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police. It had also sheltered beneath its military pro-
tection the growth of independent sects which yearned
for liberty of conscience and emancipation from the Pres-
byterian yoke. The Scotch lawyer stood aloof ; but it
was found that an English commandant, untrammelled
by party or family connection, "proceeded more equita-
bly and conscientiously in justice than our own Scottish
magistrates." Even Malignants appealed from the rigour
of Kirk authorities to the equity of an English general, and
some of them became warm promoters of the union. The
Kirk, indeed, ceased to dominate. The General Assembly,
through which its collective force had been brought to
bear upon the nation, was dispersed by a colonel, who re-
fused to recognize the divine warrant, and it was reduced
to its presbyteries and synods. The union, some say, was
an unwise measure because it set Scotch nationality at
naught. If union was good in 1707, why was it not good
in 1652 ? Had not the Scotch fought at Marston and
been represented in the Committee of the Two King-
doms? Had not the union of the kingdoms, their relig-
ious union at least, been an article in the Scotch treaty
with Charles at Newport ? Had not Scotland proclaimed


Charles II. king of Great Britain and sought to put him
on the British throne ? Was there any barrier between
the Englishman and the Lowland Scotchman more in-
superable than that between a Lowland Scotchman and
the Highlander, or even than those between parties in
Scotland ? Had not union been proposed by the Scotch
to Elizabeth ? Had it not just been proposed by Argyle ?
What was to be done with Scotland ? Was it to be put
back into the hands of the enemies of the English Com-
monwealth ? If we condemn a policy we are bound to be
prepared with a better.

Over the colonies, after a slight resistance by a royal-
ist party in Barbadoes and Virginia, the Commonwealth
stretched its rule, but on terms, as expressed in the case
of Barbadoes, of colonial self-government, self -taxation,
and freedom of trade, which if they had remained in
force might have torn the page of the American revolu-
tion out of the book of fate.

The government of the Commonwealth had to assert its
place among the governments of Europe. Catholic mon-
archies showed little emotion at the fall of the heretic
king, and were ready to bid for his fine collection of
works of art. But they, Spain especially, looked with
horror on a regicide republic, even in an island, with the
sea to cut off the contagion. Luckily for the Common-
wealth, France and Spain were struggling for supremacy,
and neither of them could afford to make an enemy (of
England. Holland was itself a republic, but not regi-
cide ; a prince of Orange, afterwards its Stadtholder, had
married a daughter of Charles I., and Charles II., with
his train of exiles, had there found shelter. The Com-
monwealth of England did not proclaim itself propa-



gandist and threaten other governments with subversion,
but it insisted on recognition. This was withheld at first
most positively by the government of France, at the head
of which was Mazarin, with Henrietta Maria at his elbow.
But Cromwell and Blake, victory by land and sea, prac-
tically had their effect. Mazarin tried to open negotia-
tions without recognizing the Commonwealth. The
Council of State haughtily ordered his envoy to quit
the country. At last, like an Italian statesman, he
waived prejudice and recognized. The Commonwealth
of England was formally admitted among the powers. i652

So far the Council of State did well. It did far from
well in going to war with Holland. In its breast had
arisen a wild design, if not of an incorporating union of
the two protestant republics, at least of an impracticably
close alliance, and inadmissible demands had been made
upon the Dutch for expulsion of royalist exiles and for the
proscription of the House of Orange as dynastic and con-
nected with the English dynasty. The Navigation Act, i65i
forbidding importation in any but English bottoms, was a
measure passed by the English parliament in accordance
with the protectionist policy of that day, to oust the
Dutch from the carrying trade. With this, the Dutch
put up, but they could not put up with the arrogant
assertion of English supremacy in the narrow seas, or
with the seizure of Dutch vessels having, or suspected of
having, enemies' goods on board. There was a series of
obstinate and bloody battles with general victory to
England, with ruin to the Dutch, who had a great mer-
chant and fishing marine to be cut up while the merchant
marine of England was small. On the Dutch side
Tromp was the hero ; on the English, Blake, who, a
VOL. 1 — 38


student till he was twenty-eight, then a politician, after-
wards distinguished as a soldier, took command at sea,
like the amphibious warriors of those days, when he was
fifty, and became the naval glory of England, if not
the founder of her naval tactics. Miserably the two free
and protestant commonwealths, which ought to have been
the fastest allies, spent their forces and the blood of their
seamen in mutual havoc. In the naval administration,
which was good. Vane had the principal hand.

It was probably about this time that Cromwell held a
conference, reported by Whitelock, with some leading
soldiers and lawyers about the settlement of the constitu-
tion. The soldiers were for a republic, but the lawyers
were unable to see how law could exist without the mon-
archy, with which all their legal formularies were bound
up. Whitelock, if he tells the truth, suggested the res-
toration of the Stuart family. To the restoration of the
Stuart family, the head of which had then a price set
upon his head, Cromwell would not listen. He abhorred
Charles as a profligate, apart from political grounds. Be-
tween monarchy and republic he seems, outw^ardly at
least, to have wavered, with an inclination to monarchy.
If he thought of monarchy, he must have thought of
the king ; and if he thought of the king, of whom can
he have thought but himself?

The Long Parliament, now dubbed, by a name fatal to
its majesty, the Rump, had not only by the death of the
king who had called it and the suppression of one of its
two Houses lost its original and constitutional character,
but by exclusions, purges, and military coercion it had
lost the character of a representative assembly. It con-
sisted of little more than a hundred members, only about


half of whom took an active share. It was nothing but
the revolutionary organ of a dominant party. At the
same time there could be no doubt that, minded as the
country still was, a free election, even if the Cavaliers, or
Malignants as they were called, should be excluded,
would result in the overthrow of the regicidal government
and in the ruin of the cause. Milton, at a later period,
advised the republican members frankly to discard the
name and the form of a parliament, to constitute them-
selves the standing council of the nation, with the proper
machinery, in the way of partial renovations at stated
intervals, for keeping touch with the people, and in that
character openly to take upon themselves the government
of the country. On the other hand, after Dunbar and
Worcester, the time might seem to Cromwell to have
come for closing the civil war, for broadening the basis of
government and making it once more national, for am-
nesty, for reconciliation, for putting an end to the fines and
confiscations which were the sinister budget of revolution-
ary finance, and in the levying of which, as well as in
the general confusion of the financial administration, there
were opportunities for corruption, of which the members
of the parliament were believed, and one of them, at
least, was proved, to have taken advantage. Our great
historian of the period has quoted from Mazarin's envoy,
Croulle, a testimony to the virtues ^)f those who ruled
the Commonwealth. " Not only are they powerful," says
Croulle, " by sea and land, but they live without osten-
tation, without pomp, without emulation of one another.
They are economical in their private expenses and prodi-
gal in their devotion to public affairs, for which each one
toils as if for his private interests. They handle large


sums of money which they administer honestly, observ-
ing a severe discipline. They reward well and punish
severely." This perhaps may be taken as a general pict-
ure, but cannot be taken as wholly true. When supreme
power and supreme command of pelf are in the hands of
political and religious party, hypocrisy and with it knav-
ery are too sure to abound. With their Dutch war
Parliament and its Council of State had greatly added to
financial embarrassment, terrible enough before, and had
been driven to fresh confiscations. They had sold the
royal gallery of paintings and had resolved to sell the
cathedrals. Cromwell, with all his officers in the army at
his back, called for dissolution and a new election. But
the parliament shrank from the abyss over which it was
suspended, dallied with the terrible question, fixed a dis-
tant day for dissolution, and then proposed practically to
perpetuate itself by confirming all its existing members
in their seats and submitting the new elections to their

As parliament would not depart of its own accord,
Cromwell resolved to turn it out. Whether that resolve
was dictated by patriotism or ambition, whether it was
necessary and politic or not, the mode of carrying it into
execution could hardly have been worse. Policy and
right feeling alike required that the general of the parlia-
ment should treat with as much forbearance and respect
as the momentous step which he was taking permitted,
the assembly which he had served and the men with
whom he had acted. Cromwell went down to the House,
1653 listened for some time to the debate on dissolution, then
rose to speak, and after opening in a strain of compli-
ment, suddenly turned to invective, denounced the House,


and proclaimed that its sittings must end. He then called
in soldiers, bade them " take away that bauble," the mace,
forced the Speaker from the chair, drove out the mem-
bers, and closed the doors. At some of the members,
Vane and Marten among them, he hurled personal in-
sults. All of them he exposed to the derision of the
common enemy, who chalked upon the door of the assem-
bly "House to Let Unfurnished." If Cromwell had not
lost his head, which was unlikely, he had felt misgivings,
and to drown them had worked himself into a passion
which had carried him too far. A dignified protest from
Bradshaw and a number of the expelled members was the
first fruit of the ignominious expulsion. The deadly en-
mity of men still powerful was its further result. No
explosion of public feeling, however, followed the dissolu-
tion of the Long Parliament ; that assembly after all its
achievements seems to have departed amidst general in-
difference, if not amidst general contempt. For this its
loss of a constitutional character will hardly account.
There must have been suspicions of self-seeking and of
corruption, for which the fining of Malignants, the seques-
tration of their estates, and the sale of all the crown
and church lands, would afford opportunities difficult to



Olivkr Cromwell Proclaimed Lord Protector 1653; Richard Crom-
well Deposed 1659

"VrOTHING was now left but Cromwell, with the army,
a political army it is always to be remembered, as the
basis of his authority. He had no love of sabre sway.
Like Caesar, unlike Napoleon, he had been a politician
before he was a soldier and he had always shown himself
loyal in principle to the supremacy of the civil power.

His aim may fairly be said to have been, after closing
the wounds of the civil war by amnesty, to re-settle the
government on a broad national basis, in accordance with
the habits and traditions of the people, securing to the
nation at the same time the substantial objects, religious
and political, the religious objects above all, for which the
civil sword had been drawn. From the conference which
he held at the critical moment with leading men, soldiers,
and lawyers, to take the soundings of opinion as to the
settlement of the constitution, it appears that his own
leaning was in favour of something monarchical, whether
with the old or with a new name. How far in this he was
listening to the promptings of his own ambition is a
question which must, once more, be left unanswered. His
ambition at all events was in unison with the habits and



traditions of the bulk of the nation, as at the Restoration
appeared. In any case he was not guilty of apostasy.
He had drawn his sword in a religious cause with
which the cause of civil liberty was identified, and had
never proclaimed himself a republican, though he had
republicans among his brethren in arms and had, no doubt,
listened to them with sympathy and perhaps flattered their
aspirations. He had evidently been willing to restore the
king if the king could have been effectually bound to
mend his ways. That Cromwell was still true to liberty,
Milton, no bad judge, must have been convinced when he
wrote his sonnet. While he knew that Cromwell had
suffered detraction, over which, as over his enemies in
war, he hails him triumphant, he beckons him on to
victories of peace and to the rescue of free conscience, of
which he regards him as the hope.

Cromwell's ambition has been often contrasted with the
moderation of Washington. The two cases are not
parallel. The American revolution was not, like the
English revolution, in the full sense of the term, a civil
war. It was mainly a struggle against an external power.
This unites rather than divides the struggling com-
munity. Cromwell said truly that in England there was
need of a constable to restore order. There was compara-
tively little need of a constable in America.

The true view of Cromwell's character is that which
represents him as raised from step to step by circumstance
without far-reaching ambition or settled plan. The " war's
and fortune's son" had "marched on" as war and its
fortune led him. He rather dealt decisively with events
as they came than tried either to control or forecast their
course. He even seems, from his conduct with regard to


the execution of the king and the ejection of the Long
Parliament, to have been capable of an impulsive

It was a wild state of agitation, political and reli-
gious, over which the baton of the constable was waved.
Fifth monarchy men, such as Harrison, were calling for
the reign of the saints. Presbyterians were still struggling
to impose their intolerant theocracy. Fox and . his
Quakers were, in the name of their inner light, invading
steeple-houses, railing at ministers, and preaching naked
in the streets. Antinomians were teaching that sin in the
children of grace was no sin. Levellers like Lilburne
were clamouring for a direct government by the people,
which would have led the nation through anarchy
back to the Stuarts. Communists were demanding a
common ownership of land. Royalists, incensed by con-
fiscation and proscription, formed a standing conspiracy
against the government. Anti-Trinitarians were attack-
ing the Trinity, and Trinitarians were wanting to per-
secute them. Thomas Hobbes, looking on, was inspired
with the idea of his "Leviathan," a brazen despotism
which should impose peace upon the savage beasts by
absolute extinction of liberty, religious as well as political,
leaving no freedom anywhere except in the secret sanc-
tuary of thought.

To transfer the government from a party to a national
basis on the morrow of the civil war and with the passions
of the war still glowing was an arduous task. In under-
taking it Cromwell had against him his personal position
as the chief of a party, or of something narrower than a
party; for the republicans would be opposed to him and
he had increased their estrangement by the insulting vio-


lence with which he had turned out the Long Parliament.
He had against him all the envies and jealousies which
beset a new man raised above his fellows. He had against
him the hatred, strong in a constitutional nation, of mili-
tary government, to which for the time he was driven, as
well as the unpopularity of the taxation which maintenance
of a standing army involved. He had against him the
odium of regicide, which in the eyes of royalists exposed
him to assassination as well as to rebellion, and in the
eyes even of such a royalist as Clarendon made killing no
murder. For him, he had the desire of peace and of a
return to settled industry, which was sure to be strong in
the nation at large ; the negative good will of the van-
quished to whom he held out amnesty ; the divisions
among his opponents, which were such that it was scarcely
possible for them to act in concert. He had his own
supreme ability, a temperament which never kne\V- despair,
a fortitude sustained, it cannot be doubted, by strong and
sincere religion, a knowledge of men gained by the widest
experience both at the council board and the camp-fire
side. The army, though adverse in sentiment to anything
like a restoration of monarchy, was bound to its chief by
the spell of victory, and so long as it obeyed him his
government could not be overturned.

From civil war to law and liberty a nation cannot pass
at a bound. There must be an interval during which the
new government will need to be upheld partly by force.
Cromwell saw the limits of political necessity. "When
matters of necessity come," he said, "then without guilt
extraordinary remedies may be applied, but if necessity be
pretended there is so much the more sin." He does not
seem to have swerved much from this rule.


" But thou, the War's and Fortune's son,
March indefatigably on; .
And for the last effect,
Still keep the sword erect.

" Beside the force it has to fright
The spirits of the shady night,
The same arts that did gain
A power, must it maintain."

Had Andrew Marvell qualified the last words so as to
limit them to the transition, these lines would have been

Cromwell's first step, after turning out the Parliament,
showed that his object was not military despotism. It
was taken by him expressly "to divest the sword of all
power in the civil administration.'' In concert with a
council of officers which he had formed for himself he
1653 called a convention consisting of a hundred and forty
Puritan nobles, a hundred and twenty-nine of them cho-
sen from different counties of England and Wales on the
recommendation of the local Puritan churches, with five
to represent Scotland and six to represent Ireland ; and
put the state for re-settlement into its hands. The quali-
fication being religious and moral, though politicians and
soldiers who had little of the saint about them were in-
cluded, the measure may be regarded as a very cautious
trial of the scheme of government by the saints.

This assembly seems to have been fairly composed so
far as the narrow exigencies of party would permit, and
entirely respectable, though from Praise- God Barbone,
one of its leading members, scoffers nicknamed it the
Barebones Parliament. Nor is there any reason for
supposing that Cromwell's object in calling it was other


than he proposed. The design ascribed to him of dis-
crediting, by an exhibition of their fanaticism and incom-
petence, the leading men of a party which he meant to
betray, was too deep even for so profound a plotter as
Cromwell was imagined by his enemies to be.

The Little Parliament, as it is more respectfully called,
went to work in a way which shows that it was no mere
assembly of wild enthusiasts clearing the way by the
destruction of law, learning, and civil society for a reign
of the saints. It organized itself in eleven committees ;
for the reform of the law ; for the reform of the prisons ;
for the reform of the finances and the lightening of the
taxes ; for Ireland ; for Scotland ; for the army ; for
petitions ; for public debts ; for the regulation of commis-
sions of the peace, and the reform of the poor law ; for the
advancement of trade ; for the advancement of learning.
Among its proceedings we find measures for the care of
lunatics and idiots, for the regular performance of. mar-
riages, and the registration of births and deaths, for
probate of wills in all counties, and for law reforms. The
law reforms pointed not only to a speedier and cheaper
administration of justice but to the preparation of a
simple and intelligible code of law. This is a programme
of modern and now approved legislation. But the Lit-
tle Parliament lacked both authority and prudence for
the settlement of the nation. It appears that the as-
sembly was pretty equally divided between two parties,
radical and conservative ; that the radical party had
slightly the majority and wished to go further and faster
than Cromwell desired or circumstances would bear. No
one could be more bent than Cromwell on rational re-
form of the law. But he did not dream of the law of


Moses, and he had to keep terms with a powerful pro-
fession. Although the court of chancery cried aloud for
reform, total abolition was too much as a first step.
That, however, which probably determined Cromwell
to bring the sittings of the Little Parliament to a
close was a vote which showed that the majority was in
favour of abolishing public provision for the clergy and
thus putting an end to the existence of a national church.
Cromwell had convinced himself that a national church,
with a public provision for its clergy, was essential to the
maintenance and propagation of the Gospel, the objects
always foremost in his mind, while he was ready for
the largest toleration and the most drastic measure of
1653 church reform. The Little Parliament was dismissed
with decency under the appearance of dissolving itself.
Cromwell seems to have become conscious of the mistake
which he had made in his manner of turning out the
Long Parliament, for in his first speech to the Little
Parliament he apologized for the act. " I speak here, in
the presence of some that were at the closure of our con-
sultations, and, as before the Lord — the thinking of an
act of violence was to us worse than any battle that ever
we were in or that could be, to the utmost hazard of our
lives ; so willing were we, even very tender and desirous,
if possible, that these men might quit their places with

Our accounts of these events are imperfect, and mystery
hangs over the episode of the Barebones Parliament.
With what special object was this assembly summoned ?
Was it permanently to take the place of the national leg-
islature ? For this it was manifestly unfit. Was it in-
tended to frame a constitution ? So the writ summoning


it seems to import, yet to this work it never put its hand.
It may have been an experiment pressed on Cromwell by
the council of officers, of whom Harrison was one, rather
than the offspring of his own policy. At all events the
reign of the saints had been tried in the most guarded
manner and had failed.

Cromwell's council of soldiers and civilians now pro-
ceeded in the light of the political discussions which had
been going on, and of which Ireton's Agreement of the
People was the most notable outcome, to frame a consti-
tution for the Commonwealth of England, Ireland, and 1653
Scotland. Cromwell protests that he was not privy to
the consultations, but the result clearly bears the im-
press of his mind. The Instrument of Government is the
first written constitution for a nation of modern times,
the only written constitution which England has ever
had. It may still deserve study at a time when popular,
party, and demagogic government appears to be every-
where on its trial. In contrast at once to Harrison's
reign of the saints, and to Lilburne's government by the
people, the Instrument follows the main lines of the old
constitution, substituting, though perhaps provisionally,
the elective for the hereditary headship.

In place of the king the chief of the executive is a Pro-
tector, to be elected for life by the council of state, which

Online LibraryGoldwin SmithThe United kingdom; a political history → online text (page 43 of 84)