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Didn't We Fight a Revolution to Rid Ourselves of This Royal Family—and Its American Imitators? | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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Didn't We Fight a Revolution to Rid Ourselves of This Royal Family—and Its American Imitators?

I’m a republican.

So, while I certainly wish the formr Miss Middleton and Mr. Mountbatten-Windsor all the best on the occasion of their nuptials, I am rather hoping not to hear a whole lot more from them.

Like Tom Paine, I have always been of the view that: “Of more worth is one honest man to society, and in the sight of God, than all the crowned ruffians that ever lived.”

Paine held to the true republican principle that kings, kaisers and czars were not the equals of citizens but uniquely dim-witted inferiors who did more harm than good to the countries they attempted to govern.

In Common Sense, his call for an American revolution against not just King George III but the fabricated notion of a “divine right of kings.” Paine wrote: “[It] is not so much the absurdity as the evil of hereditary succession which concerns mankind. Did it ensure a race of good and wise men it would have the seal of divine authority, but as it opens a door to the foolish, the wicked, and the improper, it hath in it the nature of oppression. Men who look upon themselves born to reign, and others to obey, soon grow insolent. Selected from the rest of mankind, their minds are early poisoned by importance; and the world they act in differs so materially from the world at large, that they have but little opportunity of knowing its true interests, and when they succeed in the government are frequently the most ignorant and unfit of any throughout the dominions.”

After Americans did revolt, the sincere republicans among the founding circle endeavored to assure that America would not replace the abuses of monarchs with the abuses of presidents or governors. “An elective despotism is not what we fought for,” observed Thomas Jefferson, who argued that “the powers of government should be so divided and balanced among general bodies of magistracy, as that no one could transcend their legal limits without being effectually checked and restrained by the others.”

Unfortunately, the system of checks and balances only prevents an “elective despotism” when branches of government are controlled by different factions. When one man holds the top job and his minions occupy supposedly separate stations of public power, the monarchy is recreated under the guise of democracy. While elections may be held, the victors become what James Madison most feared “a king for four years.”

That's why the drafters of the Constitution included broad impeachment powers in the document, and rested the authority to demand accountability from the executive and judicial branches of the federal government with the elected body that was most closely tied—via biennial elections—to the people.

It is, as well, why the progressive reformers of a century ago established the power of recall, which allowed voters to remove despotic leaders during the course of their terms of office—as opposed to putting up with tyranny until the next election. The right to petition for the redress of grievances is made real via the recall power, which gives citizens the authority to gather a sufficient number of signatures and a force a tyrant to face the wrath of the electorate.

Monarchs and their minions cannot be recalled, unfortunately. But governors and their minions can be. This distinction keeps the promise of republican government. The ability to recall a state senator who disregards the rule of law in Wisconsin, or a governor who would restructure government to empower himself while taking away the rights of public employees to defend public services in Michigan, is our defense against an “elective despotism.” And the current exercise of that power is far more exciting to this republican than a royal wedding.

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