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Absolutism vs Constitutional Monarchy

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Submitted By kmcdowell
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Compare and contrast the theories and practice of absolutism and constitutional monarchy during the 17th century. The seventeenth century saw the evolution of two new types of government mainly because of the instability that was caused by religious wars. One type of government was a constitutional monarchy in which rulers were confined to the laws of the state, giving the people some liberties, best exemplified by William and Mary during the Stuart monarchial rule. Constitutional monarchy was successful in mainly in England because of the Magna Carta, which kept the king’s power in check. The other type was absolute monarchy, in which the king has power over everything, shown by the French under Louis XIV. Although these two different types of monarchies had some similarities, ultimately the constitutional monarchies were more successful because they allowed civilians to have more freedoms in everyday life and made the government less prone to rebellion. Though the systems of government differed in monarchial power, there were many similarities. Both constitutional and absolute monarchies were headed by single rulers, which allowed for some sort of corruption through their power. Since they usually ruled for life, rulers were able to spend large sums of money for personal gain as shown by Louis XIV with his palace of Versailles. To be effective, monarchs had to find ways to control the treasury, maintain a standing army, control religious protests, and expand a bureaucracy as shown by Louis XIV’s motto of “one king, one state, one God.” The two monarchies differed, however, in achieving their aims. Constitutional rulers believed that kings and nobles had to make a social contract and sacrifice some power to unite the country. The absolute monarchs believed that they acquired power from God. Bossuet said in his Treatise on Politics “Royal authority is sacred: God established kings as ministers and rules peoples by them,” The constitutional monarchies had evolved to give some power to the nobles, as well as the gentry and high middle class. Representative institutions such as Parliament evolved to allow for the citizens to dispose of the monarch and make sure that they followed the law. John Locke said in his Two Treatises on Government that Parliament was there to “…limit the power, and moderate the dominion of every part and member of the society.” This meant that kings of constitutional monarchies needed to be fairer towards the citizens in order to stay in power. Absolute rulers, on the other hand, could govern how they pleased because they did not have to worry about the nobility’s power to dispose of them.
Because the absolutists were the sole power, they thought of themselves as above the law. This meant that they could not get removed because they would never break a law. In order to control the nobles, absolute monarchs such as Louis XIV taxed only the peasants, only making them resist more. Absolute monarchies crushed religious pluralism; the nobles no longer had power over their kingdoms to practice their own religions. Constitutional monarchies, however, gave more power to the nobles, allowing much more toleration of differences such as religion, as seen in the English Bill of Rights. There was also a greater difficulty for constitutional monarchies to have a strong standing army, because the parliament had to give consent to the tax to train the soldiers. Absolute monarchs could tax at will, gathering many well trained soldiers.
Although on the surface the absolute monarchy had consolidated more power, a constitutional monarchy would overall be better suited for a country. The parliamentary system allowed kings to be more aware of the different regions and customs of the population, therefore allowing them to have more freedoms. Also, the gentry could advise the king on issues such as war and taxes so he would know what is unfair to the population, where if he was absolute, he could make whatever tax he wanted. Parliament also allowed for the separation of power into judicial and legislative branches, further strengthening the government because the two areas would not be headed solely by the monarch. Structures such as the Bill of Rights and the system of checks allowed constitutional monarchies to rule more efficiently at the end of the 17th century and on to the 18th.…...

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