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Reign of James II. (Continued)


James professes an Attachment to Liberty of Conscience - Closetings - General Opposition to the Court - Declaration of Indulgence - How received by the Church and the Dissenters - Friends and Enemies - Proselytes - Attempts to impose Popish Professors on the Universities Prince and Princess of Orange hostile to the Indulgence - Negotiations of the Prince with the leading Whigs through Dykvelt and Zulestein - Birth of a Prince of Wales - Trial and Acquittal of the seven Bishops - Louis declares War against Germany - The Prince of Orange prepares for an Expedition to England - Incredulity of James - His Fears and Concessions - Sunderland dismissed - William arrives in Torbay - Lord Corn- bury, Lord Churchill, and the Duke of Grafton join him - Desertion of the Princess Anne - The Prince of Wales sent to Portsmouth - The Queen escapes to France - Desertion of Clarendon - James sends an Embassy to the Prince - William's Answer - Flight of James - Stopped at Feversham - Brought back to Whitehall - Goes back to Rochester - Escapes to France - Meeting of a Convention - The Throne declared Vacant - Declaration of Rights - Arrival of the Princess - Proclamation of William and Mary.
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James was determined to push forward his schemes for the restoration of Romanism in defiance of every long-cherished prejudice of the public, and of every constitutional principle. Besides the conversions which interest had made amongst the courtiers, there were a few other persons of more or less distinction who for royal favour had apostatised, but the number was most insignificant. The earl of Peterborough, and the earl of Salisbury, the descendant of Cecil, Elizabeth's minister, had embraced catholicism, and amongst literary men some half dosen. There was Wycherley, the obscene dramatist, Haines, a low comedian, and Tindal, who afterwards became a professed deist; but the most remarkable and deplorable instance was that of the poet Dryden. Dryden had sufficiently degraded his fine talents by plays and other compositions which could not be read now without a blush; but his compliance with the impure taste of the age had not enriched him. He enjoyed a pension of one hundred pounds a year from Charles, but that expired with Charles, and James, on renewing it, withdrew the usual butt of sack which accompanied it. After that no further notice was taken of the poet who had rendered such services to the royal cause, and, pressed by his needs, Dryden declared himself a papist, and was speedily rewarded by royal notice and emolument. Henceforward his pen was employed to defend the royal religion, and the most remarkable result of his labours remains in his celebrated poem of "The Hind and Panther."

Slight as were these triumphs over the steadfast minds of Englishmen, James began now to be aware that he must win over bodies which he really hated, and had hitherto persecuted with all his might, if he meant to succeed. We have had occasion to relate the horrible cruelties and sanguinary ferocity with which he had pursued the covenanters in Scotland and the puritans in England, but he now deemed it necessary to pretend himself their friend. The church had so uniformly and vehemently proclaimed the doctrine of non-resistance, that he imagined he was pretty sure of it; but in Scotland and England the nonconformists were a numerous and sturdy race, and danger from them might be apprehended in case Romanism was too exclusively reinstated. He therefore concluded to make his approaches to this object by feigning a love of religious liberty. He commenced first in Scotland by issuing a declaration of indulgence, on the 12th of February, 1687, but with an avowal of absolutism and a niggardly concession of religious liberty, which were not likely to be very gratefully received by the Scotch. "We, by our sovereign authority, prerogative royal and absolute power, do hereby give and grant our royal toleration. We allow and tolerate the modern presbyterians to meet in their private houses, and to hear such ministers as have been or are willing to accept of our indulgence; but they are not to build meeting-houses, but to exercise in houses. We tolerate quakers to meet in their form in any place or places appointed for their worship; and we, by our sovereign authority, suspend, stop, and disable all laws and acts of parliament made and executed against any of our Roman catholic subjects, so that they shall be free to exercise their religion and to enjoy all; but they are to exercise in houses or chapels; and we cass, disannul, and discharge all oaths by which our subjects are disabled from holding offices."

Thus James had declared himself absolute, above all laws, and at liberty to discharge any act of parliament. The same breath which gave a decree of religious liberty, annihilated every other liberty, and made the whole nation dependent on the will of one man. But whilst thus sweeping away all the labours of all past parliaments at his pleasure, he, with an inconsistency which betrayed a secret feeling that the power of parliament was not so easily set aside, even then contemplated calling parliament together if he could have but a prospect that it would confirm what he had done in Scotland, and proposed immediately to do in England. He therefore commenced a system of what has been called "closetings." He sent for the tory members of parliament, who were in town, one by one, and taking them into his closet at Whitehall, tried by personal persuasions and by bribes - for though dreadfully penurious, he now all at once became liberal of promises, and tolerably liberal of money - and entreated the members to oblige him by voting for the abolition of the laws against catholics, which he told them had been, in truth, directed against himself; and whilst he promised, he threatened, too, in case his wishes were not complied with. Whilst he made this experiment in town, the judges now on circuit were ordered to send for the members in the country to the different county towns, and use the same „ persuasions. The result was by no means satisfactory. If there was one feeling stronger than another which had taken possession of the public mind, it was, then and long after, that the catholics were not to be trusted with power, and that to grant them opportunity would be to restore the horrors of queen Mary's days. James himself met with some signal rebuffs, and in every instance he dismissed the refusers from any office that they held; amongst them Herbert, master of the robes, and rear-admiral of England.

As no good was to be obtained from parliament, he at once prorogued it again till November, declaring that he would grant toleration on his own authority; and on the 8th of April he issued his "Declaration of Indulgence for England." This declaration, though in not quite positive and reiterated terms, declared the same principle of absolutism, and independence of parliament. "We have thought fit, by virtue of our royal prerogative, to issue forth this our declaration of indulgence, making no doubt of the concurrence of our two houses of parliament when we shall think it convenient for them to meet." He made no secret in it of wishing to see catholicism the religion of the land; but, as the people did not seem willing to accept it, he had resolved to give to all professions of religion the same freedom. He talked like a philosopher about the virtues and justice of entire toleration, and the impolicy as well as injustice of persecution - conveniently ignoring that his practice, whenever he had had the power, had been in direct opposition to these smooth maxims. He not only then proceeded to abolish all the penal acts which had ever been passed, giving free right of worship, public or private, to all denominations, but denounced the utmost vengeance of the laws against any one who should disturb any congregation or person in the exercise of their religion.

The substance of the declaration was admirable; it was so because it was the Christian truth; but the deed had two defects, and they were fatal ones. It was granted at the expense of the whole constitution; and to admit that it» was valid was to abandon Magna Charta and the Petition of Rights, and accept instead the arbitrary will of the monarch. The second and equally fatal objection was that every one knew, from James's practice, and his proved deceitfulness, and his obstinate persistency, that the whole was but a snare to introduce Romanism, and then tread down every other form of religion. James boasted to the pope's nuncio that the declaration would be a great blow, and that in a general liberty of conscience the Anglican church would go down, for persecution of the dissenters would then be revenged upon her, and, unsupported by the crown, she would meet with deserved contempt. And, had the toleration been legitimately obtained and guaranteed, after the servile conduct of the church at that time, this might have been the case. The dissenters had every reason to be thankful for toleration, They had been trodden down by the Anglican hierarchy; they had been dragged before the arbitrary High Commission, and plundered and imprisoned at pleasure. The bishops had supported every unrighteous act against them - the conventicle acts, the test act, the five-mile act, the act of uniformity; and now they could enjoy their property, the peace of their firesides, their liberty, and their worship in the open sight of God and man. These were great boons, and, therefore, a great number of nonconformists expressed their gratitude for them. The quakers in particular sent up a grateful address, which was presented by Penn with an equally warm speech; but both they and the other dissenters restricted themselves to thanking James for the ease they enjoyed, without going into the question of his right to grant it. Some few individuals, in their enthusiasm, or worked upon by the court, went beyond this; but the general body of the nonconformists were on their guard, and some of the most eminent leaders refused even to address the king in acknowledgment of the boon. Amongst these were Baxter, who had been so ignominiously treated by Jeffreys; Howe, who had had to flee abroad, and Bunyan, who had suffered twelve years' imprisonment for his faith; they boldly reminded their followers of the unconstitutional and, therefore, insecure basis on which the relief rested; that a protestant successor might come - even if before that popery, grown strong, had not crushed them - and again subject them to the harsh dominance of the Anglican hierarchy.

No exertions were omitted to induce the dissenters to send up addresses; and they were actively canvassed by members of their different bodies, as Carr, Alsop, Lobb, and Rosewell, the last of whom was liberated from prison for the purpose. James took care to throw all the blame of the past persecutions on the church, which, he said, had been at the bottom of all those councils. The church, on the other hand, deserted by the crown, retorted the accusation, and attributed every act of persecution to the government, to which it professed unwillingly to have submitted. Thus was seen the edifying sight of the two arch-oppressors quarrelling, and in their mutual recriminations letting out the confession that they both knew very well how base and un-Christian their conduct had been.

But there was a third party to which all alike looked with anxiety in this crisis, and this consisted of William of Orange and his wife. As protestants, and the probable successors of James, if they approved of the indulgence, they would greatly strengthen the king; if they, disapproved it altogether, it would give a great shock to the protestant interest in England. But William was too politic not to see all the bearings of the question, and he and the princess jointly avowed their entire approval of complete toleration of all phases of the Christian religion, but their disapproval of the illegal means by which James aimed to effect it, and of catholics being admitted to place and power. These were precisely the views of the great majority of Englishmen; and accordingly James sunk still deeper in public odium on this publication, and William and Mary rose in popularity. They seized the opportunity to organise a most powerful party in their favour, and thus pave the way to an accession to the throne, which their sagacity assured them would much sooner arrive than the natural demise of the king. It has been a common subject of censure on Mary that she so readily united in a plan to drive her father from the throne; but the course of this history will greatly extenuate, if not entirely excuse, her conduct. So long as the policy of James promised a continuance of his power, no steps were taken by Mary to supersede him; so soon as it became evident that no earthly power, to say nothing of justice or right, could keep him on the throne, it became a mere act of prudence to take care that no alien interest usurped her own. We shall see that James did contemplate entirely setting aside his legitimate issue in favour of an illegitimate son, and with the intention to permanently destroy protestantism. That Mary contemplated or committed any act of personal cruelty or harshness towards her father anything further than securing her succession against an intruder, remains to be shown. Her husband, with all his virtues, was not proof against allowing if not perpetrating questionable acts, as has been and will be seen; and he was so jealous of his own dignity and power, that he for years in secret brooded in gloomy discontent on the prospect of Mary's succession to the crown of England without his having any claim to share it, not even communicating his splenetic feeling to her. But this secret was penetrated by Burnet, explained to Mary, and, through her generosity, at once the difficulty was dissipated by her engaging to admit him to a full share of her hereditary authority. From that moment William redoubled his zeal to secure the succession; but there is no question that Mary exerted her filial regard to secure her father against any personal injustice, as the event showed.

William now dispatched to England orders to his ambassador, Dykvelt, to use his endeavours to knit up the different sections of the discontented into one paramount interest in his favour. The scattered elements of an overwhelming power lay around the throne, which James, by his blind folly and tyranny, had made hostile to himself, and prepared ready to the hand of a master to combine for his destruction. Danby, who had follen in the late reign for his opposition to the French influence, and who had been the means of uniting Mary to William, had regained extensive influence amongst both tories and whigs, and was driven by James into determined opposition. Halifax, who had been the chief champion of James's accession by opposing the exclusion bill, and whose dangerous eloquence made him especially formidable, had been dismissed and neglected by him; Finch, earl of Nottingham, a zealous tory and churchman, and one of the most powerful orators of the house of lords, he made his enemy by his dismissal of his younger brother from the post of solicitor-general for not acquiescing in the king's dispensing powers, and by his attacks on the church and the constitution; the earl of Devonshire he had managed, by imprisonment and a monstrous fine, equally to disgust; and the earl of Bedford he had still more immediately driven from him by his execution of his son, lord Russell. Compton, the bishop of London; Herbert, lately rear-admiral of England; Clarendon, Rochester, Lumley, Shrewsbury, had all, by a most insensate folly, been alienated by dismission and private injuries. There was not a man of any talent or influence that this insane tyrant had not driven from him in his obstinate resolve to set Romanism and despotism along with him on the throne, except lord Churchill, upon whom he continued to heap favours, but who was too worldly-wise not to see that his benefactor was running headlong to ruin, and to make up his mind not to share his ruin, out of gratitude. Pykvelt executed his mission so well, that in four months he returned to the Hague with a packet of letters in his possession from all those noblemen, bishops, and others, including admiral Russell, the cousin of the decapitated lord Russell, promising William their most enthusiastic support. From the princess Anne, who was bound up heart and soul with Churchill and his clever wife - afterwards the celebrated Sarah, duchess of Marlborough - her sister Mary also received the most cordial assurances that nothing should induce her to abandon her religion, or her attachment to her sister's rights.

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Pictures for Reign of James II. (Continued)

The Earl of Shrewsbury
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Prince of Orange
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The seven bishops
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William of orange entering Exeter
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Queen of James II
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The flight of the Queen of James II
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Attack on James II
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The Princess Anne
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William of Orange
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