Essay: France and England: A comparison of Governments

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In Early Modern Europe, countries were discovering and changing the ways in which they operated. While some, for a period of time stuck to their old traditional ways, others were embarking on a journey that would change the course of their country. This paper, will explore and evaluate the two different government styles of France and England – one keeping with the traditional ways of their ancestors while the other attempted and succeeded in changing their system of government forever. The French government was ruled by King Louis XIV from 1643-1715 and was considered to be an Absolutist Monarchy. It was believed that the King had all the power and answered only to God, not the people of his country. It was believed that God ordained the King to be in charge and so if any were to go against the King, they were going against God. “…. Those who are its subjects must be submissive and obedient…otherwise they would resist God.”  This was very evident in the writings of Jean Domat and Jacques Benique Bossuet.

Jean Domat and Jacques Benique Bossuet were adamant supporters of the idea of an absolutist government. Both men felt that in order for a country to survive one person must rule it and that person was in charge of all. Anyone who resided in that country was to follow the laws set forth by the king and not question his authority. “…It is the universal obligation of all subjects in all cases to obey the ruler’s orders without assuming the liberty of judging them.”  By remaining under one ruler, the country would have the best known defense against division among the people and would ensure the survival of the country.
 
Absolutist Monarchy, according to Bossuet, was “the most natural.most enduring…strongest form of government.”  Bossuet argues that the people should not change what God has created and furthermore, since the government, which has been in place for hundreds of years, needed no adjustments, there was no reason to change or alter the political structure.

Domat and Bossuet’s ideas and theories held strong, as France remained an Absolutist monarchy, for the time. The English Monarchy was not as successful for the will of the people triumphed over tradition and a new style of government was born.
 England’s Monarchy was being threatened by the development of new institutions (common law, Magna Carta, and the Parliament). The Monarchy’s reaction to the new institutions and the cruel treatment of its subjects resulted in Parliament’s creation of the Petition of Rights. The king, unwilling to consent, dissolved the Parliament (which would not meet again until 1640), gaining complete control over England. When Parliament did reconvene, a civil war ensued between those who wanted to reduce the royal authority and those who supported it. The end result was the beheading of Charles I allowing Oliver Cromwell and the Parliament to rule over England.

After Cromwell’s death, the Parliament realized that England needed a new leader and invited Charles II back from exile to rule over England. Charles II never reinstated the Absolutist Monarchy that his father had tried to keep, yet worked with Parliament to run the country. After his death, James II became the new King and when he tried to reinstate the absolutist Monarchy; Parliament removed him as King of England. From then on, Parliament would rule over England, deciding on its laws and creating the Bill of Rights, reducing the Monarchy to a symbol of what had been, giving them no power over the English subjects.

John Locke’s writing, Second Treatise on Government, is one of the western world’s foundational expressions of liberalism. Locke supports the idea of abolishing the Absolutist government and making way for a government that would consist of several men creating laws for the common good of the countries subjects. “Political Power is that power, which every man having in the state of nature, has given up into the hands of the society, and therein to the governors, whom the society hath set over itself, with this express tacit trust, that it shall be employed for their good.”

In Early Modern Europe, France and England started out with the same system of government: an Absolutist Monarchy. As tensions grew with the people and the monarchy in England, the Monarchy would give way to the Parliament, establishing, in theory, that all of England’s subjects were created equally and were to be treated equally. The French government would remain with their form of government, for awhile longer believing that they would only remain a united country if one person governed them.

France and England both strived to keep their countries united each taking a different approach. France was unable to unite the lower classes as its government catered to the aristocracy and shunned those of a lower class. England, however, was able to break away from the class distinctions with the creation of the Parliament and create laws that were somewhat more equal to all English subjects, regardless of their class distinctions.

In the end, England’s reformation from a Monarchy to a Parliament would pave the way for other countries to follow in their footsteps. While France tried hard to remain with its traditional ways of an Absolutist government, England’s success in a collective governing board would eventually lead the French to believe that they could be a successful government without having the Monarchy rule.

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