Thomas Babington Macaulay Macaulay.

Critical and historical essays and Lays of ancient Rome online

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pursuance of this design, he had entered on the same path which his brother
afterwards trod with greater obstinacy to a more fatal end. He had annulled
by his own sole authority the laws against Catholics and other dissenters. The
matter of the Declaration of Indulgence exasperated one half of his subjects
and the manner the other half. Liberal men would have rejoiced to see tole-
ration granted, at least to all Protestant sects. Many high churchmen had no
objection to the King's dispensing power. But a tolerant act done in an un-
constitutional way excited the opposition of all who were zealous either for the
Church or for the privileges of the pople, that is to say, of ninety-nine English-
men out of a hundred. The ministers were, therefore, most unwilling to meet
the Houses. Lawless and desperate as their counsels were, the boldest of
them had too much value for his neck to think of resorting to benevolences,
privy-seals, ship-money, or any of the other unlawful modes of extortion which
former kings had employed. The audacious fraud of shutting up the Exchequer
furnished them with about twelve hundred thousand pounds, a sum which,
even in better hands than theirs, would hardly have sufficed for the war-
charges of a single year. And this was a step which could never be repeated ;
a step which, like most breaches of public faith, was speedily found to have
caused pecuniary difficulties greater than those which it removed. All the
money that could be raised was gone ; Holland was not conquered ; and the
King had no resource but in a Parliament.

Had a general election taken place at this crisis, it is probable that the
country would have sent up representatives as resolutely hostile to the Court as
those who met in November, 1640 ; that the whole domestic and foreign
policy of the Government would have been instantly changed ; and that the
members of the Cabal would have expiated their crimes on Tower Hill. But
the House of Commons was still the same which had been elected twelve
years before in the midst of the transports of joys, repentance and loyalty
which followed the Restoration ; and no pains had been spared to attach it to
the Court by places, pensions and bribes. To the great mass of the people
it was scarcely less odious than the Cabinet itself. Vet, though it did not
immediately proceed to those strong measures which a new House would in all
ijrobability have adopted, it was sullen and unmanagealilc, and undid, slowly
indeed, and by ilegrees, but most effectually, all that the Ministers hatl done.
In one session it anniliilated their system of internal government. In a second
.session it gave a death-blow to their foreign policy.

The dispensing jjower was the first object of attack. The Commons would
not expressly approve the war ; but neitlier did they as yet expressly condemn
it ; and they were even willing to grant the King a supply for the purpose of
continuing hostilities on condition that he would redress internal grievances,
among which the Declaration of Indulgence held the foremost place.

Shafleslniry, who was Chancellor, saw that the game was up — that he had
got all that was to be got by siding with despotism and Popery, and that it
was high time to think of being a demagogue and a good Protestant. The
Lord Treasurc.T, Clifford, was marked out by his boldness, by his openness, by

.9//v' WILLIAM TEMPLE. 463

his zeal for the Catholic religion, by something which, compared with the
villany of his colleagues, might almost be called honesty, to be the scapegoat
of the whole conspiracy. The King came in person to the House of Peers for
the purpose of requesting their Lordships to meditate between him and the
Commons touching the Declaration of Indulgence. He remained in the House
while his speech was taken into consideration — a common practice with him ;
for the debates amused his sated mind, and were sometimes, he used to say,
as good as a comedy. A more sudden turn his Majesty had certainly never
seen in any comedy of intrigue, either at his own play-house, or at the Duke's,
than that which this memorable debate produced. The Lord Treasurer spoke
with characteristic ardour and intrepedity in defence of the Declaration.
When he sat down, the Lord Chancellor rose from the woolsack, and, to the
amazement of the King and of the House, attacked Clifford — attacked the
Declaration for which he had himself spoken in Council — gave up the whole
policy of the Cabinet — and declared himself on the side of the House of
Commons. Even that age had not witnessed so portentous a display of

The King, by the advice of the French Court, which cared much more
about the war on the Continent than about the conversion of the English
heretics, detemiined to save his foreign policy at the expense of his plans in
favour of the Catholic church. He obtain a supply ; and in return for this
concession he cancelled the Declaration of Indulgence — and made a formal
renunciation of the dispensing power before he prorogued the Houses.

But it was no more in his power to go on with the war than to maintain
his arbitary system at home. His Ministry, betrayed within and fiercely
assailed from without, went rapidly to pieces. Clifford threw down the white
staff and retired to the woods of Ugbrook, vowing, with bitter tears, that
he would never again see that turbulent city and that perfidious Court.
Shaftesburj' was ordered to deliver up the Great Seal, and instantly carried
over his front of brass and his tongue of poison to the ranks of the Opposition.
The remaining members of the Cabal had neither the capacity of the late
Chancellor, nor the courage and enthusiasm of the late Treasurer. They were
not only unable to carry on their former projects, but began to tremble for
their own lands and heads. The Parliament, as soon as it again met, began
to murmur against the alliance with France and the war with Holland ; and
the murmur gradually swelled into a fierce and terrible clamour. Strong
resolutions were adopted against Lauderdale and Buckingham. Articles of
impeachment were exhibited against Arlington. The Triple Alliance was
mentioned with reverence in every debate ; and the eyes of all men were
turned towards the quiet orchard where the author of that great league was
amusing himself with reading and gardening.

Temple was ordered to attend the King, and was charged with the office of
negotiating a separate peace with Holland. The Spanish Ambassador to
the Court of London had been empowered by the States-General to treat in
their name. With him Temple came to a speedy agreement, and in three
days a treaty was concluded.

The highest honours of the State were now within Temple's reach. After
the retirement of Clifford, the white staff had been delivered to Thomas
Osborne, soon after created Earl of Danby, who was related to Lady Temple,
and had, many years earlier, travelled and played tennis \yith Sir William.
Danby was an interested and unscrupulous man, but by no means destitute of
abilities or of judgment. He was, indeed, a far better adviser than any in whom
Charles had hitherto reposed confidence. Clarendon was a man of another
generation, and did not in the least understand the society which he had to


govern. The members of the Cabal were ministers of a foreign power and
enemies of the Established Church, and had, in consequence, raised against
themselves and their master an irresistible storm of national and religious
hatred. Uanby wished to strengthen and extend the prerogative ; but he had
the sense to see that this could be done only by a complete change of system.
He knew the English people and the House of Commons ; and he knew that
the course which Charles had recently taken, if olDstinately pursued, might
Avell end before the windows of the Banqueting- House. He saw that the
true policy of the Crown was to ally itself, not with the feeble, the hated, the
down-trodden Catholics, but with the powerful, the wealthy, the popular, the
dominant Church of England ; to trust for aid, not to a foreign Prince whose
name was hateful to the British Nation and whose succours could be
obtained only on terms of vassalage, but to the old Cavalier party, to the
landed gentry, the clergy and the universities. By rallying round the throne
the whole strength of the Royalists and High Churchmen, and by using
without stint all the resources of corruption, he flattered himself that he could
manage the Parliament. That he failed is to be attributed less to himself than
to his master. Of the disgraceful dealings which were still kept up with the
French Court, Danby deserved little or none of the blame, though he suf-
fered the whole punishment.

Danby, with great parliamentary talents, had paid little attention to
European politics, and wished for the help of some person on whom he could
rely in this department. A plan was accordingly arranged for making Temple
Secretary of State. Arlington was the only member of the Cabal who still held
office in England. The temper of the House of Commons made it necessary to
remove him, or rather, to require him to sell out ; for at that time the great offices
of State were bought and sold as commissions in the army now are. Temple was
informed that he should have the Seals if he would pay Arlington six thou-
sand pounds. The transaction had nothing in it discreditable, according to the
notions of that age, and the investment would have been a good one ; for we
imagine that at that time the gains which a Secretary of State might make,
without doing anything considered as improper, were very considerable.
Temple's friends offered to lend him the money ; but he was fully determined
not to take a post of so much responsibility in times so agitated and under a
prince on whom so little reliance could be placed, and accepted the embassy
to the Hague, leaving Arlington to find another purchaser.

Before Temple left England, he had a long audience of the King, to whom
he spoke with great severity of the measures adopted ])y the late Ministry. The
King owned that things had turned out ill. '' But," said he, "if I had been
well served, I might have made a good business of it." Temple was alarmed
at this language, and inferred from it that the system of the Cabal had not been
abandoned, but only sus])endcd. He therefore thought it his duty to go, as he
expresses it, " lo the bottom of the matter." He strongly represented to the
King the impossibility of establishing either absolute government or the Cath-
olic religion in England ; and concluded by repeating an observation which
he had heard at Brussels from M. Gourville, a very intelligent Frenchman, well
known to Charles: "A king of England," said (lourvilh;, "who is willing to
be the man of his people, is thegrcptcst king in the world ; but if he wishes to
be more, by Heaven he is nothing at all ! " The King betrayed some
.symptons of impatience during this lecture ; but at last he laid his hand
kindly on Temple's shoulder and said, " Vou are right and so is Gourville,
and I will be the man of my ])eople."

With this assurance, Temple repaired to the Hague in July, 1674. Holland
was now .secure, and France was surrounded on every side by enemies.


Spain and the Empire were in arms for the purpose of compelling Louis to
abandon all that he had acquired since the treaty of the Pyrenees. A congress
for the purpose of putting an end to the war was opened at Nimeguen under
the mediation of England in 1675 ; and to that congress Temple was deputed.
The work of conciliation, however, went on very slowly. The belligerent
powers were still sangaine, and the mediating power was unsteady and

In the meantime, the Opposition in England became more and more formid-
able, and seemed fully determined to force the King into a war with France.
Charles was desirous of making some appointments which might strengthen
the administration and conciliate the confidence of the public. No man was
more esteemed by the nation than Temple ; yet he had never been concerned
in any opposition to any government. In July, 1677, he was sent for from
Nimeguen. Charles received him with caresses, earnestly pressed him to
accept the seals of Secretary of State, and promised to bear half the charge of
buying out the present holder. Temple was charmed by the kindness and
politeness of the King's manner and by the liveliness of his Majesty's conver-
sation, but his prudence was not to be so laid asleep. He calmly and steadily
excused himself. The King affected to treat his excuses as mere jests, and
gaily said, " Go, get you gone to Sheen. We shall have no good of you till
you have been there ; and when you have rested yourself, come up again."
Temple withdrew and stayed two days at his villa, but returned to town in the
same mind, and the King was forced to consent at least to a delay.

But while Temple thus carefully shunned the responsibility of bearing a part
in the general direction of affairs, he gave a signal proof of that never-faihng
sagacity which enabled him to find out ways of distinguishing himself
without risk. He had a principal share in bringing about an event which
was at the time hailed with general satisfaction, and which subsequently pro-
duced consequences of the highest importance. This was the marriage of the
Prince of Orange and the Lady Mary.

In the following year, Temple returned to the Hague ; and thence he was
ordered, in the close of 1678, to repair to Nimeguen, for the purpose of signing
the hollow and unsatisfactory treaty by which the distractions of Europe were
for a short time suspended. He grumbled much at being required to sign bad
articles which he had not framed, and still more at having to travel in very
cold weather. After all, a difficulty of etiquette prevented him from signing,
and he returned to the Hague. Scarcely had he arrived there when he
receiyed intelligence that the King, whose embarrassments were now far greater
than ever, was fully resolved immediately to appoint him Secretary of State.
He a third time declined that high post, and began to make preparations for a
journey to Italy ; thinking, doubtless, that he should spend his time much more
pleasantly among pictures and ruins than in such a whirlpool of political and
religious frenzy as was then raging in London.

But the King was in extreme necessity and was no longer to be so easily put
off. Temple received positive orders to repair instantly to England. He
obeyed, and found the country in a state even more fearful than that which he
had pictured to himself.

Those are terrible conjunctures, when the discontents of a nation — not light
And capricious discontents, but discontents which have been steadily increasing
during a long series of years — have attained their full maturity. The discerning
few predict the approach of these conjunctures, but predict in vain. To the
many, the evil season comes as a total eclipse of the sun at noon comes to a
people of savages. Society, which but a short time before was in a state of
perfect repose, is on a sudden agitated with the most fearful convoilsions and


seems to be on the verge of dissolution ; and the rulers who, till the raischie^
was beyond the reach of all ordinary remedies, had never bestowed one thought
on its existence, stand bewildered and panic-stricken, without hope or resource,
in the midst of the confusion. One such conjuncture this generation has seen.
God grant that we may never see another ! At such a conjuncture it was that
Temple landed on English ground in the beginning of 1679.

The Parliament had obtained a glimpse of the King's dealings with France,
and their anger had been unjustly directed against Danby, whose conduct as to
that matter had been, on the whole, deserving rather of praise than of censure.
The Popish plot, the murder of Godfrey, the infamous inventions of Oates, the
discovery of Colman's letters had excited the nation to madness. All the
disaffection which had been generated by eighteen years of misgovernment had
come to the birth together. At this moment the King had been advised to
dissolve that Parliament which had been elected just after his restoration, and
which, though its composition had since that time been greatly altered, was
still far more deeply imbued with the old cavalier spirit than any that had
preceded, or that was likely to follow it. The general election had commenced,
and was proceeding with a degree of excitement never before known. The
tide ran furiously against the Court. It was clear that a majority of the new
House of Commons would be — to use a word which came into fashion a few
months later — decided Whigs. Charles had found it necessary to yield to the
violence of the public feeling. The Duke of York was on the point of retiring
to Holland. *' I never," says Temple, who had seen the abolition of monarchy,
the dissolution of the Long Parliament, the fall of the Protectorate, the declara-
tion of Monk against the Rump, " I never saw greater disturbance in men's

The King now with the utmost emergency besought Temple to take the
seals. The pecuniary part of the arrangement no longer presented any diffi-
culty, and Sir William was not quite so decided in his refusal as he had
formerly been. He took three days to consider the posture of affairs and to
examine his own feelings, and he came to the conclusion that " the scene was
unfit for such an actor as he knew himself to be." Yet he felt that, by refusing
help to the King at such a crisis, he might give much offence and incur much
censure. He shaped his course with his usual dexterity. He affected to be
very desirous of a seat in Parliament ; yet he contrived to be an unsuccessful
candidate ; and, when all the writs were returned, he represented that it would
be useless for him to take the seals till he could procure admittance to the
House of Cojiimons ; and in this manner he succeeded in avoiding the great-
ness which others desired to thrust upon him.

The Parliament met ; and the violence of its proceedings surpassed all
expectation. The Long Parliament itself, with much greater provocation, had
at its commencement been less violent. The Treasurer was instantly driven
from office, impeacheil, sent to the Tower. Sharp and vehement votes were
passed on the subject of the Popish Plot. The Commons were prepared to go
much further, to wrest from the King his prerogative of mercy in cases of high
political crimes and to alter the succession to the Crown. Charles was
thoroughly perplexed and dismayed. Temple saw him almost daily, and
thought him impressed with a deep sense of his errors and of the miserable
state into which they have brought him. Their conferences became longef
and more confidential ; and Temple began to flatter himself with the hope that
he might be able to reconcile parlies at home as he had reconciled hostile
States abroad ; that he might be able to suggest a plan which should allay all
heats, efface the memory of all past grievances, secure the nation from mis-
government and protect the Crown against the encroachments of Parliament,


Temple's plan was that the existing Privy Council, which consisted of fifty
members, should be dissolved ; that there should no longer be a small interior
council, like that which is now designated as the Cabinet ; that a new Privy
Council of thirty members should be appointed ; and that the King should
pledge himself to govern by the constant advice of this body, to suffer all his
affairs of every kind to be freely debated there, and not to reserve any part of
the public business for a secret committee.

Fifteen of the members of this new council were to be great officers of State.
The other fifteen were to be independent noblemen and gentlemen of the
greatest weight in the country. In appointing them, particular regard was to
be had to the amount of their property. The whole annual income of the
counsellors was estimated at ^30x3,000. The annual income of all tht
members of the House of Commons was not supposed to exceed ;^400,ooo.
The appointment of wealthy counsellors Temple describes as "a chief regard,
necessary to this Constitution."

This plan was the subject of frequent conversation between the King and
Temple. After a month passed in discussions to which no third person
appears to have been privy, Charles declared himself satisfied of the expediency
of the proposed measure and resolved to carry it into effect.

It is much to be regretted that Temple has left us no account of these con-
ferences. Historians have, therefore, been left to form their own conjectures
as to the object of this very extraordinary plan, " this Constitution," as Temple
himself calls it. And we cannot say that any explanation which has yet been
given seems to us quite satisfactory. Indeed, almost all the writers whom we
have consulted appear to consider the change as merely a change of administra-
tion, and so considering it, they generally applaud it. Mr. Courtenay, who
has evidently examined this subject with more attention than has often been
bestowed upon it, seems to think Temple's scheme very strange, unintelligible
and absurd. It is with very great diffidence that we offer our own solution of
what we have always thought one of the great riddles of English histor)'. We
are strongly inclined to suspect that the appointment of the new Vx\\y Council
was really a much more remarkable event than has generally been supposed,
and that what Temple had in view was to effect, under colour of a change of
administration, a permanent change in the Constitution.

The plan, considered merely as a plan for the formation of a Cabinet, is
so obviously inconvenient, that we cannot easily believe this to have been
Temple's chief object. The number of the new Council alone would be a most
serious objection. The largest cabinets of modern times have not, we
believe, consisted of more than fifteen members. Even this number has gene-
rally been thought too large. The Marquess Wellesley, whose judgment
on a question of executive administration is entitled to as much respect
as that of any statesman that England ever produced, expressed, on a
very important occasion,* his conviction that even thirteen was an incon-
veniently large number. But in a Cabinet of thirty members \Nhat chance
could there be of finding unity, secrecy, expedition, any of the qualities
which such a body ought to possess ? If, indeed, the memliers of such
a Cabinet were closely bound together by interest, if they all had a deep
stake in the permanence of the Administration, if the majority were
dependent on a small number of leading men, the thirty might perhaps act
as a smaller number would act, though more slowly, more awkwardly, and
with more risk of improper disclosures. But the council which Temple pro-
posed was so framed that if, instead of thirty members, it had contained only

In the negotiations of iSi2.


ten, it would still have been the most unwieldly and discordant Cabinet that
ever sat. One half of the members were to be persons holding no office —
persons who had no motive to compromise their opinions, or to take any
share of the responsibility of an unpopular measure — persons, therefore,
who might be expected, as often as there might be a crisis requiring the
most cordial co-operation, to draw off from the rest and to throw every diffi-
culty in the way of the public business. The circumstance that they were
men of enormous private wealth only made the matter worse. The House of
Commons is a checking body ; and therefore it is desirable that it should,
to a great extent, consist of men of independent fortune, who receive nothing
and expect nothing from the Government. But with executive boards the
case is quite different. Their business is not to check, but to act. The
very same things, therefore, which are the virtues of Parliaments may be vices
in Cabinets. We can hardly conceive a greater curse to the country than an
Administration, the members of which should be as perfectly independent of
each other, and as little under the necessity of making mutual concessions, as
the representatives of London and Devonshire in the House of Commons are
and ought to be. Now Temple's new Council was to contain fifteen members
who were to hold no offices, and the average amount of whose private estates
was ten thousand pounds a year — an income which, in proportion to the wants
of a man of rank of that period, was at least equal to thirty thousand a year in

Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayCritical and historical essays and Lays of ancient Rome → online text (page 75 of 150)