The conflict between the Democratically-controlled House and President Trump has entered a new phase, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred Donald Trump from giving the State of the Union speech in the House of Representatives. Trump backed down and postponed the address, but surely this is just a skirmish in the overall war. And there is no end in sight for the government shutdown.
As the passions rise on all sides, I can’t help but to think about another conflict between a head of state and a legislature, which took place centuries ago.
In 1642 the King of England Charles I entered the Parliament accompanied by armed guards in an attempt to arrest five members of the commons on the grounds of high treason.
This escalation of a conflict, which had been bubbling for years at that point, was a trigger that directly led to the English Civil war.
Charles lost the war, was tried, and executed.
What is less broadly known is that after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, the Parliament condemned to death several dozens of people who were responsible for Charles I’s execution (including the 59 judges who signed the death warrant). A number of them were hanged and quartered (which is a particularly gruesome way of execution). Some of those who escaped to Europe or New England, were hunted down and also executed.
Is there a lesson in this history? Of course, the situation today is different. Trump did not escalate, instead backing down. In any case, Trump is no Charles I (after all, Charles I was the head of the established elites, while Trump is a counter-elite, using the jargon of the structural-demographic theory). And one hopes that today we are more civilized (although I wouldn’t bet on it). If there is a lesson, then it’s a general one: escalation of the conflict may result in a conflagration in which there are no winners.
Postscriptum (added Jan 25): Another interesting parallel with the prelude to the English Civil War is in how the Long Parliament undermined Charles I — not by striking at him directly, but by stripping him of loyal supporters. As soon as the Parliament
assembled on 3 November 1640 [it] quickly began proceedings to impeach the king’s leading counsellors of high treason. Strafford was taken into custody on 10 November; Laud was impeached on 18 December; John Finch, now Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, was impeached the following day, and he consequently fled to the Hague with Charles’s permission on 21 December. To prevent the king from dissolving it at will, Parliament passed the Triennial Act, which required Parliament to be summoned at least once every three years, and permitted the Lord Keeper and 12 peers to summon Parliament if the king failed to do so. The Act was coupled with a subsidy bill, and so to secure the latter, Charles grudgingly granted royal assent in February 1641. Source: Wikipedia
Charles assured Strafford that “upon the word of a king you shall not suffer in life, honour or fortune.” But then
Charles, fearing for the safety of his family in the face of unrest, assented reluctantly to Strafford’s attainder on 9 May after consulting his judges and bishops. Strafford was beheaded three days later.