|Charles Edward Stewart|
Europe continues to shape attitudes here in the United States. European philosophy underpins American culture despite attempts to shift the emphasis to other regions. In 1860 the influence of Europe on events in the USA was even more profound than today. Trade is always referred to as the most important issue in America’s trans-Atlantic relationship. However, in my opinion it is political ideas, culture and philosophy that are paramount.
Some say that the birth of the United States is the realization of Christendom in government fulfilling the work of James IV & I. Infused with the high Medieval ideals of decentralization stemming from the study of the Trinity; the Articles of Confederation and then the Constitution attempted to reconcile theories that issued from the pre-Hanoverian English monarchy with the realities of the New World. The legacy of the Stewart Kings was still strong and Christian agrarianism would be given another chance to thrive.
Had James II & VII not been illegally driven from office and the Stewart lineage continued to reign perhaps the American Revolution might not have happened. But with the advent of Continental politics in the form of William III (of Orange 1650-1702) and the conniving of a Parliament consumed with envy and regicide the abuse of the Colonies in the 18th century was destined and the American Revolution inevitable.
When in 1745 Charles Edward Stewart (Bonnie Prince Charles, 1720-1788), grandson of James II, landed in Scotland as Prince Regent of England, Scotland, Ireland, and North America he raised an army to free England from the grip of the Hanoverian pretenders and their incestuous brethrens in Parliament. Bathed in glory he and his followers bravely fought against all odds but in the end were defeated. The Jacobite cause and the pluralism and decentralization for which it stood left the British Isles and the fight continued elsewhere.
It has been suggested that the Bonnie Prince could have been the King of America. Certainly there was enough Jacobite sympathy in the Colonies to make it a possibility. Without doubt the lessons from the Stewart monarchs; the scholarship of James I, the murder of Charles I at the hands of Parliament, the unconscionable treatment of James II, and the brave dedication of Charles Edward was on every thinking person’s mind.
These events which occurred in the recent past for the Colonists were the artifacts of European politics that shaped the writing of the Declaration of Independence as much as anything else. The Colonists knew that there were centralizing forces at work in the halls of Europe. The power mad moral relativists in Parliament, their financiers, and the lugubrious Hanoverian monarchs were dangerous and antithetical to political freedom. This reality was not lost on the American Patriots.
As the citizens of the new United States set about to establish a model of high Middle-Ages decentralization that was designed to stifle the development of a strong central government; many Europeans were busy going the other direction. Through revolts, wars, revolutions, blood, and terrorism one nation after another would follow Britannia into the inferno of consolidation and centralization.
In a series of revolts, revolutions, wars, and other bloody carnage France was squeezed into a nation that looked something like it does today. For decades wars spread destruction across Europe and as France pushed its borders from the Atlantic to Moscow only to see it contract in a succession of gory spasms.
Under the banner of nationalism, fraternity, egality, socialism, progress, and atheism the French experience was copied and pasted onto the Italian peninsula, Greece, and the Germanic states. The 1800’s were packed with conflict as one would-be dictator, chancellor, or proletarian hero attempted to seize as much power as possible with the tools of the bourgeoning modern age.
The common ground for this activity was the creation of a strong central government. Mechanization and transportation followed the new religion of modern materialism leading otherwise sane people to dream of bigger and grander conquests.
The USA was not immune to these impulses. Perhaps the territorial designs and war with Mexico (1846-48) was a harbinger of things to come. Yet that seemed more like a classic land-grab than a centralizing power-grab.
But there was restlessness in the Northern states. The growing Northeastern materialist establishment began to cast their eyes on the government in Washington. The antiquated relic of Jacobite idealism would not bend to their wishes and impress the will of the few upon the whole country. Supported in the South the power balance and decentralized structure of the Constitution promised integrity for the individual while it bridled government control. The North chaffed under the Constitution. This out of kilter situation was doomed.
With a close eye on Europe, adoration for the French Revolution, and the acceptance of Karl Marx into the pantheon of intellectuals the establishment in the North was aware which way the wind was blowing. In the 1800’s the heroes of modern Europe were centralizers, colonizers, and empire builders; led by strongmen like Benjamin Disraeli, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Bismarck. These trends were known to the Yankee powerbrokers who did not want to be left behind.
The only thing that stood in their way was the South. From the swamps of Florida to the Ozarks of Missouri the vast geography harbored “archaic” notions of governance. In the same way that Prussia coveted Bavaria and Austria the Yankees craved the South and its wealth. They need only to provoke the Southern people enough, war would break out, and conquest would belong to the North. No one in the world would come to the aid of the quaint rustics in the South and within days or weeks a new central government would reign from Washington.
This was the thinking in 1860. The North would outsmart the planet, blame the coming war on slavery, smash the South, and get away with murder. The Europeans would sit on the sidelines not smart enough to see past the pretext casus belli: slavery. Or would they?
End of Part I
Portrait traditionally depicting Prince Charles Edward by Maurice de la Tour (1704-1788)
Read Part II here