After reading Michael Barone’s Our First Revolution: The Remarkable British Upheavel That Inspired America’s Founding Fathers (Crown Publishers 2007), Maureen Waller’s book on the same topic (Ungrateful Daughters , blog: part 1 and part 2) now appears in even greater relief as an anti-Catholic screed.
Our First Revolution is on the events of The Revolution of 1688-89 or so-called Glorious Revolution in which King James II was ousted from the English throne by Prince William of Orange from the United Provinces (Netherlands). It is the way a good history text should be written. In the first place Barone helps 21st century readers to understand the seventeenth century in context in order to avoid an anachronistic perspective of these times. He also readily presents the perspectives of other historians who either come to different conclusions or have other possible interpretations on events and so forth.
Unlike Waller’s book, Barone focus not so much on personalities but on the events themselves, their significance, and possible motivations all of the key characters. Barone does not excoriate anyone. He keeps the text at a professional level. He readily delineates the consequences of The Revolution of 1688-89 and applies them to the present. (This is the main thesis of Our First Revolution.)
What kind of world would there be if Britain and then the United States had not gotten into the habit of opposing tyrannical hegemonic powers? The question is unanswerable. But it does seem clear that it would have been vastly more potential for expansion of the reach of Louis XIV and Louis XV, the revolutionary Jacobins and the Emperor Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm II and the Führer Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and his Communist heirs, the terrorists of Osama bin Laden and the mullahs of Iran. Of course we cannot say that Britain or the United States would have declined to oppose such hegemonic powers if James II had remained on the throne and William of Orange had remained in the Netherlands. But we do know that the shift of England and Britain from a policy of isolation and noninvolvement to a policy of active opposition to tyrants and hegemons occurred at one moment, as the result of one highly improbable event, the Revolution of 1688-89. (p 241)
So why did the Dutch Calvinist William accept the "invitation" from prominent Englishmen and set sail to invade England on October 30, 1688 with 15,000 Dutch and German troops (many Catholic) and 500 naval ships? Barone answers that it was a “pre-emptive war” and an exercise in "nation building". In short: William wanted to check the ambitions of France. France under Louis XVI was Europe’s superpower at that time and William wanted to prevent England under James II from allying with the French against the Dutch.
"William’s chief purpose in coming over was to enlist England in the war against France; for that he needed [the English] Parliament to vote revenue." (p 195)
William certainly took advantage of the anti-Catholicism in England to his benefit. The Catholic monarch James II pushed for toleration of religious freedom. James did not want all his subjects coerced into to the Church of England. James wanted anti-Catholic laws and laws against Protestants not in the Church of England repealed and so forth.
In addition anti-Catholic sentiment could not ignore that Catholics James II and Louis XVI supported one another. France, for example, gave much financial aide to the English crown. When James II finally had a legitimate successor in James Francis Edward, the Prince of Wales, in 1688, many in the established Church of England feared that Catholicism would once again flourish if a Catholic line of monarchs were established. (James’s brother, King Charles II (1630—1685), converted to Catholicism on his deathbed.)
Politically, William feared that England was headed toward a French-style absolutism. A Catholic line of kings would "seal the deal." To achieve his ends James "packed" Parliaments with his supporters.
"Packing Parliament" consisted of James and his men asking three questions of candidates: 1. Would they support the repeal of the Test Acts and penal laws? 2. Would they support candidates for Parliament who supported repeal? 3. Would they live in peace with their neighbors regardless of religion? It was a plan that backfired.
With the English opposition to James "packing parliament", William also feared that James would be ousted and a republic established like in the Cromwell years after beheading James’ father King Charles I in 1649.
Barone summarizes the consequences of The Revolution of 1688-89:
Another significant legacy of William III was the 1701 Act of Settlement. This law specified that Catholics can not hold the throne. King William III died in March 1702 (Queen Mary died in 1694) to be succeeded by Queen Anne, James' daughter. Many Catholics were bypassed in favor of Sophia of Hanover, sister of Charles I, who was 21st in line for succession at the time of the 1701 Act. Although she did not come to the English throne, her son George Ludwig of Hanover, became King George I in 1714. Needless to say, British and European history would have been very different without the Act of Settlement.
1. Guaranteed liberties by way of the 1689 Bill of Rights which he sees as an inspiration for the 1791 American Bills of rights.
2. Religious liberties. Laws after the 1688-89 revolution encouraged worship outside of the Church of England. This certainly encourages the splintering and growth of new protestant communities. However, laws against Catholics remained in force. A "small gain" for religious liberty? In short, in my estimation William’s legacy was the continuation a long history of states interfering with the affairs of the Church and other religious communities.
3. Economic changes which encouraged growth in England by establishing a national debt (1693) and a Bank of England (1694) principally to fund William’s wars through a bond market, etc. The center of economic life and trade shifted from Amsterdam to London.
4. Foreign policy changes from British isolationism to greater involvement in European and world affairs.
Likewise the history of Ireland would have been different without Jacobites supporting the restoration of James II, his son James Francis Edward (1688—1766) and his grandson, Charles Edward ("Bonnie Prince Charlie", 1720—1788). Barone and others speculate quite reasonably that the potato famine of the 1840's may have been avoided if Ireland had had the economic and political benefits ejoyed by the rest of Britian during these times rather than enduring the punitive measures because of their Catholic Faith and support of Jacobites "rebels".
Overall, I am well pleased with Our First Revolution. I will certainly give Barone's other works a look. In my estimation, it was a fair and balanced presentation of the Revolution of 1688-89.