Page images
PDF
EPUB

entertainments, that they were by far the most splendid he had ever witnessed. Yet, in spite of this general prosperity of the nation, the public mind was filled with suspicion, distrust, and discontent. There were grievances present in the political government of the State, which this very prosperity only served to render the more intolerable and the more oppressive.

It may reasonably be asked, what necessity for rebellion, or even opposition to a government under which the nation had risen to such a state of unexampled prosperity ? Could there be great misrule or oppression where the trade, the commerce, and the riches of a people showed such uniform progression ? Could any serious injustice be practised where all classes were steadily advancing in civilisation and improvement ? To these questions we must reply, First, that although the community as a whole, were unquestionably in the enjoyment of general prosperity, yet, there frequently occurred so many instances of individuals being subjected to the most odious persecutions, in the shape of enormous fines, arbitrary imposts, and cruel punishments, that no one could say how long their property, their lives, or their liberty would be secure. Secondly, that the great mass of the people, though exempt from actually feeling the heavy weight of despotic power, sympathised freely with the unhappy victims, who were sacrificed without the possibility of obtaining redress, or of appealing to those tribunals in which it was their undoubted right to be heard. And, lastly, that the nation, observing the progressive manner in which Royalty, under the mask of a prerogative, illegally exercised, was steadily encroaching upon the ancient institutions and established laws of the realm, perceived their only safety for the future, lay in compelling the Crown to surrender those unjust pretensions, which, if permitted to exist, would soon preclude the possibility of keeping either life or property secure.

Under such a government as that of Charles, England might be prosperous for a period, but she could not long remain so. It was the bounden duty of a people to resist a ruler who had shown himself such a traitor to their interests, and such a tyrant to their persons. He had trampled upon their privileges; he had disregarded their laws; he had invaded their rights; he had destroyed their liberties. The more they retreated, the farther he advanced ; the more they conceded, the larger the concession he demanded. They saw the hazardous position in which they were placed. They had learned by experience how he could break the most solemn promise, and violate the most sacred obligation. They knew that the very existence of freedom depended upon their conduct, and, with a spirit of noble generosity, they stood forward to vindicate the cause of individuals too humble to resist, and too obscure to oppose an adversary, who committed the most treasonable offences and perpetrated the most cruel outrages, under the shelter of a boundless prerogative, or the more blasphemous apology of the Divine Right of kings. To use the language of Lord Chatham, “ There might be ambition, there might be sedition, there might be violence, but no one shall persuade us that it was not the cause

[ocr errors]

1

of liberty on the one side, and of tyranny on the other.” From the conflict that ensued, the champions of freedom came forth triumphant: we rejoice in their success; we venerate those illustrious patriots who rescued the laws and the liberties of England from the evil genius of the House of Stuart; we glory in those immortal chiefs who with indomitable zeal and unshaken valour, stood ready to sacrifice their happiness, their fortunes, and their lives, for the preservation of the public weal; and never, we trust, may the day arrive, when Englishmen shall mention the names of a Hampden, a Cromwell, or a Pym, but with honour and respect.

One of the most striking advantages which the popular party possessed over their royalist opponents in the contest was the justness of their claims. Whatever might be the errors they committed after the struggle had commenced, whatever might be the crimes which tarnished their victory at its conclusion, no one can doubt but that at the onset they occupied the vantage ground of right, as the championsofa just and honourable cause. They aimed at no vast innovations, they proposed no speculative theories, they appealed to no revolutionary passions, but with a calm and determined energy they demanded from Royalty the recognition and observance of those great charters of liberty which their ancestors had established at such a costly sacrifice. They looked back through the vista of four hundred years, to that memorable Charter of Rights, the leading provisions of which still remained upon the statute book unrepealed. This was the pillar of fire that guided and

directed their troubled march. This was the beacon which amidst the darkness of the tempest and the fury of the storm continually served as an unerring light to direct their uncertain course. Had England remained enslaved and delivered over to the bondage of foreign rulers, had she become a tributary province of the Capets or the Valois, until the Tudors ascended the throne, it is hard to say what would have been the issue of the great contest in the seventeenth century. Happily such was not the case. Happily the popular party could from the Plantagenet reigns find written and established laws for almost every claim they revived, and for every privilege they demanded. They had only to sweep away the illegal encroachments which Royalty had effected under the disguise of false precedents, unlawful proclamations, or arbitrary imposts, and there remained laws in force amply sufficient for all the practical purposes of a free yet powerful government, as well as adequate to ensure a reasonable amount of liberty to the subject. To borrow the language of an able writer, “We know not whether there are any essential privileges of our countrymen, any fundamental securities against arbitrary power, so far as they depend upon positive institution, which may not be traced to the time when the House of Plantagenet filled the English Throne.”

That the Royalist party were manifestly the aggressors in their dispute with the Parliament, cannot be questioned at the present day, except by those persons who regard an absolute monarchy as the most perfect form of political government, and who still believe in the obsolete dogmas of passive obedience and the divine right of kings. It must, however, be admitted, that many of the arbitrary practices which the Tudor sovereigns in the plenitude of their power had grafted upon the royal prerogative afford some palliation for the conduct of Charles, although, certainly, not suffi

, cient to exculpate him from the treasonable crime of attempting to subvert the established laws of the realm, by illegal innovations and a most unwarrantable neglect of the prescribed forms of the constitution. The truth is, he was born and bred in the principles of despotism. He imbibed the notions of high prerogative from his very cradle ; for no sooner had he arrived at years of discretion, than his father began to teach him those dangerous maxims on the art of kingcraft, which in after life were never forgotten. Some of these lessons, such as the following, give us a lively idea of the Stuart tenets, respecting the duty of subjects. “As it is atheism and blasphemy in a creature to dispute what the Deity may do, so it is presumption and sedition in a subject to dispute what a king may do in the height of his power. Good Christians will be content with God's will revealed in his word ; and good subjects will rest in the king's will revealed in his law." Such was the text from which the Solomon of Whitehall discoursed to his children and courtiers, for their future edification on the art of government; and, certainly, the scholars proved in after years that the lessons they received in youth had not been allowed to pass away unheard. Charles differed from his father however in one im

« PreviousContinue »