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Progress of the Nation.

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Constitution and Laws

The entire break up of the ancient system of the kingdom, which occurred in the reign of Charles I., the destruction of the monarchy, which had lasted from the conquest 582 years, and the establishment of a commonwealth, attended by an equal revolution in the national religion, and numerous other changes of a more permanent and influential character, make it necessary for us to review the circumstances of the nation at a much shorter date than we have previously done. As monarchy after this period was again introduced and continued, it becomes absolutely necessary to treat of the portion of history including this great revolution at its termination, that we may contemplate as a whole its character and effects, not only immediate, but as operating under the revived form of monarchy, and continuing to operate as yet. We shall then have cleared the ground, and can start afresh, under regal institutions, more perspicuously.

In detailing the events of the reigns of James and Charles, and of the commonwealth itself, we have taken the opportunity to state our views of the characters of the chief actors in them, and the motives and causes which led to and effected such stupendous changes, so that our review may be the more brief and general.

The contests betwixt the crown and the aristocracy have occupied a prominent part of this history for the great period of the monarchy. During that long period of more than four hundred years, the people presented a comparatively unimportant feature in the nation. Their wishes were little regarded, their interests were scarcely recognised. Occasionally they rose in their strength, and reminded the higher classes that they were a power, if they were fully aware of it; but they soon sank again with the concession of their demands in quiescence, and an immense toleration of exactions and oppressions. But as the nobility declined, not only monarchy, but the people acquired additional importance. The distribution of the property of the church and of confiscated estates, and the progress of trade and general intelligence, rapidly raised the people into a visible third estate, and the commons in Elizabeth's reign assumed a position of considerable dignity and force, which even that high-spirited queen was compelled to bow to. But it was not merely the national benefits which the reformation brought to the people which developed their importance, it was the dissemination of the Bible, and its reading for themselves, which opened up to the general mass of the population a new idea of the great moral laws. In that august treasury of divine principles they saw the rights of the human race written in luminous and incontrovertible characters, and the whole framework of social polity became reversed in their minds. They perceived that the race was not made for the rulers, but the rulers for the race. That mankind was the great object of the divine intentions, the mere institution of kings and nobles were accidents which had grown out of the ascendency of physical power in barbarous times, and which had been invested with splendour, ceremony, and etiquette, by state-craft, to give them preeminence over the ignorant multitudes. This once discovered and reflected upon, men rose in the conscious dignity of their own nature, and very soon in England and Scotland, the third estate, as it was called, became in reality the first estate, for it was now perfectly aware that out of it proceeded the life-blood of the government, the supplies for all its exigencies, and that it had but to raise its voice to be heard throughout every department of the state, every corner of the realm.

The expression of this power did not become so apparent during the reign of the Tudors as the Stuarts; but under that haughty and dictatorial dynasty, the sentiment itself was growing and ripening rapidly, like seeds swelling and generating in the earth, though not yet emerged from it; and the whole was the more fervent and indomitable because it sprung from the same source, and grew with the same growth as the new discoveries in religion. These newly recognised rights were perceived to be the rights proclaimed by the universal Father, through the pages of the same book which brought spiritual life and immortality to light. By this common origin political principles were elevated into sacred ones, and invested with all the solemnity of duty.

James VI. of Scotland had been educated amid the intense fermentation of these discoveries. The very ground, as it were, heaved under his cradle with the convulsive energy of the awaking powers of the gospel amongst the serious people of his kingdom. Knox and his associates had imbibed in Geneva the most stern and most ascetic principles of the reformers. They were persuaded, with their master Calvin, that all human, institutions must submit themselves to the church of Christ, and Calvin himself, in his condemnation of Servetus, gave them a practical proof of his persuasion that heresy as well political tyranny must be exterminated in its advocates. Thus not only their own rights, but the intolerance of the rights of others, were established in the minds of the earnest Scotch people; and accordingly their zeal burst forth in a most uncompromising and exacting form. They drove James's mother from the throne in their intolerance of her popery; and when he himself began to rule without the restraint of his guardians, the ministers of the reformed kirk assumed a censorship of his words and conduct, and treated him with a rude and everbearing familiarity, which excited in him an everlasting horror of presbyterianism, the form of worship which the bulk of the Scottish people had adopted.

In 1596 the general assembly sent a deputation of four ministers, including James and Andrew Melvil, to James, at Falkland, to admonish him of the wickedness of the country, the king's own habit of u banning and swearing," the queen's not repairing to the preaching of the word, but indulging in balls and dances, the encouragement of superstition in permitting pilgrimages, singing of carols at Yule, profanation of the sabbath, wanton games, drinking, tribeĽ of idle, dissolute people, as fiddlers, pipers, sorcerers, strong beggars living in harlotry, and not having their children baptised, the neglect of justice, and the appointment of ignorant or wicked men to offices, as well as allowing such sacrilegious persons as abbots, priors, and dumb bishops, voting in parliament in the name of the kirk.

James growing out of patience at their catalogue of crimes and delinquencies, one of the ministers pulled him by the sleeve of his coat, telling him that the country was in danger of wreck through the truth not being told him; and informing him that though he was a king in a certain sense, yet of Christ's kingdom, that is, the kirk, he was neither king, nor head, nor lord, but only a member; and that neither king nor prince should be allowed to meddle in it. These visits to the king were frequent, and the same intended for the queen, but she seemed to avoid most of them. They then attacked her unmercifully from their pulpits, censuring, in the strictest terms, her neglect of their preachings, her going to episcopal clergymen, her not introducing religious exercises and virtuous occupation amongst her maids, nor having occasionally godly ministers to instruct them. One David Black, a minister of St. Andrews, from his pulpit declared that all kings were devil's bairns; that the devil was in the court, and the guardian of it; that the queen would never do them any good; that the nobility were godless dissemblers and enemies to the church; and the members of the king's council holliglasses (that is, buffoons), cormorants, and men of no religion. "When James summoned him for this gross language before the privy council, the kirk took it up, and declared no clergyman was amenable to any power but the kirk itself.

It is no wonder that with this claim to independence of and indeed superiority to the state, and a disposition to make so free a use of its censures, James should feel no particular fondness for such a church, and should labour to restore episcopacy, which was always more respectful to royalty. In fact, though James in 1590 made the speech, so constantly recalled to his memory when he was doing his utmost to give the supremacy to episcopalism both in Scotland and England, declaring in the general assembly that " it was the purest kirk in the world," presbyterianism, though by far the most generally accepted religion in Scotland, was not acknowledged as the established church there till 1592; and in December, 1596, episcopacy was fully restored again both in church and state, so that it was only four years the legal establishment previous to James's accession to the English throne.

When James arrived in England, he found a very different state of things. Though dissent from the forms and ceremonies of the church was very extensive, it had been restrained with a high hand, and there was no other visible church which had risen face to face with the state church, so as directly to menace it or the monarch. Both in Scotland and England the doctrines of all believers were mainly the same; the difference was as to outward forms. The puritans, as they were called, still occupied established pulpits, for conventicles, as they were called - that is, dissenting chapels - were strictly restrained. What the nonconformists sought was freedom in the church for their more simple tastes in ceremonials. The celebrated Millenary Petition, presented to James on his way into England, signed by eight hundred ministers, demanded but t few and apparently unimportant concessions to preserve the unity of the church. They objected to the cross in baptism, the interrogatories to infants, baptism by women, the ring in marriage, confirmation, and a few other minor particulars; and these granted in the churches to those who had a conscience on such points, would have preserved the integrity of the church. The demands of the ministers at the Hampton Court Conference were substantially the same.

James, therefore, surrounded by a different hierarchy, and seeing dissent assume so much humbler a form, suddenly felt himself inspired with a greater love for episcopacy, and an intenser horror of dissent, which, in its Scottish shape, had so wounded his kingly dignity. He therefore carried matters with a high hand both in church and state, and the insolence and intolerance of his archbishop Bancroft did more to drive the dissentients into open sectaries than all that had been done before. Charles, educated by his father in all his jesuitry of kingcraft, and taught at once to believe in the divine right of kings, and to attach no sacred- ness to his word in seeking to acquire absolute power, being of a bolder and more sanguine temperament, soon marched headlong on destruction. We have already carefully detailed the steps by which Laud and Wentworth, and his own imprudent spirit, led him to the block. He had, following in the steps of James, roused all the zeal both of the 'politicians and the religionists against him, and in the war to the death which was waged by his subjects with him, these two principles went from first to last hand in hand. The oppression of conscience both in Scotland and England had created a deep sympathy betwixt the people of both countries, and vast numbers in England had adopted the same presbyterian idea of church government as prevailed almost universally in Scotland. When, therefore, the questions of ship-money, and other unconstitutional impositions, the king's forcible invasion of the privileges of the commons, and his evident intention to make himself independent of all restraints from his people, had brought his chief ministers to the block, and himself in arms against his parliament, the demand became not only for the restoration of the popular guarantees, but the destruction of episcopacy, and the substitution of presbyterianism. It now depended on the prevalence of different parties what form the future government, as well as the church, should assume.

If those who objected to legal exactions, but dreamt neither of overturning the government nor the church, had prevailed, amongst whom we may include lord Falkland, Clarendon, Colepepper, lord Capel, lord Digby, and even Pym and Hampden, the crown would have received the necessary checks, and the episcopalian church would have continued. But some of these chiefs, as Falkland, Hampden, and Pym, died early in the struggle, and the rest joined with the king in endeavouring to resist further encroachments to the utmost and to the last. Had the presbyterian party prevailed, monarchy would have continued, but England might now have been existing without its episcopal hierarchy. But as it happened, men of more republican principles, and of still more liberal ideas of church government, proved the ablest heads, and gave for a time the decisive character to the nation. These were the independents, anabaptists, and fifth-monarchy men, who constituted the leaders of the army, and who leavened the whole of the forces with their principles.

These matters led to the destruction of the monarchy, and with it of the episcopal church as the state church. Among these republican chiefs, however, Cromwell, the independent, developed infinitely the most capacity for command and for government; and from the difficulties of his situation, surrounded by the conflicting parties of royalist presbyterians, who would suppress his free notions of religious government, and a mass of ultra republicans and religious zealots who went far beyond him, he was compelled to seize the entire reins of rule, and the commonwealth became a dictatorship. Had these violently opposing elements not existed to the extent which they did, England might then have become and remained a pure republic, governed by its president and its parliament, or the descendants of Cromwell might have been to-day seated on the throne of England. But the same predominating impulses which deprived Cromwell of the power of ruling by a free parliament, and compelled him to remain a dictator, equally foreshowed the inevitable termination of the prevalence of his principles of government with his life. The chaos of parties, political and religious, which raged around him, was certain, as it immediately did, to destroy itself, and leave open the way for monarchy and episcopacy.

We have, therefore, here only to consider what was the nature of Cromwell's dictatorship, and what its effects present and permanent. And in the first place we must admit that after all necessary concession to the charges against Cromwell of personal ambition, and of his having terminated all his professed struggles for liberty and constitutional right by seizing the helm of government himself, and ruling according to his own will, there is no other instance of military conquerors who have used their power so entirely for the public benefit, and so little to the restraint of individual freedom. His rule, though centring in himself, was not for himself, but for the people; it was not one of absolutism or oppression, but of cordial and earnest endeavour for the general welfare, and embraced the greatest freedom that had ever yet existed in England.

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