This year marks the 1,000th anniversary of political liberty. When the United States began, the tradition in which it was founded was already 762 years old.
As I wrote recently in celebration of this magnificent anniversary, those who would protect freedom in our country badly scupper themselves by their ignorance of history, and there is perhaps no greater obstacle to our understanding of the history that matters than our founding myth.
America was born as a liberty-protecting Republic in opposition to a tyrannical monarchy, so the story goes. While more and more Americans are (thankfully) beginning to see the myriad travesties against our liberty that are being performed by our governing elite as threatening our very identity as a nation that exists to defend natural, unalienable and individual rights, we are all doing very much less well at seeing quite how deeply the founding purpose of our country has been subverted.
Because we “know” that not only are we not a monarchy Constitutionally, but also that our very existence is owed to its denial as a morally decadent institution, we cannot possibly admit the truth about what we have let our country become: America is now a monarchy.
Monarchy has a simple meaning – the “rule of one”. As Alexander Hamilton correctly said, “‘monarch’ is an indefinite term. It marks not either the degree or duration of power”. The fact that our king is elected for four years, then, does not change his status as a monarch.
In America today, the President can sign executive orders such as E.O. 13603, on “National Defense Resources Preparedness”, in which he claims the right to revoke all contracts and nationalize all aspects of American life even outside a state of emergency. (Bill Clinton had signed a similar order, but with applicability limited to a state of emergency only, however that may be defined. Power only ever drives in one direction.) The Executive has also claimed the authority to strike militarily countries that do not threaten our own, without a supporting vote in the House, and even to kill American citizens without any independent legal process. It also works with its agents, again without the express approval of the people’s representatives or, certainly, the knowledge of the people themselves, to receive by covert means the most private details of our lives.
Even in the late 18th century, George III, America’s stereotypical and caricatured tyrant, could not and did not write or implement law by fiat. There was no such thing as an executive order written by that Head of State. He did not have the means to surveil the nation en masse. And certainly, neither the decision to impose minimal taxes on the colonies to cover some of the costs of protecting them nor the decision to fight to keep them within the British empire, was made in one monarchical mind.
In fact, the last English monarch to sign an executive order was James II, who in 1687 issued the Declaration of Indulgence, in which he used his “legal dispensing power” to negate the effect of laws that punished Catholics and Protestant dissenters, which on the face of it, seems like a rather liberal purpose, except that it came with various concentrations of executive power to his office.
And what were the outcomes of this little piece of executive over-reach by James II?
Many of the forward-looking men of the time could see that James’s executive order reflected of a much more wide-ranging, and therefore more dangerous, attitude to power. For this reason (and others), members of the polity, with popular support, overthrew him in what is known the Glorious Revolution. The British effectively ended the reign of the Stuarts (the royal House of which James was a part) by inviting William, Prince of Orange (in what is now the Netherlands), to take over the English monarchy. This “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 was called “Glorious” because hardly a shot was fired: but it was called a “Revolution” not only because the people had effectively chosen their monarch but, more importantly (and this is something American Constitutionalists should appreciate), because the representatives immediately and successfully limited that office by passing in the following year the (original) Bill of Rights.
The purpose of the Bill of Rights was to codify the ancient rights and liberties of the nation, limiting the monarch. Specifically, the Bill asserted,
1. The pretended power of … the execution of laws … without the consent of parliament is illegal.
2. The pretended power of dispensing with the laws, or the execution of law by regal authority, as it hath been assumed and exercised of late, is illegal.
In other words, the executive order and the signing statement – and most of what else of import the America President does unilaterally – were strictly illegal 100 years before America’s founding. America’s 21st century Presidency concentrates more power in one man than existed in the hands of the monarch of the very country against whom we supposedly rebelled for liberty in the 18th century.
What is even more shocking is in the old motherland, which retains its Monarch (capitalized as the position is now almost entirely ceremonial) and is run politically by a prime minister, the former has no power to act politically, and the prime minister has no power to act unilaterally. Indeed, if 1776 is our starting point, the political settlement of the “tyrannical motherland” has perhaps continued broadly in the direction of individual liberty while that of the liberty-loving rebels has slid back an entire century to some pre-1688 concentration of power.
Without doubt, at the birth of our nation, Americans fought less of a monarchy than we now tolerate. More shamefully for us, even those English against whom (as we like to tell ourselves) we fought for higher ideals of liberty, had shed more blood over the centuries to rid themselves of a less monarchical government than exists in our country today.
Surely, if we let stand what stands in America today, we give the lie to our supposed national identity, and bluster like a boorish adolescent who believes he is owed credit for the massive inheritance his father left him, despite the fact he’s blown the lot.
Seeing history rhyme with such consequence is sobering enough, but seeing the rhyme predicted by those making it happen almost stops the heart…
… Remember William III, Prince of Orange, who was the figurehead of the Glorious Revolution against the last English monarch to issue an executive order? Fifty years after his death, the Prince of Orange was another William – William V – who watched, with deep engagement, the birth of the USA thousands of miles away. In a letter to John Adams, he wrote simply,
“Sir, you have given yourselves a king under the title of president.”
How very right he was. How very wrong we should make him.
The United States has a monarchy: the time has come for a Glorious Revolution.