By Hillsdale College Online Courses January 27, 2017
While the American Revolution is popularly considered a reaction against the British monarchy, the new American Republic actually owes much of its structure to the very government it rebelled against. Dr. Rahe notes that the separation of powers that is so indispensable to the American Republic was actually implemented in England in the mid-1600s during the Glorious Revolution.
The following video is a clip from Hillsdale’s Online Course: “Western Heritage,” featuring Paul A. Rahe, the Charles O. Lee and Louise K. Lee professor in the Western Heritage.
You cannot understand the American Revolution except in light of the Glorious Revolution, and of the English Revolution that took place between 1642 and 1651. The story of English history from Elizabeth I to the Glorious Revolution is a story of the collapse of medieval monarchy and of the substitution of a new kind of regime based upon the separation of powers between a legislature and an executive.
Montesquieu, who came after, looking back upon it, described the England that emerged after the Glorious Revolution as a republic under the guise of a monarchy. It's a peculiar kind of republic because it was [a] characterized by what Montesquieu pointed to, following Locke, as the separation of powers. That is to say, a distinction between the executive function [and] the legislative function—a lodging of the legislative function in parliament, and a lodging of the executive function in the king and his ministers.
The Americans picked up on this, both on the arguments laid out by Locke that underpinned the Glorious Revolution, which they seized upon for their own purposes, and when they believed that they were being oppressed, and seized upon the separation of powers as established by the Glorious Revolution [particularly] as rethought by Montesquieu and his Spirit of Laws.