Thomas B. (Thomas Brackett) Reed.

Modern eloquence; (Volume 5) online

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church matters merely, but in all those things which are
connected with civil liberty, for there is as close a con-
nection between Protestantism and liberty as between
Catholicism and absolutism. The Puritans intensely
hated everything which reminded them of Rome, even
the holidays of the Church, organs, stained-glass, cathe-
drals, and the rich dresses of the clergy. They even tried
to ignore Christmas and Easter, though consecrated by
the early Church. They hated the Middle Ages, looked
with disgust upon the past, and longed to try experiments,
not only in religion, but in politics and social life. The
only antiquity which had authority to them was the Jew-
ish Commonwealth, because it was a theocracy, and
recognized God Almighty as the supreme ruler of the
world. Hence they adhered to the strictness of the Jew-
ish Sabbath, and baptized their children with Hebrew

Now to such a people, stern, lofty, ascetic, legal, spir-
itual, conservative of whatever the Bible reveals, yet
progressive and ardent for reforms, the rule of the
Stuarts was intolerable. It was intolerable because it
seemed to lean towards Catholicism, and because it was
tyrannical and averse to changes. The King was ruled
by favorites; and these favorites were either bigots in



religion, like Archbishop Laud, or were tyrannical or
unscrupulous in their efforts to sustain the King in
despotic measures and crush popular agitations, like the
Earl of Straft'ord, or were men of pleasure and vanity like
the Duke of Buckingham. Charles I was detested by the
Puritans even more than his father James. They looked
upon him as more than half a Papist, a despot, utterly in-
sincere, indifferent to the welfare of the country, intent
only on exalting himself and his throne at the expense
of the interests of the people, whose aspirations he
scorned and whose rights he trampled upon. In his eyes
they had no rights, only duties; and duties to him as an
anointed sovereign, to rule as he liked, with parliaments
or without parliaments ; yea, to impose taxes arbitrarily,
and grant odious monopolies : for the State was his, to be
managed as a man would manage a farm ; and those who
resisted this encroachment on the liberties of the nation
were to be fined, imprisoned, executed, as pestilent dis-
turbers of the public peace. He would form dangerous
alliances with Catholic powers, marry his children to
Catholic princes, appoint Catholics to high office, and
compromise the dignity of the nation as a Protestant
State. His ministers, his judges, his high officials were
simply his tools, and perpetually insulted the nation by
their arrogance, their venality, and their shameful dis-
regard of the Constitution. In short, he seemed bent on
imposing a tyrannical yoke, hard to be endured, and to
punish unlawfully those who resisted it, or even mur-
mured against it. He would shackle the press, and
muzzle the members of parliament.

Thus did this King appear to the Puritans, at this
time a large and influential party, chiefly Presbyterian,
and headed by many men of rank and character, all of
whom detested the Roman Catholic religion as the source
of all religious and political evils, and who did not scruple
to call the Papacy by the hardest names, such as the
" Scarlet Mother," "Antichrist," and the like. They had
seceded from the Established Church in the reign of Eliz-
abeth, and became what was then called Non-conform-
ists. Had they been treated wisely, had any respect been
shown to their opinions and rights, for the right of wor-
shipping God according to individual conscience is the


central and fcasal pillar of Protestantism, had this un-
doubted right of private judgment, the great emancipat-
ing idea of that age, been respected, the Puritans would
have sought relief in constitutional resistance, for they
were conservative and loyal, as English people ever have
been, even in Canada and Australia.

They were not bent on revolution; they only desired
reform. So their representatives in Parliament framed
the famous " Petition of Rights," in which were reasserted
the principles of constitutional liberty. This earnest,
loyal, but angry Parliament, being troublesome, was dis-
solved, and Charles undertook for eleven years to reign
without one, against all precedents, with Strafford and
Laud for his chief advisers and ministers. He reigned by
Star-chamber decrees, High-commission courts, issuing
proclamations, resorting to forced loans, tampering with
justice, removing judges, imprisoning obnoxious men
without trial, insulting and humiliating the Puritans, and
openly encouraging a religion of " millineries and up-
holsteries," not only illegally, but against the wishes and
sentiments of the better part of the nation, thus under-
mining his own throne; for all thrones are based on the
love of the people.

The financial difficulties of the King for the most ab-
solute of kings cannot extort all the money they want
compelled him to assemble another Parliament at an
alarming crisis of popular indignation which he did not
see, when popular leaders began to say that even kings
must rule by the people and not without the people.

This new Parliament, with Hampden and Pym for lead-
ers, though fierce and aggressive, would have been con-
tented with constitutional reform, like Mirabeau at one
period. But the King, ill-advised, obstinate, blinded,
would not accept reform; he would reign like the Bour-
bons, or not at all. The reforms which the Parliament
desired were reasonable and just. It would abolish arbi-
trary arrests, the Star-chamber decrees, taxes without its
consent, cruelty to Non-conformists, the ascendency of
priests, irresponsible ministers, and offensive symbols of
Romanism. If these reforms had been granted, and
such a sovereign as Elizabeth would have yielded, how-
ever reluctantly, there would have been no English



revolution. Or even if the popular leaders had been
more patient, and waited for their time, and been willing
to carry out these reforms constitutionally, there would
have been no revolution. But neither the King nor Par-
liament would yield, and the Parliament was dissolved.

The next Parliament was not only angry, it was defiant
and unscrupulous. It resolved on revolution, and deter-
mined to put the King himself aside. It began with vig-
orous measures, and impeached both Laud and Straf-
ford, doubtless very able men, but not fitted for their
times. It decreed sweeping changes, usurped the execu-
tive authority, appealed to arms, and made war on the
government. The King also on his part appealed to the
sword, which now alone could settle the difficulties. The
contest was inevitable. The nation clamored for reform ;
the King would not grant it; the Parliament would not
wait to secure it constitutionally. Both parties were
angry and resolute ; reason departed from the councils of
the nation; passion now ruled, and civil war began. It
was not, at first, a question about the form of govern-
ment, whether a king or an elected ruler should bear
sway; it was purely a question of reforms in the existing
government, limiting of course the power of the King,
but reforms deemed so vital to the welfare of the nation
that the best people were willing to shed their blood to
secure them; and if reason and moderation could have
borne sway, that angry strife might have been averted.
But people will not listen to reason in times of maddening
revolution ; they prefer to fight, and run their chances and
incur the penalty. And when contending parties appeal
to the sword, then all ordinary rules are set aside, and
success belongs to the stronger, and the victors exact
what they please. The rules of all deadly and desperate
warfare seem to recognize this.

The fortune of war put the King into the hands of the
revolutionists; and in fear, more than in vengeance, they
executed him, just what he would have done to their
leaders if he had won. " Stone-dead," said Faulkland,
"hath no fellow." In a national conflagration we lose
sight of laws, even of written constitutions. Great neces-
sities compel extraordinary measures, not such as are
sustained either by reason or precedents. The great les-


son of war, especially of civil war, is, that contending
parties might better make great concessions than resort
to it, for it is certain to demoralize a nation. Heated
partisans hate compromise; yet war itself generally ends
in compromise. It is interesting to see how many con-
stitutions, how many institutions in both Church and
State, are based on compromise.

Now, it was amid all the fierce contentions of that revo-
lutionary age, an age of intense earnestness, when the
grandest truths were agitated ; an age of experiment, of
bold discussions, of wild fanaticisms, of bitter hatreds, of
unconquerable prejudices, yet of great loftiness and spir-
itual power, that the star of Oliver Cromwell arose.
He was born in the year 1599, of a good family. He was
a country squire, a gentleman farmer, though not much
given to fox-hunting or dinner hilarities, preferring to
read political pamphlets, or to listen to long sermons, or
to hold discussions on grace, predestination, free-will, and
foreknowledge absolute. His favorite doctrine was the
second coming of Christ and the reign of the saints, the
elect, to whom of course he 'belonged. He had visions
and rhapsodies, and believed in special divine illumina-
tion. Cromwell was not a Presbyterian, but an Inde-
pendent; and the Independents were the most advanced
party of his day, both in politics and religion. The
progressive man of that age was a Calvinist, in all the
grandeur and in all the narrowness of that unfashionable
and misunderstood creed. The time had not come for
" advanced thinkers " to repudiate a personal God and
supernatural agencies. Then an atheist, or even a deist,
and indeed a materialist of the school of Democritus and
Lucretius, was unknown. John Milton was one of the
representative men of the Puritans of the seventeenth
century, men who colonized New England, and planted
the germs of institutions which have spread to the Rocky

Cromwell on his farm, one of the landed gentry, had a
Cambridge education, and was early an influential man.
His sagacity, his intelligence, his honesty, and his lofty
religious life marked him out as a fit person to represent
his county in parliament. He at once became the asso-
ciate of such men as Hampden and Pym. He did not


make very graceful speeches, and he had an ungainly
person; but he was eloquent in a rude way, since he had
strong convictions and good sense. He was probably
violent, for he hated the abuses of the times, and he hated
Rome and the prelacy. He represented the extreme left;
that is, he was a radical, and preferred revolution to tyr-
anny. Yet even he would probably have accepted re-
form if reform had been possible without violence. But
Cromwell had no faith in the King or his ministers, and
was inclined to summary measures. He afterwards
showed this tendency of character in his military career.
He was one of those earnest and practical people who
could not be fooled with. So he became a leader of those
who were most violent against the Government. During
the Long Parliament, Cromwell sat for Cambridge ; which
fact shows that he was then a marked man, far from being
unimportant. This was the Parliament, assembled in
1640, which impeached Strafford and Laud, which abol-
ished the Star-chamber, and inaugurated the civil war,
that began when Charles left Whitehall, January, 1642,
for York. The Parliament solicited contributions, called
out the militia, and appointed to the command of the
forces the Earl of Essex, a Presbyterian, who established
his headquarters at Northampton, while Charles unfurled
the royal standard at Nottingham.

Cromwell was forty-two when he buckled on his sword
as a volunteer. He subscribed five hundred pounds to
the cause of liberty, raised a troop of horse, which gradu-
ally swelled into that famous regiment of one thousand
men, called " Ironsides," which was never beaten. Of
this regiment he was made colonel in the spring of 1643.
He had distinguished himself at Edgehill in the first year
of the war, but he drew upon himself the eyes of the na-
tion at the battle of Marston Moor, July, 1644, gained
by the discipline of his men. which put the north of
England into the hands of Parliament. He was then
lieutenant-general, second in command to the Earl of
Manchester. The undecisive battle of Newbury, in Oc-
tober, furnished Cromwell, then one of the most influen-
tial members of Parliament, an occasion to complain of
the imbecility of the noblemen who controlled the army,
and who were Presbyterians. The " self-denying ordi-


nance," which prohibited members of Parliament from
command in the army, was a blow at Presbyterianism and
aristocracy, and marked the growing power of the Inde-
pendents. It was planned by Cromwell, although it
would have deprived him also of his command; but he
was made an exception to the rule, and he knew he would
be, since his party could not spare him.

Then was fought the battle of Naseby, June 14, 1645,
in which Cromwell commanded the right wing of the
army, Fairfax (nominally his superior general) the centre,
and Ireton the left; against Prince Rupert and Charles.
The battle was won by the bravery of Cromwell, and
decided the fortunes of the King, although he was still
able to keep the field. Cromwell now became the fore-
most man in England. For two years he resided chiefly
in London, taking an important part in negotiations with
the King, and in the contest between the Independents
and Presbyterians, the former of which represented the
army, while the latter still had the ascendency in Par-

On the sixteenth of August, 1648, was fought the bat-
tle of Preston, in which Cromwell defeated the Scotch
army commanded by the Duke of Hamilton, which opened
Edinburgh to his victorious troops, and made him com-
mander-in-chief of the armies of the Commonwealth.
The Presbyterians, at least of Scotland, it would seem,
preferred now the restoration of the King to the ascend-
ency of Cromwell with the army to back him, for it was
the army and not the Parliament which had given him
supreme command.

Then followed the rapid conquest of the Scots, the
return of the victorious general to London, and the sup-
pression of the liberty of Parliament, for it was purged
of its Presbyterian leaders. The ascendency of the Inde-
pendents began ; for though in a minority, they were
backed by an army which obeyed implicitly the commands
and even the wishes of Cromwell.

The great tragedy which disgraced the revolution was
now acted. The unfortunate King, whose fate was sealed
at the battle of Naseby, after various vicissitudes and
defeats, put himself into the hands of the Scots and made
a league with the Presbyterians. After Edinburgh was


taken, they virtually sold him to the victor, who caused
him to be brought in bitter mockery to Hampton Court,
where he was treated with ironical respect. In his re-
verses Charles would have made any concessions; and
the Presbyterians, who first took up arms against him,
would perhaps have accepted them. But it was too late.
Cromwell and the Independents now reigned, a party
that had been driven into violent measures, and which
had sought the subversion of the monarchy itself.

Charles is brought to a mock trial by a decimated Par-
liament, is condemned and executed, and the old mon-
archy is supplanted by a military despotism. " The roar-
ing conflagration of anarchies " is succeeded by the rule
of the strongest man.

Much has been written and said about that execution,
or martyrdom, or crime, as it has been variously viewed
by partisans. It simply was the sequence of the revolu-
tion, of the appeal of both parties to the sword. It may
have been necessary or unnecessary, a blunder or a crime,
but it was the logical result of a bitter war; it was the
cruel policy of a conquering power. Those who sup-
ported it were able men, who deemed it the wisest thing
to do ; who dreaded a reaction, who feared for themselves,
and sought by this means to perpetuate their sway. As
one of the acts of revolution, it must be judged by the
revolution itself. The point is, not whether it was wrong
to take the life of the King, if it were a military necessity,
or seemed to be to the great leaders of the day, but
whether it was right to take up arms in defence of rights
which might have been gained by protracted constitu-
tional agitation and resistance. The execution proved a
blunder, because it did not take away the rights of Charles
II, and created great abhorrence and indignation, not
merely in foreign countries, but among a majority of the
English people themselves, and these, too, who had the
prestige of wealth and culture. I do not believe the
Presbyterian party, as represented by Hampden and Pym,
and who like Mirabeau had applied the torch to revolu-
tionary passions, would have consented to this foolish
murder. Certainly the Episcopalians would not have
executed Charles, even if they could have been induced
to cripple him.


But war is a conflagration; nothing can stop its ravages
when it has fairly begun. They who go to war must
abide the issue of war ; they who take the sword must be
prepared to perish by the sword. Thus far, in the history
of the world, very few rights have been gained by civil
war which could not have been gained in the end without
it. The great rights which the people have secured in
England for two hundred years are the result of an
appeal to reason and justice. The second revolution was
bloodless. The Parliament which first arrayed itself
against the government of Charles was no mean foe, even
if it had not resorted to arms. It held the purse-strings ;
it had the power to cripple the King, and to worry him
into concessions. But if the King was resolved to attack
the Parliament itself, and coerce it by a standing army,
and destroy all liberty in England, then the question as-
sumed another shape ; the war then became defensive,
and was plainly justifiable, and Charles could but accept
the issue, even his own execution, if it seemed necessary
to his conquerors. They took up arms in self-defense,
and war, of course, brought to light the energies and
talents of the greatest general, who as victor would have
his reward. Cromwell concluded to sweep away the old
monarchy, and reign himself instead ; and the execution
of the King was one of his war measures. It was the
penalty Charles paid for making war on his subjects, in-
stead of ruling them according to the laws. His fate was
hard and sad ; we feel more compassion than indignation.
In our times he would have been permitted to run away ;
but those stern and angry old revolutionists demanded
his blood.

For this cruel or necessary act Cromwell is responsible
more than any man in England, since he could have pre-
vented it if he pleased. He ruled the army, which ruled
the Parliament. It was not the nation, or the representa-
tives of the nation, who decreed the execution of Charles.
It was the army and the purged Parliament, composed
chiefly of Independents, who wanted the subversion of
the monarchy itself. Technically, Charles was tried by
the Parliament, or the judges appointed by them ; really,
Cromwell was at the bottom of the affair, as much as John
Calvin was responsible for the burning of Servetus, let



partisans say what they please. There never has a great
crime or blunder been committed on this earth which
bigoted, or narrow, or zealous partisans have not at-
tempted to justify. Bigoted Catholics have justified even
the slaughter of St. Bartholomew. Partisans have no
law but expediency. All Jesuits, political, religious, and
social, in the Catholic and Protestant churches alike, seem
to think that the end justifies the means, even in the most
beneficent reforms; and when pushed to the wall by the
logic of opponents, will fall back on the examples of the
Old Testament. In defence of lying and cheating they
will quote Abraham at the court of Pharaoh. There is
no insult to the human understanding more flagrant than
the doctrine that we may do evil that good may come.
And yet the politics and reforms of the Sixteenth and
Seventeenth centuries seem to have been based on that
miserable form of Jesuitism. Here Machiavelli is as vul-
nerable as Escobar, and Burleigh as well as Oliver Crom-
well, who was not more profound in dissimulation than
Queen Elizabeth herself. The best excuse we can render
for the political and religious crimes of that age is, that
they were in accordance with its ideas. And who is
superior to the ideas of his age?

On the execution of the King, the supreme authority
was nominally in the hands of Parliament. Of course all
kinds of anarchies prevailed, and all government was un-
settled. Charles II was proclaimed King by the Scots,
while the Duke of Ormond, in Ireland, joined the royal
party to seat Charles II on the throne. In this exigency
Cromwell was appointed by the Parliament Lord-Lieu-
tenant of Ireland.

Then followed the conquest of Ireland, in which Crom-
well distinguished himself for great military abilities. His
vigorous and uncompromising measures, especially his
slaughter of the garrison of Drogheda (a retaliatory act),
have been severely commented on. But war in the hands
of masters is never carried on sentimentally: the test of
ability is success. The measures were doubtless hard and
severe ; but Cromwell knew what he was about : he wished
to bring the war to a speedy close, and intimidation was
probably the best course to pursue. Those impracticable
Irish never afterwards molested him. In less than a year


he was at leisure to oppose Charles II in Scotland; and
on the resignation of Fairfax he was made Captain-Gen-
eral of all the forces in the empire. The battle of Dunbar
resulted in the total defeat of the Scots; while the
"crowning mercy" at Worcester, September 3, 1651,
utterly blasted the hopes of Charles, and completely
annihilated his forces.

The civil war, which raged nine years, was now fin-
ished, and Cromwell became supreme. But even the
decimated Parliament was jealous, and raised an issue,
on which Cromwell dissolved it with a file of soldiers, and
assembled another, neither elective nor representative,
composed of his creatures, without experience, chiefly
Anabaptists and Independents; which he soon did away
with. He then called a council of leading men, who made
him Lord Protector, December 13, 1653. Even the
shadow of constitutional authority now vanishes, and
Cromwell rules with absolute and untrammelled power,
like Julius Caesar or Napoleon Bonaparte. He rules on
the very principles which he condemned in Charles I.
The revolution ends in a military despotism.

If there was ever a usurpation, this was one. Liberty
gave her last sigh on the remonstrance of Sir Harry
Vane, and a military hero, by means of his army, stamps
his iron heel on England. He dissolves the very body
from which he received his own authority; he refuses to
have any check on his will ; he imposes taxes without the
consent of the people, the very thing for which he took
up arms against Charles I; he reigns alone, on despotic
principles, as absolute as Louis XIV ; he enshrouds him-
self in royal state at Hampton Court; he even seeks to
bequeath his absolute power to his son. And if Richard
Cromwell had reigned like his father Oliver, then the
cause of liberty would have been lost.

All this is cold, unvarnished history. We cannot get
over or around these facts ; they blaze out to the eyes of
all readers, and will blaze to the most distant ages. Crom-
well began as a reformer, but ended as a usurper. What-
ever name he goes by, whatever title he may have as-
sumed, he became, by force of his victories and of his
army, the absolute ruler of England, as Caesar did of
Rome, and Napoleon of Paris. We may palliate or ex-


tenuate this fact; we may even excuse it on the ground
that the State had drifted into anarchy; that only he, as
the stronger man, could save England ; that there was no
other course open to him as a patriot; and that it was a
most fortunate thing for England that he seized the reins,
and became a tyrant to put down anarchies. But what-

Online LibraryThomas B. (Thomas Brackett) ReedModern eloquence; (Volume 5) → online text (page 35 of 38)