In 1641, Irish Catholics started slaughtering Protestant Englishmen in Ireland. Charles asked Parliament for the funds to raise an army to suppress the uprising. Parliament refused. Things had gotten so bad between them that Parliament wasn’t sure that once the revolt was over Charles wouldn’t use the army on them!
Order began to crumble everywhere. Pamphleteers harangued Charles mercilessly. Riots broke out in the city of London. Denuded of power for want of money, Charles left London and moved his house to Oxford. Thus began the English Civil War.
The war raged off and on for six years. In “Leviathan,” Hobbes called it “a war of all against all.” It pitted court against country, Anglicans against Puritans, aristocrats against gentry. Charles lost the war and then his head in 1649. (Grand Bargains weren’t as genteel back then.)
It was the first time in more than 1,000 years that a sitting king had been executed by his own subjects. Parliament, rather than being called at the whim of the king as it was only 20 years before, had now become the king-maker!
Parliament would depose Charles’ son, James II, in 1688 — the “Glorious Revolution.” It invited the Protestant William and his wife, Mary, to come from Holland, but only if they would accept Parliament as a co-equal branch of government. They accepted. This foretold the design of the U.S. Constitution, written a century later by the former Englishman James Madison.
It’s unlikely anybody is going to get their head cut off over the latest shutdown. But it’s good to remember the power that comes with control of the purse, especially in the hands of a hostile legislature. The challenge for that power is still being played out today.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.