Gambar halaman
PDF
ePub

$ 40. The Commonwealth.—The Government of England now passed completely under the control of the army of the Independents, under Oliver Cromwell. The contest entered into between the King and the Parliament had proved fatal to both. The pages of history fail to furnish any other example which can be compared to the position now occupied by Cromwell and his soldiers. The army had conquered England for the purpose of compelling that country to be free, but by the time the weight of the Stuart oppression had been removed the majority of the people repented of their success and longed for the restoration of the Kingly rule. It was another case where a people who had been led out of bondage now turned upon their liberators and clamored for the flesh pots of Egypt. It was the desire of the Independents and of the army of the Commonwealth to give to the people of England the right of self government; but it was evident to all the first use which the people would make of such a right would be to fasten upon themselves once more the shackles of Stuart tyranny. The result was that the only Government which Cromwell could maintain was a military despotism. There was, indeed, one course open to Cromwell which would have been heralded with satisfaction by the mass of the English people. The attachment and loyalty of the English people was always rather to the name of King than to any particular royal house; as had been shown in the fifteenth century by the readiness with which the mass of the people accepted in turn with equal loyalty the Kings of the rival Houses of York and Lancaster. If Cromwell himself had assumed the Kingly office that national tendency of the English people to follow the King, de facto, coupled with the pride which every Englishman felt in the great foreign successes of this ablest of all English generals would have changed the royal dynasty of England as effectually as it had been changed by the battle of Senlac, and the restoration of the Stuarts would in all probability have been as difficult in the seventeenth century as it afterwards became in the eighteenth. One insurmountable difficulty, however, stood in the way of such a step, it would have met with the opposition of the one body of men whom Cromwell could not antagonize, the army of the Independents. It is not important to consider the various systems of government during the years of the Commonwealth; these governments were entirely outside the stream of the development of the English Constitution; they were not the product of previous English history, they played no part in the development of the future. Their greatest value is the proof which they give of the absolute inability of the Saxon race to adapt itself to any sudden or radical change in government and to remind us once more of that gradual but continued evolution which, commencing in the German forests before the dawn of history, culminates in the Constitution of the United States.

$ 41. The restoration of the Stuarts.-The stability of Cromwell's government rested entirely upon the statesmanship and iron will of Cromwell himself; the task of supporting it was too great for his weak son and successor. The inevitable result came in the restoration of the House of Stuart, in the person of Charles II, in 1660. The reign of this monarch was the period of Stuart history during which the liberties of the people of England were in the most serious danger. Charles lacked one characteristic which we find prominently in the characters of his grandfather, father and younger brother, and which during the reigns of all the Kings furnished the greatest safeguard to the English people. What the other rulers of the Stuart race sought was less the real exercise of power than the humble acknowledgement of such power by their subjects; the discovery of opposition on the part of the people to any of their measures only made them the more anxious to secure their adoption; they sought to openly trample upon the liberties of England, rather than to secretly undermine them. It is one of the most striking peculiarities of the Anglo-Saxon race that there is never much danger to their liberties in cases of open attacks; the real danger to such liberties always lies in their overconfidence and lack of watchfulness, which has at times allowed their liberties to be stolen away while they slept; and it is a further characteristic of this race that the most advantageous time for a midnight attack upon them is just after they have repulsed the enemy in the open field. To Charles II, alone, of the Stuart Kings was this state of affairs apparent. He learned the wisdom of yielding, with the graciousness of which he was such a master hand, when his measures aroused open opposition, and then quietly proceeding to reach the same end by another route.

No general statement can be made as to the character of this reign on account of its division into sharply defined periods, each very different from the others; there is a period of the rule of the government of Clarendon; followed by that of the Cabal; of Danby; of the Whig ascendancy; the last followed by its violent reaction. There were periods when England seemed about to adopt a foreign policy similar to that of Cromwell, as at the time of the formation of the “Triple Alliance”; at other times England sank almost to the position of a dependency of France. This reign also saw the foreshadowing of the ministry system and the passage of such acts as that abolishing feudal incidents, the statute of frauds, and habeas corpus act. The vital constitutional question involved in this reign was that relative to the succession of James, the brother of Charles and heir apparent to the throne. As James was an avowed Roman Catholic the question presented itself as to whether James could be allowed to rule over a Protestant nation. The Whig party endeavored to pass through Parliament an act excluding him from the throne and it seemed as if the King was about to be forced to yield to their demands when the Rye House Plot produced a violent reaction. The prosecution and persecution of the Whigs, which followed, broke up the power of that party and left the King with a freer hand than he had previously had during his reign. It is doubtful if there is any other period in English history when the liberties of England were in such real danger as they were just at this time; their salvation came in the sudden and unexpected death of Charles. It was England's good fortune at this crisis to have the Crown pass to one of the worst rulers that has ever sat upon a throne. The four years' rule of James is the history of a constant violation of everything that the English people most dearly loved and a constant effort to overthrow the laws and liberties of England and to establish such despotism in England as Richelieu and Louis XIV had succeeded in creating in France.

These four years of tyranny had the effect of driving the English people, never moved except by the practical consideration of the hour, to a realization of the necessity of securing their liberties by putting some effectual curb upon the power of their Kings. James II gave to England four years of unendurable tyranny, and by so doing secured to her her liberties for future ages.

Never had there existed such unanimity among the English people as that which finally drove James II into exile; discordant factions which for three generations had fought each other with tongue, with pen and with sword, united in the general cry which went out to William of Orange to come to their relief. The seven English leaders, Devonshire, Danby, Lumby, Compton, Shrewsbury, Sidney, and Russell, who signed the famous original invitation, were representatives of all the great factions in English politics. Their invitation was the invitation of the English nation.

$ 42. The Bill of Rights.— The Bill of Rights was the greatest triumph of the seventeenth century. The seventeenth century on the continent of Europe was one marked by the growth of despotism and the destruction of free institutions. Influences were at work in England tending to bring about these same results. For nearly the whole of the century the issue had hung in doubt, and the tide of battle for three generations had swayed now towards absolutism and now towards popular government. In the closing years of the century the contest was ended by a decisive victory for free government. The instrument which saved England from following in the footsteps of France and Austria, and from the necessity of undergoing those terrible scenes, which a century later burst upon her neighbor across the channel, was the Bill of Rights. This instrument was adopted upon the accession of William and Mary to the throne of England and contained the statement of those rights which the long contest of the century had won for England. It was the vindication of those rights which the House of Stuart had denied and attempted to overthrow, and was a denial to the Crown of those powers which they had attempted to usurp. Among other things the Bill of Rights declared that the pretended power of suspending or dispensing with laws or the execution of laws, by legal authority, without the consent of the people was illegal; that levying money by the Crown without a grant of Parliament or except under terms of said grant was illegal; that the right of any subject to petition the King could not be denied to him; that the raising and keeping a standing army within the kingdom in time of peace, except with the consent of Parliament, was against the law; that the Protestant subjects of the kingdom should have the right to keep and bear arms; that the election of members of Parliament ought to be free from interference by the King; that the freedom of speech, debates, or proceedings in Parliament ought to be free from interference by the King; that the freedom of speech, debates, or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place outside of Parliament; that excessive bail ought not to be required nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted; that juries ought to be duly and fairly impaneled; that all grants and promises of fines or forfeiture of particular persons before conviction were illegal and void; that for the redress of all grievances and for the amending, strengthening and preserving of the laws, Parliament should be held frequently. Many of these provisions are today to be found in the Bills of Rights of the United States Constitution and of the Constitutions of the individual States of the Union.

The passage of the Bill of Rights is perhaps the greatest of all landmarks in the constitutional history of England. The change between the government of England of the year 1688 and that of the year 1689 was hardly less than that change which today exists between the government of England and that of Russia. The importance of the instrument can only be understood by a study of the historical conditions of the times, as well as of the text of the instrument. The Bill of Rights ranks with the Magna Charta and the Petition of Rights as the three great charters of English liberty. There is, however, one great distinction between the history of the Bill of Rights and that of its two predecessors; the Magna Charta and Petition of Rights both contained promises of great value to the country, but the promises therein contained were almost

« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »