“Of Moats and Monarchs”–Maryland’s First King

Once upon a time…

Long—but, not that long—ago, on a certain campus, lived a disenchanted student body. Political demonstrations brought classes to a halt at the University of Maryland, College Park, as tensions within the institution grew. At the height of the unrest, students and faculty activists found themselves confronted by a hoard of National Guardsmen on McKeldin Mall.  A courageous group of students pledged henceforth to vanquish institutional corruption and partiality in response to the widespread mistrust and animosity of student politics. They solemnly vowed to seek a wise and fair King to lead all Terps on a path to valor. With this solemn oath, the Monarchy Party was born!

King Tom II salutes supporters in solidarity, The Diamondback, 1985

In conjunction with our ongoing Diamondback digitization project, today we weave you a yarn of the University of Maryland of yore. Join us as we tell the tale of the Monarchy Party’s rise to power during the mid-1980s. Among many brave heroes, we specifically recount the exploits of the valiant leader, King Tom II, who fearlessly combated the banality of student government in a series of farcical adventures.

 Of noble birth: the origins of Maryland’s Monarchy Party

Frustrated students founded the Monarchy Party in an endeavor to protest the perceived preference given to fraternity and sorority interests within the student government of the late 1960s. Mocking the petty jockeying of previous officials, the collective dubbed themselves Monarchists in reference to the tendency of internal cliques—especially Greek life lobbyists—to treat the student government as a school-funded “fiefdom.” The party’s founders felt that this internalized attitude led to nepotism and a grave mis-allocation of SGA funds. While its precise origins remain uncertain, reports in The Diamondback and The Washington Post date the Monarchy party’s inception between 1969 and 1972, which seems to coincide with the establishment of the Maryland Medieval Mercenary Militia.

Medieval Mercenary Militia reenacts the Battle of Hastings, c. 1970-1975

As Washington Post correspondent Barbra Vobejda reported in 1985, ironic campus campaigns became a national phenomenon in the early 1970s after college administrations attempted to “whittle away” students’ rights. Pointing to the contemporary election of a cartoon character at the University of Texas in Austin and the Pail and Shovel party at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she suggests that satirical student groups, like the Monarchy Party, propelled significant conversations about the politics of higher education. An unaffiliated Monarchist regime was even established at Florida State University in, Tallahassee, Florida, in 1989.

Anticipating these anti-establishment collegiate trends, however, Maryland Monarchists blazed a trail for alternative student politics in the wake of early protests for equal rights and against the Vietnam War on our campus. Gaining traction over a period of approximately fourteen years, the party touted the record as the longest existing student-run political party of their day.

Enter King Tom II

Thomas “King Tom II” Cooper, c. 1985

While amassing an ever-larger student fealty and SGA presence, the Monarchists remained unsuccessful in claiming the presidential throne through the late 1970s and into the 1980s. The fall semester of 1985 therefore marked a pivotal triumph for the party’s loyal constituents. The Monarchy party garnered 1,646 of the nearly 3,000 votes in the November 20 run-off, an election marked by the highest voter turnout in university history.  Junior English major and reserve Marine, Thomas Cooper (King Tom II) and his cabinet–First Vice President Paul Croarkin (Duke Sir Paul), Second Vice President Virginia Russel (the queen), and Treasurer James Reardon (chancellor of the exchequer)– won by a 12% margin. The student voters clearly expressed their desire to shift the political paradigm.

Many thus regarded a Monarchy party victory as a successful criticism of the ineffective student officers of the past. According to a Monarchist constituent, the King’s election was “[the] students’ way of saying, ‘We’re fed up with [student politics], student government is a joke’.”

A poster from King Tom II’s 1985 campaign.

Cooper’s campaign also featured popular slogans like “Both the Monarchist Party and the SGA are a joke, but one of them isn’t funny” and “Mote Vonarchist,” which poked fun at the sober rhetoric of other student groups  and contributed to his success.

Check back at the end of this week as we recount the resplendent coronation of King Tom II and the glories of his reign, including his plans for a moat filled with beer to surround the campus!

You can find more information about the history of the Monarchy party and King Tom’s election in The Diamondback, The Terrapin yearbooks, and The Washington Post.

The Diamondback provides a crucial student perspective on student activities on campus,  As the university’s primary student newspaper, Diamondback reporting is essential to the history of the University of Maryland. The University Archives is digitizing the entire run of the newspaper, which is now currently available on microfilm.Thanks to generous donors and our successful Launch UMD campaign, The Diamondback will be online and searchable in 2016.

This post complements the series by graduate student assistant Jen Wachtel, who is collecting data for the Diamondback Digitization Project. Check out the Twitter hashtag #digiDBK or the DigiDBK tag on the blog for previous posts, and look for her posts every other Monday.




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