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hand being so boundless as it was." This unlimited
condition both displeased his judgment and pricked his
conscience; he protested that he did not desire to live
in it for a single day ; and his protest was sincere. Yet
in fact few were the days during the five years and a
half from the breaking of the Parliament to his death,
when the green withes of a constitution could bind the
arms of this heroic Samson. We have seen how, in the
distant times when Charles I was prisoner at Caris-
brooke, Cromwell, not without a visible qualm, had
brought to bear upon the scruples of Robert Hammond
the doctrine of the People's Safety being the Supreme
Law. Alas, Salus Populi is the daily bread of revolu-
tions. It was the foundation, and the only founda-
tion, of the Cromwellian dictatorship in all its chang-
ing phases.

After the rude dispersion of the Long Parliament
next came the Reign of the Saints. No experiment
could have worked worse. Here is Cromwell's rueful
admission. "Truly I will now come and tell you a
story of my own weakness and folly. And yet it was


done in my simplicity, I dare avow it. It was thought
then that men of our judgment, who had fought in
the wars and were all of a piece upon that account,
surely these men will hit it, and these men will do it to
the purpose, whatever can be desired. And truly we
did think, and I did think so, the more blame to me.
And such a company of men were chosen, and did pro-
ceed to action. And this was the naked truth, that the
issue was not answerable to the simplicity and honesty
of the design." Such was Oliver's own tale related
four years afterward. The discovery that the vast
and complex task of human government needs more
than spiritual enthusiasm, that to have "very scriptural
notions" is not enough for the reform of stubborn
earthly things, marks yet another stage in Cromwell's
progress. He was no idealist turned cynic — that
mournful spectacle — but a warrior called by heaven, as
he believed, to save civil order and religious freedom,
and it was with this duty hea\'y on his soul that he
watched the working of the scheme that Harrison had
vehemently pressed upon him. As Ranke puts it.
Cromwell viewed his own ideals, not from the point of
subjective satisfaction, but of objective necessity; and
this is one of the marks of the statesman. In the same
philosophic diction, while the fighting men of a polit-
ical party may be wrapped up in the absolute, the
practical leader is bound fast by the relative.

The company of men so chosen constituted what
stands in history as the Little Parliament, or parodied
from the name of one of its members. Barebones' Par-
liament. They were nominated by Cromwell and his
council of officers at their own will and pleasure, helped
by the local knowledge of the Congregational churches
in the country. The writ of summons, reciting how
it was necessary to provide for the peace, safety, and



good government of the Commonwealth, by commit-
ting the trust of such weighty affairs to men with good
assurance of love and courage for the interest of God's
cause, was issued in the name of Oliver Cromwell, cap-
tain-general and commander-in-chief. One hundred
and thirty-nine of these summonses went out, and pres-
ently five other persons were invited by the convention
itself to join, including Cromwell, Lambert, and Har-

One most remarkable feature was the appearance for
the first time of five men to speak for Scotland and six
men for Ireland. This was the earliest formal fore-
shadowing of legislative union. Of the six represen-
tatives of Ireland, four were English ofiicers", including
Henry Cromwell ; and the other two were English by
descent. However devoid of any true representative
quality in a popular sense, and however transient the
plan, yet the presence of delegates sitting in the name
of the two outlying kingdoms in an English govern-
ing assembly, was symbolical of that great consolidat-
ing change in the English State which the political
instinct of the men of the Commonwealth had de-
manded, and the sword of Cromwell had brought
within reach. The policy of incorporation originated in
the Long Parliament. With profound wisdom they
had based their Scottish schemes upon the emancipa-
tion of the common people and small tenants from the
oppression of their lords ; and Vane, St. John, Lambert.
Monk, and others had to put the plan into shape. It
was the curse of Ireland that no such emancipation was
tried there. In Scotland the policy encountered two
of the most powerful forces that affect a civilized so-
ciety, a stubborn sentiment of nationality, and the bit-
ter antagonism of the church. The sword, however,
beat down military resistance, and it was left for the


Instrument of Government in 1653 to adopt the policy
which the men of the Commonweakh had bequeathed
to it.

Though so irregular in their source, the nominees of
the officers were undoubtedly for the most part men of
worth, substance, and standing. Inspired throughout
its course by the enthusiastic Harrison, the conven-
tion is the high-water mark of the biblical politics of
the time, of Puritanism applying itself to legislation
ix)litical construction, and social regeneration. It
hardly deserves to be described as the greatest attempt
ever made in history to found a civil society on the
literal words of Scripture, but it was certainly the
greatest failure of such an attempt. To the Council
Chamber at Whitehall the chosen notables repaired on
the fourth of July (1653), a day destined a century
and more later to be the date of higher things in the
annals of free government. They seated themselves
round the table, and the lord-general stood by the win-
dow near the middle of it. The room was crowded
with officers. Cromwell in his speech made no attempt
to hide the military character of the revolution that
had brought them together. The indenture, he told
them, by which they were constituted the supreme au-
thority, had been drawn up by the advice of the prin-
cipal officers of the army; it was himself and his fellow
officers who had vainly tried to stir up the Parliament ;
he had been their mouthpiece to offer their sense for
them ; it was the army to whom the people had looked,
in their dissatisfaction at the breakdown of Parlia-
mentary performance. Yet the very thinking of an
act of violence was to them worse, he declared, than
any battle that ever they were in, or that could be, to
the utmost hazard of their lives. They felt how bind-
ing it was upon them not to grasp at power for them-


selves, but to divest the sword of all power in the civil
administration. So now God had called this new su-
preme authority to do his work, which had come to
them by wise Providence through weak hands. Such
was his opening story. That Cromwell was deeply
sincere in this intention of divesting the army of
supremacy in civil affairs, and of becoming himself
their servant, there are few who doubt. But we only
vindicate his sincerity at the cost of his sagacity. The
destruction of the old Parliament that had at least
some spark of legislative authority; the alienation of
almost all the stanchest and ablest partizans of the
scheme of a Commonwealth ; the desperate improba-
bility of attracting any large body of members by the
rule of the Saints, all left the new order without moral
or social foundation, and the power of the sword the
only rampart standing.

Meanwhile, Oliver freely surrendered himself to the
spiritual raptures of the hour. 'T confess I never
looked to see such a day as this, when Jesus Christ
should be so owned as he is this day in this work.
God manifests this to be the day of the Power of Christ,
having through so much blood, and so much trial as
hath been upon these nations, made this to be one of
the great issues thereof; to have his people called to
the supreme authority." Text upon text is quoted in
lyric excitement from prophets, psalmists, and apostles.
Old Testament dispensation, and New ; appeals to the
examples of Moses and of Paul, who could wish them-
selves blotted out of God's book for the sake of the
whole people; the verses from James i:bout wisdom
from above being pure and peaceable, -^entle and easy
to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits ; and then
at last the sixty-eighth Psalm with its triumphs so ex-
ceeding high and great.


So far as the speech can be said to have any single
practical note, it is that of Tolerance. ''We should be
pitiful . . . that we may have a respect unto all,
and be pitiful and tender toward all though of differ-
ent judgments. . . . Love all, tender all, cherish
and countenance all, in all things that are good. And
if the poorest Christian, the most mistaken Christian,
shall desire to live peaceably and quietly under you — I
say, if any shall desire but to lead a life of godliness
and honesty, let him be protected." Toleration was
now in Cromwell neither a conclusion drawn out by
logical reason, nor a mere dictate of political expedi-
ency. It flowed from a rich fountain in his heart of
sympathy with men, of kindness for their sore strug-
gles after saving truth, of compassion for their blind
stumbles and mistaken paths.

A few weeks began the dissipation of the dream.
They were all sincere and zealous, but the most zealous
were the worst simpletons. The soldier's jealousy of
civil power, of which Cromwell had made himself the
instrument on the twentieth of April, was a malady
without a cure. The impatience that had grown so
bitter against the old Parliament, soon revived against
the new convention. It was the most unreasonable
because the convention represented the temper and
ideas of the army, such as they were, and the failure
of the convention marks the essential sterility of the
army viewed as a constructive party. Just as it is the
nature of courts of law to amplify the jurisdiction, so
it is the well-known nature of every political assembly
to extend its powers. The moderate or conservative
element seems to have had a small majority in the
usual balance of parties, but the forward men made
up for inferiority in numbers by warmth and assiduity.
The fervor of the forward section in the Parliament


was stimulated by fanaticism out of doors : by cries
that their gold had become dim, the ways of Zion filled
with mourning and a dry wind, but neither to fan nor
to cleanse upon the land : above all by the assurances
of the preachers, that the four monarchies of Nebu-
chadnezzar and Cyrus, of Alexander and Rome, had
each of them passed away, and that the day had come
for the fifth and final monarchy, the Kingdom of Jesus
Christ upon the earth : and this, no mere reign set up
in men's hearts, but a scheme for governing nations
and giving laws for settling liberty, property, and the
foundations of a commonwealth.

The fidelity of the convention to Cromwell was
shown by the unanimous vote that placed him on the
Council of State; but the great dictator kept himself
in the background, and in good faith hoping against
hope he let things take their course. "I am more
troubled now," said he, "with the fool than with the
knave." The new men at once and without leave
took to themselves the name of Parliament. Instead
of carrying on their special business of a constituent
assembly, they set to work with a will at legislation,
and legislation moreover in the high temper of root
and branch, for cursed is he that doeth the work of the
Lord negligently. A bill was run through all its
stages in a single sitting, for the erection of a high
court of justice in cases where a jury could not be
trusted to convict. Ominous language was freely
used upon taxation, and it was evident that the sacred
obligations of supply and the pay of the soldiers and
sailors were in peril. They passed a law requiring that
all good marriages must take place before a justice of
the peace, after due publication of banns in some open
resort sacred or secular. Of the projects of law re-
form inherited from the Long Parliament they made


nonsense. Before they had been a month in session,
they passed a resohition that the Court of Chancery
should be wholly taken away and abolished ; and after
three bills had been brought in and dropped for carry-
ing this resolution into act, they read a second time a
fourth bill for summarily deciding cases then pending,
and arranging that for the future the ordinary suits in
chancery should be promptly despatched at a cost of
from twenty to forty shillings. They set a committee,
without a lawyer upon it, to work on the reduction of
the formless mass of laws, cases, and precedents, to a
code that should be of no greater bigness than a pocket-
book. The power of patrons to present to livings was
taken away, though patronage was as truly property as
land. More vital aspects of the church question fol-
lowed. A committee reported in favor of the appoint-
ment of a body of State Commissioners with power to
eject unfit ministers and fill vacant livings; and what
was a more burning issue, in favor of the maintenance
of tithe as of legal obligation. By a majority of two
(fifty-six against fifty- four) the House disagreed with
the report, and so indicated their intention to abolish
tithe and the endowment of ministers of religion by
the State. This led to the crisis. The effect of pro-
ceedings so singularly ill devised for the settlement of
the nation was to irritate and alarm all the nation's
most powerful elements. The army, the lawyers, the
clergy, the holders of property, all felt themselves at-
tacked; and the lord-general himself perceived, in his
own words afterward, that the issue of this assembly
would have been the subversion of the laws, and of all
the liberties of their nation, the destruction of the min-
isters of the gospel, in short the confusion of all things ;
and instead of order, to set up the judicial law of
Moses, in abrogation of all our administrations. The


design that shone so radiantly five months before had
sunk away in clouds and vain chimera. Nor had the
reign of chimera even brought popularity. Lilburne,
the foe of all government, whether it was inspired by
folly or by common-sense, appeared once more upon the
scene, and he was put upon his trial before a court of
law for offenses of which he had been pronounced
guilty by the Long Parliament. The jury found him
innocent of any crime worthy of death, and the verdict
was received with shouts of joy by the populace. This
was to demonstrate that the government of the Saints
was at least as odious as the government of the dis-
possessed Remnant.

The narrow division on the abolition of tithe con-
vinced everybody that the ship was water-logged.
Sunday, December nth, was passed in the concoction
of devices of bringing the life of the notables to an end.
On Monday the Speaker took the chair at an early
hour, and a motion was promptly made that the sitting
of the Parliament was no longer for the public good
and therefore that they should deliver up to the lord-
general the powers they had received from him. An
attempt to debate was made, but as no time was to be
lost, in case of members arriving in numbers sufficient
to carry a hostile motion, the Speaker rose from his
chair, told the sergeant to shoulder the mace, and fol-
lowed by some forty members who were in the secret
set forth in solemn procession to Whitehall. A minor-
ity kept their seats, until a couple of colonels with a file
of soldiers came to turn them out. According to a
Royalist story, one of the colonels asked them what
they were doing. "We are seeking the Lord," was the
answer. "Then you should go elsewhere," the colonel
replied, "for to my knowledge the Lord has not been
here these twelve years past." We have Cromwell's


words that he knew nothing of this intention to re-
sign. If so, the dismissal of the fragment of the mem-
bers by a handful of troopers on their own author-
ity is strange, and shows the extraordinary pitch that
military manners had reached. Oliver received the
Speaker and his retinue with genuine or feigned sur-
prise, but accepted the burden of power that the ab-
dication of the Parliament had once more laid upon

These proceedings were an open breach with the
Saints, but, as has been justly said (Weingarten), this
circumstance involves no more contradiction between
the Cromwell of the past and the Protector, than there
is contradiction between the Luther who issued in 1520
his flaming manifesto to the Christian nobles of the
German nation, and the Luther that two years later
confronted the misguided men who supposed them-
selves to be carrying out doctrines that they had learned
from him. Puritanism, like the Reformation gener-
ally, was one of those revolts against the leaden
yoke of convention, ordinance, institution, in which,
whether in individuals or in a tidal mass of men, the
human soul soars passionately forth toward new hori-
zons of life and hope. Then the case for convention
returns, the need for institution comes back, the
nature of things will not be hurried nor defied. Re-
actions followed the execution of the king. Painfully
Milton now, five years later, bewailed the fact that the
people with "besotted and degenerate baseness of spirit,
except some few who yet retain in them the old Eng-
lish fortitude and love of freedom, imbastardized from
the ancient nobleness of their ancestors, are ready to
fall flat and give adoration to the image and memory
of this man." These were the two strong floods be-
tween which, in their ebb and flow, Cromwell found


himself caught. His practical eye discerned it all, and
what had happened. Yet this was perhaps the moment
when Cromwell first felt those misgivings of a devout
conscience that inspired the question put by him on
his death-bed, whether it was certain that a man once in
grace must be always in grace.




Book five



"I17HAT are all our histories, cried Cromwell in
VV 1655, what are all our traditions of actions in
former times, but God manifesting himself, that hath
shaken and tumbled down and trampled upon every-
thing that he had not planted. It was not long after
that Bossuet began to work out the same conception
in the glowing literary form of the discourse on uni-
versal history. What was in Bossuet the theme of a
divine, was in Cromwell the life-breath of act, toil,
hope, submission. For him the drama of time is no
stage-play, but an inspired and foreordained dispen-
sation ever unfolding itself "under a waking and all-
searching Eye," and in this high epic England had the
hero's part. "I look at the people of these nations
as the blessing of the Lord," he said, "and they are a
people blessed by God. . . . If I had but a hope
fixed in me that this cause and this business was of
God, I would many years ago have run from it. . . .
But if the Lord take pleasure in England, and if he
will of us good, he is very able to bear us up. . . ."
As England was the home of the Chosen People, so
also he read in all the providences of battle-fields, from



Winceby to Worcester, that he was called to be the
Moses or the Joshua of the new deliverance.

Milton's fervid Latin appeal of this date did but roll
forth in language of his own incomparable splendor,
though in phrases savoring more of Pericles or Roman
stoic than of the Hebrew sacred books, the thoughts
that lived in Cromwell. Milton had been made sec-
retary of the first Council of State almost immediately
after the execution of the king in 1649, ^^'^^ ^^^ was
employed in the same or similar duties until the end of
Cromwell and after. Historic imagination vainly
seeks to picture the personal relations between these
two master-spirits, but no trace remains. They must
sometimes have been in the council chamber together;
but whether they ever interchanged a word we do not
know. When asked for a letter of introduction for a
friend to the English Ambassador in Holland (1657),
Milton excused himself, saying, "I have very little ac-
quaintance with those in power, inasmuch as I keep
very much to my own house, and prefer to do so." A
painter's fancy has depicted Oliver dictating to the
Latin secretary the famous despatches on the slaugh-
tered Saints whose bones lay scattered on the Alpine
mountains cold ; but by then the poet had lost his sight,
and himself probably dictated the English drafts from
Thurloe's instructions, and then turned them into his
own sonorous Latin. He evidently approved the
supersession of the Parliament, though we should re-
member that he includes in all the breadth of his pane-
gyric both Bradshaw and Overton, who as strongly dis-
approved. He bids the new Protector to recall the
aspect and the wounds of that host of valorous men
who with him for a leader had fought so strenuous a
fight for freedom, and to revere their shades. Further
he adjures him to revere himself, that thus the free-

From ihe original miniature by Samuel Cooper at Montagu House,
by permission of the Duke of 13uccleuch.



dom for which he had faced countless perils and borne
such heavy cares, he would never suffer to be either
violated by hand of his or impaired by any other.
"Thou canst not be free if we are not; for it is the law
of nature that he who takes away the liberty of others
is by that act the first himself to lose his own. A
mighty task hast thou undertaken ; it will probe thee to
the core, it will show thee as thou art. thy carriage, thy
force, thy weight ; whether there be truly alive in thee
that piety, fidelity, justice, and moderation of spirit,
for which we believe that God hath exalted thee above
thy fellows. To guide three mighty states by counsel,
to conduct them from institutions of error to a wor-
thier discipline, to extend a provident care to furtherest
shores, to watch, to foresee, to shrink from no toil, to
flee all the empty shows of opulence and power — these
indeed are things so arduous that, compared with them,
war is but as the play of children."

Such is the heroic strain in which the man of high
aerial visions hailed the man with strength of heart
and arm and power of station. This Aliltonian glory
of words marks the high-tide of the advance from the
homely sages of 1640 to the grand though transient
recasting of the fundamental conceptions of national
consciousness and life. The apostle and the soldier
were indeed two men of different type, and drew their
inspiration from very different fountains, but we may
well believe Aubrey when he says that there were those
who came over to England only to see Oliver Pro-
tector and John Milton.

Four days sufficed to erect a new government. The
scheme was prepared by the officers with Lambert at


their head. Cromwell fell in with it, hearing little
about formal constitutions either way. On the after-
noon of December i6th, 1653. a procession set out
from Whitehall for Westminster Hall. The judges
in their robes, the high officers of government, the Lord
Mayor and the magnates of the city, made their way
amid two lines of soldiers to the Chancery Court
where a chair of state had been placed upon a rich
carpet. Oliver, clad in a suit and cloak of black velvet,
and with a gold band upon his hat, was invited by
Lambert to take upon himself tlie office of Lord Pro-
tector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland,
and Ireland, conformably to the terms of an Instru-
ment of Government which was then read. The lord-
general assented, and forthwith took and subscribed
the solemn oath of fidelity to the matters and things
set out in the Instrument. Then, covered, he sat down
in the chair of state while those in attendance stood
bareheaded about him. The commissioners cere-
moniously handed to him the great seal, and the Lord
Mayor proffered him his sword of office. The Pro-
tector returned the seal and sword, and after he had
received the grave obeisance of the dignitaries around
him, the act of state ended and he returned to the palace
of Whitehall, amid the acclamations of the soldiery
and the half ironic curiosity of the crowd. He was
proclaimed by sound of trumpet in Palace Yard, at the
Old Exchange, and in other places in London, the

Online LibraryJohn MorleyOliver Cromwell → online text (page 25 of 35)