Republic, Calvinist republics

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Summary

A republic is a form of government in which power resides in the people, and the government is ruled by elected leaders run according to law (from ), rather than inherited or appointed (such as through inheritance or divine mandate). In modern times the definition of a republic is also commonly limited to a government which excludes a monarch. Currently, 135 of the world's 206 sovereign states use the word "republic" as part of their official names.

Details

While the classical writers had been the primary ideological source for the republics of Italy, in Northern Europe, the Protestant Reformation would be used as justification for establishing new republics. Most important was Calvinist theology, which developed in the Swiss Confederacy, one of the largest and most powerful of the medieval republics. John Calvin did not call for the abolition of monarchy, but he advanced the doctrine that the faithful had the right to overthrow irreligious monarchs. Calvinism also espoused a fierce egalitarianism and an opposition to hierarchy. Advocacy for republics appeared in the writings of the Huguenots during the French Wars of Religion.

Calvinism played an important role in the republican revolts in England and the Netherlands. Like the city-states of Italy and the Hanseatic League, both were important trading centres, with a large merchant class prospering from the trade with the New World. Large parts of the population of both areas also embraced Calvinism. During the Dutch Revolt (beginning in 1566), the Dutch Republic emerged from rejection of Spanish Habsburg rule. However, the country did not adopt the republican form of government immediately: in the formal declaration of independence (Act of Abjuration, 1581), the throne of king Philip was only declared vacant, and the Dutch magistrates asked the Duke of Anjou, queen Elizabeth of England and prince William of Orange, one after another, to replace Philip. It took until 1588 before the Estates (the Staten, the representative assembly at the time) decided to vest the sovereignty of the country in themselves.

In 1641 the English Civil War began. Spearheaded by the Puritans and funded by the merchants of London, the revolt was a success, and King Charles I was executed. In England James Harrington, Algernon Sidney, and John Milton became some of the first writers to argue for rejecting monarchy and embracing a republican form of government. The English Commonwealth was short lived, and the monarchy soon restored. The Dutch Republic continued in name until 1795, but by the mid-18th century the stadtholder had become a de facto monarch. Calvinists were also some of the earliest settlers of the British and Dutch colonies of North America.

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