12 AHMP: Tyrannical Englishmen on Both Sides of the Pond
What is the Separation of Powers? What are key aspects of England’s history which impacted the Founding Fathers’ views of governmental structure and what could they learn about despotic leadership from the monarchs of Britain? Which royal governors gave the Founders an up-close view of the results of oppression upon a people by a tyrannical leader? We will answer those questions in this podcast.
The Separation of Powers is the balance between the branches which was created within the structure of our Federal Government.
But how did it come to pass that the Founding Fathers chose to create the type of governmental structure that is found in our Constitution? 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 unrestrained government gone wild.
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 first proposal for uniting the colonies, the operational pattern of the Continental Congress, and governmental structure created under the Articles of Confederation all functioned without a distinct executive branch, and why the idea of a balanced structure of governmental branches eventually became so appealing to those in the American Colonies. 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 including the Magna Carta, the Petition of Right, the Bill of Rights of 1688, and the Act of Settlement of 1701.
The Magna Carta, complete with 63 clauses, was issued by King John in 1215. But the good king, whom you might already be familiar with because of his association with 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. After 16 years of tyrannical and despotic rule, a group of barons rose up and forced him into agreeing to terms such as the “security clause” which permitted them to go to war with the king if a subcommittee of barons believed he was not complying with the Magna Carta’s terms. Is it any surprise that after only a few contentious years later John and the barons took to their weapons? John died during the civil war that resulted from their disagreements. The French who at first sided with the barons, turned on them, took control of London and terrorized the town’s inhabitants. Of the 63 clauses in the Magna Carta, only three of those original clauses remain active in law today. One pertains to the customs and liberties of towns such as London, another focuses on the Church of England. Perhaps the one most important to our discussion is: “No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.”
Let’s move forward once again, 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 regardless of any clause found in the Magna Carta. 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,” after his marriage to Henrietta Maria of France, for the taste of most of his subjects who were primarily Anglican. By the way, it was for Henrietta Maria that the colony, and eventually state, of Maryland was named. But I digress… In 1628, the Parliament refused to grant any future taxes until Charles agreed to the Petition of Right. He did, but he attempted to leave himself a bit of wiggle room when he agreed to the Petition only by “his grace” rather than viewing its contents as “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 as 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),
And the Parliament quickly passed a Bill of Rights the next year. The Bill of Rights of 1689 limited the power of the monarchy, detailed the rights of Parliament (including regular meetings and freedom of speech for its members), and guaranteed things such as free elections, 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. That act was entitled: “An Act for the further Limitation of the Crown and better securing the Rights and Liberties of the Subject.” The act 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.
Let’s return to a discussion of the thought process of those who sought to design a governmental structure for the future and newly formed United States. Two points should be readily apparent from this brief bit of English history. First, there were copious examples for the Founders to draw upon that a single individual, whether monarch or former rebel, who is left unrestrained, might very well assume the cloak of a tyrant. Second, given what they considered to be their own rights as Englishmen, as established by all of the above listed documents, how could the colonists not object to having taxes and regulations thrust upon them with the Parliament’s passage of acts such as the Stamp Act, the Sugar Act, and the Intolerable Acts?
Given the copious examples of monarchs who thought it was their divine right to abuse their subjects, and passage of the Magna Carta, the Petition of Right, the Bill of Rights, and the Act of Settlement, 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. Some of the provincial governors were indeed loved, or at least tolerated, by the colonists. 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. In reality Edward Hyde, who held titles of “Earl of Clarendon” and “Viscount Cornbury” not only pilfered the pockets of the colonists he ruled over, but his behavior was unstable, if not scandalous, as well. George Bancroft, a historian in the late 1800’s described Hyde as an atrocious combination of arrogance and “intellectual Imbecility” He insisted on being referred to as “His High Mightiness” and took large sums from the public treasury. He readily accepted bribes from individuals as well.
However, perhaps what was the final straw in the queen calling him back to England was his flamboyant and erratic nature. He often behaved inappropriately by doing things such as encouraging other men to feel his wife’s ears. He was also purported by several historians to have dressed as a woman, and then pounced upon unsuspecting passers-by.
Listen to Bancroft’s description of Hyde’s behavior, and think about how closely it resembles that of King Charles
“In April, 1703, a grant was made of fifteen hundred pounds to fortify the Narrows, ‘and for no other use whatever.” But Lord Cornbury cared little for limitations by a provincial assembly. The money, by his warrant, disappeared from the treasury, while the Narrows were left defenceless; and, in June, the assembly, by addresses to the governor and the queen, solicited a treasurer of its own appointment. The governor sought to hide his own want of integrity by reporting to the lords of trade: ‘the colonies are possessed with an opinion that their assemblies ought to have all the privileges of a house of commons; but how dangerous this is,’ he adds, ‘I need not say.’ No new appropriations could be extorted; and, heedless of menaces or solicitations, the representatives of the people, in 1704, asserted “the rights of the house.’ Lord Cornbury answered: ‘I know of no right that you have as an assembly but such as the queen is pleased to allow you.'”
But Hyde’s oppressive nature was not limited to financial issues. Let’s listen again to Bancroft: “In affairs relating to religion, Lord Corn bury was equally imperious, disputing the right of ministers or schoolmasters to exercise their vocation without his license. His long undetected forgery of a standing instruction in favor of the English church led only to acts of petty tyranny, useless to English interests, degrading the royal prerogative, but benefiting the people by compelling their active vigilance. Their power re-dressed their griefs.”
Much like King Charles, Hyde dissolved the New York Assembly not once, not twice, but three times.
Bancroft concluded his description of Hyde by saying, “Lord Corn bury, more successful than any patriot, had taught New York the necessity and the methods of incipient resistance.”
If all that were not unbecoming enough of a governor, Hyde 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.” The portrait of Hyde now held by the New York Historical Society has him dressed in a blue gown, with a head piece and earrings.
Edward Hyde was recalled to England after only seven years by Queen Anne. Of course, recalled, is a polite terms. Prior to his replacement even having reached the shores of North America, Hyde had been jailed. After returning home to England, he was tried for corruption. His assets were seized after the trial; however, it is unclear just how much money was returned to the colonists in New York. Also, despite the trial, conviction, and seizure of his property, he was buried in Westminster Abbey on April 5, 1723.
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. Murray was born in Scotland. 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.
Although Dunmore had enjoyed popularity with the people following a British Victory over the Shawnee nation, the seeds of liberty were germinating in Virginia. Patrick Henry had been openly criticizing the King since passage of the Stamp Act in 1765. On March 23, Henry gave his fiery “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech, and the Virginia House of Burgesses then elected seven statesmen, including Henry, to represent Virginia at the Second Continental Congress. Haplessly, Dunmore issued A Proclamation to Virginia on March 28, 1775 which forbade such a committee from being formed.
But it was in April, 1775, that Lord Dunmore displayed his true colors. Under the pretense that the local powder house was an “insecure depositary,” Dunmore ordered that the powder from the colonists’ stockpile in Williamsburg be seized in the middle of the night. However, one colonist noticed what the British troops were, and the soldiers were chased back to the HMS Magdalen with only 15 barrels of powder. Needless to say, many of the inhabitants of Williamsburg were up in arms and threatened to storm Dunmore’s residence. However, several of the town’s leaders, including Payton Randolph, calmed them and instead sent a polite letter asking for the kind and gentle governor to return the powder.
Lord Dunmore was unmoved by the Council’s arguments. He responded that the powder had been moved due to “an insurrection in a neighbouring county.” It had been moved at night to prevent alarming any of the inhabitants of Williamsburg. Dunmore claimed upon his word and honor that it could be returned within 30 minutes if necessary. He 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 in the future.
The situation again escalated when troops from the Magdalen again landed on shore, and the local residents assumed the troops would completely empty the powder house. The townspeople were once again prepared to take up arms in order to prevent removal of more powder from the Williamsburg magazine. They were, however, again calmed by the assurances from notables amongst them. However, there was no one to calm Lord Dunmore, however. On April 22, he sent another message to one of the city’s magistrates that further 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.
Listen to the description of Lord Dunmore offered up by none other than Mercy Otis Warren in 1805: “However qualified this gentleman might have been to preside in any of the colonies, in more pacific seasons, he was little calculated for the times, when ability and moderation, energy and condescension, coolness in decision, and delicacy in execution, were highly requisite to govern a people struggling with the poniard at their throat and the sword in their hand, against the potent invaders of their privileges and claims.
He had the inhumanity early to intimate his designs if opposition ran high, to declare freedom to the blacks, and on any appearance of hostile resistance to the king’s authority, to arm them against their masters. Neither the house of burgesses, nor the people at large, were disposed to recede from their determinations in consequence of his threats, nor to submit to any authority that demanded implicit obedience, on pain of devaluation and ruin. Irritated by opposition, too ram for consideration, too haughty for condescension, and fond of distinguishing himself in support of the parliamentary system, lord Dunmore dismantled the fort in Williamsburg, plundered the magazines, threatened to lay the city in allies, and depopulate the country : As far as he was able, he executed his nefarious purposes.”
Although assurances from Lord Dunmore did quell the Colonists for a brief period, 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. He served the crown again as the Governor of the Bahamas, but later died in England.
Let’s learn about one more tyrannical figure. Perhaps reviled even more than Lord Dunmore was Thomas Hutchinson. You may recall from episode number 10 of American History for the Modern Patriot that Hutchinson was the Lieutenant-Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony at the time of the Boston Massacre.
Hutchinson, a descendant of Anne Hutchinson who was burned at the stake in Salem, was actually born in Boston. This, perhaps, made him even more of a villain with fellow colonists. Oh his adulthood began on the right note. He graduated from Harvard at age 16, served in the provincial legislature, was elected Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, 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 the Suffolk County Probate Court. At the same time, he also acted as a judge on the Inferior Court of Common Pleas. Just eight years later, he was appointed by the king as the controllers of the highest court in the colony: the Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Judicature. 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.
The same historian, George Bancroft, who described Governor Hyde’s indiscretions noted: “A burst of indignation broke from the colony at this union of such high executive, legislative, and judicial functions in one person, who was not bred to the law, and was expected to interpret it for the benefit of the prerogative. Oxenbridge Thacher, a lawyer of great ability, a man of sagacity and patriotism, respected for learning and moderation, discerned the dangerous character of Hutchinson’s ambition, and from this time denounced him openly and always; while James Otis, the younger, offended as a son and a patriot, resigned the office of advocate-general, and, by his eloquence in opposition to the royalists, set the province in a flame. But the new chief justice received the renewed application for writs of assistance, and delayed the decision of the court till he could write to England.” (page 581 – 582) Although Hutchinson opposed the Stamp Act, he became the focal point of angry Bostonians. His home was destroyed by a mob in 1765. As colonial anger towards the acts passed by the British Parliament increased, Hutchinson tried in vain to mollify demands by members of his own homeland, while carrying out the duties assigned to him as well. However, in June of 1773, what might be thought of as the final blow to Hutchinson’s credibility and hi ability to lead occurred. Letters written between Hutchinson and Andrew Oliver, who respectively served as the governor and lieutenant governor of the colony, were published in the Boston Gazette. 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 turn in his direction.
In order to understand the depth of anger toward Hutchinson, you need only look at the cover image for this podcast. 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 being attacked by death 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. The colony of Massachusetts was in turmoil when Hutchinson was replaced by General Thomas Gage in 1774. Not even General Gage would be able to subdue the thirst for freedom which was growing amongst those living in that colony.
In the next edition, we will learn about the philosophers, and the theories they espoused, which influenced the Founders as they created our Founding Documents. It is those theories, the real world examples of tyranny which we have examined today, and observations of other countries that existed at the time which led the Framers to incorporate the concept of the Separation of Powers into the United States Constitution.
Until next time, this is Dr. Susan Rempel encouraging you to remain motivated, informed, and engaged in the political process.