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What does the Secret Treaty of Dover have to do with President Trump? Maybe a lot: Rachel Carnell (Opinion)

August 4, 2018

What does the Secret Treaty of Dover have to do with President Trump? Maybe a lot: Rachel Carnell (Opinion)

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio -- U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte of Maryland ruled last week to allow a lawsuit to move forward against President Donald Trump, that alleges he is violating the Constitution’s emoluments clauses in profiting from foreign-government spending at his Washington hotel.

As this lawsuit proceeds, it is worth considering the history behind the emoluments clauses. According to Laurence Tribe and Joshua Matz in their recent book, “How to End a Presidency,” the very reason we have these clauses in our own Constitution is that “the Framers knew that King Louis XIV of France had used lavish pensions to corrupt King Charles II of England.” 

This piece of history, involving the Secret Treaty of Dover in 1670, offers a parallel to another aspect of Donald Trump’s presidency -- his odd behavior in the presence of Vladimir Putin, suggesting that Putin may already have exerted corrupting influence over Trump.

Charles II, like Donald Trump, frequently experienced cash-flow problems. Rather than turning to foreign investors to make cash purchases of luxury properties, Charles, as king of England, could simply convene Parliament to request funds. 

The only difficulty was that Parliament might not vote to grant him the money. By convening Parliament (which could be convened by the monarch as infrequently as every three years), Charles might also have to subject himself to the awkward checks and balances of a parliamentary monarchy. 

An easier way for Charles to ensure funding for his lavish household expenses and his foreign wars was to become a secret accomplice to France.

Unlike Trump — whom Soviet and then Russian intelligence agents may have been cultivating as early as 1987, according to Jonathan Chait, writing in New York Magazine — there would have been little effort needed for the French king to cultivate contact with the English monarch. 

Charles II’s mother was a member of the French royal family. His sister, Henrietta, was married to Louis XIV’s brother. Although baptized in the Church of England and raised as a Protestant, Charles was cynical about religion and pragmatic about his political survival.

Like Vladimir Putin today, the autocratic French monarch Louis XIV was always seeking to expand the extent of his power and influence.  His hope for England, considerably less wealthy than France in this era, was that it would convert to Catholicism and become a military ally against the Protestant Dutch, his fiercest trading and military rivals. 

Through a sequence of back-channel conversations involving Charles II’s sister, the French monarch proposed to pay Charles II two million crowns in exchange for his making a public profession of the Catholic faith and agreeing to join France in waging war against the Dutch United Provinces.

England had been Protestant since Henry VIII broke with Rome in 1534. When Henry’s Protestant eldest daughter, Mary I, tried to return England to Catholicism in the 1550s, she burned Protestants at the stake, forever etching in England’s collective memory the fear of a Catholic monarch. 

To return England to Catholicism was political suicide, something that Charles II — whose own father had been executed by Parliament in 1649 for less extreme policies — was too savvy to consider.

Charles would never make a public profession of Catholicism (although he would take final Catholic rites on his deathbed). 

He did have every intention of taking Louis XIV’s money. He was also happy to declare war against the Dutch, long-standing maritime rivals.

It would never have occurred to Charles, however, to meet openly with the French king about this matter.

Instead, his sister traveled from the French court to Dover in June 1670 to finalize this secret treaty. Charles meanwhile dispatched several courtiers to negotiate a public cover treaty with France, which mentioned all the points of the actual treaty, except the profession of Catholicism. The camouflage treaty was signed in December.

Charles II understood the importance of the rule of law enough to attempt to cover up his secret treaty of Dover with a fake second treaty.  

Donald Trump, as evidenced by his recent news conference in Helsinki, seems unconcerned about giving the impression that he is being influenced by a foreign power. Nor does he appear to be concerned about the appearance of inappropriate influence by the many other foreign governments who pay for their representatives to stay in his pricey Washington hotel.  

Rachel Carnell, professor of English at Cleveland State University, is author of “Partisan Politics, Narrative Realism, and the Rise of the British Novel,” and co-editor of “The Secret History in Literature, 1660-1820,” published by Cambridge University Press.

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