Well, another Independence Day has rolled around, bringing in its wake fireworks, parades, and barbecues – as it should. I am a fan of the Fourth, and if anything mourn the fact that it has lost the splendour it had before I was born. This may sound strange if you either know my view of the American Revolution or my horror at what we have become. Nevertheless, it is true. Mind you, the Tory in me is not a huge fan of the Declaration of Independence, nor is my inner French-Canadian a fan of that document’s Orwellian denunciation of the Quebec Act. But I love my country, and am happy to celebrate the day she considers her national feast. Mind you, I’d be more inclined to celebrate either September 3 – marking the date in 1783 when the British signed the Treaty of Paris and granted independence to the rebellious colonies – or better still, December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, patronal festival of these United States. But I’ll take what celebration I can get in this dark, dull, and menacing world.
But there is definitely an alternative set of Founding Fathers (and Mothers) I have to propose for your veneration this Fourth of July to the usually-cited band headed by Washington and Jefferson. These folk rarely get the recognition they so richly deserve – especially as compared to that given the usually cited list. But gratitude was never a very American virtue.
Who are the first of these Founding Parents? King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabel of Castile top the list – both in terms of chronology and importance, in the sense that they (and especially she) got the American ball rolling. This was done not merely by bankrolling Columbus, important as that was. It was also by their conquest and administration of the Canary Islands; this experience both paved the way for the Laws of the Indies under which the Spanish American territories were administered (and which were shaped by the Canarian experience) and as an important later source of settlers for Texas, Louisiana, and elsewhere.
The second is Emperor Charles V. He did not, it is true, rule over any part of the continental United States. But he inherited Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Hispaniola, and during his time Mexico and Peru were subdued. From the former region, settlers would colonise Florida and New Mexico. This happened in the reign of his son, Felipe II, who in addition to being King of Spain and the Indies, was married for a few years to Queen Mary I of England, who had brought England back to the Catholic Faith. Had she bourne an heir, who knows what might have happened? As it is, she did not, the throne was inherited by her sister Elizabeth, and a great many unpleasantries occurred as a result.
Their grandfather, Henry VII, also qualifies as a Founding Father, because he sent John Cabot to the New World in 1497. But it was his Scots great-great-grandson, James VI of Scotland and I of England (son of Elizabeth’s judicial-murder victim, Mary Queen of Scots) who both brought the House of Stuart to the English throne and got the British Isles into the American colonisation business. He was the patron of Jamestown, Virginia, the first English-speaking settlement in the United States. James was invoked also by the Pilgrims in their Mayflower Compact, and so presided over the founding of both New England and the South. His commissioning of the King James Bible (which has played such a huge part in American culture), escaping Guy Fawke’s plot, and settling the Ulster Scots in Northern Ireland has endeared him to Protestant militants ever since. But his wife, Anne of Denmark, was a convert to Catholicism, while the recent discovery of crypto-Catholic burials at Jamestown gives an interest to that first effort for Catholics it previously may have lacked.
King Henry IV of France qualifies as a founding Father, because under him Samuel de Champlain founded the city of Quebec – first of the many French settlements that would dot the St. Lawrence and Mississippi River valleys all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico. So too with his son and successor, Louis XIII (who in thanksgiving for the birth of his son and heir after 20 years of trying consecrated France to Our Lady of the Assumption – patroness of the Acadians and Cajuns to this day). That son and heir, Louis XIV organised the affairs of New France and Louisiana (named after him) on a firm legal basis; that efforts still influences areas in both the United States and Canada to this day.
Maurice, Prince of Orange, was the head of the Netherlands when New Netherland – now New York and New Jersey – was founded in 1623. Queen Christina of Sweden is another founding mother of our country, as she was Queen when New Sweden (Delaware and adjoining parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey) was founded in 1638, until its conquest by the Dutch less than 20 years later. She would abdicate the throne, convert to Catholicism, and emigrate to Rome, where you may see her tomb and monument in St.Peter’s.
The martyred Charles I really deserves the name of Founding Father. Under him Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Maryland were founded – his largesse to the Catholic Lords Baltimore gave them both the future Old Line State and a chunk of Newfoundland. He also granted the Carolinas (named after him) to some English Lords who were unable to settle it at that time. The Wars of the Three Kingdoms disrupted the British Isles, resulted in the King’s murder, and brought the odious Cromwell to power. But while Puritan New England rallied to the usurper, loyal Virginia and Maryland had to be “reduced” by the new regime in London. This is why the last skirmish of the British Civil Wars, the Battle of the Severn, was fought in Maryland.
Charles’s sons, Charles II and James II also qualify for the coveted Founder’s title – the former because of his role in both the settling of the Carolinas, the conquest of New Netherland, and the granting of Pennsylvania to William Penn. James II, High Admiral of the Royal Navy under his brother and the bearing the title of “Duke of York,” was given control of the former New Netherland by Charles. Both its capital city and the colony as a whole were renamed New York, and given new laws – some of which are still followed by such towns as Glen Cove, Westhampton, and Southampton to this day. He separated New Jersey from New York, and gave it to separate bands of proprietors in East and West Jersey, which bodies continued to exist until recent decades. James also made a gift of Delaware to William Penn. After becoming King, he united New York, New Jersey, and the New England colonies into the short-lived Dominion of New England, for better protection against Indian and foreign attack; this was the first attempt at uniting the colonies, and in a sense makes him a remote forerunner of the United States.
James was overthrown by his son-in-law, William of Orange, and daughter, Mary. They did little in the way of founding new colonies, but they did charter such institutions as the College of William and Mary and King William’s School, the future St. John’s College. Mary’s sister, Anne, gave her name to Annapolis, Maryland and Queen Anne’s Counties in Virginia and Maryland; but in that latter colony she vetoed an Assembly bill that would have totally outlawed Catholicism – thus justifying her nickname of “Good Queen Anne.” She was also a major patroness of the Church of England in America – many Episcopal parishes to-day prize the communion silver she gave them, and she was patroness of the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, that funded such parishes in the New England colonies and gave them clerics. Her successor in usurpation, George I, did little for the colonies. But his son, George II, sponsored the colony of Georgia, and chartered numerous foundations in America, to include King’s College (now Columbia University), the College of New Jersey (to-day’s Princeton University), Queen’s College (now Rutgers), and a number of public libraries.
Meanwhile, the year 1716 saw Spain begin the colonisation of Texas, under the order of King Felipe V, the first Bourbon King of Spain; Felipe certainly deserves the title of “Founder of Texas” if anyone does. Certainly, San Antonio owes its origin to him.
But oddly enough, if there is any British Monarch who deserves the title of Founding Father – other than Charles I and James II – it is the much and wrongly maligned George III. Before the great unpleasantness, he not only chartered such things as the country’s first hospital and chamber of commerce, he intervened for the rights of minorities in such affairs as the Mashpee and Ashfield affairs. Norman Gelb in his Less Than Glory skewers our long-held assumptions about the righteousness of the Continental Congress. Indeed, no less than William Cobbett declared in his History of the Reformation in England and Ireland in comparing the charges against George III in the Declaration of Independence to those against James II in the Declaration of Right: “Now, justice to the memory of the late king [George III] demands that we expressly assert that here are some most monstrous exaggerations, and especially at the close ; but does not that same justice demand of us, then, to be cautious how we give full credit to the charges made against James II?” What the American declaration accused the King of was in fact the policies of successive ministries who had command of Parliament. Indeed, as Eric Nelson points out in his The Royalist Revolution, initially many of those commonly called “Founding Fathers” believed themselves to be rebelling against Parliament and ministry – not the Crown. The war that separated what were then the two halves of the Anglosphere left us, in Nelson’s view, with a Monarchy without a King on this side of the Atlantic, and a King without a Monarchy on the other. The end result of this was the seemingly unlimited exercise of presidential power over here, and the rigid division of government into ceremonial and effective elements in Britain. At any rate, the end of the conflict forged King George to preside as well over the foundation of four new nations: Anglo-Canada, the Bahamas, Sierra Leone, and, eventually, Australia.
But the Revolution gave us two other founding Monarchs, without whom independence could not have been achieved: Louis XVI of France, who unhappily bankrupted his country to assist the revolutionaries, and his cousin, Carlos III of Spain. Having been successively the first Bourbon Duke of Parma and then first Bourbon King of the Two Sicilies, after inheriting the Spanish throne Carlos founded California, its mission chain, and the city of Los Angeles. As with his French cousin, his aid to the Revolutionaries was indispensable to their success – after which he celebrated by paying for the first Catholic Church in New York City. Louis XVI used the lull between the American and French revolutions to fund the repair of the College of William and Mary, devastated during the revolution. The Louisvilles in Kentucky and Georgia were named after him, and the French King was made an honourary member of the Society of the Cincinnati – a position held to-day by his closest collateral descendant.
Our last two Founding Fathers gave us Alaska and Hawaii. In 1800, Tsar Paul I of Russia – the first and so far only non-Catholic Grand Master of the Order of Malta – chartered the Russian American Company, which in turn founded Russian America in what is now Alaska. From the colonial capital at Sitka to the various Russian Orthodox churches scattered throughout the state, the Tsar’s legacy is everywhere. So it is with Hawaii’s King Kamehmeha I, who unified the islands in 1810. The resulting Monarchy lasted until its rather seedy overthrow by American agricultural interests in the 1890s and subsequent annexation. But its remains are everywhere in the State, starting with Iolani Palace and Kawaiaha’o Church in Honolulu.
Where the draughters of the Declaration of Independence brought us political independence – the Monarchs we have discussed actually brought us the country itself, with its incredible variety of sights and peoples. So this July 4th, do not think only of the rebels and the Loyalists – or even the French and Spanish participants. Also keep in mind those Sovereigns whose aid to settlers led directly to the founding of our country’s oldest cities and regions. From those settlers descend the members of most of the country’s hereditary societies. This was the living reality upon which the men who fought the revolution later put on a political framework. The Washingtons and Jeffersons may have eventually given us our Constitution with its president, congress and supreme court; but these Royal ladies and gentlemen gave us many of the cities in which we dwell.
And what of our last King thus far? Oddly enough, that honour does not belong to George III, Fernando VII of Spain (who lost Florida to president Madison and the Southwest to Mexico), Alexander II who sold us Alaska, or Queen Liliuokolani. No, it goes to Christian X of Denmark, who as Crown Prince led the fight to prevent the government in Copenhagen from selling the Danish West Indies to the United States. The politicians had to wait until he became King in 1912, and so was constitutionally unable to oppose them – the sale of what are now the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1917. But the King was made of stern stuff, opposing his government for Constitutional reasons in the Easter Crisis of 1920, and riding unafraid and alone through the streets of his Nazi-occupied capital every day in an act of defiance. Not a bad example to think about on this July 4th.
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