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The revolution sacked King and Parliament, but Washington is more absolute than ever

By J.K. Baltzersen
web posted July 8, 2024

Was the Revolution worth it?

In American discourse, the word king often takes on the meaning of a ruler who has absolutely no checks on his power – or all but. This is perhaps not so strange, as America was born out of revolt against the British Crown.

But the system the American revolutionaries revolted against, although not a monarchy as emasculated as the monarchy of Elizabeth II and Charles III, was a King-in-Parliament system, where the monarch was bound by limits, notably those put in place in the aftermath of the English Civil War and the restoration of the monarchy after the rule of Oliver Cromwell, particularly the English Bill of Rights of 1689.

As American historian and Harvard professor Eric Nelson tells us in his book The Royalist Revolution: Monarchy and the American Founding, the American colonies were founded by royal charter without involvement from Parliament in Westminster.

In his classic work Democracy and Liberty of 1896, a work controversial even at that time, in stating a less than friendly relationship between democracy and liberty, W.E.H. Lecky argues the American Revolution was caused by the King having too little power, not too much. Present day historian Eric Nelson concurs.

In the Declaration of Independence Parliament in London is mentioned, but the charges are against the King. The colonists had their own institutions. They had no interest in being ruled by a parliament in which they had no constituency. The King, however, was theirs too. The reason the British Parliament was not directly charged in the declaration might very well have been that the colonists did not recognize that assembly's authority over them. They did petition the King with their grievances, but the response of King George III was insufficient in their judgement. In the wording of the declaration, he was deemed unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

The declaration was thus a revolt against a particular prince for his failure to protect his people in the colonies against usurpations of the Westminster Parliament, not against the principle of monarchy. Nor could it have been, were the revolution to have any chance of success, given that the support of the French monarchy was essential for victory for the revolutionaries.

In hindsight, it was a mistake for the French monarchy to support American independence through war, as its involvement, with the following brink of bankruptcy for the French state, was a major contribution to its own downfall. However, in the heat of the action, it wanted to contribute to the weakening of a rival empire. It would likely not have fought a war against the principle of monarchy.

The author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, even had a portrait at his Monticello of French King Louis XVI, ally of the American revolutionaries.

That is not to say that there were no anti-monarchists amongst the revolutionaries. The spread and popularity of Thomas Paine's Common Sense likely sealed the fate of hereditary monarchy as a concept for the new American nation.

But the American presidency certainly looks a lot like an elective monarchy. Eric Nelson argues the extensive powers of the President are a result of constitutional intent. This may be so, but arguably also mixed in with usurpations of presidents over time and Congress to some extent abdicating its role. Coronations and royal funerals in London certainly are a lot of pomp and circumstance, but so are American presidential inaugurations and funerals.

The American Revolution was not about establishing representative government in America. The American tradition of such government goes back to Jamestown, Virginia in 1619, with the establishment of the House of Burgesses.

But American government certainly has grown into a behemoth, headed by a presidency, with reference to a mandate of the people, having more power than most monarchs of old could ever dream of. The fears of Alexis de Tocqueville expressed in his classic Democracy in America, that government based on popular sovereignty would become tyrannical, have sadly come true.

Gary North, a prolific American writer on economics and history, in an essay, Tricked on the Fourth of July, explained that the American colonies before the revolution were the freest part of the British empire, and likely the freest part of the world, with the possible exception of Switzerland. American revolt created British tyranny in America, said North, and taxes started rising pretty soon after the revolution. Indeed, many of the major infringements on American liberty came much later, but the beginning was not an era of angel government either.

It is appropriate to ask what good came out of it, in particular in the long run, with American government on all levels routinely infringing upon rights, mass surveillance, running a global money-created-out-of-thin-air empire, persecuting whistleblowers and their facilitators, as Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, the IRS persecuting American citizens across the globe, whose only way out is to renounce their citizenship of the "freest country in the world."

The society that once revolted against tax and competed with Switzerland in being the freest place on Earth now, most unfortunately, has a chief executive who recently quite successfully campaigned around the globe for a worldwide minimum tax. Even the Swiss people has sadly given in to President Biden's assault on international tax competition.

America has gone from revolting against taxes to ensuring there is nowhere to hide from taxes, while paying lip service to opposition to absolute power.

On the occasion of this past May, when it was 240 years since the Treaty of Paris of 1783 came into effect, formally concluding the American War for Independence, and this recent Independence Day, the state of the American Republic is a sad state.

Things certainly have changed, not all for the better. Was it really worth it? ESR

J.K. Baltzersen is a Norwegian political commentator and writer. His work has appeared, among other places, in The Washington Times, FEE.org, and Enter Stage Right.

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