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Lord Mayor attending in his robes, the sergeants with
their maces, and the heralds in their gold coats.
Henceforth the Lord Protector "observed new and
great state, and all ceremonies and respects were paid to
him by all sorts of men as to their prince." The new
constitution thus founding the Protectorate was the
most serious of the expedients of that distracted time.


The first stage of the Protectorate was in fact a
near approach to a monarchical system very like that
which Strafford would have set up for Charles, or
which Bismarck two hundred years later set up for the
King of Prussia. One difference is that Cromwell
honestly strove to conceal from himself as from the
world the purely military foundations of his power.
His social ideal was wide as the poles from Strafford's,
but events forced him round to the same political ideal.
A more material difference is that the Protector had a
powerful and victorious army behind him, and Straf-
ford and his master had none.

On the breakdown of the Barebones' Parliament
the Sphinx once more propounded her riddle. How to
reconcile executive power with popular supremacy,
what should be the relations between executive and
legislature, what the relations between the church and
the magistrate; these were the problems that divided
the dead king and the dead Parliament, that had baffled
Pym and Hyde, that had perplexed Ireton and the offi-
cers, and now confronted Oliver. It was easy to
affirm the sovereignty of the people as an abstract
truth. But the machinery? We must count one of
the curiosities of history the scene of this little group
of soldiers sitting down to settle in a few hours the
questions that to this day, after ages of constitution-
mongering and infinitely diversified practice and ex-
periment all over the civilized world, beset the path of
self-governing peoples. No doubt they had material
only too abundant. Scheme after scheme had been
propounded, at Oxford, at Uxbridge, at Newcastle, at
Newport. The army had drawn up its Heads of Pro-
posals, and these were followed a few days before the
king was brought to the scaffold by the written con-
stitution known as the Agreement of the People. The


officers had well-trodden ground to go upon, and yet the
journey was nearly as obscure as it had ever been.

In face of the lord-general, as in face of the Lord's
Anointed, the difficulty was the same, how to limit the
power of the executive over taxation and an army,
without removing all limits on the power of the repre-
sentative legislature. Cromwell, undoubtedly in ear-
nest as he was in desiring to restore Parliamentary
government, and to set effective checks on the Single
Person, nevertheless by temperament, by habit of mind
engendered of twelve years of military command, and
by his view of the requirements of the crisis, was the
last man to work a Parliamentary Constitution. A
limited dictator is an impossibility, and he might have
known it, as Napoleon knew it. If Cromwell and his
men could not work with the Rump, if they could not
work with the Saints, the officers, as they rapidly ham-
mered together the Instrument of Government, might
have known that no ingenuity would make their brand-
new carpentering water-tight.

The Magna Charta that now installed Oliver as
Lord Protector of the Commonwealth, and survived
for over three years, though loose enough in more than
one essential particular, was compact. The govern-
ment was to be in a single person and a Parliament,
but to these two organs of rule was added a Council of
State. This was an imperfect analogue of the old
privy council or of the modern cabinet. Its members
were named in the Act and sat for life. The council
had a voice, subject to confirmation by Parliament, in
appointments to certain of the high offices. Each of the
three powers was a check upon the other two. Then
came the clauses of a reform bill, and Cromwell has
been praised for anticipating Pitt's proposals for de-
molishing rotten boroughs ; in fact, the reform bill was


adopted bodily from the labors of Ireton, Vane, and
the discarded ParHament.

The Parhament, a single house, was to sit for at
least fi\ e months in every three years. This got rid of
Cromwell's bugbear of perpetuity. The Protector, if
supported by a majority of his council, could summon a
Parliament in an emergency, and in case of a future
war with a foreign state he had no option. Scotland
and Ireland were each to send thirty members, and no
Irish Parliament was summoned until after the restor-
ation. One sub-clause of most equivocal omen made
a majority of the council into judges of the qualifica-
tions and disqualifications of the members returned :
and, as we shall see, this legislation of future mutila-
tions of the legislature by the executive did not long-
remain a dead letter. Every bill passed by Parlia-
ment was to be presented to the Protector for his con-
sent, and if he did not within twenty days give his
consent, then the bill became law without it, unless he
could persuade them to let it drop. The normal size
of the army and navy was fixed, and a fixed sum was
set down for civil charges. The Protector and council
were to decide on ways and means of raising the rev-
enue required, and Parliament could neither lower
the charges nor alter ways and means without the Pro-
tector's consent. In case of extraordinary charge, as
by reason of war, the consent of Parliament was
needed ; but if Parliament were not sitting, then the
Protector with the majority of his council had power
both to raise money and to make ordinances, until Par-
liament should take order concerning them. This
power of making provisional laws was not exercised
after the assembling of the first Parliament.

The two cardinal questions of control of the army
and the settlement of religion were decided in a way


little dreamed of by Eliot or Coke, by Pym or Hamp-
den. WHiile Parliament was sitting, that is for five
months out of three years, its approval was required
for the disposal of forces by land and sea ; when Parlia-
ment was not sitting, the Protector, with the assent of
a majority of the council, could do as he pleased. The
religious clauses are vague, but they are remarkable as
laying down for the first time with authority a prin-
ciple of Toleration. A public profession of the Chris-
tian religion as contained in the Scriptures was to be
recommended as the faith of these nations, and the
teachers of it were to be confirmed in their subsistence.
But adherence was not to be compulsory, and all
Christians outside the national communion, save Pa-
pists, Prelatists, and such as under the profession of
Christ hold forth licentiousness, were to be protected
in the exercise of their own creed. So far had re-
formers traveled from the famous section of the Grand
Remonstrance twelve years before, where the first stout
forefathers of the Commonwealth had explicitly dis-
avowed all purpose of letting loose the golden reins
of discipline in church government, or leaving private
persons to believe and worship as they pleased. The
result reduced this declaration to little more than the
plausible words of a pious opinion. The Indepen-
dents, when they found a chance, were to show them-
selves as vigorous and as narrow as other people.

The Instrument of Government had a short life, and
not an important one. It has a certain surviving in-
terest, unhke the French constitutions of the Year III,
the Year VIII, and other ephemera of the same species,
because, along with its sequel of the Humble Petition
and Advice (1657), it is the only attempt in English
history to work in this island a wholly written system,
and because it has sometimes been taken to foreshadow


the Constitution of the United States. The American
analogy does not hold. The Cromwellian separation
of executive from legislative power was but a fitful
and confused attempt. Historically, there are no indi-
cations that the framers of the American Constitution
had the instrument in their minds, and there are. I be-
lieve, no references to it either in the pages of the
"Federalist" or in the recorded constitutional debates
of the several States. Nor was it necessary for the
American draftsman to go back to the Commonwealth ;
their scheme was based upon State constitutions already
subsisting, and it was in them that they found the
principle of fundamentals, or constitutional guarantees
not alterable like ordinary laws. Apart from historical
connection the coincidences between the Instrument
and the American Constitution are very slight, while
the differences are marked. The Protector is to be
chosen by the council, not by the people. He has no
veto on legislation. His tenure is for life; so is the
tenure of the council. There is no direct appeal to
the electorate as to any executive ofifice. Parliament,
unlike Congress, is to consist of one House. The two
schemes agree in embodying the principle of a rigid
constitution, but in the Instrument there are, according
to Oliver himself, only four fundamentals, and all the
rest is as liable to amendment or repeal, and in the
same way, as any other statute. This is essentially
different from the American system alike in detail and
in ])rinciple. Make by act an American president master
for life, with the assent of a small council of persons
nominated for life, of the power of the sword, of the
normal power of the purse, of the power of religious
establishment, for thirty-one months out of thirty-six.
and then you might have something like the Instru-
ment of Government. The fatal passion for parallels



has led to a still more singular comparison. Within
the compass of a couple of pages Mommsen likens the
cynical and bloodthirsty Sulla to Don Juan because he
was frivolous, to George Washington because he was
unselfish, and to Oliver Cromwell because they both
set up or restored order and a constitution.

In virtue of their legislative capacity Cromwell and
his council passed more than eighty ordinances in the
eight months between the establishment of the Pro-
tectorate and the meeting of the Parliament. This is
called Cromwell's great creative period, yet in truth the
list is but a meager show of legislative fertility. Many
of them were no more than directions for administra-
tion. Some were regulations of public police. One
of them limited the numbers of hackney coaches in
London to two hundred. Duels and challenges were
prohibited, and to kill an adversary in a duel was made
a capital offense. Drunkenness and swearing were
punished. Cock-fighting was suppressed, and so for
a period was horse-racing. There were laws for rais-
ing money upon the church lands, and laws for fixing
excise. Among the earliest and most significant was
the repeal of the memorable enactment of the first days
of the republic, that required an engagement of alle-
giance to the Commonwealth. This relaxation of the
republican test was taken by the more ardent spirits as
stamping the final overthrow of the system consecrated
to freedom, and it still further embittered the enmity
of those who through so many vicissitudes had in more
hopeful days been Cromwell's closest allies. More
far-reaching and fundamental were the edicts incor-


porating Scotland and Ireland into one Commonwealth
with England, but these were in conformity with the
bill of the Long Parliament in 1652. From the Long
Parliament also descended the policy of the edict for
the settlement of the lands in Ireland. One of the
cardinal subjects of the ordinances in this short period
of reforming and organizing activity was the Court of
Chancery. The sixty-seven clauses reforming chan-
cery are elaborate, but they show no presiding mind.
Imperious provisions, that every cause must be deter-
mined on the day on which it is set down for hearing,
savor more of the sergeant and his guard-room than
of a law-court threading its way through mazes of dis-
puted fact, conflicting testimony, old precedents, new
circumstances, elastic ])rinciples. and ambiguous
application. Lenthall, now Master of the Rolls, vowed
that he would be hanged up at the gate of his own
court rather than administer the ordinance. In revo-
lutionary times men are apt to change their minds, and
he thought better of it. Others were more constant.
It is impossible to read Whitelocke's criticisms without
perceiving that he and his brother commissioner of the
great seal had good grounds for their refusal to exe-
cute the ordinance. The judgment of modern legal
critics, not unfriendly to Oliver, is that his attempt at
chancery reform shows more zeal than discretion ; that
it substituted hard and fast rules for the flexible sys-
tem that was indispensable in equity : that it was
spoiled by lack of moderation.

Cromwell possessed far too much of the instinct for
order and government — which is very narrowly de-
scribed when it is called conservative — not to do his
best to secure just administration of the law. Some of
the most capable lawyers of the age were persuaded to
serve in the office of judge, and there is no doubt that


they discharged with uprightness, good sense, and
efficiency both their strictly judicial duties and the im-
portant functions in respect of general county busi-
ness which in those days fell upon the judges of assize.
Slackness in this vital department would speedily have
dissolved social order in a far deeper sense than any
political step, even the execution of a king or the break-
ing of a Parliament. But whenever what he chose to
regard as reason of state affected him. Cromwell was
just as ready to interfere with established tribunals
and to set up tribunals specially to his purpose, as if he
had been a Stuart or a Bourbon.

One of the strong impulses of the age was educa-
tional. Cromwell was keenly alive to it, and both in
the universities and elsewhere he strove to further it.
Nothing survived the Restoration. Most important
of all Cromwell's attempts at construction was the
scheme for the propagation of religion, and it deserves
attention. The dire controversy that split up the
Patriot party in the first years of the Long Parliament,
that wrecked the throne, that was at the bottom of the
cjuarrels with the Scots, that inspired the fatal feud
between Presbyterian and Independent, that occupied
the last days of the Rump, and brought to naught the
reign of the Saints, was still the question that went
deepest in social life. The forefathers of the Com-
monwealth had sought a state church with compulsory
uniformity. The fervid soul of Milton, on the con-
trary, was eager for complete disassociation of church
from state, eager "to save free conscience from the paw
of hireling wolves whose gospel is their maw." So
were the most advanced meii in the Parliament of Bare-
bones. But voluntaryism and toleration of this un-
compromising temper was assuredly not universal even
among Independents. Cromwell had nev^er committed


himself to it. In adhesion to the general doctrine of
liberty of conscience, he had never wavered. Perhaps
it was the noblest element in his whole mental equip-
ment. He valued dogmatic nicety as little in religion
as he valued constitutional precision in politics. His
was the cast of mind to which the spirit of system is in
every aspect wholly alien. The presence of God in the
hearts of men : the growth of the perfect man within
us : the inward transformation, not by literal or specu-
lative knowledge, but by participation in the divine, in
things of the mind ; no compulsion but that of light and
reason — such was ever his faith. I am not a man, he
said, scrupulous about words or names or such things.
This was the very temper for a comprehensive set-
tlement, if only the nation had been ripe for compre-
hension. Cromwell had served on two important Par-
liamentary committees on propagation of the gospel
after his return from Worcester. There on one occa-
sion it pleased somebody on the committee zealously to
argue against a Laodicean indifferency, professing that
he would rather be a Saul than a Gallic. Then Crom-
well made the vehement declaration that he would
rather have Mohammedanism permitted, than that one
of God's children should be persecuted. But the ques-
tion of Toleration was one, and that of a state-paid
ministry was another. Toleration, with the two stereo-
typed exclusions of popery and prelacy, as we have
seen, was definitely adopted, so far as words went, in
two sections of the Instrument of Government, and so
too was the principle of a public profession of religion
to be maintained from public funds. An Episcopal
critic was angry at the amazing fact that in the Magna
Charta of the new constitution there was not a word of
churches or ministers, nor anything else but the Chris-
tian religion in general — as if the Christian religion in


general were but something meager and diminuti^T.
The usual and inevitable controv^ersy soon sprung into
bitter life as to what were the fundamentals covered by
this bland and benignant phrase, and the divines had
not effectually settled their controversy when they were
overtaken by the Restoration. What Cromwell's ordi-
nance of 1654 did was, upon the principle of the In-
strument, to frame a working system. In substance he
adopted the scheme that Dr. John Owen, now dean of
Christ Church, had submitted to the Parliament in
1652, and which was in principle accepted by the Rump
in its closing days. A story is told by Bishop Wilkins,
who was the husband of Cromwell's youngest sister
Robina, that the Protector often said to him that no
temporal government could have a sure support with-
out a national church that adhered to it, and that he
thought England was capable of no constitution but
Episcopacy. The second imputation must be apocry-
phal, but Cromwell had undoubtedly by this time firmly
embraced the maxim alike of King Charles and of the
Long Parliament, that the care of religion is the busi-
ness of the state. His ordinances institute a double
scheme for expelling bad ministers, and testing the ad-
mission of better. No man was henceforth to be
capable of receiving a stipend who failed to satisfy of
his character, conversation, and general fitness a com-
mission of divines and laymen, some forty in number,
divines being to laymen as three to one. By the side
of this Commission of Triers was a smaller commis-
sion of Ejectors, for the converse task of removing
ignorant, negligent, or scandalous persons. The tithe
was maintained and patronage was maintained, only
security was taken for the fitness of the presentee. No
theological tests were prescribed. No particular church
organization was imposed, though Episcopacy like the

From a miniature by J. Hoskins at Windsor Castle.
By special permission of Her Majesty the Queen,



Prayer-book was forbidden. Of the three sorts of
godly men, said Oliver, Presbyterians, Baptists, and
Independents, so long as a man had the root of the
matter in him, it does not concern his admission to a
living to whatever of the three judgments he may be-
long. The parishes were to adopt the Presbyterian
or the Congregational form as they liked best. In
practice, outside of London and Lancashire, where the
Presbyterianism established by the Parliament in 1647
had taken root, the established church during the Pro-
tectorate was on the Congregational model, with so
much of Presbyterianism about it as came from free
association for discipline and other purposes. The
important feature in Oliver's establishment was that a
man who did not relish the service or the doctrine or
the parson provided for him by public authority at his
parish church, was free to seek truth and edification
after his own fashion elsewhere. This wise liberality,
which wins Oliver so many friends to-day, in those
times bitterly offended by establishment the host of
settled voluntaries, and offended the greater host of
rigorous Presbyterians by Toleration. It may well
have been that he determined to set up his system of
church government by the summary way of ordinance
before Parliament met, because he knew that no Par-
liament even partially representative would pass it.

We owe the best picture of the various moods of
the pulpit men at this interesting moment to the pro-
foundest theologian of them all. Baxter recognized,
like other people, that the victorious revolutionary sol-
dier was now endeavoring to dam within safe banks
the torrent that the Revolution had set running. Now,
he says, Cromwell exclaims against the giddiness of
the unruly extremists ; and earnestly pleads for order
and government. This putting about of the ship's


lielm affected men's minds in different ways. Some
declared that they wonid rather see both tithes and uni-
versities thrown overboard than submit to a treacher-
ous usurpation. Others said that it was Providence
that had brought the odious necessity about, whoever
might be its instrument; and necessity required them
to accept the rule of any one who could deliver them
from anarchy. Most ministers took a middle way,
and it was Baxter's own way : "I did in open confer-
ence declare Cromwell and his adherents to be guilty
of treason and rebellion, aggravated by perfidiousness
and hypocrisy, but yet I did not think it my duty to
rave against him in the pulpit ; and the rather because,
as he kept up his approbation of a godly life in the
general, and of all that was good except that which the
interest of his sinful cause engaged him to be against ;
so I perceived that it was his design to do good in the
main . . . more than any had done before him."
Even against his will Baxter admits that the scheme
worked reasonably well. Some rigid Independents,
he says, were too hard upon Arminians. They were
too long in seeking evidence of sanctification in the
candidate, and not busy enough in scenting out his
Antinomianism or his Anabaptism. Still they kept
the churches free of the heedless pastor whose notion
of a sermon was only a few good words patched to-
gether to talk the people asleep on Sunday, while all
the other days of the week he would go with them to
the ale-house and harden them in sin. Cromwell him-
self was an exemplary patron. "Having near one half
of the livings in England in his own immediate dis-
posal, he seldom bestoweth one of them upon any man
whom himself doth not first examine and make trial of
in person, save only that at such times as his great
affairs happen to be more urgent than ordinary, he


usetli to appoint some other to do it in his behalf;
which is so rare an example of piety that the like is not
to be found in the stories of princes."

His ideal was a state church, based upon a compre-
hension from which Episcopalians were to be shut out.
The exclusion was fatal to it as a final settlement. The
rebellion itself, by arresting and diverting the liberal
movement in progress within the church when the
political outbreak first began, had forever made a real
comprehension impossible. This is perhaps the heav-
iest charge against it, and the gravest set-off against
its indubitable gains.

The mischief had been done in the years, roughly
speaking, from 1643 ^^ 1647, ^v^ien some two thousand
of the Episcopal clergy were turned out of their churches
and homes with every circumstance of suffering and
hardship. The authors of these hard proceedings did
not foresee the distant issue, which made so deep and
dubious a mark upon the social life of England for
centuries to come. When the day of reaction arrived,
less than twenty years later, it brought cruel reprisals.
In 1662 the Episcopalians, when the wheel brought
them uppermost, ejected two thousand nonconformists
on the famous day of Saint Bartholomew, the patron
saint of Christian enormities; and the nation fell
asunder into the two standing camps of churchman and
dissenter, which in their strife of so many ages for
superiority on the one hand and equality on the other,
did so much to narrow public spirit and pervert the
noble ideal of national citizenship. This disastrous
direction was first imparted to church polity by the
Presbyterians, but Independents, when, in their turn

Online LibraryJohn MorleyOliver Cromwell → online text (page 26 of 35)