“What subject can give sentence on his king?/And who sits here that is not Richard’s subject?” asked a clergyman from Shakespeare’s “Richard II,” written about 1595. The clergyman continued: “And shall the figure of God’s majesty,/His captain, steward, deputy elect,/Anointed, crowned, planted many years,/Be judged by subject and inferior breath?”

The answer was “yes.” His cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, a more competent and popular leader, “gave sentence” on the corrupt Richard, forced him to abdicate and replaced him.

This Shakespearean quote briefly articulates the Divine Right Theory of Kings, an idea embraced within a decade by King James I of England and later his son, Charles I. In 1649, Charles tried to impress his Divine Right on a skeptical Parliament after it charged him with high treason.

Charles denied Parliament’s lawful authority: “I have a trust committed to me by God … I will not betray it to answer a new unlawful authority.” John Bradshaw, the Parliament’s judge, responded that the bond of protection the king owed the subject was broken by the king, and with it the bond of subjection owed the king. He called the king not a “protector of England,” but a “destroyer of England.”

The poet, John Milton, argued in his “Tenure of Kings and Magistrates” that Charles reigned like any tyrant, “regarding neither law nor the common good, (reigning) only for himself and his faction.” He believed that since the power of a king is derived from the people, the people have the right to sit in judgment on his corrupt and tyrannical behavior.

Charles was found guilty of high treason and beheaded on Jan. 30, 1649.

Parliament and Milton rejected Divine Right Theory in favor of Social Contract Theory, a theory that proclaimed an essential, negotiable bond between the ruler’s legitimate authority and the natural rights of the citizen. This theory was later elaborated on, with various shadings of meaning, by Thomas Hobbes, Jean Jacques Rousseau and John Locke.

In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson echoed Locke’s revolutionary beliefs in his opening remarks. Jefferson wrote that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

These truths certainly were not evident to George III and the other kings of Europe.

When Jefferson wrote “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” this seemed like agnostic and subversive nonsense to George III and the other kings of Europe.

And when Jefferson wrote “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government,” he unequivocally rejected the Divine Right Theory of Kings and asserted the judicial power of the people — a frightening prospect to George III and the other kings of Europe.

The framers of the Constitution believed a check on authoritarian power was so urgent that they inscribed it in the last sentence of Article I: “The House of Representatives …shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.”

Is it possible that in these “worst of times,” the Divine Right Theory has emerged zombie-like from the graveyard of history?

In a recent Salon article, Amanda Marcotte stated that “Trump is channeling … the beliefs of evangelical conservatives (who) are telling Trump, regularly and in grandiose terms, that he is in fact the Chosen One and has been anointed by God to be the president at this point in time.”

Katherine Stewart, in a New York Times article, stated that many white evangelicals believe that Trump “is a miracle sent straight from heaven to bring the nation back to the Lord” and “that resistance to Mr. Trump is tantamount to resistance to God.” And those who do resist Trump through impeachment are guilty of “regicide by another name,” according to Fox News contributor Joe Di Genova.

In his Oct. 8 letter to the House Committee members conducting the impeachment inquiry, Trump rejected congressional authority. His letter declares that he does not recognize and will not cooperate with the impeachment proceedings because they are “constitutionally invalid.” So the battle is joined.

When concerned citizens point to the looming Constitutional Crisis, this is the issue: Are we going to abide by the principles inscribed in our founding documents outlining the powers of the three branches of government with its clear limits on executive power, or are we going to return to a period in which mystical, quasi-divine mumbo-jumbo may be claimed by a corrupt, incompetent and unpopular leader?

William Shaw, of Pinehurst, is the author of “Fellowship of Dust: Retracing the WWII Journey of Sergeant Frank Shaw.”

(11) comments

Keith Miller

Mr Shaw...you are funny. In real life were you a writer for SNL or the View ??

John Rowerdink

The Divine Right Theory of Kings? For goodness sakes, take a deep breath! Should we assume Shaw will be disappointed if we don’t behead President Trump like they did Charles I? I’m guessing he will be quite satisfied if the president is impeached.

In quoting our Declaration of Independence, which says “Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it and to institute new government”, Shaw is most likely thinking of impeaching the president. This puts in in the curious position of being right in his argument but wrong in his conclusion.

We should instead apply this phrase to the House of Representatives. When the opposition political party colludes with the media and individuals within the government (the deep state) to overturn the will of the people, this is an existential threat to our democracy. There’s a good chance the people will see this in the 2020 election and install new government to replace Congress.

Jim Tomashoff

Too overturn the will of the people John? Which candidate got three million more votes in 2016? Doesn't that say something about the "will of the people." Colluding with individuals within the government? Oh, you mean abiding by the rule of law. Yeah, that's pretty terrible. Voter will install a new government to replace Congress? I'll bet you, right now, that the Democrats will pick up more seats in the House and will take back the Senate. Wanna bet John? Name the stakes.

John Rowerdink

Jim....Actually, I would like to bet that the Democrats will not gain seats in the House and take back the Senate. Name your poison.

Jim Tomashoff

Drinks at the Sly Fox, 5:00pm on Thursday after the election.

Jim Tomashoff

I posted this several hours ago, maybe The Pilot deleted it? The loser owes the winner a drink at The Sly Fox at 5:00 pm the Thursday after the election.

Mark Hayes

Jim, trying to find companionship any way you can I see, wear that Deadhead headband you have, although I doubt it will fit over that pumpkin sized head that sits on that bell shaped body. Enjoy the drinks.

Mark Hayes

John,I find it difficult to believe you would even correspond with this POS, he has degraded Republicans, mocked them, and insulted them, have you read his comment here for the past three years, you are one of those low IQ " Trumpians " as he likes to call Republicans, you drink with him, I would not waste spit on him if he was on fire.

Mark Hayes

[yawn]

Kent Misegades

Oh good grief, what gibberish. When I read the first half of this long-winded bloviation from a person suffering from TDS, I assumed he was referring to “The One we were Waiting For”, how then-candidate Barack Hussein Obama described himself to his adoring followers. Or perhaps the Democrat leadership and its henchmen in the Deep State, ignoring the Constitution in their flailing, sophomoric attempts of a coup. Liberals always blame Conservatives for the things they do themselves. Mr. Shaw makes this point very well. MAGA

Sally Larson

We darn well better stick to the Constitution, it's all we have. And after this is all over we better tighten the rules about separation of church and state.

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