Page images
PDF
EPUB

in the House of Commons by the unsparing we believe, the chief weight even in the Convo.

use of ejectments, and who had, through their

whole lives, opposed every measure which tended to increase the power of the democracy, —abusing the Reform Bill as not democratic enough, appealing to the labouring classes, execrating the tyranny of the ten-pound householders, and exchanging compliments and caresses with the most noted incendiaries of our times. The cry of universal toleration was employed by James just as the cry of universal suffrage was lately employed by some veteran Tories. The object of the mock democrats of our time was to produce a conflict between the middle classes and the multitude, and thus to prevent all reform. The object of James was to roduce a conflict between the Church and the rotestant Dissenters, and thus to facilitate the victory of the Catholics over both. We do not believe that he could have succeeded. But we do not think his plan so utterly frantic and hopeless as it has generally been thought; and we are sure that, if he had been allowed to gain his first point, the people would have had no remedy left but an appeal to physical force,—an appeal, too, which would have been made under the most unfavourable circumstances. He conceived that the Tories, hampered by their professions of passive obedience, would have submitted to his pleasure; and that the Dissenters, seduced by his delusive promises of relief, would have given him strenuous support. In this way he hoped to obtain a law, nominally for the removal of all religious disabilities, but really for the excluding of all Protestants from all offices. It is never to be forgotten, that a prince who has all the patronage of the state in his hands can, without violating the letter of the law, establish whatever test he chooses. And, from the whole conduct of James, we have not the smallest doubt that he would have availed himself of his power to the utmost. The statute-book might declare all Englishmen equally capable of holding office; but to what end, if all offices were in the gift of a sovereign resolved not to employ a single heretic We firmly believe that not one post in the government, in the army, in the navy, on the bench, or at the bar—not one peerage, nay, not one ecclesiastical benefice in the royal gift, would have been bestowed on any Protestant of any persuasion. Even while the king had still strong motives to dissemble, he had made a Catholic Dean of Christ Church, and a Catholic President of Magdalen College. There seems to be no doubt that the See of York was kept vacant for another Catholic. If James had been suffered to follow this course for twenty years, every military man, from a general to a druznmer, every officer of a ship, every judge, every king's council, every lord-lieutenant of a county, every justice of the peace, every ambassador, every minister of state, every person employed in the royal household, in the custom-house, in the ost-office, in the excise, would have been a Xatholic. The Catholics would have had a majority in the House of Lords, even if that majority had been made, to use Sunderland's phrase, by calling up a whole troop of the (iuards to that House. They would have had,

cation. Every bishop, every dean, every holder of a crown living, every head of every college which was subject to the royal power, would have belonged to the Church of Rome. Almost all the places of liberal education would have been under the direction of Catholics. The whole power of licensing books would have been in the hands of Catholics. All this immense mass of power would have been stea. dily supported by the arms and by the gold of France, and would have descended to an heir, whose whole education would have been conducted with a view to one single end,-the complete re-establishment of the Catholic religion. The House of Commons would have been the only legal obstacle. But the rights of a great portion of the electors were at the mercy of the courts of law, and the courts of law were absolutely dependent on the crown. We cannot think it altogether impossible that a house might have been packed which would have restored the days of Mary. We certainly do not believe that this would have been tamely borne. But we do believe that, if the nation had been deluded by the king's professions of toleration, all this would have been attempted, and could have been averted only by a most bloody and destruc tive contest, in which the whole Protestant population would have been opposed to the Catholics. On the one side would have been a vast numerical superiority. But on the other side would have been the whole organization of government, and two great disciplined armies, that of James and that of Louis. We do not doubt that the nation would have achieved its deliverance. But we believe that the struggle would have shaken the whole fabric of society, and that the vengeance of the conquerors would have been terrible and unsparing. But James was stopped at the outset. He thought himself secure of the Tories, because they professed to consider all resistance as sinful—and of the Protestant Dissenters, because he offered them relief. He was in the wrong as to both. The error into which he fell about the Dissenters was very natural. But the confidence which he placed in the loyal assurances of the High Church party was the most exquisitely ludicrous proof of folly that a politician ever gave. Only imagine a man acting for one single day on the supposition that all his neighbours believe all that they profess, and act up to what they believe. Imagine a man acting on the supposition, that he may safely offer the deadliest injuries and insults to everybody who says that revenge is sinful; or that he may safely intrust all his property without security to any person, who says that it is wrong to steal. Such a character would be too absurd for the wildest farce. Yet the folly of James did not stop short of this incredible extent. Because the clergy had declared that resistance to oppression was in no case lawful, he conceived that he might oppress them exactly as much as he chose, without the smallest danger of resistance. He quite forgot that when they magnified the royal prerogative, that preroga

[ocr errors]

tive was exerted on their side—that when they preached endurance, they had nothing to endure—that when they declared it unlawful to resist evil, none but Whigs and Dissenters suffered any evil. It had never occurred to him that a man feels the calamities of his enemies with one sort of sensibility, and his own with quite a different sort. It had never occurred to him as possible that a reverend divine might think it the duty of Baxter and Bunyan to bear insults, and to lie in dungeons without murmuring; and yet, when he saw the smallest chance that his own prebend might be transferred to some sly Father from Italy or Flanders, might begin to discover much matter for useful meditation in the texts touching Ehud's knife and Jael's hammer. His majesty was not aware, it should seem, that people do sometimes reconsider their opinions, and that nothing more disposes a man to reconsider his opinions than a suspicion that, if he adheres to them, he is very likely to be a beggar or a martyr. Yet it seems strange that these truths should have escaped the royal mind. Those Churchmen who had signed the Oxford declaration in favour of passive obedience had also signed the thirty-nine articles. And yet the very man who confidently expected that, by a little coaxing and bullying, he should induce them to renounce the articles, was thunderstruck when he found that they were disposed to soften down the doctrines of the declaration. Nor did it necessarily follow that even if the theory of the Tories had undergone no modification, their practice would coincide with their theory. It might, one should think, have crossed the mind of a man of fifty, who had seen a great deal of the world, that people sometimes do what they think wrong. Though a prelate might hold that Paul directs us to obey even a Nero, it might not, on that account, be perfectly safe to treat the Right Reverend Father in God after the fashion of Nero, in the hope that he would continue to obey on the principles of Paul. The king indeed had only to look at home. He was at least as much attached to the Catholic Church as any Tory gentleman or clergyman could be to the Church of England. Adultery was at least as strongly condemned by his Church as resistance by the Church of England. Yet his priests could not keep him from Arabella Sedley. While he was risking his crown for the sake of his soul, he was risking his soul for the sake of an ugly, dirty mistress. There is something delightfully grotesque in the spectacle of a man who, while living in the habitual violation of his own known duties, is unable to believe that any temptation can draw any other person aside from the path of virtue. James was disappointed in all his calculations. His hope was, that the Tories would follow their principles, and that the Nonconformists wouid follow their interests. Exactly the reverse took place. The Tories sacrificed the principle of non-resistance to their interests; the Nonconformists rejected the delusive offers of the king, and stood firmly by their principles. The two parties whose strife had convulsed the empire during half a century, were united for a moment; and all that

vast royal power which three years before had seemed immovably fixed, vanished at once like chass in a hurricane. The very great length to which this article has already been extended, renders it impossible for us to discuss, as we had meant to do, the characters and conduct of the leading English states unen at this crisis. But we must offer a few remarks on the spirit and tendency of the Revolution of 1688. The editor of this volume quotes the Declaration of Right, and tells us, that by looking at it, we may “judge at a glance whether the authors of the Revolution achieved all they might and ought, in their position, to have achieved —whether the Commons of England did their duty to their constituents, their country, posterity, and universal freedom.” We are at a loss to imagine how even this writer can have read and transcribed the Declaration of Right, and yet have so utterly misconceived its nature. That famous document is, as its very name imports, declaratory, and not remedial. It was never meant to be a measure of reform. It neither contained, nor was designed to contain, any allusion to those innovations which the authors of the Revolution considered as desirable, and which they speedily proceeded to make. The Declaration was merely a recital of certain old and wholesome laws which had been violated by the Stuarts; and a solemn protest against the validity of any precedent which might be set up in opposition to those laws. The words, as quoted by the writer himself, ran thus: “They do claim, demand, and insist upon all and singular the premises as their undoubted rights and liberties.” Before a man begins to make improvements on his estate, he must know its boundaries. Before a legislature sits down to reform a constitution, it is fit to ascertain what that constitution really is. This was all that the declaration intended to do; and to quarrel with it because it did not directly introduce any beneficial changes, is to quarrel with meat for not being clothing. The principle on which the authors of the Revolution acted cannot be mistaken. They were perfectly aware that the English institutions stood in need of reform. But they also knew that an important point was gained if they could settle, once for all, by a solemn compact, the matters which had, during several generations, been in controversy between the Parliament and the crown. They therefore most judiciously abstained from mixing up the irritating and perplexing question of what ought to be the law, with the plain question of what was the law. As to the claims set forth in the Declaration of Right, there was little room for debate. Whigs and Tories were generally agreed as to the legality of the dispensing power, and of taxation imposed by the royal prerogative. The articles were therefore ad justed in a very few days. But if the Parlia ment had determined to revise the whole constitution, and to provide new securities against misgovernment, before proclaiming the new sovereigns, months would have been lost in disputes. The coalition which had delivered the country would have been instantly aussolved. The Whigs would have quarreied with the Tories, the Lords with the Commons, the Church with the Dissenters; and all this storm of conflicting interests and conflicting theories would have been raging round a vacant throne. In the mean time, the greatest power on the continent was attacking our allies, and meditating a descent on our own territories. Dundee was raising the Highlands. The authority of James was still owned by the Irish. If the authors of the Revolution had been fools enough to take this course, we have little doubt that Luxembourg would have been upon them in the middle of their constitutionmaking. They might probably have been interrupted in a debate on Filmer's and Sydney's theories of government, by the entrance of the musketeers of Louis's household; and have been marched off, two and two, to frame imaginary monarchies and commonwealths in the Tower. We have had in our time abundant experience of the effects of such folly. We have seen nation after nation enslaved, because the friends of liberty wasted on discussions upon abstract points the time which ought to have been employed in preparing for vigorous national defence. The editor, apparently, would have had the English Revolution of 1688 end as the Revolutions of Spain and Naples ended in our days. Thank God, our deliverers were men of a very different order from the Spanish and Neapolitan legislators : They might, on many subjects, hold opinions which, in the nineteenth century, would not be considered as liberal; but they were not dreaming pedants. They were statesmen accustomed to the management of great affairs. Their plans of reform were not so extensive as those of the lawgivers of Cadiz; but what they planned, they effected and what they effected, that they maintained against the fiercest hostility at home and abroad. Their first object was to seat William on the throne; and they were right. We say this without any reference to the eminent personal qualities of William, or to the follies and crimes of James. If the two princes had interchanged characters, our opinion would have still been the same. It was even more necessary to England at the time that her king should be a usurper than that he should be a hero. There could be no security for good government without a change of dynasty. The reverence for hereditary right and the doctrine of passive obedience had taken such a hold on the minds of the Tories that, if James had been restored to power on any conditions, their attachment to him would in all probability have revived, as the indignation which recent opression had produced faded from their minds. t had become indispensable to have a sovereign whose title to his throne was strictly bound up with the title of the nation to its liberties. In the compact between the Prince of Orange and the Convention, there was one nost important article which, though not expressed, was perfectly understood by both parties, and for the performance of which the country had securities far better than all the vows that Charles I. or Ferdinand VII. ever took in the day of their weakness, and broke in the day of their power. The article was

this—that William would in all things conform himself to what should appear to be the fixed and deliberate sense of his Parliament. The security for the performance was this—that he had no claim to the throne cxcept the choice of Parliament, and no means of maintaining himself on the throne but the support of Parliament. All the great and inestimable reforms which speedily followed the Revolution were implied in those simple words,--"The Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, assembled at Westminster, do resolve that William and Mary, Prince and Princess of Orange, be, and be declared King and Queen of England.” And what were the reforms of which we speak We will shortly recount some which we think the most important; and we will then leave our readers to judge whether those who consider the Revolution as a mere change of dynasty, beneficial to a few aristocrats, but useless to the body of the people, or those who consider it as a glorious and happy era in the history of the British nation and of the human species, have judged more correctly of its nature. First in the list of the benefits which our country owes to the Revolution we place the Toleration Act. It is true that this measure fell short of the wishes of the leading Whigs. It is true also that, where Catholics were concerned, even the most enlightened of the leading Whigs held opinions by no means so liberal as those which are happily common at the present day. Those distinguished statesmen did, however, make a noble, and, in some respects, a successful struggle for the rights of conscience. Their wish was to bring the great body of the Protestant Dissenters within the pale of the Church, by judicious alterations in the liturgy and the articles; and to grant to those who still remained without that pale the most ample toleration. They framed a plan of comprehension which would have satisfied a great majority of the seceders; and they proposed the complete abolition of that absurd and odious test which, after having been for a century and a half a scandal to the pious, and a laughing-stock to the profane, was at length removed in our own time. The immense power of the clergy and of the Tory gentry frustrated these excellent designs. The Whigs, however, did much. They succeeded in obtaining a law, in the provisions of which a philosopher will doubtless find much to condemn, but which had the practical effect of enabling almost every Protestant nonconformist to follow the dictates of his own conscience without molestation. Scarcely a law in the statute-book is theoretically more objectionable than the Toleration Act. But we question whether in the whole of that mass of legislation, from the Great Charter downwards, there be a single law which has so much diminished the sum of human suffering, which has done so much to allay bad passions,— which has put an end to so much petty tyranny and vexation,--which has brought gladness, peace, and a sense of security to so many private dwellings. The second of those great reforms which the Revolution produced was the final establishment of the Presbyterian Kirk in Scotland. We shall not now inquire whether the Episco

pal or the Calvinistic form of church govern

ment be more agreeable to primitive practice. Far be it from us to disturb with our doubts the repose of an Oxonian Bachelor of Divinity, who conceives that the English prelates, with their baronies and palaces, their purple and their fine linen, their mitred carriages and their sumptuous tables, are the true successors and exact resemblances of those ancient bishops who lived by catching fish and mending tents. We only say that the Scotch, doubtless from their own inveterate stupidity and malice, were not Episcopalians; that they could not be made Episcopalians; that the whole power of government had been in vain employed for the purpose of converting them; that the fullest instruction on the mysterious questions of the Apostolical succession, and the imposition of hands, had been imparted to them by the very logical process of putting the legs of the students into wooden boots, and driving two or more wedges between their knees; that a course of divinity lectures, of the most edifying kind, had been given in the Grass-market of Edinburgh; yet that, in spite of all the exertions of those great theological professors, Lauderdale and Dundee, the Covenanters were as obstinate as ever. The contest between the Scotch nation and the Anglican Church had produced near thirty years of the most frightful misgovernment ever seen in any part of Great Britain. H the Revolution had produced no other effect than that of freeing the Scotch from the yoke of an establishment which they detested, and giving them one to which they were attached, it would have been one of the happiest events in our history. The third great benefit which the country derived from the Revolution was the alteration in the mode of granting the supplies. It had been the practice to settle on every prince, at the commencement of his reign, the produce of certain taxes, which, it was supposed, would yield a sum sufficient to defray the ordinary expenses of government. The distribution of the revenue was left wholly to the sovereign. He might be forced by war, or by his own profusion, to ask for an extraordinary grant. But, if his policy were economical and pacific, he might reign many years without once being under the necessity of summoning his Parliament, or of taking their advice when he had summoned them. This was not all. The natural tendency of every society, in which property enjoys tolerable security, is to increase in wealth. With the national wealth, the produce of the customs, the excise, and the postoffice, would of course increase; and thus it might well happen, that taxes which, at the beginning of a long reign, were barely sufficient to support a frugal government in time of peace, might, before the end of that reign,

settled on him taxes estimated to produce £1,200,000 a year. This they thought sufficient, as they allowed nothing for a standing army in time of peace. At the time of Charles's Jeath, the annual produce of these taxes certainly exceeded a million and a half; and the king who, during the years which immediately followed his accession, was perpetually in distress, and perpetually asking his Parliaments for money, was at last able to keep a considerable body of regular troops without any assistance from the House of Commons. If his reign had been as long as that of George the Third, he would probably before the close of it have been in the annual receipt of several millions over and above what the ordinary expenses of the state required; and of those millions he would have been as absolutely master as the king now is of the sum allowed for his privy-purse. He might have spent them in luxury, in corruption, in paying troops to overawe his people, or in carrying into effect wild schemes of foreign conquest. The authors of the Revolution applied a remedy to this great abuse. They settled on the king, not the fluctuating produce of certain fixed taxes, but a fixed sum sufficient for the support of his own royal state. They established it as a rule, that all the expenses of the army, the navy, and the ordnance, should be brought annually under the review of the House of Commons, and that every sum voted should be applied to the service specified in the vote. The direct effect of this change was important. The indirect effect has been more important still. From that time the House of Commons has been really the paramount power in the state. It has, in truth, appointed and removed ministers, declared war, and concluded peace. No combination of the king and the Lords has ever been able to effect any thing against the Lower House, backed by its constituents. Three or four times, indeed, the sovereign has been able to break the force of an opposition, by dissolving the Parliament. But if that experiment should fail, if the people should be of the same mind with their representatives—he would clearly have no course left but to yield, to abdicate, or to fight. The next great blessing which we owe to the Revolution, is the purification of the administration of justice in political cases. Of the importance of this change, no person can judge who is not well acquainted with the earlier volumes of the State Trials. Those volumes are, we do not hesitate to say, the most frightful record of baseness and depravity that is extant in the world. Our hatred is altogether turned away from the crimes and the criminals, and directed against the law and its ministers. We see villanies as black as ever were imputed to any prisoner at any bar, daily committed on the bench and in the jury-box. The worst of the bad acts which brought discredit on the old Parliaments of France,—the

enable the sovereign to imitate the extrava- condemnation of Lally, for example, or even gance of Nero or Heliogabalus, to raise great that of Calas, may seem praiseworthy when

armies—to carry on expensive wars. thing of this sort had actually happened under

Some

compared with those which sollow each other in endless succession, as we turn over that ed by prejudice, passion, or bigotry. But the abandoned judges of our own country committed murder with their eyes open. The cause of this is plain. In France there was no constitutional opposition. If a man, held language offensive to the government, he was at once sent to the Bastile or to Wincennes. But in England, at least after the days of the Long Parliament, the king could not, by a mere act of his prerogative, rid himself of a troublesome politician. He was forced to remove those who thwarted him by means of perjured witnesses, packed juries, and corrupt, hardhearted, brow-beating judges. The Opposition naturally retaliated whenever they had the upper hand. Every time that the power passed from one party to the other, took place a proscription and a massacre, thinly disguised under the forms of judicial procedure. The tribunals ought to be sacred places of refuge, where, in all the vicissitudes of public affairs, the innocent of all parties may find shelter. They were, before the Revolution, an unclean public shambles, to which each party in its turn dragged its opponents, and where each sound the same venal and ferocious butchers waiting for its custom. Papist or Protestant, Tory or Whig, Priest or Alderman, all was one to those greedy and savage natures, provided only there was money to earn and blood to shed. Of course, these worthless judges soon created around them, as was natural, a breed of informers more wicked, if possible, than themselves. The trial by jury afforded little or no protection to the innocent. The juries were nominated by the sheriffs. The sheriffs were in most parts of England nominated by the crown. In London, the great scene of political contention, those officers were chosen by the people. The fiercest parliamentary election of our time will give but a faint notion of the storm which raged in the city on the day when two infuriated parties, each bearing its badge, met to select the men in whose hands were to be the issues of life and death for the coming year. On that day nobles of the highest descent did not think it beneath them to canvass and marshal the livery, to head the procession, and to watch the poll. On that day, the great chiess of parties waited in an agony of suspense for the messenger who was to bring from Guildhall the news whether their lives and estates were, for the next twelve months, to be at the mercy of a friend or of a foe. In 1681, Whig sheriffs were chosen, and Shaftesbury defied the whole power of the government. In 1682, the sheriffs were Tories, Shaftesbury fled to Holland. The other chiefs of the party broke up their councils, and retired in haste to their country-seats. Sydney on the scaffold told those sheriffs that his blood was on their heads. Neither of them could deny the charge, and one of them wept with shame and remorse. | Thus every man who then meddled with public affairs too nis life in his hand. The consequence was that men of gentle natures | stood aloof from contests in which they could not engage without hazarding their own necks and the fortu.es of their children. This was

Charles the Second, though his reign lasted huge chronicle of the shame of England. The only twenty-five years. His first Parliament magistrates of Paris and Toulouse were blind

the course adopted by Sir William Temple, by Evelyn, and by many other men, who were, in every respect, admirably qualified to serve the state. On the other hand, those resolute and enterprising spirits who put their heads and lands to hazard in the game of politics, naturally acquired, from the habit of playing for so deep a stake, a reckless and desperate turn of mind. It was, we seriously believe, as safe to be a highwayman as to be a distinguished leader of Opposition. This may serve to explain, and in some degree to excuse, the violence with which the factions of that age are justly reproached. They were fighting, not for office, but for life. If they reposed for a moment from the work of agitation, if they suffered the public excitement to flag, they were lost men. Hume, in describing this state of things, has employed an image which seems hardly to suit the general simplicity of his style, but which is by no means too strong for the occasion. “Thus,” says he, “the two parties, actuated by mutual rage, but cooped up within the narrow limits of the law, levelled with poisoned daggers the most deadly blows against each other's breast, and buried in their factious divisions all regard to truth, honour, and humanity.” From this terrible evil the Revolution set us free. The law which secured to the judges their seats during life or good behaviour did something. The law subsequently passed for regulating trials in cases of treason did much more. The provisions of that law show, indeed, very little "legislative skill. It is not framed on the principle of securing the innocent, but on the principle of giving a great chance of escape to the accused, whether innocent or guilty. This, however, is decidedly a fault on the right side. The evil produced by the occasional escape of a bad citizen is not to be compared with the evils of that Reign of Terror, for such it was, which preceded the Revolution, Since the passing of this law, scarcely one single person has suffered death in England as a traitor, who had not been convicted on overwhelming evidence, to the satisfaction of all parties, of a really great crime against the state. Attempts have been made in times of great excitement, to bring in persons guilty of high treason for acts which, though sometimes highly blamable, did not necessarily imply a design of altering the government by physical force. All those attempts have failed. For a hundred and forty years, no statesman, while engaged in constitutional opposition to a government, has had the axe before his eyes. The smallest minorities struggling against the most powerful majorities in the most agitated times, have felt themselves perfectly secure. Pulteney and Fox were the two most distinguished leaders of Opposition since the Revolution. Both were personally obnoxious to the court. But the utmost harm that the utmost anger of the court could do to them, was to strike off the “Right Honourable” from before their names. But of all the reforms produced by the Revolution, the most important was the full establishment of the liberty of unlicensed printing. The censorship, which, under some form or

« PreviousContinue »