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Progress of the Nation. page 2


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As the career of a mere country gentleman, scarcely raised above the condition of a gentleman farmer, and till upwards of thirty years of age distinguished for nothing but his retiring life and religious habits, and till forty-three ignorant of military command - 'twas marvellous. Julius Caesar, to whom he has been compared, was educated as a great patrician, was practised in all the arts, and possessed of all the influence by which men distinguish themselves in the chief arena of a nation. He was a splendid orator, and an accomplished and experienced general; and when he seized on the dictatorship of his country, it was to repress liberty, and hold his station for his own glory by a rigorous and military repression. But though Cromwell had everything of the military science to learn when called upon to command, he soon showed that he had the genius and the conquering will. Every enemy, king, baron, and cavalier, whose profession was naturally of arms, fell or fled before him; and Marston Moor, Naseby, Dunbar, and Worcester, spread his fame as an invincible hero through the whole world. When he arrived at the chief power, he extended and confirmed this fame. He beat down the haughty insolence of the Dutch at sea, impressed France with the terror of his arms, and inflicted a terrible chastisement on Spain, which had so often sent her armadas against protestant England, and stirred up all the catholic animus on the continent against her. He made pope and pagan tremble, taught Savoy to respect the rights of conscience, and Algiers the rights of merchants; he did that in Scotland which no English monarch could ever accomplish before him, not even our great martial Edwards and Henries - he thoroughly subdued the hardy valour of the Scots, and kept that country in peaceful subjection till his death.

When he came to administer the civil government he would fain have given parliament the most perfect freedom, if it would only have consented to leave his own position unassailed. Even as it was, he permitted the most uninfringed personal liberty; and as to religion, there never had been so much freedom of conscience enjoyed since the Conquest. Though himself an independent, he permitted presbyterians or other professors to hold livings in the church, so that they preached sound doctrine, and maintained a religious life. He took immense pains by his commissioners to purge the ministry of corrupt, unsound, and inefficient preachers, and to introduce better men, without regard to the particular sect to which they belonged. If we compare the commonwealth, in respect to either civil or religious liberty, with the monarchy under the Tudors and the Stuarts, and what it became again after the restoration, the change is wonderful. Instead of burnings, brandings, cutting off of ears, slitting of noses, the torturings, fleecings, and insolent oppressions and cruelties of the Star-chamber and High Commission Court, the change might well be termed like one from hell to heaven. In all Cromwell's addresses to parliament, he urged on them the necessity of bringing the truth and purity of Christianity into the daily practice of life and government, and his own court was in perfect keeping with his inculcations. There everything was orderly, decorous, and dignified. No scandalous libertines could find countenance there. He exhibited the same honest and patriotic spirit in sweeping away the corruptions of the law and the corruptions of the bench. His reform of the hideous court of chancery, and his appointment of upright judges, astonished the whole country; and such was the general vigour of both his foreign and domestic administration of affairs, that his very enemies, as we have seen, were compelled to express their admiration, and to name the days of his government "halcyon days," and to confess that the name of England never stood so high in the world.

Such were the effects of Cromwell's rule for the time; and' the only remaining question is, what have been its permanent effects on the welfare of this country, and on history at large? It would be difficult to estimate the extent of the beneficial influence of the English commonwealth on general liberty and civilisation. The solemn and striking example of a nation calling its monarch to account for his attempts to destroy the liberties of his country, condemning and executing him for his treason to the state, was a lesson to all monarchs and all subjects, that will never be forgotten whilst the world stands, and has been already imitated in France. The very enormity of the military force by which Europe at present is held in slavery, is but a confession of the consciousness that the principles of the British common wealth are now become the principles of all peoples; and we may safely assert that those principles, though defeated for a time, are only delayed in their inevitable action.

The commonwealth also laid down the great maxim that all power proceeds from the people, even that of deposing and electing kings. It thus destroyed for ever the pernicious doctrine of the divine right of kings - the cornerstone of all oppressions and all official insolence; and though this great principle seemed again destroyed by the restoration, it survived, and was established permanently in the British constitution at the revolution of 1688, the bill of rights expressly recognising it; and William of Orange, though the grandson of Charles I., and married to the daughter of James II., was not received by hereditary right, but avowedly by the election of the people. These are great hereditary legacies of the commonwealth to us and to the world. France has adopted the same principle and acted on it repeatedly. The United States have exercised the same right against us, and have become a republic; and there is no principle now more extensively diffused amongst all thinking people as a perfectly common sense truism, and though outwardly ignored by kings, not forgotten by their subjects.

During the commonwealth many improvements were introduced into Ireland under Ireton's administration, particularly that of changing provincial courts into county courts, greatly to the convenience and relief of the people. The system of lease and release came into use in this kingdom; the greater feudal services were abolished; and, to the especial honour of the commonwealth, torture was disused. This practice, which was totally opposed to the law of England, and had been used in every reign of the government, often with cruelty equal to that of the Spanish inquisition, was abandoned by the commonwealth, and never again was restored. How far the great men of the commonwealth were in advance of their age in this respect, Mr. Jardine, in his treatise on the subject, has shown by reminding us that torture was not abolished in Scotland till 1708; in France till 1789; in Russia till 1801; in Bavaria and Würtemburg tin 1806; in Hanover till 1822; and in Baden till 1832; and not even then in reality in the prisons of those German states, for cudgelling was still employed there, in menacing prisoners to compel confession, as may be seen in the trials recorded in the Neue Pitavel, and especially in the case of Wendt, the cabinet-maker at Rostock.

Whatever constitutional principles, therefore, were violated in the struggle which resulted in the commonwealth, whatever miseries were inflicted during its violent warfare, and however brief was the period of its existence, the advantages to us and to all mankind were incalculable in their amount, and eternal in their nature. By it the royal, mysterious, indefatigable, and protean power called prerogative, a law above all law, was struck down, and, if not destroyed, made subject to parliament; and the powers and jurisdiction of parliament, the great legislative and judicial authority, placed on a clear and immovable basis. Since then kings have ceased to be a terror, no man is in peril of being dragged from his home to be tortured and robbed in Star-chambers and High Commission Courts, at the pleasure of the prince and his parasites; and if we are ill- governed we have only ourselves to thank for it. Such is the debt of everlasting gratitude that we owe to the great men of the commonwealth, and to none more than to Oliver Cromwell, the dictator.

Religion

During the reign of James, and during that of Charles, so long as he might be said to reign, the great endeavour was, both in England and Scotland, to maintain the episcopal hierarchy, and to put down popery and puritanism. In this James succeeded to a considerable extent on the surface. He restored and strengthened episcopacy in Scotland, actually engrafted it on a presbyterian church, and it lasted his time. In England he carried his episcopalianism with a high hand. Dissent there yet, for the most part, was not visible, or lay half-concealed under the form of non-conformity; no great actual separation from the established church having taken place till his archbishop Bancroft forced this outward avowal and practical secession by his new book of canons, in 1604, the very year after James came to the English throne. These canons enjoined the ceremonies objected to by the nonconformists - bowing at the name of Jesus, kneeling at the sacrament, wearing the surplices, &c. These being enforced with rigour by Bancroft, in about six years no fewer than three hundred ministers were deprived or silenced. Here, then, commenced actual and public dissent, for the nonconformists being no longer able to exercise their spiritual functions in the established church, they and their congregations separated, and opened their own chapels, or conventicles, as they were called; and James and Charles continued to fine and persecute the papists on the one hand, and the dissenters on the other, till the resistance to Charles's liturgy in Scotland in 1636 and till the rebellion in England relieved both countries from the tyranny of royalty and episcopacy. In Scotland, indeed, the imposition of the canons of the episcopal church had not led to actual separation, but to these private meetings for worship after the people's own heart, in private houses and on moors and mountains, which, after the renewed persecutions of the restoration, became so prevalent amongst the covenanters. These practices commenced after the introduction of a liturgy by James in 1616, and were still more extended after the introduction of his "Five Articles" in 1621, and all the cruelties of fines, banishments, and imprisonments were put in force against them.

In England the church, encouraged by the crown, acted with a high and rigorous hand so long as royalty was in the ascendant. We have described the deeds of the tyrannic prelates of the Anglican church in these reigns, their Star- chamber and High Commission Court atrocities, their imprisonments, their torturings and brandings for conscience' sake. Their terrible treatment of Leighton, Prynne, Bastwick, Benton, and numbers of others. There was an ascent of prelatical evil through Parker, Whitgift, and Bancroft, to Laud, who completed the climax. No period of the Spanish inquisition presents more horrors than were perpetrated by those high priests in the name of religion. The catholics accuse Charles of having put to death ten of their clergymen in the early part of his reign, for the exercise of their religion.

But what was not less extraordinary was the fact, that whilst these cruelties were committed, because men would not conform to mere ceremonies, the most extensive and deep- seated heresy in doctrine crept into the church, and some of these very persecuting prelates were the heresiarchs. Though James took so violent and remorseless a part in persecuting the Arminian Vorstius, on his appointment to the professorship of divinity at Ley den, in 1611, and sent four English and one Scotch divine to the synod of Dort, in 1618, to assist in establishing the Five Points of Calvinistic faith - namely, absolute predestination; the limitation of the benefits of the death of Christ to the elect only; the necessity of justifying grace; the bondage of the human will and the perseverance of the saints - and never left the pursuit of Vorstius till he had ruined him; yet the doctrine of Arminius, that of free will, crept into his own church, and prevailed to a great extent, unnoticed by him, amongst the bishops and dignitaries. In fact, so long as the outward form and ceremony were maintained, little quest was made after doctrine. Laud, whilst he was persecuting the really orthodox in opinion with the frenzy of an inquisitor, was himself a thorough-going and undisguised Arminian, at the same time that he was a very catholic in pomp and parade of ceremony. In fact, in him and his adherents blazed forth that pseudocatholicism which has revived again in our day under the name of Puseyism.

"The new bishops," says Neal, the puritan historian, "admitted the church of Rome to be a true church, and the pope the first bishop of Christendom. They declared for the lawfulness of images in churches, for the real presence, and that the doctrine of transubstantiation was a school nicety. They pleaded for confession to a priest, for sacerdotal absolution, and the proper merit of good works. They claimed an uninterrupted succession of episcopal character from the apostles through the church of Rome, which obliged them to maintain the validity of her ordinations when they denied the validity of those of foreign protestants. Further, they began to imitate the church of Rome in her gaudy ceremonies, in the rich furniture of their chapels, and the pomp of their worship. They complimented the Roman catholic priests with their dignitary titles, and spent all their zeal in studying how to compromise matters with Rome, whilst they turned their backs upon the old Protestant doctrines of the reformation, and were remarkably negligent in preaching, or instructing the people in Christian knowledge."

When the church was struck down with the monarchy, the religious parties in the ascendant were the presbyterians and independents, besides a large mass of anabaptists and fifth-monarchy men; all were of the Calvinistic creed, and might have coalesced well enough on doctrinal points, but differed greatly as to modes of church government. Had the presbyterians succeeded in securing the supreme power, the nation would only have exchanged one religious despotism for another, for they were as intolerant of all otto creeds and parties as the episcopalians themselves. Cromwell and his independents saved this nation from the gloomy asceticism, which in Scotland had established a right on the part of the ministers to exercise the most unheard of interference in the private habits of individuals and families, a watchfulness, a surveillance over all the motives, opinions, tastes, and wishes of every soul in their flocks, which not even the practice of confession amongst the catholics could exceed in pressure as a priestly yoke. The anabaptists and fifth-monarchy men were ultra- republicans. The former were the crude material of the modern English baptists, who gradually moulded their opinions and practices into very much the same character as those of the independents, except as it regarded their distinctive tenet of baptism itself. The fifth-monarchy men held that as there had been four great monarchies, the Assyrian, the Persian under Cyrus, the Greek and the Roman, the fifth and last was to be that of Christ, who had promised to come and reign on earth. They were, therefore, for establishing this fifth-monarchy at once; their government was to be a theocracy, the people being only under their God. These zealots, believing in a grand truth, had only antedated the millennium by an indefinite time, and long before the world was ripe for it. Some of Cromwell's generals, Harrison especially, were enthusiastic fifth-monarchy men, and had to be held, and with difficulty, in check.

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Pictures for Progress of the Nation. page 2

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