June 6, 2012
Why is it so many Americans get a bit loopy over the British monarchy? What was that 1776 business all about? I write this column under a portrait of Thomas Jefferson. Its a copy of the one done by Charles Willson Peale in 1791. Jefferson had just returned from his five-year stay in France as our second minister to the court of King Louis XVI.
Mr. Jefferson came back from that diplomatic assignment all the more convinced a republican. His friend, John Adams was minister to Great Britain at the same time.
(This dual posting may have been Providential since it kept both men out of the country during the drafting of the Constitution.)
When Jefferson visited John and Abigail Adams in London after the War of Independence, John hauled his gangly younger friend in to the Court of St. Jamess to be received by King George III. Bad plan. King George for some reason was willing to forgive John Adams, but he bore a grudge against the red-headed revolutionary from Virginia, Jefferson. Instead of letting bygones be bygones, old Farmer George turned his large back on Jefferson and snubbed him.
I thought about all of this when the Great Diamond Jubilee took place over the past weekend. Why should we as Americans care whether Queen Elizabeth II has been on the throne over there for 60 years? Truth is, we do care.
We believe that all men are Created equal, right? They obviously dont. We are citizens; they are subjects. We defend democracy; so do the British. What? Well, actually, they do.
During two World Wars, the War in the Falklands, and even now, with the War on Terror, the British have been defending the idea that the people have a right to govern themselves, free from strutting dictators and murderous jihadists. And the way British people govern themselves is with a hereditary monarch. If they held a royal recall election, the Queen would probably win with 80%. Thats an even better showing than Scott Walker.
As pro-family Christians in America, it might be significant that monarchy is based on the family, united in marriage. We wish William and Kate had not cohabited in a palace before they were married in great state last year, but they did marry. And their Royal Wedding at the Westminster Abbey offered perhaps the best platform for Jesus words on marriage to be heard by a billion people around the world.
Nineteenth century political scientist Walter Bagehot, the famous founding editor of The Economist, intelligently defended monarchy. He said most people dont understand defense budgets and frigates, and such, but they do understand marriages and children. They like monarchy because it is familiar in principle to them and to their own experience.
The four-day Jubilee just concluded in Britain was an extravagant affair. Bonfires were lighted from one end of Britain to the other. Union Jacks outnumbered White flag/red cross banners of England by 100-1. Many a reveler said the Queen put the Great in Great Britain. In truth, she is a living symbol of the United Kingdom.
Its hard to imagine Britain without a monarch. Shakespeare couldnt:
This royal throne of Kings, this sceptrd isle,
This earth of Majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this orb, this realm, this England.
Winston Churchill was half-American, proudly tracing his ancestry to Pocahontas. But he was all British, and thoroughly monarchist. This best friend of America called us the Great Republic, but he never wavered in loyalty to his sovereigneven when it hurt him greatly in politics. He was the one who bowed when he and FDR first met on the deck of the USS Augusta. He presented the President with a letter of introduction from King George VI.
When that Christian King died, his devoted young daughter, Elizabeth, was crowned in Westminster Abbey as Queen by the Grace of God. Damian Thompson, a blogger for Londons Daily Telegraph, credits Queen Elizabeth II with keeping alive the public acknowledgment of Christianity in Britain these past 60 years. Thats high praise, indeed, especially from a young British Catholic.
Im grateful to my friend, Bill Bennett, for reminding us of our own revolutionary heritage from our Founders. James Madison politely but firmly put down any notion of highfalutin titles here.
But I can rejoice with my British friends in their happiness. God save our Gracious Queen, they sing, God save our noble Queen. And they conclude: long to reign over us. Amen to that. Over them.