07 May 2011

Royals and Revolution

It would be an understatement to say the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, was a popular event here in the United States. The descendants of the men who fought at Lexington and Concord, who froze at Valley Forge, and who renounced their loyalty to the crown, thrilled to the sights and sounds of the British Empire in all its glory. I think perhaps King George III would crack a smile.

And why not, eh? It has been nearly two hundred years since American and British fighting men were putting serious effort into killing each other on purpose. For the past century or so, our bullets have been going in the same direction in our various shared wars. We share a language, even if the British generally make better use of it. We have a common heritage, and we have stood together, even when it was not individually advantageous for us to do so.

Our mutual ancestors fought at Hastings and Agincourt, at Stirling and the Boyne. We repelled the Spanish Armada. We built castles and monasteries, cathedrals and universities. This rough mix of quarrelsome Englishmen, Scotsmen, Welshmen and Irishmen, along with numerous others, built one of the greatest empires the world has ever known.

Some of us continued to make the British Isles our home, but others traveled across the sea to America. We built our homes, planted our fields, and raised our families, all under a common flag and a common king. Vast oceans tend to make people drift apart, however, and those of us on the western side of the Atlantic tore down the Union Jack and went our own way.

And yet, we still follow the British royals. We share in the joys of a wedding, we line up to watch The King's Speech. When we see Queen Elizabeth II ride by in her carriage or wave to the crowd from a balcony, we do not see her as we see any other foreign leader, or even any other nation's monarch. She is someone important to us as a people. We Americans may not owe her our allegiance, but I think in some small way, we feel we still ought to.

I am a traditionalist, as both my regular readers know, and I admit to holding unpopular and outmoded ideas about loyalty, duty, and honor. I have a low view of violent revolution, colored perhaps by my own experience with armed insurgency. I stand with the Cavaliers, rather than the Roundheads, with those who defend the king and not with those seeking his head.

As such, when I consider our own revolution, that nearly sacred event we celebrate every July 4th, I am conflicted. I admire the patriots, because I believe they meant what they said when they devoted their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to the cause. There is something very inspiring about Washington crossing the Delaware, about ragtag militias forming ranks against a professional army, about the people of America saying, “Don't tread on me!” and then taking up their muskets and sabers to fight against tyranny.

However, you cannot spell “loyalist” without “loyal,” and I must say my greater sympathies lie with those who stood with King George, honoring their oaths of allegiance to the king. While the actions of the rebels may have been very understandable, and I give them the benefit of the doubt as to their intentions, I think that ultimately those who said, “I was a king's man before the revolution, I am a king's man now, and a king's man ever I shall be,” had the right of it. A man who was loyal to the crown in 1766 did not somehow become a villain because he was still loyal to it in 1776.

Two centuries have passed of course, which is, as they say, a great deal of water under the bridge. I believe it is good that America is an independent nation, even if I do not fully agree with the means by which that independence was achieved. I am very proud of my country, and I am very proud to have served in my country's military. Our quarrel with the British monarch ended long ago, and the United Kingdom is perhaps our greatest ally.

I am a romantic, so my thoughts are not entirely based on cool and impassioned logic, but I think highly of monarchy as a system of government. A monarchy is not necessarily less free than a democracy, so long as individual rights are recognized and protected. One could argue that the British had far more rights in the past, when the monarch had more power, than they do now. A monarch has more responsibility to the realm than an elected president does. A president may be tempted to experiment with radical policies and then leave it to the next president to fix it, but a monarch will be leaving the kingdom to his or children. Plus, elected presidents are nearly always people who sought out the job, and are, therefore, the last people who should actually have it.

Not everyone thinks the way I do about the monarchy, I realize, but I think many other Americans view the British monarch as being special to us, in a way that no other foreign leader is. Queen Elizabeth II may not be our head of state, but we are still glad she sits the throne.

I, for one, hope the British keep their monarchy for as long as this world endures. If the monarchy were to pass away, the British, and the world, would be the poorer for it. In a sense, the monarchy represents the soul of Britain, something rarely seen in our day, but so beautiful and glorious when it is.

God save the Queen!