All about ideas…

No Divine Right of Kings in the USA

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On June 15, 1215, King John, having lost his war against the English nobles, signed the Magna Carta. King John claimed that as King he had the unequivocal right to govern alone every aspect of English society. The nobles disagreed and went to war against him. At Runnymead, the nobles won and forced King John to sign the Magna Carta which, for the first time, gave nobles the right of dissent or agreement on any monarchial decree, essentially meaning they could stop any decree by the King that they beleived was not in their interests. Although King John signed the document, he had no intention of abiding by it (kind of like the signing documents of disagreement Presidents use today). However in 1297, Edward I confirmed the Magna Carta which since has part of England’s statute law.


In the 1600s, King Charles, influenced by the French belief in the Divine Right of Kings, sought to bend Parliament to his will. Inheriting a depleted treasury and after completing two disastrous wars, he again was forced to go to Parliament which he had twice dissolved because they refused to give him the taxes he wanted. By this time, Parliament had numerous issues in conflict with the King, including religion (Charles was only nominally an Evangelical Anglican), the rights of Parliament, taxes. and Kingship prerogative. By 1640, Civil War broke out between the two factions: those supporting Charles and those opposed. Charles lost his head, and, thus, the Divine Right of Kings ended.


In the decades following, Parliament gave great sway to the King to determine national policy and his/her requests for funding; yet Parliament remained in ultimate control of al funding issues which inevitably limited what the monarch could do, aside from issuing highly profitable monopolies on trade, for example Queen Elizabeth’s East India Company.  She and her counterparts hoped, by investing in these companies, they would reap rich rewards.


It was only until George III ascended the throne and the English parliament pushed their right of taxation that American colonists began to revolt. George III’s theory of Devine Right of Kings to determine policy met resistance.

The American War of Independence was the culmination of the civil and political American Revolution resulting from the American Enlightenment. Brought to a head over the lack of American representation in Parliament, which was seen as a denial of their rights as Englishmen and often popularly focused on direct taxes levied by Parliament on the colonies without their consent, the colonists resisted the imposition of direct rule after the Boston Tea Party. Creating self-governing provinces, they circumvented the British ruling apparatus in each colony by 1774. Armed conflict between British regulars and colonial militiamen broke out at the Battles of Lexington and Concord in April 1775. After petitions to the Crown for intervention with Parliament were ignored, the rebel leaders were declared traitors by the Crown and a year of fighting ensued. The colonies declared their independence in July 1776, listing twenty-seven grievances against the British king and legislature while asking the support of the populace. Among George’s other offences, the Declaration charged, “He has abdicated Government here … He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.”

[*As an aside, many American colonists who continued to support King George moved to Canada to avoid being embroiled in the conflict.]


Meanwhile in Parliament as discussions began regarding the relative virtues of the American Revolution, particularly in light of the French Revolution. Edmund Burke, often considered the father of conservatism, spoke up in favor of the American Revolution. He said, that unlike the French Revolution which destroyed every institution (law, deliberation, non-partisan legal courts, justice, representation, etc), the American revolution sought to retain all of those noteworthy institutions of which Great Britain favored: elected representation of the people, equitable taxation, equal representation…and basically everything he saw as part of the Magna Carta agreement. Moreover, he agreed that change was a necessary part of humanity and the human condition, and while he agreed that change was inevitable (aka the American Revolution), that unlike in France change must be measured and slow so as to bring to bring the greatest numbers of people along and thereby avoid great disruption as seen during the French Revolution. In his view, as we’ve seen, sudden disruptive change leads to a backlash. The public must be prepared.

Skip forward a hundred years.

The British parliament in the 1800s enacted policies similar to modern American GOP supply side economics. Dickens wrote about the harm those policies caused in Great Britain. But even his Christmas tale does not adequately represent the massive horrors of starvation and deaths that resulted from Parliament’s supply side economics policy. Hundreds of thousands of Irish citizens died as a result of starvation & millions in Britian were impoverished because of economic beliefs which absolutely mirror today’s GOP.

So okay, skip forward a couple hundred years to President Trump. For the first time in American history, we have an American president, who unknowingly or not, has chosen to practice the Divine Right of Kings. He, like George III, makes egregious decrees via Executive Orders and expects Congress to submit. I hardly think that Edmund Burke would agree, as someone who himself believed human progress toward human & civil rights was both a necessary and public right. In  truth, Burke argued in Parliament for the Americans, against both the Crown and Parliament. What Burke argued against was radicalism from wherever it sprang but not in methodical, reasoned progress towards a more just and representative government.

For Trump, his uniformed view of democracy and his exceptionally fragile ego that requires constant adoration are similar to that of Charles I and George III and so many CEOs today. Thus, his belief in “I control it all and can do as I please”.


Like the House of Lords in the 1600 and 1700s, the current Senate repeatedly has bowed to whatever Trump wanted in order to gain what they wanted: lower taxes on the wealthy and extraordinarily conservative…as well as often unqualified…judges on the nation’s highest courts. A bargain made in hell for which Mitch McConnell is entirely responsible. But which will come back to haunt America in the future, as accepted rights, liberties, freedoms and humane progress come under increased pressure from the Courts to turn back the clock. While Buckley said conservatives should say No and stand “athwart history”, I believe Burke would have said let human history move forward carefully.

But let’s again move forward.  Per a NY Times report of last week: Trump is guilty of the same crimes, if not worse, than Nixon was guilty. Think about that for moment: a president who not only considers himself above the law but seeks to subvert justice and the nation’s highest law enforcement agencies in his own favor. Isn’t this exactly what George III did in the Colonies? Is that exactly what led to Nixon’s downfall? What makes him any different than the British Kings who chose their own privilege over the rights of the people?

Then today, we have the WH spokesperson saying the President has the authoity to do whatever he wants. How is that attitude any different than King John’s? How is it any different than King Charles’ belief in the Devine Right of Kings?

After the failure of the Articles of Confederation, the most literate and educated men met in Philadephia to create a new Constitution. In that document are the founding legal principles of the nation. One of which is that Congress – the People’s houses – holds greater authority than any president. They wrote the Constitution specifically this way because they lived through a Monarch who believed he had the right to do whatever he chose, regardless of the People. In their minds, the President, having been voted on by the majority of voters, had the right to veto any measure he beleived was not in the public interest. At the same time, the Constitution gave Congress the mechanism to override that veto if a 2/3s majority beleived strongly enough in the legislation.


Even though the Founders feared a despotic populist like Trump and tried to guard against it, they knew that the People would ultimately make the final choice as to whether or not the nation’s democracy would survive…and they warned against its lose.

The US has endured two great tragedies that rocked the nation, the Civil War and WWII. Either could have destroyed the Constitution that our Founders spent so many long, hot days arguing to create. But enough people who beleived in democracy and unity and human values came together to fight for justice, equality, liberty and freedom that those fights for our nation’s survival triamphed. I believe this great nation will survive Trump’s authoritarian (dictictorial) tendancies because we are a nation of laws and justice.  For the most part, I beleive most voters agree with the the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Edmund Burke understood exactly what American Colonists were saying. He understood they were expressing the same views that existed in the Magna Carta…and later in British Common Law. But what passes today for conservatism, having been philosophically bent and distorted by many different factions, ranging from corporate personhood (an idea the founders found abhorrant) to preferred religious beliefs to the subservience of the entire government to the unitary executive (aka the unlimited power of the President to control every branch of government, including those set up as poiitically independent branches, as per Dick Cheney – one of Nixon’s greatest defenders).

I doubt that Burke would agree with conservatives today. They certainly don’t seem to espouse his same beliefs.Nor do I beleive that Republicans today believe in our Nation’s fouding principles as well as methodical and rationally planned forward movement on human rights.

Today’s Republicans are proving to be more like King Charles’ defenders…and we know what happened to him…and them…in 1649.




Written by Valerie Curl

March 7, 2019 at 8:19 AM

One Response

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  1. The essence of the complaints that you and so many others have about Trump is that he’s both a racist and a fascist. Can you give me any specific examples of Trump’s behavior in office that show him to be either a racist or a fascist.

    Thomas Paine

    March 11, 2019 at 2:10 PM

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