The Men Who Would Be King
From Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder:
The crowd was scattering away then, but Laura stood stock still. Suddenly she had a completely new thought. The Declaration and the song came together in her mind, and she thought: God is America's king.
She thought: Americans won't obey any king on earth. Americans are free. That means they have to obey their own consciences. No king bosses Pa; he has to boss himself. Why (she thought), when I am older, Pa and Ma will stop telling me what to do, and there isn't anyone else who has a right to give me orders. I will have to make myself be good.
Her whole mind seemed to be lighted up by that thought. This is what it means to be free. It means, you have to be good. "Our father's God, author of liberty—" The laws of Nature and of Nature's God endow you with a right to life and liberty. Then you have to keep the laws of God, for God's law is the only thing that gives you a right to be free.
Laura had no time to think any further. Carrie was wondering why she stood so still, and Pa was saying, "This way, girls! There's the free lemonade!"
Little Town on the Prairie, Ch. 8, pp. 76-77.
Little House on the Prairie was released November 20, 1941, a few weeks before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States entered World War II. The state of the world must have been weighing heavy on Wilder's shoulders.
In the wake of The Donald, I've been thinking about kingship—what it is, what it is in us that desires it, what it is in us that desire to be a king.
Nothing in today's current political situation should come as a surprise. My husband said some years ago after all the Obama-as-Messiah hullabaloo that the next Messiah figure would probably come from the Republican side. Quod erat demonstrandum, etc.
Kingship is written into our persons. As Christians, we are declared priest, prophet, and king in our baptism. But God calls some people to a lifelong, vocational expression of these as well, whose purpose in life is to be a priest, a prophet, or a king. These people are incarnational stand-ins for and/or reminders of God Himself. Some medieval theologians argued that the coronation of kings and queens was a Sacrament. Even today the Oil of Catechumens is used for coronations.
However, America is a democratic republic. We elect our political leaders. We don't have kings who inherit their nation. Therefore we lack a clear notion of what a king is.
Yet there's something in us—in our human nature—that wants one. I'm reminded of The Lord of the Rings and its appeal among Americans (if the box office sales were any indication). Peter Kreeft points out that the three main characters fit the three roles: Frodo as priest, Gandalf as prophet, and Aragon as king. All three must play their part in order to achieve the defeat of Mordor.
What's interesting to me is that we readers and movie watchers so easily rally around Aragorn, who claims a right to the throne of Gondor not by democratic election, but by some other rule that's written deeply into the culture of Middle Earth and also our own. We Americans don't have this; we're a nation of revolutionaries and immigrants who've said good riddance to our various kings and queens. And yet we love good, courageous Aragorn and want him to be king. It's part of the story's resolution, and it satisfies.
So, are we missing something? George III was no fictional Aragorn, but still, his kingly vocation at least pointed to God's kingship. In cutting us off from the king, did the Founding Fathers misunderstand or overlook this deep human desire? Like the prophet Samuel, did they overestimate people's ability to trust in God as King? Are we, in a sense, adrift?
"Statesmen, my dear Sir, may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free Constitution is pure Virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our People in a greater Measure than they have it now, They may change their Rulers and the forms of Government, but they will not obtain a lasting Liberty. They will only exchange Tyrants and Tyrannies."
John Adams, Letter to Zabdiel Adams, 21 June 1776.
Image Credits---for some reason the captions keep disappearing:
First image: John Trumull, General Washington Resigns His Commission, via WikiCommons, CC0. Second image: Pinched from Facebook. I thought it was funny.