Monarchy and the American Founding
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Monarchy and the American Founding

September 26, 2019


In our cultural imagination about the Revolution, we have this idea that there has to have been something democratic and republican about it. That it’s a kind of republican and democratic revolt against the Ancien Régime and monarchical power, and that is so powerful in our historical imagination. But these people–that is, not all of them, but a great many of them, and certainly a great many of the most important ones–took themselves to be waging a rebellion in favor of royal power. That is, they wanted more monarchy, rather than less. Their view was that Parliament was illicitly usurping the just prerogatives of the Crown, and that was their complaint. They took themselves to be waging a rebellion against a tyrannical legislature. By the time you get to the Declaration,
in July of ’76, first of all, a number of things have changed on the ground. Word arrives in British America of the text of the King’s speech in which he he declares the colonies to be in rebellion, removes them from the royal protection. And, at this moment, there’s a kind of trauma. So many British Americans were putting all of their faith in the King, and looking to him to sort of revivify the English constitution, defend their liberties. And, in a sense, one of the ironies of the Declaration– since it’s so often taken as this great statement of American anti-monarchism at this point– is that, in a way, it’s the final and most eloquent testimony to the power of this sort of “neo-Stuart” theory of the empire. The word “Parliament” doesn’t appear in the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration focuses on the King because in the constitutional and sort of juridical imagination of the patriots at this period, it’s only the King who wields legitimate authority over America. Once the debate is over–that is, once independence comes– the very same people who get into print most prominently in the 1770s, defending this heavily royalist conception of the British monarchy, and the imperial constitution, and the royal prerogative, don’t change their minds. And exactly this same cast of characters are defending sweeping executive power and become the chief advocates for the new constitution– and it’s chief architects–in the 1780s. And they themselves highlighted the continuity in their thought: they’re going to create a monarch of a kind, who is not a King, but who is given more prerogative power than any English monarch had wielded since the defeat of the royalist cause. We tend to think of the presidency as sort of “monarchy lite,” but in the context of the 18th century– as people understood perfectly well at the time–it was the reverse: it was “monarchy plus.” That is, it was taking all of these prerogative powers that no English monarch had wielded for generations, and locating them, assigning them, to this new chief magistrate. [music]

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  1. Me entretuve viendo el vid! Interesante y también viendo los libros q tenía en la repisa ! Pocos de historia! 🙂

  2. People should try to watch videos like this more often. This video has 701 views while Smosh or Pewdiepie get millions of views per video.

  3. The Parliament was always corrupt. Hobbes called it Behemot, the dirty beast of the mood in the Bible. The same author called the Crown The Leviathan, the beast of clean waters . I imagine that the founding fathers were monarchists and would like to keep the monarchy over the confederation or federaration with parliaments in the States and a central one. The British Parliament didn't want assume the brutal debt of the Seven Years War and charge the American Colonies. The result was the revolution. Imagine what would be of the civilisation if there would exist a Great Atlantic Monarchy plus all possesions of the second british empire and perhaps China and South America…

  4. As a US President is not above the constitution and generally the law is both written, interpreted and executed in the name of the head of Monarchical systems I dont understand how a Preseident is Monarchy+?

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