A shrewd analyst of American politics turns his gaze eastward to the Glorious Revolution that placed William and Mary on England’s throne and served as an example to America’s Founders.
Following the English Civil War and the uneasy Restoration of Charles II, James II became king in 1685, determined to make England safe for Catholicism. To this end, he manipulated elections to Parliament, eliminated many representative assemblies and otherwise intemperately exercised royal control. Meanwhile, William of Orange, stadtholder of the United Netherlands and husband of James’s daughter Mary, was determined to oppose the hegemonic ambitions of France’s Sun King. Fearful that James might ally with Louis XIV, William invaded England in 1688 with a force of 500 ships and 15,000 men. Barone (Hard America, Soft America, 2005, etc.) attributes William’s largely bloodless victory not so much to his considerable talents as a soldier-king, but rather to his sublime understanding and mastery of politics. Accustomed to the Dutch exercise of tolerance and a free press, William used pamphlets and newsletters to sway an increasingly literate public and prepare the ground for his “invitation” to Britain. He convinced the English that he would end the untrammeled power of James and his counselors, ensure a free and lawful Parliament and save the Church of England and the ancient constitution. With the help of talented general John Churchill (who betrayed the king), William maneuvered brilliantly to achieve his larger political goal of binding England to a war with France. He allowed James to escape the island, avoiding the threat of regicide. He also acceded to the Declaration of Rights, guaranteeing citizens’ rights to petition and keep arms, prohibiting excessive bail, fines and illegal punishments. These rights, Barone argues, along with William’s promise not to interfere with Parliament, are precisely what the American colonists had in mind 75 years later.
Brisk, thoughtful assessment of the full significance and implications of an episode in British history underappreciated on this side of the Atlantic.