Sivut kuvina

Act was enforced. The opposition therefore could not bring home to the King that species of misgovernment which alone could justify insurrection. And, even had his misgovernment been' more flagrant than it was, insurrection would still have been criminal, because it was almost certain to be unsuccessful. The situation of the Whigs in 1682 differed widely from that of the Roundheads forty years before. Those who took up arms against Charles the First acted under the authority of a Parliament which had been legally assembled, and which could not, without its own consent, be legally dissolved. The opponents of Charles the Second were private men. Almost all the military and naval resources of the kingdom had been at the disposal of those who resisted Charles the First. All the military and naval resources of the kingdom were at the disposal of Charles the Second. The House of Commons had been supported by at least half the nation against Charles the First. But those who were disposed to levy war against Charles the Second were certainly a minority. I It could hardly be doubted, therefore, that, if they attempted a rising, they would fail. Still less could it be doubted that their failure would aggravate every evil of which they complained. The true policy of the Whigs was to submit with patience to adversity which was the natural consequence and the just punishment of their errors, to wait patiently for that turn of public feeling which must inevitably come, to observe the law, and to avail themselves of the protection, imperfect indeed, but by no means nugatory, which the law afforded to innocence. Unhappily they took a. very different course. Unscru~ pulous and hotheaded chiefs of the party formed and discussed schemes of resistance, and were heard, if not with approbation, yet with the show of acquiescence, by much better men than themselves. It was proposed that there should be simultaneous ind 'r a

surrections in London, in Cheshire, at Bristol, and at Newcastle. Communications were opened with the discontented Presbyterians of Scotland, who were suffering under a tyranny such as England, in the worst times, had never known. While the leaders of the opposition thus revolved plans of open rebellion, but were still restrained by fears or scruples from taking any decisive step, a design of a very different kind was meditated by some of their accomplices. To fierce spirits, unrestrained by principle, or maddened by fanaticism, it seemed that to waylay and murder the King and his brother was the shortest and surest way of vindicating the Protestant religion and the liberties of England. A place and a time were named; and the details of the butchery were frequently discussed, if not definitely arranged. This scheme was known but to few, and was concealed with especial care from the upright and humane Russell, and from Monmouth, who, though not a man of delicate conscience, would have recoiled with horror from the guilt of .parricide. Thus there were two plots, one within the other. The object of the great Whig plot was to raise the nation in arms against the government. The lesser plot, commonly called the Rye House Plot, in which only a few desperate men were concerned, had for its object the assassination of the King and of the heir presumptive. Both plots were soon discovered. Cowardly traitors hastened to save themselves, by divulging Detection of _ n-e Whiscnn- all, and more than all, that had passed in "mm" the deliberations of the party. That only a small minority of those who meditated resistance had admitted into their minds the thought of assassination is fully established: but, as the two conspiracies ran into each other, it was not difficult for the mmnnh, government to confound them together. ‘°"““"°“" The just indignation excited by the Rye House Plot was extended for a time to the whole Whig body. The King was now at liberty to exact full vengeance for years of restraint and humiliation. Shaftesbury, indeed, had escaped the fate which his manifold perfidy had well deserved. He had seen that the ruin of his party was at hand, had in vain endeavoured to make his peace with the royal brothers, had fled to Holland, and had died there, under the generous protection of a government which he had cruelly wronged. Monmouth threw himself at his father’s feet and found mercy, but soon gave new offence, and thought it prudent to go into voluntary exile. Essex perished by his own hand in the Tower. Russell, who appears to have. been guilty of no offence falling within the definition of high treason, and Sidney, of whose guilt no legal evidence could be produced, were beheaded in defiance of law and' justice. Russell died with the fortitude of a Christian, Sidney with the fortitude of a Stoic. Some active politicians of meaner rank were sent to the gallows. Many quitted the country. Numerous prosecutions for misprision of treason, for libel, and for conspiracy were instituted. Convictions were obtained without difficulty from Tory juries, and rigorous punishments were inflicted by courtly judges. With these criminal proceedings were joined civil proceedings scarcely less formidable. Actions were brought against persons who had defamed the Duke of York; and damages tantamount to a sentence of perpetual imprisonment were demanded by the plaintiff, and without difficulty obtained. The Court of King’s Bench pronounced that the franchises of the City of London were forfeited to the crown. Flushed with this great victory, the government ammo,

proceeded to attack the constitutions of °““'°"'

other corporations which were governed by Whig officers, and which had been in the habit of returning Whig members to Parliament. Borough after borough was compelled to surrender its privileges; and new charters were granted which gave the ascendency everywhere to the Tories.

These proceedings, however reprehensible, had yet the semblance of legality. They were also accompanied by an act intended to quiet the uneasiness with which many loyal men looked forward to the accession of a Popish sovereign. The Lady Anne, younger daughter of the Duke of York by his first wife, was marriedto George, a prince of the orthodox House of Denmark. The Tory gentry and clergy might now flatter themselves that the Church of England had been effectually secured without any violation of the order of succession. The King and the heir presumptive were nearly of the same age. Both were approaching the decline of life. The King’s health was good. It was therefore probable that James, if he ever came to the throne, would have but a short reign Beyond his reign there was the gratifying prospect of a long series of Protestant sovereigns.

The liberty of unlicensed printing was of little or no use to the vanquished party; for the temper of judges and juries was such that no writer whom the government prosecuted for a libel had any chance of escaping. The dread of punishment therefore did all that a censorship could have done. Meanwhile, the pulpits resounded with harangues against the sin of rebellion. The treatises in which Filmer maintained that hereditary despotism was the form of government ordained by God, and that limited monarchy was a pernicious absurdity, had recently appeared, and had been favourably received by a large section of the Tory party. The University of Oxford, on the very day on which Russell was put to death, adopted bya solemn public act these strange doctrines, and ordered the political works of Buchanan, Milton, and Baxter to be publicly burned in the court of the Schools.

Thus emboldened, the King at length ventured

to overstep the bounds which he had during some years observed, and to violate the plain letter of the law. The law was that not more than three years should pass between the dissolving of one Parliament and the convoking of another. But, when three years had elapsed after the dissolution of the Parliament which sate at Oxford, no writs were issued for an election. This infraction of the constitution was the more reprehensible, because the King had little reason to fear a meeting with a new House of Commons. The counties were generally on his side; and many boroughs in which the Whigs had lately held sway had been so remodelled that they were certain to return none but courtiers.

In ashort time the law was again violated in order to gratify the Duke of York. That prince Influence of was, partly on account of his religion, and gap-1k! partly on account of the sternness and ' harshness of his nature, so unpopular that it had been thought necessary to keep him out of sight while the Exclusion Bill was before Parliament, lest his appearance should give an advantage to the party which was struggling to deprive him of his birthright. He had therefore been sent to govern Scotland, where the savage old tyrant Lauderdale was sinking into the grave. Even Laudcrdale was now outdone. The administration of James was marked by odious laws, by barbarous punishments, and by judgments to the iniquity of which even that age furnished no parallel. The Scottish Privy Council had power to put state prisoners to the question. But the sight was so dreadful that, as soon as the boots appeared, even the most servile and hard~ hearted courtiers hastened out of the chamber. The board was sometimes quite deserted: and it was at length found necessary to make an order that the members should keep their seats on such occasions. The Duke of York, it was remarked, seemed to take

« EdellinenJatka »