Critical Comprasion of the Roles of King Charles I and Abraham Lincoln in the English and American Civil Wars
Charles Ⅰ and Abraham Lincoln are two major figures in the English and American civil wars respectively. It is long argued about the roles they played in the wars. Despite the fact that both of them have taken the nation to a new history era but their effects on the wars are considerably different. Charles Ⅰ directly leaded to the English Civil War whereas Lincoln promoted the rapid victory of the North and ultimately safeguarded the unity of the nation. Their roles differ significantly in terms of politics, economy, ideology, and personality.
On the political front, Charles Ⅰ’ s desire to control the absolute power has become a crucial cause of the English Civil War. The conflict between Charles Ⅰ and Parliament got increasingly intensified since Charles Ⅰ wanted to control the power over Parliament. Charles Ⅰ closed Parliament for several times, considering it as an automatic right, which violated Parliament. Besides, he ignored the Magna Carta, which is used to limit the power of king. Although he accepted “the Petition of Right”, he did not honor it. “The King still could tax and imprison as he pleased, irrespective of Magna Carta and the common law” (Robertson, 2007). These practices led to the mutual dissatisfaction between him and Parliament and finally triggered the war.
Concerning Lincoln, he took all effective measures to maintain the fundamental goal of federal reunification. After Lincoln was elected the President, the Federal Government faced a heated debate over the abolition of slavery and the preservation of the union. Lincoln firmly took the stance of maintaining the State’s unification. Once he claimed that “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do so.” (Lincoln in Sanders, 2016). Additionally, the Emancipation Proclamation issued by Lincoln also illustrates his standpoint. On the one hand, the proclamation earned the North sympathy and support from the working class in Britain and France. On the other, it provided abundant soldiers for the North troop. Undeniably, Lincoln’s proclamation contributes significantly to the triumph of the North.
Economically, Charles Ⅰ made his government facing serious revenue problems and sharpened the conflict between him and Parliament. During his reign, Charles Ⅰ conducted several wars on other countries, most of which ended with failure, causing the huge loss of money. If Parliament refused his request for money, he would close it until the next time at which he needed money again. Moreover, the King taxed people in some unreasonable ways which offended Parliament and the people. Especially, Robertson pointed out that, Charles Ⅰ infuriated a class of powerful men who contributed most of revenue to the government and ultimately brought him down (2007). Charles Ⅰ caused his government in financial instability and lost trust and support, resulting in the revolt from Parliament and his people.
As for Lincoln, he took a series of financial measures to put the North in a position of strength. First, he signed Homestead Act, Which allowed all the citizens to become landowners. As a result, the Act not only laid a solid foundation for the North’s economic development and strengthened its power in the Civil War, but also won the trust of the people and mobilized them to participate in the fight. What’s more, he also adopted active policies to export a large amount of grains to Britain, which in turn generated large quantities of foreign exchange income, effectively supporting the Northern in winning the war.
Ideologically, Charles Ⅰ’practices in religion caused dissatisfaction of the people in England and Scotland. English Civil War is not only a war of power, but also a war of religions. Having experienced the violent rule of Mary, the English people were afraid of a king who believed in Catholicism. Thus, Charles Ⅰ’s marriage to a Catholic raised the people’s worry and distrust. Besides, for uniting the religious activities of England and Scotland, Charles Ⅰ attempted to cast Scotland into a religious reformation. As a consequence, Bishops’ Wars broke out. Charles Ⅰ’s loss of the Bishops’ Wars further deteriorated the relationship between him and Parliament. As for Lincoln, although he was regarded as a racist, his attitude toward slavery changed as the situation moved forward. Sanders pointed out that Lincoln accepted the slavery to exist and was convinced of black inferiority (2016).As time went by, he realized that what really mattered for upgrading social statues was free-labor instead of slavery. He believed slavery was unjustified and expressed deep sympathy for those suffered. His empathy and appeal for emancipating slaves contribute a lot to the country’s unification.
In personality, Charles Ⅰ’s arrogance and autocracy get the dispute between the King and Parliament bitterer and ultimately resulted in the English Civil War. According to Ashley, Charles Ⅰ’ s earliest surviving letters reveal a distrust of the unruly House of Commons with which he proved incapable of coming to terms (2019). This kind of distrust prevents him from listening to advice from Parliament. Besides, his autocracy got intensified due to his belief of divine right of kings. In regard to Lincoln, his unique personalities account for the North’s triumph of the Civil War. For one thing, he showed great talent in adopting deft military strategies. According to Current, “His achievement is all the more remarkable in view of his lack of training and experience in the art of warfare” (2019). For another, Lincoln has a keen eye for spotting talents. Being defeated for several times, Lincoln appointed Grant as the General. Finally it turned out that “Grant had been the most successful Union general, having strung together an impressive series of victory”(Forsyth, 2011).
In conclusion, Charles Ⅰ is the main cause of the English Civil War while Lincoln is the catalyst of victory of the North. Their different roles are reflected in political, economic, ideological, and personal respects. They are the products of history and conversely they also create the history. The lives of Charles Ⅰ and Abraham Lincoln demonstrate that a good leader should prioritize the interest of the nation over the individual but not act as an autocrat who can only bring his country to collapse.
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