Kings v. equality before the law

By Steve Farrell
web posted March 1999

Two hundred and twenty five years ago, a "foolish, wicked, and improper king," was brought to a trial of sorts, for wanton disregard of the laws of England and the rights of his subjects in British America.

His sins were many. Chief among them was his unequal application of the law, and listed also among his offenses - "obstruction of justice." Rights and privileges, it seemed, applied only to the King, his cabinet, his ambassadors, his parliament, and selected classes of men in England - but not at all to the colonists. In the King's mind, it was his divine prerogative to manipulate the law, to his advantage, any time and in any way he saw fit. This he did.

The colonists were less than delighted. The illegitimacy of the King's position was clear, and the trend toward tyranny was ominous. They humbly challenged the British Crown, sending great statesmen across the wide deep, to present reasoned and impassioned appeals before the King and his court, but remarkably, to no avail. They were repeatedly slighted and shunned, and the colonies - sentenced and punished.

"A long train of abuses and usurpations" could not, however, be forever endured. Finally, the injuries upon the law and the people went too far. The spirit of liberty in the hearts of the colonists rose up in defense; freedom's leading spokesmen gathered in Philadelphia; and a decision was rendered - Impeachment.

No, not the kind of Impeachment we witnessed today, for our forefathers lacking that legal avenue were forced to pursue Impeachment "by other means." - the far less subtle approach of war. No crafty lawyers, trickster pollsters, party partisans, and socialist minded ministers, would rescue this king. And after much sacrifice, much property loss, much bloodshed, and many prayers, justice was finally served, liberty and equality won, a monarch dethroned!

Happily, the results of the conflict were not terrible but wonderful, and they were not just felt in America, but throughout the world.

Thomas Paine had insisted that we were not fighting a war for American Independence alone, but for "the rights of mankind." And providentially, it seemed, the legal tables of the centuries were turned. The false maxim that "the king is law," was now rigorously challenged by "the law is king." Indeed, the world now knew, that the common man, was not so common after all; that the idea of kings was "ridiculous;" and that equality before the law was a mandate from Heaven - a point that warrants our careful consideration.

Yes, throughout the depth and breath of the land, early Americans recognized equality before God and the Law as a religious principle. It was Thomas Jefferson, in the Declaration of Independence who thundered the conviction that this equality was an "endowment" from our "Creator," something which no government had the right to ever revoke.

And why from a religious perspective were we equal? A 1762 election sermon by Boston Reverend Abraham Williams taught: "All men [are] naturally equal, [having] descended from a common parent (who is God)." Or as the apostle Peter stated, "God is no respecter of persons but hath made of one blood all nations under Heaven."

This equality was divided into two parts. first equal rights. The Ten Commandments laid out a plan for civil society which forbade men and governments from shedding innocent blood, from prohibiting worship of God, and from stealing or coveting other's goods. Thus, all men and women possessed an inalienable right to life, liberty, and property.

The second type of equality was equality before the law. As "all men" would one day stand before the bar of Heaven to "be judged according to their works," so on Earth it logically was the same. The Book of Deuteronomy, quoted more in the political writings of the Revolutionary period than any other source, demanded specific and equal punishments for broken laws. There were no special immunities, no privileged political or religious classes, no right for any individual or group of individuals to obstruct justice or to bear false witness in a court of law.

Accompanying the religious position, was the common sense application of those principles to delegated power. Bastiat taught "collective right, its reason for its existence, its lawfulness - is based on individual right." And thus, government can only do what the "individual" has the "natural and lawful right to do." If at any time government or governors exceed the powers and rights of the individual, i.e., to unequally apply justice - then this was "tyranny."

In this light, the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 read: "[the government was organized] for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people, and not for the profit, honor, or private interest of any one man."

Therefore it seems both peculiar and disturbing to hear people say today of a government official that "there ought to be a law against criticizing the President," or that the "President is too busy saving social security to be placed on the stand," or that "perjury and obstruction of justice" - crimes which would land any common citizen in jail, "ought to invoke a scolding not a criminal sentence."

Thomas Paine, were he now alive, would wonder aloud: How is it that an American President "came into the world so exalted above the rest...distinguished like some new species?" Similarly, he would feel compelled to characterize those kingmen who like the kingmen of old labor hard to reconcile the King's indefensible inequality before the law as "interested men, who are not to be trusted, weak men who cannot see, prejudiced men who will not see, and a certain set of moderate men who think better of the European World than it deserves."

The European political world of Paine's day could be summed up in three words - "corruption and class privilege." Is it to this bitter fountain which we wish to return? Let us not. Let us be wiser. Scripture, reason, and blood, brought forth equality before the law in this nation, so that from this sweet fountain, a cool refreshing drink might be offered to the liberty parched refugees of the earth. Let us not turn our backs on progress and the miracle of Heaven which occurred in these United States. It is our solemn duty to insure that this never occurs, that justice be served, privilege revoked, and kings forever kept off American soil.

Read Part 2: The victory in defeat

Steve Farrell is a free-lance writer, a Ph.D. candidate in constitutional law, and a former Air Force Communications Security manager. E-mail Mr. Farrell your comments at

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