Monday, March 24, 2008

American Conservatives and Liberals—A Whiggish Tradition[1]

By M.D. Amesse
The reason behind the similarities between the American right and left can be explained by the fact they are nothing more than the two halves of the leftist Whig party. This is also why so called American “paleoconservatives” champion Edmund Burke as the father of “Anglo-American conservativism”.[2] It is true that Burke rejected the Jacobin mania, but it is hardly true that he was a true counter-revolutionary. Burke was an “Old Whig”, that is to say, he was more reserved in his progressivism than the “New Whigs” who were more overt champions of the Enlightenment doctrines. This is why a conservative liberal like Burke qualifies as a rightist conservative in Whiggish America.

I intend from time to time to discuse the American Revolution. I am writting this to give background for the revolt, for to understand the American Revolution we must first understand that this conflict was the colonial continuation of the English Civil Wars. The American Revolution was a war between two political and ideological opponents: the conservative Tories or Loyalists and the liberal Whigs, Roundheads or Rebels. This battle did not begin in the New World nor was it over tea and taxation. These political ideologies had already fought bitter wars in England, Scotland and Ireland for more than a century.

In the 1530’s, with the theft of Catholic lands by Henry VIII, a new class of wealthy land owners was created. Ironically, these Whigs used their confiscated wealth to diminish royal power and invested it into the Parliament which their money began to control.

The Whigs were drawn primarily from Calvinist or Puritan stock and supported republicanism or at the very least a strong Parliament with a highly limited king. Calvinism, with its denial of free will, teaches that man is predestined to Heaven or Hell. That his good works and his sins are directly willed by God and thus out of his control. Wealth, to these heretics, is a sign of predestination, while poverty is a sign of God’s displeasure. The negative effects of Calvinism on Old World economies can not be overstated. What had once been the vice of greed, became under the influence of Calvin, a holy virtue.

Calvinist gained the name Puritan in Britain because of their attempt to purify Anglicanism of its Catholic influence and residual Catholic traditions. Among these Catholic traditions which they rejected was monarchism[3]. As a school child I can recall my obligatory reading of the American revolutionary Thomas Paine’s Common Sense with its Puritan diatribe against Catholicism and monarchy. One line from that work should be sufficient to show that the hatred he bore George III was a Puritan’s hatred of Catholicism, “For monarchy in every instance is the popery of government.”

Their opposition was the Tories, who were on the other hand conservative monarchists, who favoured the prerogatives of the king, and were drawn predominately from the Catholic and Anglican population. Like the Anglicans, the Catholics knew that the king wielded the authority of God. The Anglicans had taken this too far and had corrupted their monarchism, making the king the head of the state religion. Catholics on the other hand understood that while the king was the supreme authority in the secular realm, the Catholic Church was supreme in the Spiritual realm, and refused to give up submission to the Roman Pontiff as head of the Universal Church.

Things came to a head during the English Civil War (1642-1646) which pitted these Puritan Whigs, a political and religious minority, against the Cavalier Tories made up of Anglican and Catholic subjects of the king. The defeat of the Tories spelt doom for Charles I who was executed by the Whigs in 1649. The Commonwealth, an illegitimate republic, was installed by the victors. What seemed to be a sure victory for Whiggery and the end of kingship in Britain was not to last long, for God had other plans. The monarchy would be restored, due in large part to popular demand, under the murdered king’s son, Charles Stuart.

As has been said, the Puritan Whigs had elevated greed to virtue and the peasantry was buckling under the weight of their tyranny. It was not only his birthright, but national expectation which drove Charles II to restore the monarchy fully, and save the peasantry, small farmer, and yeomanry of England from the wealthy bankers and land owners who controlled the Parliament.

Charles II was able to make some ground against his Whiggish foes, and even converted to the Catholic faith before his death in 1685,[4] from whence the English throne passed to his brother James II who had openly converted to the Catholic faith while he was the Duke of York.
James II continued, in many ways in the footsteps of his brother, but the Whiggish Parliament, fearing a continued lose of power, and worse yet, a restoration of Catholic monarchy, rebelled against their sovereign in what the Whigs call the Glorious Revolution of 1688. James was exiled to France, his throne usurped by a series of Parliamentary-puppet kings. These kings retained the pomp and ceremony but had none of the power of true English kings. The Whigs of the colonies were elated with the rebellion of 1688, and joined in by rising against the royal governors installed by James II and passed laws, even in Maryland, forbidding Catholic from holding office.

The supporters of James and the Stuart line, called Jacobites (not to be confuse with the French Revolution’s Jacobins) rose against the usurpers in a serious of wars, but the counter-revolution died on the battle field of Culloden when “Bonnie Prince Charlie” (Charles III), James’ grandson, was defeated 1746.[5]

George III, who was also the third in the line of the house Hanover, and only one to be born in England, ascended the throne in 1760. By this time the peasantry had slipped further under the dominion of the wealthy aristocracy which vied for control of the government. Unlike the puppets before him and more in line with the Stuart fashion, he attempted to restore something of the royal prerogatives while combating the abuses of the Parliament—something which earned him no friends among the Whigs on either side of the Atlantic.

He was not all together unsuccessful and was able to get Fredrick Lord North appointed as Prime Minister, despite the opposition of the Whigs, which was no small feat for a puppet king. The hand writing was on the wall, this puppet thought himself to be king. With loyalty of the peasantry behind their king, the Whigs needed to manufacture a conflict which they could use to their advantage and the American Revolution would be that conflict.

Jumping over the Atlantic to the colonies we see the leadership and intellectual force behind the rebels were the wealthy aristocratic Whigs of the colonies. They were influenced by liberal philosophers such as their fellow Whig John Locke and in the doctrines of the anti-clerical and anti-monarchal secret societies such as Freemasonry. They saw in the revolution not only a growth in their own parliamentary powers and ideals, but also in their own wealth as well. The rebel Whigs mirrored their English cousins who had murdered their king, exiled another and kept the one on the throne under their thumb.

There is not the slightest doubt, that the Declaration of Independence, written by a life-long, self-professed Whig, Thomas Jefferson, expressed the Lockean Whiggish view of how governments were constituted and how they could be dissolved. In fact, it is clear that the American Revolution was actually a civil war between American Whigs and American Tories. The result of that war was a Whiggish United States and a Tory Canada.[6]

Like their cousins, the American Whigs needed a conflict to increase their own powers, and the minor taxation of the colonies which came about under Lord North provided the Whigs with the conflict they needed to begin a revolution on the home front. To do this would still be no easy task, but with the overthrow and exile of their political opposition to Canada, the U.S. would become a haven for Whiggery.

This Whiggish tactic was seen in the treatment of the Tory Loyalist on both sides of the Atlantic. When Cromwell installed the Whiggish republic, one of the first things he did was murder or strip land from the Tory Cavaliers who had remained loyal to Charles I and donated it to those that had supported the rebellion. This had the effect of increasing the number of wealthy land owners and the income of the already wealthy aristocracy. It should surprise us none that we see the same robbery in the colonies where Tories were murder or exiled and the Tory land stolen to increase the numbers and wealth of the Whiggish rebels.[7] Belloc said it best: [W]hen kingship is weak the powerful oppress and destroy.[8]

Posted on the Monday in the Octave of Easter, which is also the Feast of the Archangel St. Gabriel, a.D. MMVIII.

[1] Here I do not wish to imply that only the Whiggish brand of the Enlightenment had effects on American society. Jacobinism, and later socialism and Darwinism, to name just three, would also shape the American soul.
[2] Edmund Burke:
[3] Here I do not mean to imply that monarchy is the only forum of government permitted by the Catholic Church.
[4] Charles II had secretly held the conviction that the Catholic faith was true since as early 1651, but do to ambition for royal restoration in an anti-Catholic climate, he had kept his convictions relatively hidden until his deathbed.
[5] The last of the Stuart line was Henry IX who died in 1803. While Jacobites may have disagreed with who sat on the throne, it is a testimony to the nature of the American Revolution that the Jacobites in the colonies overwhelmingly fought on the Loyalist side against the rebels, including the famous heroine Flora MacDonald who had rallied Jacobite Scots to fight for the Loyalist cause.
[6] Peter Chojnowski, What a is Whig?, The Angelus, April, 2003.
[7] Land confiscation was more than a punishment of Tories. In the British Empire land ownership was a requirement to vote. The confiscation of Tory lands was actually a calculated political tactic used by the Whigs.
[8] Hilaire Belloc, Joan of Arc, (Neumann Press) 1.

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