Monday, January 30, 2017

Queen Anne, Last M.C. of the Stuart Dynasty

While I doubt I would have personally enjoyed living in her era (or at any time before modern medicine, really), I must confess to finding the reign of Queen Anne, last Stuart monarch of England, curiously appealing. Anne had become an anachronism even before her coronation. Parliament had by statute excluded the Catholic members of her family from the succession, making her by 1702 the only Stuart eligible to wear the crown. More tragically, Anne’s eighteen (!) pregnancies ended either in stillbirths or childhood deaths, so by her accession she knew she would have no successors of her body or blood. From the very beginning of her reign Anne knew that her dynasty had reached the end of the line.

During Anne’s regime Parliament and the various ministries busied themselves with the War of the Spanish Succession, a conflict known in Her Majesty’s colonies as Queen Anne’s War. Anne herself played no direct role in managing the conflict, other than leaving much of the fighting to one of her favorites, John Churchill (a competent general), and vetoing a Scottish militia bill in 1708. Anne became the last British monarch to disallow an Act of Parliament; her successors, all German, preferred to stay clear of lawmaking.* She otherwise devoted herself to the ceremonies and rituals that sacralized and legitimated her rule. Anne committed the details of court ceremony to her prodigious memory, criticized her courtiers for trivial lapses in protocol and minor flaws in costume, and publicly advertised her divine right by “curing” commoners of scrofula, the “king’s evil.” The queen in this respect resembled other end-of-the-line monarchs, like Charles X of France and Franz Joseph of Austria, substituting atmospherics for the actual exercise of power. 

Queen Anne later acquired a reputation as a sickly and unpleasant person. A contemporary described her as “ugly, corpulent, gouty, sluggish, a glutton, and a tippler." These features, if accurately described, one may attribute to Anne’s profound health problems. In addition to gout, the queen almost certainly suffered from lupus or an illness very like it. Her chronic joint pain made exercise difficult and doubtless gave her a short temper, alleviated by the liberal consumption of alcohol. Lupus also caused Anne’s numerous late-term miscarriages, which blighted her adult life and undermined her political standing (the production of a living heir being a monarch’s chief duty). Despite her disabilities, however, Anne displayed in her short life (1665-1714) a variety of personal talents. She spoke French fluently, committed poetry to memory, supported art and architecture**, and, when her hands were up to it, played the guitar like an expert. We err, perhaps, in viewing Anne simply as an obscure monarch, and do better to consider her a disabled woman who strove, in spite of her illnesses, to fulfill her professional duties: master of ceremonies for a constitutional monarchy and patroness of the arts. 

Source: Cedric Reverand, ed., Queen Anne and the Arts (Lewisburg, Pen., 2015), 7, 207-208.

* With some indirect exceptions: William IV and George V both threatened to enlarge the House of Lords to secure its assent to popular legislation, namely the 1832 Reform Act and Irish Home Rule.

** Saint Paul’s Cathedral was completed during Anne’s reign, and her statue now stands outside its main doors, where her crowned head provides a welcome perch for pigeons.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Performative Sovereignty and DAPL

Since 2013 I've been developing a book project on the relationship between Indian treaties and Native American sovereignty. It hasn't led to many publications yet, but last year Origins magazine asked me to write an essay on treaties, tribal sovereignty, and the NODAPL protests in North Dakota. I'm pleased to say the article is now live at this address, and I trust my readers will find it edifying.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Anti-Presidents Day: Grover Cleveland

Grover Cleveland persists in our popular memory as a bundle of colorful details. He became president in spite of a sex scandal, winning as the candidate of “Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion” (a slogan that hurt his Republican opponent worse than Cleveland); served two non-consecutive terms as president, losing the office in 1888 despite winning the popular vote; and in his final term survived a secret operation to remove a mouth tumor. It would be nice to say that Cleveland, like his predecessor Chester Arthur, left behind a record of presidential accomplishments that merited his recovery from obscurity. Alas, in office the 22nd/24th president displayed the narrowness of vision and lack of creativity so typical of the White House’s denizens. Seeing himself as the heir of Jefferson and Jackson, he favored a small and inactive national government. President Grover opposed higher tariffs, Civil War veterans’ pensions, and federal disaster relief, which he claimed would “weaken the sturdiness of our national character,” and he blocked federal monitoring of Southern elections (which would have benefited black voters). He also supported Big Business in most of its forms. He favored the deflationary gold standard, even during the depression following the Panic of 1893; used federal troops to help crush the Pullman Strike of 1894; and hobnobbed with bankers and other princes of the Gilded Age. Essentially, he governed as a Democratic-Republican, simultaneously promulgating an outdated Jeffersonian vision of governance and quasi-Hamiltonian policies that favored the rich. We could say that he typified an era in which the American electorate evenly divided their votes between Republicans and Democrats. Cleveland tried to appeal to voters from both parties. A trimmer is not a leader, however, nor someone whose presidency benefits large numbers of people. The best one can say about Cleveland is that he wasn’t a total disaster.

Democrats probably wouldn’t even agree with that assessment. GC’s weak response to the Panic of 1893 helped Republicans take control of Congress and recover the presidency. They would not relinquish the White House to a Democrat for another sixteen years.

That Cleveland’s untidy personal life had little bearing on his subsequent political career does bear consideration. In Your Humble Narrator’s youth, politicos and the press believed that one sex scandal or unseemly divorce sufficed to ruin a person’s political ambitions, with Gary Hart and Nelson Rockefeller as Exhibit A. I doubt this was ever really true, and certainly Reagan (divorced) and Clinton (obvious horndog) demonstrated its irrelevance by the last quarter of the twentieth century. What voters dislike far more than an adulterer is a liar, as James Blaine (“Continental Liar from the State of Maine”) discovered in 1884. Cleveland at least acknowledged that he’d fathered a child out of wedlock and paid child support. Good enough, said the voters.

I imagine more Puritanical standards apply to female candidates for high office, American society being what it is. Whether these have any bearing on the election of a female president we will not know for at least another four years.