The Royalist Revolution: Monarchy And The American Revolution, by Eric Nelson
This was not the book I expected it to be, but it was an excellent read and adopted the proper approach for its goal of presenting an unexpected analysis of the ideological roots of the American Revolution. As someone who reads quite a bit about the subject of our nation’s complicated founding , I happened to think that this is the sort of book that would have been congenial to the approach of Bernard Bailyn, and lo and behold, when I came to this book’s bibliography I saw him cited for four works, and it was good to be able to recognize the family this book belongs to. There are few readers who will see the argument of this book coming, but for all of its unconventional approach, this book does what anyone does who wants to make an unusual and striking case–show a close attention to relevant texts and cite as much information as possible. This book is a textbook answer of a book that comes out of left field and makes an important point that is often ignored in the analysis of history, namely that the United States and Great Britain were divided by contrary beliefs about monarchy: England chose a ruling family and no monarchy through parliamentary rule and the United States chose a monarchical executive in the president but no trappings of aristocracy or royalty.
In five chapters as well as an introduction and conclusion that total a bit over 200 pages with more than 100 pages of notes and a lengthy 30 page bibliography, this book is written by someone who knows he needs to prove what he says by appealing to worthwhile primary and secondary sources. The author begins his thesis with a look at Patriot royalism and the appeals to prerogative in the period between 1768-1775 as a way of overcoming the impasse with Parliament. After that the author discusses the way that patriots appealed to the royalist theory of representation as opposed to the Parliamentary defense of virtual representation. The third chapter looks at the importance of biblical exegesis of key biblical passages through the mediation of Paine’s Common Sense in the turn towards Republican monarchism. The fourth chapter looks at the period of royalism in temporary eclipse between 1776 and 1780 where many Patriots desired political systems to be as close as possible to the way that they were in the face of temporary fervor for parliamentary state governments. Finally, the fifth chapter looks at the republican monarchical nature of the Constitution of 1787 and its view of a powerful executive.
The author draws some considerable insights from the arguments about political legitimacy in the period of the Founding Fathers. For one, those writers who claim that it was a mistake for America to revolt forget that for the United States there was a widespread willingness to accept a strong executive because of the local diversity and mistrust of legislative tyranny, conditions that still exist in the United States. For another, during the time and ever afterward there has been a considerable problem in understanding the political constraints under which people acted and the senses in which people meant key words in our political founding. For example, Alexander Hamilton may have been legitimately called a monarchist at least by some definitions of the term, and those of us who believe that there should be no king other than God can still be considered monarchists of a kind like Milton. This book provides a thought-provoking perspective on the way we deal with authority and representation and the corrosive effects of a lack of trust on political stability within an empire where there are wildly different interests and disinclination on the part of authorities to deal with the real questions that divide peoples. This book asks the right questions, and that is a considerable and worthwhile achievement.
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