12 QCAHMP Tyrannical Englishmen on Both Sides of the Pond
Which English monarchs demonstrated the usurpation of individual rights resulting from despotic leadership? Which royal governors gave the Founders an up-close view of the results of oppression upon a people from a leader who cared little for their individual rights? We will answer those questions in this podcast.
Why were our Founders so wary of adding an executive into our governmental structure? I believe that you have to examine the context of a situation in order to understand why a particular event occurred. In this case, the Founders only needed only to examine the history of their mother country in order to see the effects of a tyrannical leader.
Let’s learn about some of the egregious behavior exhibited by several of the English monarchs. It will give you a glimpse into why the colonists were so wary of installing an executive or an executive branch. Of course, the colonists knew all too well about of the system of government that existed in Great Britain. That government had transformed over time from an absolute monarchy into a constitutional monarchy. An absolute monarchy is similar to a dictatorship. Although King George III ruled the British Empire, he did so within a set of parameters outlined in a variety of documents,
The first of those documents was the Magna Carta. Complete with 63 clauses, the Magna Carta was issued by King John in 1215. But the good king, who is often associated with the English folklore hero Robin Hood, did not issue those clauses willingly. He and his circle of advisors believed that his power was given to him by God and was known for his cruelty and bad temperament. Eventually, a group of barons forced him into agreeing to the terms of the Magna Carta. One term allowed for them to make war against him, if they believed he was not complying with the agreement. Is it any surprise that after only a few contentious years John and the barons took to their weapons? John died during the civil war that resulted from their disagreements.
Let’s move forward, to the 1600’s, when tyranny once again was in full force and effect during the rule of Charles I. He believed in the divine right of kings and thought he could use his “royal prerogative” to impose customs duties and forced loans on his subjects. He carried his “parliament be damned” attitude too far when he imprisoned people who refused to pay the imposed upon loans. Further, he began to espouse views that were a bit “too Catholic,” for his primarily Anglican subjects, after his marriage to Henrietta Maria of France. In 1628, the Parliament refused to grant any future taxes until Charles agreed to the Petition of Right. The Petition of Right was intended not only to restrict the ruler’s ability to impose taxes without the consent of Parliament, but to rule the quartering of soldiers, the imposition of martial law, and arbitrary imprisonment unlawful as well. True to his tyrannical rule, when the Parliament attempted to take action against the King’s behavior, he chose to dissolve it.
As a result of his absolutists actions, both the English and Scottish parliaments brought up armies to fight against him in the English Civil War. Led by Oliver Cromwell’s “New Model Army,” the unrepentant Charles was captured, tried, and eventually executed in 1649. Although Charles had been undone by a revolt championed by Oliver Cromwell, Cromwell behaved much like a tyrant himself by sending forces to brutally massacre several towns in Ireland under the pretense of “the righteous judgment of God.” Eventually, he had himself declared “Lord Protector” in 1653. When he died of malaria in 1658, he was immensely popular and given a funeral fit for a king. However, within three years, his reputation had descended to that of a villain, and his exhumed body was hung from a tree. The British restored the monarchy, and Charles II assumed the throne.
Yet again, in 1685 the British experienced rule by a tyrant. Apparently, undeterred by what befell his grandfather, James II professed faith in the Divine Right of Kings. He also expressed sympathy toward the Catholic faith. In what is referred to as “The Glorious Revolution,” James fled England in 1688. The Parliament snatched the crown from him, offered to his eldest daughter (who happened to be Protestant),
The Parliament quickly passed a Bill of Rights the next year. It limited the power of the monarchy, detailed the rights of Parliament, and guaranteed things such as free elections. It allowed Protestants to arm themselves to defend the rule of law, and prohibited cruel and unusual punishment. It also dealt with issues pertaining to the succession of the Crown.
Unfortunately, both James’ sister, Mary, and his younger sister, Anne, were childless, and the other living members of the House of Stuart were Catholic. In response to that situation, and quite fed up with the Divine Right of Kings tyrannical mindset, the Parliament passed the Act of Settlement in 1701. It disqualified Catholics, as well as those married to a Catholic, from the throne. It also required that the Monarch make decisions in consultation with a council of constitutional advisors, rather than one his own or in conjunction with personal advisors.
Given the copious examples of monarchs who thought it was their divine right to abuse their subjects, you might think that those whom the British placed in power over the colonies would take care to assure the people’s rights as Englishmen. However, there are numerous examples of men behaving in ways that are eerily similar to the good kings John, Charles, and James. Let’s learn just a smattering about some of the provincial governors whom were most despised by the colonists.
Let’s begin with Edward Hyde. Hyde was sent to represent the crown in the same year that the Act of Settlement had passed. He was the first Royal Governor of New Jersey and one year later assumed that position in New York as well. Surely, a man who was placed in charge of not one but two colonies would be benevolent…or at least stable. However, Hyde, pilfered the pockets of the colonists he ruled over and behaved very badly as well. Hyde was described by one historian as an atrocious combination of arrogance and “intellectual Imbecility” He insisted on being referred to as “His High Mightiness.” He took large sums from the public treasury and accepted bribes from individuals as well. Much like King Charles, Hyde dissolved the New York Assembly not once, not twice, but three times.
However, perhaps what was the final straw in the queen calling him back to England was his flamboyant and erratic nature. He occasionally hid in the bushes, and then pounced upon unsuspecting passers-by. He even delivered a speech at the opening of the New York Assembly in 1702 while wearing an hooped gown ensemble complete with a fan and headdress. When those present questioned his garb, he replied: “You are all very stupid people not to see the propriety of it all. In this place and occasion, I represent a woman (the Queen), and in all respects I ought to represent her as faithfully as I can.” Edward Hyde was recalled to England after having been jailed. He was later tried for corruption.
Another transplanted Englishman who sought to rule with an iron fist over the people was John Murray. Murray is best known by his title of Lord Dunmore. He was appointed as New York’s governor in 1770, but it was in his role as the Royal Governor of Virginia in which he best exemplified the behavior of a tyrant.
Dunmore, haplessly, issued A Proclamation forbidding the colonists to form or send a committee to the Second Continental Congress. Like Charles I, he dissolved the House of Burgesses as well. But it was in April, 1775, when he displayed his true colors. Dunmore ordered that the powder from the colonists’ stockpile in Williamsburg be seized in the middle of the night. Luckily, the soldiers were discovered and chased back to their ship with only 15 barrels of powder. Lord Dunmore was then unmoved by arguments that the powder should be returned. He responded that the powder had been moved due to “an insurrection in a neighbouring county.” and added that because the residents of Williamsburg had been prepared to take up arms in response to the powder’s relocation, it might not be a good idea for them to have access to the powder at all.
The situation again escalated when troops again landed on shore, it was assumed they intended to completely empty the powder house. The townspeople were once again prepared to take up arms. However, they were calmed by notables amongst them. Unfortunately, there was no one to calm Lord Dunmore. He issued another message that further colonial threats would be responded to by burning the town and freeing all of the slaves who were willing to join British forces against the locals in Virginia.
Ultimately, he, and his family, fled from Williamsburg on June 8th. He began living on a ship in Chesapeake Bay but left Virginia once and for all in August, 1776. He eventually fled first to New York and then to Britain.
Let’s learn about one more tyrannical figure who was reviled even more than Lord Dunmore. His name was Thomas Hutchinson. Hutchinson was actually born in Boston which, perhaps, made him even more of a villain with fellow colonists. He served in a number of roles with the provincial legislature and even took part in the Albany Congress with Benjamin Franklin. But in 1752, things began to go wrong. Although not trained as an attorney, Hutchinson was appointed as a judge of a probate court. Simultaneously, he also served on the Inferior Court of Common Pleas. Later, he was appointed as the controllers of the highest court in the colony. He then became the lieutenant governor of the colony, as well as becoming a part of the Governor’s Council. Eventually, he was appointed the governor of the colony.
Although Hutchinson opposed the Stamp Act, he became the focal point of angry Bostonians. His home was destroyed by a mob in 1765. Although he tried in vain to satisfy demands made by fellow colonists as well as carrying out edits from Britain, in June of 1773, his credibility was damaged irreparably. Letters written between Hutchinson and Andrew Oliver, who was the lieutenant governor of the colony, were published. The letters from Hutchinson ruminated about difficulties in leading the colony. However, Oliver openly stated his belief that members of the Governor’s Council should be appointed by the crown rather than by being elected by the colonial assembly. Many had suspected that Hutchinson’s loyalty was firmly set in the crown’s corner. While the statements made by Oliver were much more damning, it was Hutchinson who felt the blunt force rage of many colonists.
The cover image for this episode is demonstrative of that rage. It is the 1774 image drawn by Paul Revere entitled: “The wicked Statesman, or the Traitor to his Country, at the Hour of Deat”. The person depicted in the image was Thomas Hutchinson. Effigies of Hutchinson were hung and burned on the Boston Common. The Massachusetts Assembly petitioned for his removal. Hutchinson eventually fled to England, and died there purportedly homesick for his own country.
Given what we have learned today, you can see that there were copious examples for the Founders to draw upon in which a single individual, whether monarch or former rebel, who is left unrestrained, might very well assume the cloak of a tyrant.
In the next edition, we will learn about one philosophers who influenced the Founders
Until next time, this is Dr. Susan Rempel encouraging you to remain motivated, informed, and engaged in the political process.