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CROMWELL. MONK. REGICIDES.
TOWARDS the conclusion of my last lecture, we had
arrived at the usurpation of Cromwell; and this usurpation of a military chief, I then observed, has been always considered as the natural issue of any successful appeal to arms on the part of the people.
This position, it appears to me, has been always laid down too broadly and indiscriminately. The question seems to admit of a distinction, and it is this :
If a people have been long subject to all the evils of an arbitrary government, and at last break out into insurrection, it is to be expected, no doubt, that the last favourite of the army, who survives the contest, will gradually procure for himself the power which the former sovereigns had abused and lost. There is no material shock here given to those habits of thinking and feeling, which, notwithstanding all the intermediate troubles, must still form the genuine character of the great body of the nation ; but the case is materially altered, if we suppose a people, before, possessed of constitutional rights, and endeavouring to defend or enlarge them, in opposition to those who would limit or destroy them. Here the event, if the popular party succeed, seems more naturally to be, the ultimate strengthening and enlarging of the prior constitutional privileges, under some form of government similar to the former one.
In this case an usurpation is either not attempted, as in the instances of Switzerland and Holland, and in our own times, of America, or if attempted, the usurper finds himself impeded with such political difficulties, at every movement which he makes, that the continuance of his power is always a matter of uncertainty; and the original and irremediable
disposition of the people, the result of their former better government, is sure at last to prevail, either over himself, or over his
successors. In illustration of this general reasoning, may be cited the difficulties which Cromwell had to overcome, while he was endeavouring to seize the power of the state, and still more while he was labouring to retain it.
I will give a general representation of them. Together they form a strong testimony to the permanent nature of the English mixed constitution, particularly of the monarchical part of it; and they go far to prove that the usurpation of Cromwell was not, as has been generally supposed, a successful one.
These are the principal topics of reflection to which I would at present wish to excite your attention. Hume and Millar, and the regular historians and writers, will supply you with many others.
Cromwell had to subdue, not only the royalists, but the Presbyterians; and this, not merely by force, but by the most extraordinary performances of cant and hypocrisy that human nature ever yet exhibited.
But why? Because these descriptions of men bore fresh upon their minds the impression of the constitution of England, and were only solicitous, according to the best of their judgment, to support or improve that constitution.
By the same arts and means were the Independents, the Republicans, to be overpowered by the usurper, and for the same reason. They too were impressed with the original stamp which had been received from the popular part of this constitution; and they had only deviated from it, because they thought that the monarchical part had been found, from trial, incompatible with the interests of the country.
That a military usurper, that any single person should rule, was not in the contemplation or wishes, probably, of any one disinterested Englishman at the time.
And it is here that may be found the great proof of the talents of Cromwell, which is not only, as Mr. Hume states, that he could rise from a private station to a high authority in the army; but still more, that he could afterwards bend the refractory spirits, and direct the disordered understand
ings of all around him, to the purposes of his own ambition, to the elevation of himself to the protectorate, in violation of all his former professions and protestations, public and private, and in defiance of all the men of principle and intrepidity, who had been so long his associates and friends in the parliament and in the army.
The gross and ignorant soldiers might, indeed, be well content, that he who gave them pay and plunder, should have every thing to dispose of: and in their idolatry of a successful general, they might, for a time, forget their country, and those forms of established authority to which they had once been accustomed. But still, it was these coarse and brute instruments upon which Cromwell could alone depend ; and, after all, as the mass of an army must always be managed through the medium of its officers, it was here (in this management of the officers) that his extraordinary powers were exhibited in a manner so striking. Some he could make his creatures by mere bribery, by lucrative posts and expectations : but the rest, and not unfrequently many of the common soldiers themselves, he was obliged to cajole, by every art and labour of hypocrisy; to surround and bewilder them with a tempest of fanaticism, of sighs and prayers, of groans and ejaculations; in short, to elevate and involve his heroes and himself in a cloud, till he was able there to leave them, and himself to descend and take undisturbed possession of the earth.
Whoever reads the history of these times, cannot well believe that this military usurper, daring and powerful as his abilities were, both in the cabinet and in the field, could possibly have succeeded, if the religious principle had not unfortunately found its way into every part of the dispute between the king and his people, and so disturbed the natural tendency of things, as to render any achievement practicable, which could well be conceived by a man of military skill and fanaticism united. But observe his progress.
When the young king had been finally defeated at Worcester, when the Republicans had been turned out of the House of Commons, when Cromwell, with his council of officers, was left alone on the stage, and when it would gene rally be said, that the natural termination of the contest had arrived, and Cromwell had now only to enjoy what he had acquired; his difficulties, on the contrary, seemed rather to multiply than to cease. Cromwell, though triumphant, and without a rival, could never be at ease, and he was continually labouring to make his government approach, as much as possible, to the model of the old one, and to those forms which he knew could alone be considered as legitimate.
He was now himself precisely in the situation in which the Independents (the Republicans) had lately been. He, like them, durst not appeal to a full and fair representation of the people, yet it was necessary to have a parliament; he could not otherwise colour his usurpation; he therefore proceeded to manufacture one with all expedition.
But as he had violated the feelings and opinions of every man of principle and consideration, he could trust no one who possessed much of either; and his parliament contained, though with a mixture of others of a superior class, men of low condition and foolish fanaticism.
The parliament which he collected and made was the parliament known by the ludicrous appellations which were gravely assumed by many of its members, “ Praise God Barebones," &c. &c.
These creatures he seems to have let loose upon the courts of law, probably for the sake of terrifying the lawyers. Courts of law are never very popular with the vulgar; and, therefore, senators like these soon proceeded to the attack of the Court of Chancery nem. con. If you look into Cobbett, their language will amuse you. They showed a rapidity of movement which must have appeared not a little marvellous to the court itself; certainly the court could not have been taught to comprehend it from any experience in its own proceedings.
But a parliament of this kind, so little fitted to be a part of an English government, was found by Cromwell, after a few months' trial, unfit to answer his purposes ; so their power was partly resigned and partly taken from them, and they returned to their more natural occupations in private life.
Still a parliament and a constitutional government of some kind or other was necessary. Cromwell, therefore, and his council of officers drew up an instrument of government, spread the power of representation over the whole of England and Wales very fairly, and began again.
Even in this instrument it is observable that the supreme legislative authority is made to reside in one person and in the people, assembled in parliament; that is, in a king and House of Commons; and that the provisions are far more unfavourable to the executive power than those in the English constitution, with one exception. This exception is contained in those articles on which, no doubt, Cromwell depended for his own protection, the twenty-seventh and three following. These provided for the maintenance of a standing military force of ten thousand horse and twenty thousand foot. The powers, however, that were given to the parliament might soon have been converted to the destruction of any protector who was not a favourite with the army.
Three hundred members assembled, and Cromwell was soon obliged, on account of the freedom of their debates, to make them a long harangue, and to declare that, “ after seeking counsel from God, he must prescribe to them a test to sign.” The debates still continued disagreeable to him. At length, after the manner of the very king whom he had dethroned, he dissolved them.
After an interval of two years and a half, he still thought it expedient to call once more a parliament (the third); and every effort was made to pack together an assembly devoted to his designs; but all in vain. He had to deny particular members admittance, was resisted by a large portion of the house, assailed by a spirited remonstrance, and felt in his turn, like his misguided master, that it is in vain to expect sufficient countenance to illegal proceedings from any tolerable representation of the people of England.
Still anxious and dissatisfied, still desirous to rest his authority upon some established principle, he meditated the assumption of the title of king.
He got the affair put into motion in the house. The lawyers told him, and probably with great sincerity, that this title of king, to use their own words, was a wheel upon which the whole body of the law was carried: that it stood not on the top, but ran through the whole veins and life of the law; that the nation had ever been a lover of monarchy, and of