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had still a portion of the Lord's work to do and must
be foremost in its doing.

Walking one November day (1652) in St. James's
Park, he sought a con\ersation with Whitelocke. who,
better than any of these about him. represented the solid
prose of the national mind. Cromwell opened to hmi


the dangers with which their jars and animosities beset
the cause. Whitelocke boldly told him that the peril
sprang from the imperious temper of the army.
Cromwell retorted that on the contrary it sprang rather
from the members of Parliament, who irritated the
army by their self-seeking and greediness, their spirit
of faction, their delay in the public business, their de-
sign for prolonging their own power, their meddling in
private matters between party and party that ought to
have been left to the law-courts. The lives of some of
them were scandalous, he said. They were irrespon-
sible and uncontrolled; what was wanted was some
authority high enough to check all these exorbitances.
Without that nothing in human reason could prevent
the ruin of the Commonwealth. To this invective,
not devoid of substance but deeply colored by the sol-
dier's impatience of a salutary slowness in human
affairs, Whitelocke replied by pressing the constitu-
tional difficulty of curbing the Parliamentary power
from which they themselves derived their own author-
ity. Cromwell broke in upon him with the startling
exclamation — "What if a man should take upon him to
be king?" The obstacles in the path were plain enough,
and the lawyer set them before Cromwell without
flinching. For a short time longer the lord-general
said and did no more, but he and the army watched
the Parliament with growing suspicion and ill will.
A military revolution became every day more



THE military revolution of 1653 is the next tall
landmark after the execution of the king. It is
almost a commonplace, that "we do not know what
party means, if we suppose that its leader is its mas-
ter"; and the real extent of Cromwell's power over the
army is hard to measure. In the spring of 1647, ^vhen
the first violent breach between army and Parlia-
ment took place, the extremists swept him off his feet.
Then he acquiesced in Pride's Purge, but he did not
originate it. In the action that preceded the trial and
despatching of the king, it seems to have been Harri-
son who took the leading part. In 1653 Cromwell
said : "Major-General Harrison is an honest man, and
aims at good things ; yet from the impatience of his
spirit, he will not wait the Lord's leisure, but hurries
one into that which he and all honest men will have
cause to repent." If we remember how hard it is to
fathom decisive passages in the historyof our own time,
we see how much of that which we would most gladly
know in the distant past must ever remain a surmise.
But the best opinion in respect of the revolution of
April, 1653, seems to be that the Royalists were not
wrong who wrote that Cromwell's authority in the
army depended much on Harrison and Lambert and
their fanatical factions; that he was forced to go with



them in order to save himself; and that he was the
member of the triumvirate who was most anxious to
wait the Lord's leisure yet a while longer.

The immediate plea for the act of violence that now
followed is as obscure as any other of Cromwell's pro-
ceedings. In the closing months of 1652 he once more
procured occasions of conference between himself and
his officers on the one hand, and members of Parlia-
ment on the other. He besought the Parliament men
by their own means to bring forth of their own accord
the good things that had been promised and were so
long expected — "so tender w^ere we to preserve them
in the reputation of the people." The list of ''good
things" demanded by the army in the autumn of 1652
hardly supports the modern exaltation of the army as
the seat of political sagacity. The payment of arrears,
the suppression of vagabonds, the provision of work
for the poor, were objects easy to ask, but impossible
to achieve. The request for a new election was the
least sensible of all.

When it was known that the army was again wait-
ing on God and confessing its sinfulness, things were
felt to look grave. Seeing the agitation, the Parlia-
ment applied themselves in earnest to frame a scheme
for a new representative body. The army believed
that the scheme was a sham, and that the semblance of
giving the people a real right of choice was only to
fill up vacant seats by such persons as the House now
in possession should approve. This was nothing less
than to perpetuate themselves indefinitely. Cromwell
and the officers had a scheme of their ow^n; that the
Parliament should name a certain number of men of
the right sort, and these nominees should build a con-
stitution. The Parliament in other words w'as to ab-
dicate after calling a constituent convention. On April


19th a meeting- took place in Oliver's apartment at
Whitehall with a score of the more important members
of Parliament. There the plan of the officers and the
rival plan of Vane and his friends were brought face to
face. What the exact scheme of the Parliament was,
we cannot accurately tell, and we are never likely to
know. Cromwell's own descriptions of it are vague
and unintelligible. The bill itself he carried away
with him under his cloak when the evil day came, and
no copy of it survived. It appears, however, that in
X^ane's belief the best device for a provisional govern-
ment — and no other than a provisional government
was then possible — was that the Remnant should con-
tinue to sit, the men who fought the deadly battles at
Westminster in 1647 ^"cl 1648, the men who had
founded the Commonwealth in 1649, ^he men who had
carried on its work with extraordinary energy and suc-
cess for four years and more. These were to continue
t(j sit as a nucleus for a full representative : joining to
themselves such new men from the constituencies as
they thought not likely to betray the Cause. On the
whole we may believe that this was perhaps the least
unpromising way out of difficulties where nothing was
\-ery promising. It w^as to avoid the most fatal of all
the errors of the French Constituent, which excluded
all its members from office and from seats in the Legis-
lative Assembly to whose inexperienced hands it was
entrusting the government of France. To blame its
authors for fettering the popular choice was absurd in
Cromwell, w^hose own proposal instead of a legislature
to be partially and periodically renewed (if that was
really what Vane meant), was now for a nominated
council without any element of popular choice at all.
The army, we should not forget, were even less pre-
pared than the Parliament for anything like a free



and open general election. Both alike intended to re-
serve Parliamentary representation exclusively to such
as were godly men and faithful to the interests of the
Commonwealth. An open general election would have
been as hazardous and probably as disastrous now
as at any moment since the defeat of King Charles in
the field; and a real appeal to the country would only
have meant ruin to the Good Cause. Neither Crom-
well, nor Lambert, nor Harrison, nor any of them,
dreamed that a Parliament to be chosen without restric-
tions would be a safe experiment. The only questions
were what the restrictions were to be ; who was to im-
pose them : who was to guard and supervise them. The
Parliamentary Remnant regarded themselves as the
fittest custodians, and it is hard to say that they were
wrong. In judging these events of 1653 we must
look forward to events three years later. Cromwell
had a Parliament of his own in 1654; it consisted of
four hundred and sixty members ; almost his first step
was to prevent more than a hundred of them from
taking their seats. He may have been right ; but why
was the Parliament wrong for acting on the same
principle? He had another Parliament in 1656, and
again he began by shutting out nearly a hundred of its
elected members. AMien the army cried for a dissolu-
tion, they had no ideas as to the Parliament that was
to follow. At least this much is certain, that what-
ever failure might have overtaken the plan of Vane
and the Parliament, it could not have been more
complete than the failure that overtook the plan of

Apart from the question of the constitution of Par-
liament, and perhaps regarding that as secondary,
Cromwell quarreled with what, rightly or wrongly, he
describes as the ultimate ideal of V^ane and his friends.



We should have had fine work, he said four years later
— a Council of State and a Parliament of four hundred
men executing arbitrary government, and continuing
the existing usurpation of the duties of the law-courts
by legislature and executive. Undoubtedly "a horrid
degree of arbitrariness" was practised by the Rump,
but some allowance was to be made for a government
in revolution ; and if that plea be not good for the Par-
liament, one knows not why it should be good for the
no less "horrid arbitrariness" of the Protector. As for
the general character of the constitution here said to be
contemplated by the Remnant, it has been compared to
the French Convention of 1793; but a less odious and
a truer parallel would be with the Swiss Confederacy
to-day. However this may be, if dictatorship was in-
dispensable, the dictatorship of an energetic Parlia-
mentary oligarchy was at least as hopeful as that of an
oligarchy of soldiers. When the soldiers had tried their
hands and failed, it was to some such plan as this that,
after years of turmoil and vicissitude, Milton turned.
At worst it was no plan that either required or justified
violent deposition by a file of troopers.

The conference in Cromwell's apartments at White-
hall on April 19th was instantly followed by one of
those violent outrages for which we have to find a name
in the dialect of continental revolution. It had been
agreed that the discussion should be resumed the next
day, and meanwhile that nothing should be done with
the bill in Parliament. \Mien the next morning came,
news was brought to \\'hitehall that the members had
already assembled, were pushing the bill through at
full speed, and that it was on the point of becoming
law forthwith. At first Cromwell and the officers could
not believe that Vane and his friends were capable of
such a breach of their word. Soon there came a


second messenger and a third, with assurance that the
tidings were true, and that not a moment was to be
lost if the bill was to be prevented from passing. It is
perfectly possible that there was no breach of word at
all. The Parliamentary probabilities are that the news
of the conference excited the jealousy of the private
members, as arrangements between front benches are
at all times apt to do, that they took the business into
their own hands, and that the leaders were powerless.
In astonishment and anger Cromwell, in no more cere-
monial apparel than his plain black clothes and grey
worsted stockings, hastened to the House of Commons.
He ordered a guard of soldiers to go with him. That
he rose that morning with the intention of following
the counsels that the impatience of the army had long
prompted, and finally completing the series of exclu-
sions, mutilations, and purges by breaking up the Par-
liament altogether, there is no reason to believe. Long
premeditation was never Cromwell's way. He waited
for the indwelling voice, and more than once, in the
rough tempests of his life, that demoniac voice was a
blast of coarse and uncontrolled fury. Hence came
one of the most memorable scenes of English history.
There is a certain discord as to details among our too
scanty authorities — some even describing the fatal
transaction as passing with much modesty and as
little noise as can be imagined. The description de-
rived by Ludlow who was not present, from Harrison
who was, gathers up all that seems material. There
appear to haxe been between fifty and sixty members

Cromwell sat down and heard the debate for some time.
Then, calling to Major-General Harrison, who was on the
other side of the House, to come to him, he told him that he


judged the Parliament ripe for a dissolution and this to be the
time for doing it. The major-general answered, as he since
told me, "Sir, the work is very great and dangerous: there-
fore I desire you seriously to consider of it before you engage
in it." " You say luell^' replied the general, and thereupon
sat still for about a quarter of an hour. Then, the question
for passing the bill being to be put, he said to Major-General
Harrison — "77/w is the time : I must do it" and suddenly
standing up, made a speech, wherein he loaded the Parlia-
ment with the vilest reproaches, charging them not to have a
heart to do anything for the public good, to have espoused
the corrupt interest of presbytery and the lawyers, who were
the supporters of tyranny and oppression — accusing them of
an intention to perpetuate themselves in power; had they not
been forced to the passing of this Act, which he affirmed they
designed never to observe, and thereupon told them that the
Lord has done with them, and had chosen other instruments
for the carrying on his work that were more worthy. This he
spoke with so much passion and discomposure of mind as if
he had been distracted. Sir Peter Wentworth stood up to
answer him, and said that this was the first time that ever he
heard such unbecoming language given to the Parliament,
and that it was the more horrid in that it came from their ser-
vant, and their servant whom they had so highly trusted and
obliged. But, as he was going on, the general stepped into
the midst of the House, where, continuing his distracted lan-
guage, he said — '■'•Come, come : I will put an end to your prat-
ing.^'' Then, walking up and down the House like a mad-
man, and kicking the ground with his feet, he cried out, " You
are no Parliament ; I say you are no Parliament ; I will put
an end to your sitting ; call them in, call them in.''' Where-
upon the sergeant attending the Parliament opened the doors;
and Lieutenant- Colonel Wolseley, with two files of muske-
teers, entered the House; which Sir Henry Vane observing
from his place said aloud, "This is not honest; yea, it is
against morahty and common honesty." Then Cromwell fell


a-railing at him, crying out with a loud voice — ''Oh, Sir Henry
Vane, Sir Henry Vane, the Lord deliver me from Sir Henry
Vane J " Then, looking to one of the members, he said :
"There sits a drunkard" . . . ; and, giving much reviling
language to others, he commanded the mace to be taken
away, saying, " What shall we do with this bauble ? There,
take it away." He having brought all into this disorder,
Major-General Harrison went to the Speaker as he sat in the
chair, and told him that, seeing things were reduced to this
pass, it would not be convenient for him to remain there.
The Speaker answered that he would not come down unless
he were forced. " Sir," said Harrison, " I will lend you my
hand; and thereupon, putting his hand within his, the
Speaker came down. Then Cromwell applied himself to the
members of the House . . . and said to them : " // is you that
have forced me to this, for I have sought the Lord night and
day that He would rather slay me than put me on the doing of
this work I " [Then] Cromwell . . . ordered the House to be
cleared of all the members . . . ; after which he went to the
clerk, and snatching the Act of Dissolution, which was ready
to pass, out of his hand, he put it under his cloak, and, having
commanded the doors to be locked up, went away to

The fierce work was consummated in the afternoon.
Cromwell heard that the Council of State, the creation
of the destroyed legislature, was sitting as usual.
Thither he repaired with Lambert and Harrison by his
side. He seems to have recovered composure. "If
you are met here as private persons," Cromwell said,
"you shall not be disturbed; but if as a Council of
State, this is no place for you; and since you cannot
btit know what was done at the House in the morning,
so take notice that the Parliament is dissolved."
Bradshaw, who was in the chair, was not cowed. He
had not quailed before a more dread scene with


Charles four years ago. "Sir," he replied, "we have
heard what you did at the House in the morning, and
before many hours all England will hear it; but, sir,
you are mistaken to think that the Parliament is dis-
solved ; for no power under heaven can dissolve them
but themselves; therefore take you notice of that."

Whatever else is to be said, it is well to remember
that to condemn the Rump is to go a long way to-
ward condemning the revolution. To justify Crom-
well's violence in breaking it up, is to go a long way
toward justifying Hyde and even Strafford. If the
Commons had really sunk into the condition described
by Oliver in his passion, such ignominy showed that
the classes represented by it were really incompetent,
as men like Strafford had always deliberately believed,
to take that supreme share in governing the country
for which Pym and his generation of reformers had so
manfully contended. For the Remnant was the quin-
tessence left after a long series of elaborate distilla-
tions. They were not Presbyterians, moderates, re-
spectables, bourgeois, pedants, Girondins. They, or
the great majority of them, were the men who had re-
sisted a continuance of the negotiations at Newport.
They had made themselves accomplices in Pride's
Purge. They had ordered the trial of the king. They
had set up the Commonwealth without lords or mon-
arch. They were deep in all the proceedings of Crom-
wellian Thorough. They were the very cream after
purification upon purification. If they could not gov-
ern who could ?

We have seen the harsh complaints of Cromwell
against the Parliament in 1652, how selfish its members
were, how ready to break into factions, how slow in
business, how scandalous the lives of some of them.
Yet this seems little better than the impatient indict-


ment of the soldier, if we remember how only a few
months before the French agent had told Mazarin of
the new rulers of the Commonwealth : "Not only were
they powerful by sea and land, but they live without
ostentation. . . . They were economical in their
private expenses, and prodigal in their devotion to pub-
lic affairs, for which each one toils as if for his personal
interests. They handle large sums of money, which
they administer honestly." We cannot suppose that
two years had transformed such men into the guilty ob-
jects of Cromwell's censorious attack. Cromwell ad-
mitted, after he had violently broken them up, that there
W'Cre persons of honor and integrity among them, who
had eminently appeared for God and for the public
good both before and throughout the war. It would in
truth have been ludicrous to say otherwise of a body
that contained patriots so unblemished in fidelity, en-
ergy, and capacity as Vane, Scot, Bradshaw, and
others. Nor is there any good reason to believe that
these men of honor and integrity were a hopeless
minority. We need not indeed suppose that the Rump
was without time-servers. Perhaps no deliberative as-
sembly in the world ever is without them, for time-
serving has its roots in human nature. The question is
what proportion the time-servers bore to the whole.
There is no sign that it was large. But whether large
or small, to deal with time-servers is part, and no in-
considerable part, of the statesman's business, and it
is hard to see how with this poor breed Oliver could
have dealt worse.

Again, in breaking up the Parliament he committed
what in modern politics is counted the inexpiable sin
of breaking up his party. This was the gravest of all.
This was what made the revolution of 1653 a turning-
point. The Presbyterians hated him as the great-


est of Independents. He had already set a deep gulf
between himself and the Royalists of every shade by
killing the king. To the enmity of the legitimists of
a dynasty was now added the enmity of the legitimists
of Parliament. By destroying the Parliamentary
Remnant he set a new gulf between himself and most
of the best men on his own side. Where was the
policy ? What foundations had he left himself to build
upon? What was his calculation, or had he no calcu-
lation, of forces, circumstances, individuals, for the
step that was to come next? When he stamped in
wrath out of the desecrated House had he ever firmly
counted the cost? Or was he in truth as improvident
as King Charles had been when he, too, marched down
the same floor eleven years ago? In one sense his
own creed erected improvidence into a principle. "Own
your call," he says to the first of his own Parliaments,
"for it is marvelous, and it hath been unprojected. It 's
not long since either you or we came to know of it.
And indeed this hath been the way God dealt with us
all along. To keep things from our own eyes all
along, so that we have seen nothing in all his dispen-
sations long beforehand." And there is the famous
saying of his, that "he goes furthest who knows not
where he is going" — of which Retz said that it
showed Cromwell to be a simpleton. We may at least
admit the peril of a helmsman who does not forecast
his course.

It is true that the situation was a revolutionary one,
and the Remnant was no more a legal Parliament than
Cromwell was legal monarch. The constitution had
long vanished from the stage. From the day in May,
1641, when the king had assented to the bill making a
dissolution depend on the will of Parliament, down to
the days in March, 1649, ^vhen the mutilated Commons


abolished the House of Lords and the office of a king,
story after story of the constitutional fabric had come
crashing to the ground. The Rump alone was left to
stand for the old tradition of Parliament and it was
still clothed, even in the minds of those who were most
querulous about its present failure of performance,
with a host of venerated associations — the same asso-
ciations that had lifted up men's hearts all through the
fierce tumults of civil war. The rude destruction of
the Parliament gave men a shock that awakened in
some of them angry distrust of Cromwell, in others a
broad resentment at the overthrow of the noblest of ex-
periments, and in the largest class of all, deep misgiv-
ings as to the past, silent self-cpestioning whether the
whole movement since 1641 had not been a grave and
terrible mistake.

Guizot truly says of Cromwell that he was one of
the men who know that even the best course in political
action always has its drawbacks, and who accept, with-
out flinching, the difficulties that might be laid upon
them by their own decisions. This time, however, the
day was not long in coming when Oliver saw reason
to look back with regret upon those whom he now
handled with such impetuous severity. When he
quarreled with the first Parliament of his protectorate,
less than two years hence, he used his old foes, if foes
they were, for a topic of reproach against his new ones.
"I will say this on behalf of the Long Parliament,
that had such an expedient as this government [the
Instrument] been proposed to them; and could they
have seen the cause of God provided for ; and been by
debates enlightened in the grounds of it, whereby the
difficulties might have been cleared to them, and the
reason of the whole enforced, and the circumstances of
time and persons, with the temper and disposition of


the people, and affairs both abroad and at home might
have been well weighed, I think in my conscience —
well as they were thought to love their seats — they
would have proceeded in another manner than you have
done." To cut off in a fit of passion the chance of
such a thing was a false step that he was never able
to retrieve.




CROMWELL was now the one authority left stand-
ing. "By Act of ParHament," he said, "I was
general of all the forces in the three nations of Eng-
land, Scotland, and Ireland ; the authority I had in my

Online LibraryJohn MorleyOliver Cromwell → online text (page 24 of 35)