Sivut kuvina

independence against the ablest and bravest Plantagenets, had, through the instrumentality of her native princes, become in effect, though not in name, a province of England. In no part of Europe had the Calvinistic doctrine and discipline taken so strong a hold on the public mind. The Church of Rome was regarded by the great body of the people with a hatred which might justly be called ferocious; and the Church of England, which seemed to be every day becoming more and more like the Church of Rome, was an object of scarcely less aversion. The government had long wished to extend the Anglican system over the whole island, and had already, with this view, made several changes highly distasteful to every Presbyterian. One innovation, however, the most hazardous of all, because it was directly cognizable by the senses of the common people, had not yet been attempted. The public worship of God was still conducted in the manner acceptable to the nation. Now, however, Charles and Laud determined to force on the Scots the English liturgy, or rather a liturgy which, wherever it differed from that of England, differed, in the judgment of all rigid Protestants, for the worse. To this step, taken in the mere wantonness of tyranny, and in criminal ignorance or more criminal contempt of public feeling, our country owes her freedom. The first performance of the foreign ceremonies produced a riot. The riot rapidly became a , revolution. Ambition, patriotism, fanaticism were mingled in one headlong torrent. The whole nation was in arms. The power of England was indeed, as appeared some years later, sufficient to coerce Scotland : but a large part of the English people sympathized with the religious feelings of the insurgents; and many Englishmen who had no scruple about antiphonies and genuflections, altars and surplices, saw with pleasure the progress of a rebellion which seemed likely to confound the arbitrary projects of the court, and to make the calling of a parliament necessary. For the senseless freak which had produced these effects Wentworth is not responsible.” It had, in fact, thrown all his plans into confusion. To counsel submission, however, was not in his nature. An attempt was made to put down the insurrection by the sword. But the king's military means and military talents was unequal to the task. To impose fresh taxes on England in defiance of law would, at this conjuncture, have been madness. No resource was left but a parliament; and in the spring of 1640 a parliament was convoked. The nation had been put into good humor by the prospect of seeing constitutional government restored, and grievances redressed. The new House of Commons was more temperate and more respectful to the throne than any which had sate since the death of Elizabeth. The moderation of this assembly has been highly extolled by the most distinguished royalists, and seems to have caused no small vexation and disappointment to the chiefs of the opposition; but it was the uniform practice of Charles, a practice equally impolitic and ungenerous, to refuse all compliance with the desires of his people, till those desires were expressed in a menacing tone. As soon as the Commons showed a disposition to take into consideration the grievances under which the country had suffered during eleven years, the king-dissolved the parliament with every mark of displeasure. Between the dissolution of this short-lived assembly, and the meeting of that ever-memorable body, known by the name of the Long Parliament, intervened a few months, during which the yoke was pressed down more severely than ever on the nation, while the spirit of the nation rose up more angrily than ever against the yoke. Members of the House of Commons were questioned by the privy council touching their parliamentary conduct, and thrown into prison for refusing to reply. Ship-money was levied with increased rigor. The lord mayor and the sheriffs of London were threatened with imprisonment for remissness in collecting the payments. Soldiers were enlisted by force. Money for their support was exacted from their counties. Torture, which had always been illegal, and which had recently been declared illegal even by the servile judges of that age, was inflicted for the last time in England in the month of May, 1640. Every thing now depended on the event of the king's military operations against the Scots. Among his troops there was little of that feeling which separates professional soldiers from the mass of the nation, and attaches them to their leaders. His army, composed for the most part of recruits who regretted the plough from which they had been

* See his letter to the Earl of Northumberland, dated July 30, 1638. * = . -- * * * * ~ * WOL. I. 7


violently taken, and who were imbued with the religious and political sentiments then prevalent throughout the country, were more formidable to their chiefs than to the enemy. The Scots, encouraged by the heads of the English opposition, and feebly resisted by the English troops, marched across the Tweed and the Tyne, and encamped on the borders of Yorkshire. And now the murmurs of discontent swelled into an uproar by which all spirits save one were overawed. But the voice of Strafford was still for Thorough ; and he, even in this extremity, showed a nature so cruel and despotic, that his own soldiers were ready to tear him in pieces.

There was yet one last expedient which, as the king flattered himself, might save him from the misery of facing another House of Commons. To the House of Lords he was less averse. The bishops were devoted to him; and, though the temporal peers were generally dissatisfied with his administration, they were, as a class, so deeply interested in the maintenance of order, and in the stability of ancient institutions, that they were not likely to call for extensive reforms. Departing from the uninterrupted practice of centuries, he called a great council consisting of peers alone. But the lords were too prudent to assume the unconstitutional functions with which he wished to invest them. Without money, without credit, without authority even in his own camp, he yielded to the pressure of necessity. The Houses were convoked; and the elections proved that, since the spring, the distrust and hatred with which the government was regarded had made fearful progress.

In November, 1640, met that renowned parliament which, in spite of many errors and disasters, is justly entitled to the reverence and gratitude of all who, in any part of the world, enjoy the blessings of constitutional government. During the year which followed, no very important division

of opinion appeared in the Houses. The civil and ecclesias

tical administration had, through a period of nearly twelve years, been so oppressive and so unconstitutional that even those classes of which the inclinations are generally on the side of order and authority were eager to promote popular reforms, and to bring the instruments of tyranny to justice. It was enacted that no interval of more than three years should ever elapse between parliament and parliament, and that, if writs under the Great Seal were not issued at the proper time, the returning officers should, without such writs, call the constituent bodies together for the choice of representatives. The Star Chamber, the High Commission, the Council of York, were swept away. Men, who, after suffering cruel mutilations, had been confined in remote dungeons, regained their liberty. On the chief ministers of the crown the vengeance of the nation was unsparingly wreaked. The lord keeper, the primate, the lord lieutenant, were impeached. Finch saved himself by flight. Laud was flung into the Tower. Strafford was impeached, and at length put to death by Act of Attainder. On the same day on which this act passed, the king gave his assent to a law by which he bound himself not to adjourn, prorogue, or dissolve the existing parliament without its own consent. After ten months of assiduous toil, the Houses, in September, 1641, adjourned for a short vacation, and the king visited Scotland. He with difficulty pacified that kingdom by consenting not only to relinquish his plans of ecclesiastical reform, but even to pass, with a very bad grace, an act declaring that episcopacy was contrary to the word of God. The recess of the English parliament lasted six weeks. The day on which the Houses met again is one of the most remarkable epochs in our history. From that day dates the corporate existence of the two great parties which have ever since alternately governed the country. In one sense, indeed, the distinction which then became obvious had always existed, and always must exist. For it has its origin in diversities of temper, of understanding, and of interest, which are found in all societies, and which will be found till the human mind ceases to be drawn in opposite directions by the charm of habit, and by the charm of novelty. Not only in politics, but in literature, in art, in science, in surgery and mechanics, in navigation and agriculture, nay, even in mathematics, we find this distinction. Every where there is a class of men who cling with fondness to whatever is ancient, and who, even when convinced by overpowering reasons, that innovation would be beneficial, consent to it with many misgivings and forebodings. We find also every where another class of men, sanguine in hope, bold in speculation, always pressing forward, quick to discern the imperfections of whatever exists, disposed to think lightly of the risks and inconveniences which attend improvements, and disposed to give every change credit for being an improvement. In the sentiments of both classes there is something to approve. But of both the best specimens will be found not far from the common frontier. The extreme section of one class consists of bigoted dotards: the extreme section of the other consists of shallow and reckless empirics. There can be no doubt that in our very first parliaments might have been discerned a body of members anxious to preserve, and a body eager to reform. But, while the sessions of the legislature were short, these bodies did not take definite and permanent forms, array themselves under recognized leaders, or assume distinguishing names, badges, and war cries. During the first months of the Long Parliament the indignation excited by many years of lawless oppression was so strong and general, that the House of Commons acted as one man. Abuse after abuse disappeared without a struggle. If a small minority of the representative body wished to retain the Star Chamber and the High Commission, that minority, overawed by the enthusiasm and by the numerical superiority of the reformers, contented itself with secretly regretting institutions which could not, with any hope of success, be openly defended. At a later period the royalists found it convenient to antedate the separation between themselves and their opponents, and to attribute the act which restrained the king from dissolving or proroguing the parliament, the Triennial Act, the impeachment of the ministers, and the attainder of Strafford, to the faction which afterwards made war on the king. But no artifice could be more disingenuous. Every one of those strong measures was actively promoted by the men who were afterwards foremost among the Cavaliers. No republican spoke of the long misgovernment of Charles more severely than Colepepper. The most remarkable speech in favor of the Triennial Bill was made by Digby. The impeachment of the lord keeper was moved by Falkland. The demand that the lord lieutenant should be kept close prisoner was made at the bar of the Lords by Hyde. Not till the law attainting Strafford was proposed did the signs of disunion become visible. Even against that law, a law which nothing but extreme necessity could justify, only about sixty members of the House of Commons voted. It is certain that Hyde was not in the minority, and that Falkland not only voted with the majority, but spoke strongly for the bill. Even the few who entertained a scruple about inflicting death by a retrospective enactment thought it necessary to express

[ocr errors]
« EdellinenJatka »