and her territorial sovereignty.  So supporting the British was the only way to save face in the international community without going to war.  In the end, though, the British and the Spanish resolved their differences peacefully.

Genêt refitted the British Brigantine Little Sarah into the Commerce Raider Petit Démocrate, Pushing the Americans Closer to War

The British didn’t go to war with the Spanish.  But the French and British did in 1793.  Which caused a lot of trouble in America.  For the American people still hated the British.  Despite a lucrative trade with them.  A trade protected by their Royal Navy.  But that did little to make them forget all those years of war.  Or forget the people who helped them win their independence.  The French.  So when the French Revolution broke out, and the French and the British went to war again, the American people sided with the French.  Despite what was happening in Paris.  The Terror.  And the execution of the king and queen.  As far as they were concerned the only good king was a dead king.  But that dead king posed a problem for American foreign policy.  Those Franco-American treaties were made with that now dead king.  And his court.  Which no longer existed.  So were the Americans still bound by those treaties?

Which brought up an even bigger question.  Should the Americans recognize the French Republic?  No other nation had.  And after the execution of King Louis and Marie Antoinette, it was unlikely any monarchy would.  So should the Americans be first?  Hamilton said, “No.”  While Jefferson said, “Yes.”  As far as the Franco-American treaties Hamilton did not want to honor them as that government no longer existed.  Jefferson insisted on honoring them as if they were made with the new French Republic.  Jefferson also insisted that Washington receive the new French envoy.  Citizen Edmond Genêt.  Washington ultimately consented to receiving Citizen Genêt.  But he also issued his Proclamation of Neutrality.  Telling the British and the French that America would remain friendly but impartial to both.  Which did not go over well with the French.  Or the American people.

Genêt landed in South Carolina.  And travelled overland to Philadelphia.  Getting a hero’s welcome along the way.  Genêt even said that Washington was jealous of him for how the American people loved him more than the president.  These actions and remarks did not endear Genêt to the Washington administration.  Washington and Hamilton gave him a cool reception.  While Jefferson gave him a very warm reception.  Telling him he had a friend in the Secretary of State.  Genêt demanded an advance on the money America owed France.  Hamilton refused.  Knowing what he wanted that money for.  To pay for the Armée du Mississippi and the Armée des Florides that George Rogers Clarke was putting together for him on paper.  To attack the Spanish in Louisiana and in Florida.  When Hamilton refused he complained to Jefferson.  Saying he was clearly favoring the British Crown over the Franco-American alliance.  And even lied.  Saying that if he agreed to use that money to contract with Hamilton’s friends he could have it.  Further convincing Jefferson of the corruption at the Treasury Department under Hamilton.

As bad as all of that was Genêt was also outfitting privateers that were attacking and capturing British shipping.  Worse, he was bringing these prizes back to American ports to sell.  Which did not look very neutral to Britain.  Who demanded their ships back.  And that the Americans close these ports to the French.  Which Washington did.  For the last thing the Americans wanted was another war with Britain.  Chaffing under the American restrictions Genêt refitted the British brigantine Little Sarah into the commerce raider Petit Démocrate.  Telling Jefferson he did so by the authority of the Franco-American treaties.  And when she set out to sea it captured one British ship after another.  Pushing the Americans closer to war with the British.  Turning the American people against the French.  And the Republican Party.  Who had so warmly embraced Citizen Genêt.  So that was the end of Genêt.  And the Franco-American treaties.  The Americans would remain neutral.  Even if that neutrality favored the British.  Which turned out to be a good thing.  As the whole world would be at war with France in a few years.  With even the American people demanding to go to war with France.  Thankfully, America’s second president, John Adams, was able to keep that from happening.

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American Revolution, French Revolution, King Louis XVI, National Assembly, Tennis Court Oath, Bastille, Guillotine and Reign of Terror

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 6th, 2012

Politics 101

France was Staring at Bankruptcy while her People were Suffering Poverty and Hunger

Shortly after the American Revolution came the French Revolution.  Inspired in part by the American Revolution.  Whose spirit of liberty was infectious.  Some French even joined the Americans in their fight for liberty.  Such as Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, marquis de Lafayette.  Who was a general in George Washington’s army.  And who Washington looked on as a son.  America’s war was an expensive war.  And only through the generosity of Louis XVI, King of the French, did the Americans win their war.  Ironic, really, that an absolute monarch like Louis XVI would help the Americans break free from a monarchy.  But he did.  And saddled France with a tremendous war debt.

These are two things you don’t want to do if you’re a king.  Showing your people that you support the end of monarchy while denying it to your own people.  And making the French people pay for another people’s independence.  Through higher taxes.  And greater privations.  Things that tend to piss off a people.  It was a gamble for Louis.  For he didn’t believe in the American cause.  It was just a calculated bet.  The British had just recently defeated the French in the Seven Years’ War.  And the British took France’s North American territories.  Territories the French wanted back.  The American Revolution was their chance to rebalance the balance of power.  And get back at their hated enemy.  Great Britain.

Well that was the plan.  But it did not go as planned.  The Americans got wind of what the French monarchy was doing behind the scenes.  Which was even in discussions with the British to secure a peace that left the Americans subjects of the British Crown.  With a much smaller territory in the New World.  Leaving room for the French.  And their ally.  Spain.  An outcome that benefited neither the British nor the Americans.  So the British and the Americans made a separate peace.  One that favored their interests.  Not the French or the Spanish.  So Louis gambled.  He lost.  And he lost big.  The nation was staring at bankruptcy.  While her people were suffering poverty and hunger.  And what did these poor and hungry people see?  A very comfortable and well fed king, nobility and clergy.  This was the kindling just waiting for a match to light.

Montesquieu influenced the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen as well as the U.S. Founding Documents

That match came in 1789.  And the lighting of that match began with Jacques Necker.  Comptroller-General of Finance for Louis XVI.  Who advised the king that the nobility and the clergy needed to pay more taxes.  And proposed restricting the power of the parlements.  The nobility and the clergy paid little taxes due to their tax exemptions.  While the poor were too poor to help with the financial mess France was in.  So the only hope of raising new revenue was the nobility and clergy.  Alas, the monarchy did not like his recommendations and fired him.  Enter Charles Alexandre, vicomte de Calonne.  Who advised the king that the nobility and the clergy needed to pay more taxes.  Facing opposition from the parlements for proposing unpopular policy Calonne got the king to summon the Assembly of Notables.  A group of notables (like Lafayette) who advised the king.  But the notables did not endorse Calonne’s plan.  So the king called the Estates-General to the Grands Salles des Menus-Plaisirs in Versailles.

The estates were representatives of the people.  There were three of them.  The clergy.  The nobility.  And everyone else.  The commoners.  That is, the Third Estate.  Who grew weary with the way things were in France and declared themselves representatives not of the Third Estate but of the people.  They called themselves the National Assembly.  A radical move.  The first of a lot of radicalism to follow.  Not liking the look of this movement Louis closed their meeting hall and posted a guard in front of the door.  So the National Assembly moved to an indoor tennis court.  And took the Tennis Court Oath.  Where they promised to write a new constitution before adjourning.  Others joined them.  From both the clergy.  And the nobility.

The weariness grew into agitation.  The people grew angry.  And everything the king did just inflamed their anger.  From the firing of Necker.  To the presence of foreign soldiers in Paris.  The people feared royal oppression.  And began rioting.  Paris was out of control.  Then the people stormed the Bastille for weapons and ammunition.  They released all seven prisoners.  And brutally murdered Governor Marquis Bernard de Launay.  The guy in charge of the Bastille.  Beheaded him.  And placed his head on a pike and paraded it through Paris.  Then they went to Paris city hall and brutally murdered the mayor.  Jacques de Flesselles.  Then the National Constituent Assembly (of the National Assembly) went to work on the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789).  Sort of a combination of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Bill of Rights.  Drawing heavily on the same great French philosopher of the Enlightenment the Americans did.  Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu.

The People who Embraced the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen unleashed the Reign of Terror

In America after the U.S. Bill of Rights was ratified by the states the nation went about its business.  With some bitter fighting between the Founding Fathers as they argued over what the new nation was going to be.  But this bitter fighting was of the verbal kind.  It wasn’t quite like that in France.  There they attacked the Catholic Church.  Seized its property.  And sold it to the highest bidder.  As France grew more radical.  Where the radicals sat to the left in the legislative hall.  And those supportive of the old ways and monarchy sat on the right.  Giving us the political terms ‘left’ and ‘right’.  Then the radicals turned against the monarchy.  Created a constitutional monarchy to restrict the king’s power.  Like they had in Britain.  As the monarchy was assaulted the royal family tried to flee France in 1791.  They were caught and returned to Versailles.  Where they were put under house arrest.

Then the violence escalated.  Food shortages continued.  Prices continued to rise.  King Louis and Marie Antoinette were guillotined in 1793.  Control of France fell to the Committee of Public Safety.  And new leaders rose up to take power.  Including the radical journalist Jean-Paul Marat.  Who was murdered in a bathtub by a woman in the opposition party.  Georges Jacques Danton escalated the bloodletting by unleashing the Reign of Terror.  Where anyone who was identified as an enemy of the people or was not quite enthusiastic enough about the revolution was sent to the guillotine.  He was pretty bad.  But then there was Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre.  Who was real bad.  In all during the Reign of Terror the Committee of Public Safety guillotined some 20 to 40 thousand people.  Including Danton.  And Robespierre.  Live by the guillotine.  Die by the guillotine.

The French overthrew their king quicker than the Americans overthrew their king.  But the Americans quickly won their peace.  Without killing 20-40 thousand of their people.  Or their king.  Whereas the French descended into anarchy.  Even executed their king.  Something that appalled George Washington.  For though his motives were wrong and the Americans just rebelled against a monarch of their own, Louis provided the greatest aid to the Americans in their revolution.  Which probably made it easier to maintain a policy of neutrality in the new war between France and Great Britain during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars that followed.  Even favor the British in that policy of neutrality.  For the vast majority of American trade was with the British Empire.  And all of the agreements the Americans made with France during their Revolution they made with King Louis XVI.  A man executed during the Reign of Terror.  A period where the rule of law was thrown aside.  By the same people who embraced the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.

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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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