July 3, 2008


Our First Revolution (MICHAEL BARONE, July 3, 2007, NY Sun)

[T]his First Revolution turned out to be a giant step forward for representative government, guaranteed liberties, global capitalism, and an anti-tyrannical foreign policy. That was not necessarily the intention of the actors in this drama, but it was the result they produced. We are its fortunate beneficiaries.

The story has a special resonance for New York. It was James II who, as Duke of York and Lord High Admiral, in 1664 ordered the British fleet to oust the Dutch from Nieuw Amsterdam, and when the city was captured it was renamed in his honor.

But five years later James decided to become a Catholic. This was a problem: he was the heir to the throne — his brother, Charles II, had no legitimate children — and most Englishmen were Protestants who regarded Catholicism as tyrannical. When James became king, he claimed the right to dispense with the law blocking Catholics from serving in the army or civil government. He also dissolved Parliament and set out to secure the election of one that would be a rubber stamp. This was in line with the move toward absolutism in Europe, where monarchs like Louis XIV of France were abolishing ancient assemblies as medieval anachronisms and ruling directly through bureaucracies.

The moment of truth came in June 1688, when James's second wife gave birth to a son who would take precedence over his two Protestant daughters, Mary and Anne. Into action stepped Mary's husband , William of Orange, Stadholder of the Netherlands, and, as James's nephew, fourth in line for the throne himself.

In secret William procured an invitation from seven English lords to come over to England, assembled an army of 25,000 men and a navy of 500 ships, and printed and smuggled into England 50,000 copies of a pamphlet setting forth his intention to seek a "free parliament."

After agonizing delays, his forces crossed the Channel in November — not the ideal season for a Channel crossing — and landed in southwest England and marched toward London. James, deserted by his leading general, John Churchill, who later became the Duke of Marlborough, ordered his army not to fight and fled the country, throwing the Great Seal into the Thames. William's Dutch army occupied London.

William could have declared himself king. Instead he ordered elections for a new parliament and conspicuously avoided influencing them. That parliament, after debating whether James had abdicated or was still king, voted to make William king and Mary queen. It also passed a Declaration of Right and effectively required that Parliament must meet every year.

While it's good to recall, the Glorious in particular and the Snglo nature of the American Revolution in general, both just follow naturally from Magna Carta, like Simon de Montfort's and the Puritan.

[originally posted: 7/04/07]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at July 3, 2008 11:35 PM

And it is no coincidence that William hailed from the Netherlands, which had a very similar tradition of declarations stating the rights of the People (in the Duchy of Brabant dating back to the 13th century).

The so-called "Placcaet van Verlaetinghe" (Statement of Abandonment) of 1581 against the tyrannical Spanish king Philip II was well-known to the Glorious Revolutionaries and to at least some of the Founding Fathers.

Posted by: Peter at July 4, 2007 2:43 PM
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