“The King Can Do No Wrong” as American Political Attack Rhetoric

“The King Can Do No Wrong” as American Political Attack Rhetoric



So, I’ve blogged previously about the various meanings of “The King Can Do No Wrong” here. But a couple days ago, I came across some very different uses of the phrase. During the 1800’s, it was actually used to mean quite a different thing. Instead of standing for sovereign immunity from lawsuits, people would hurl the phrase at their opponent’s supporters, claiming that they would blindly follow their political leader.

For example:

“THE KING (alias THE PRESIDENT) CAN DO NO WRONG!”. From the Auburn Free Press. United States’ Telegraph  (Washington, District Of Columbia), Wednesday, August 03, 1831; Issue [183].

“The King, alias the President, can do no wrong–the following would seem to indicate that the devoted friends of Jackson are beginning to come out openly and avow in theory, as the have long done in practice, the abominable sentiment as the motto for their political banner. It is a fact, that although there are several papers that have, for months past, acknowledged “Andrew Jackson” as their candidate for the next President, and have followed his name with a string of flummery…”

Full link here

I love two things about this one, first that they put Andrew Jackson in quotes, and second that they used flummery which means “a sweet soft pudding that is at present made from stewed fruit and thickened with cornstarch.”

Here’s another about the Whigs.

Whig Praise and Whig Censure. The Globe (Washington, District Of Columbia), Tuesday, August 15, 1837; Issue 54.  (975 words)

“Whig Praise and Whig and Whig Censure”

The political maxim of the British Constitution, that the King can do no wrong, seems to be the rule of action of the whigs in relation to the money king. In Great Britain, however, though the King be allowed to escape, his ministers have no such privilege. They are compelled to bear the burden of royal sins, and as the counsellors and advisors of royalty, must take the responsibility to all acts of their masters. But with the whigs, not only the bank king, but the bank ministers, can do no wrong…

Full link here

This, appears to be part of an attack against the Whig party and the continuation of the Bank of the United States.

Here’s another great example:

IN TIMES OF WAR the Executive department of the Government becomes more presumptuous, and its minions and flatterers more arrogant in their demands. St. Louis New Era.  Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, District Of Columbia), Wednesday, December 16, 1846; Issue 10,550.  (239 words)

“IN TIMES OF WAR the Executive department of the Government becomes more presumptuous, and its minions and flatterers more arrogant in their demands. They more boldly act on the principle that “the King can do no wrong” and require blind unconditional support of the measures of the administration. Those who live at the foot of the throne are ever ready to denounce those who will canvass freely the acts of the Executive, and express their opinions as becomes citizens of a free country. They are ready to assume that a disapproval of the acts of the President is an indication of a want of patriotism..”

Full link here

This seems to be an attack on supporters of President Polk and the Mexican-American War, given the timing of the article and the later mention of sustaining war with Mexico.

And here’s one final one, although there are tons more. If you have access to some sort of old newspaper database, just search the king can do no wrong and set the date to be 1800-1900. Before and after that, the usage is different.

“The King Can Do No Wrong”.  The Weekly Raleigh Register (Raleigh, North Carolina), Wednesday, November 30, 1853; Issue 7.

“The king can do no wrong. There are certain Southern locofoco newspapers, with the Richmond “Examiner” at their head, which affect a great deal of independence by denouncing the Van Burens, Dix & Co. while the lavish praise upon Gov. Dickinson, Judge Bronson, and their friends…but they studiously refrain from connecting the name of General Pierce with the New York difficulty. We should also name the Washington “Sentinel” as one of these semi-independents, who believe in the royal maxim that the King can do no wrong…”

Full link here

Timing wise this fits in to be an attack on President Pierce supporters. I love this because locofoco is probably the best party name ever. (They were “a radical wing of the Democratic Party, organized in New York City in 1835” according to Britannica)

I also love that they put Examiner and Sentinel in quotes; you can sense the sarcasm. I’m not sure what the New York difficulty is/was, but would be interested to know.

Anyways, if you are WashU affiliated, they links should take you to the whole articles. If you aren’t WashU affiliated, you should be able to access them if you have access to Gale databases and remove the .wustl.edu in the urls. If none of those apply, you can try finding the article from the paper and date provided.

Photo props go to the American Antiquarian Society


Posted on December 28, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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