The absolute power of parliament
the Stuarts passed from the throne of England
Their family, distinguished by a blind resistance to popular opinion, was no less distinguished by misfortunes.
During the period of their separate sovereignty over Scotland
, but three of the race escaped a violent death.
The first of them who aspired to the crown of Great Britain
was by an English monarch doomed to death on the scaffold; her grandson was beheaded in the name of the English
The next in the line, long a needy exile, is remembered chiefly for his vices; and, as if a domestic crime could alone avenge the national wrongs, James II.
was reduced from royalty to beggary by the conspiracy of his own children.
Yet the New World has monuments of the Stuarts; North America
acquired its British colonies during their rule, and towns, rivers, headlands, and even states bear their names.
The pacific disposition of James I. promoted the settlement of Virginia
; a timely neglect fostered New England
; the favoritism of Charles I. opened the way for religious liberty in Maryland
; Rhode Island
long cherished the charter which its importunity won from Charles II.; the honest friendship of James II.
favored the grants which gave
liberties to Pennsylvania
, and extended them to Delaware
; the crimes of the dynasty banished to our country men of learning, virtue, and fortitude.
Thus did despotism render benefits to freedom.
‘The wisdom of God,’ as John Knox
had predicted, ‘compelled the very malice of Satan, and such as were drowned in sin, to serve to his glory and the profit of his elect.’
Four hundred and seventy-four years after the barons at Runnymede
had extorted Magna Charta
from their legitimate king, the aristocratic revolution of 1688 established for England
and its dominions the sovereignty of Parliament and the supremacy of law. Its purpose was the security of property and existing franchises, and not the abolition of privilege, or the equalization of political power.
The chiefs of the nobility who, in 1640, had led the people in its struggle for liberty, had, from the passionate enthusiasm of ‘a generous inexperience,’ been hurried, against their design, into measures which their interests opposed.
Made circumspect by the past, the renewed contest did not disturb their prudence, nor triumph impair their moderation.
Avoiding the collisions with established privileges that spring from the fanatical exaggeration of abstract principles, still placing the hope of security on the system of checks and the balance of opposing powers, they made haste to finish the work of establishing the government.
The character of the new monarch of Great Britain
could mould its policy, but not its constitution.
True to his purposes, he yet wins no sympathy.
In political sagacity, in force of will, far superior to the English
statesmen who environed him; more tolerant than his ministers or his parliaments, the childless man seems like the unknown
character in algebra which is introduced to form the
equation, and dismissed when the problem is solved.
In his person thin and feeble, with eyes of a hectic lustre, of a temperament inclining to the melancholic, in conduct cautious, of a self-relying humor, with abiding impressions respecting men, he sought no favor, and relied for success on his own inflexibility and tile greatness and maturity of his designs.
Too wise to be cajoled, too firm to be complaisant, no address could sway his resolve.
, he had not scrupled to derive an increase of power from the crimes of rioters and assassins; in England
, no filial respect diminished the energy of his ambition.
His exterior was chilling; yet he had a passionate delight in horses and the chase.
In conversation he was abrupt, speaking little and slowly, and with repulsive dryness; in the day of battle, he was all activity, and the highest energy of life, without kindling his passions, animated his frame.
His trust in Providence
was so connected with faith in general laws, that, in every action, he sought the principle which should range it on an absolute decree.
Thus, unconscious to himself, he had sympathy with the people, who always have faith in Providence
‘Do you dread death in my company?’
he cried to the anxious sailors, when the ice on the coast of Holland
had almost crushed the boat that was bearing him to the shore.
Courage and pride pervaded the reserve of the prince who, spurning an alliance with a bastard daughter of Louis XIV., had made himself the centre of a gigantic opposition to France
, for the English
people, for English liberties, he had no affection, indifferently employing the whigs, who found their pride in the revolution, and the tories, who had opposed his elevation,
and who yet were the fittest instruments ‘to
carry the prerogative high.’
One great passion had absorbed his breast—the independence of his native country.
The harsh encroachments of Louis XIV., which, in 1672, had made William of Orange
a revolutionary stadtholder, now assisted to constitute him a revolutionary king, transforming the impassive champion of Dutch
independence into the defender of the liberties of Europe
The English statesmen who settled the principles of the revolution, careless of ideal excellence, took experience for their guide.
It is true that Somers
, the acknowledged leader of the whig party, of plebeian origin, and unsupported by inherited fortune, was ready, with the new king from a Calvinistic commonwealth, to admit corresponding maxims of government and religion.
Yet, free from fanaticism, even to indifference, by nature, by his profession as a lawyer, and by the tastes which he had cultivated, averse to metaphysical abstractions, he labored to confirm English liberties, not to establish the rights of man; to make an inventory of the privileges of Englishmen, and imbody them in a public law, and not to introduce a new capitulation, or to establish a perfect republic.
Freedom sought its title-deeds, not in the nature of man, but in the experience of the past, in records, charters, and prescription.
The revolution of 1688 was made, not on a theory of absolute justice, but on the facts friendly to freedom which were claimed as the inheritance of the nation.
The bill of rights
was regarded as a distinct, written recapitulation of ancient, well-established national possessions; English liberties, questioned by the abdicated king, were now adapted to the spirit of the age, and, with some
increase, were reasserted and confirmed as an inalien-
The tide of English liberty was advancing; the rising wave rolled beyond the highest mark of that which was receding.
In the progress of civilization, the human mind had been steadily tending towards the principle of inquiry and freedom.
This principle could not as yet conquer for itself a place in the laws; yet the only ground on which its admission could consistently be refused was abandoned.
The Anglican church, which, under the guardianship of authority, had aspired to assert for England
unity of faith, as the Catholic church had claimed to assert it for the whole human race, still retained the monopoly of political power; but a statute, narrow, indeed, in theory, and penuriously conceding a limited enfranchisement of mind as a privilege, tolerated dissenters, and opened a career to freedom of religious opinion.
With unrelenting zeal, the ‘Protestant’ revolution did, indeed, persecute the Roman Catholics
as a defeated tyranny, oppressed them with civil disfranchisements, and left them without allies, exposed to the vindictive severities of legal despotism; but for Protestant liberty and philosophic freedom the victory was decisive.
The ancient monarchical system, which had connected the unity of truth with authority, had also asserted the necessity of order in the state, under the doctrine of the personal, divine right of the king to the sovereignty.
This right was maintained by the Catholic church against every power but its own. Protestantism abolished the supremacy of the Roman
see; and the monarchical reformers, Luther, Cranmer
, the homilies of the Anglican church, recognized legitimacy without reserve, and opposing
pretension to a power of dispensing from
allegiance, taught passive obedience.
The right of resistance—familiar to Calvin and Knox
, to the early Puritans and the Presbyterians, not of itself a democratic doctrine, but rather the most cherished principle of feudal liberty, familiar to the nobles of every monarchy in Europe
—was the next conquest in the progress of popular freedom: the idea of popular power would follow, but was not yet ripe.
The revolution of 1688 dismissed the doctrine of passive obedience from the statute-book, to take its place, for the English
world, among exploded superstitions.
The old system of legitimacy, as it had existed in the monarchies of Christendom, was summoned to expire, and yielded, not as in Denmark
, and afterwards in Prussia
, to a military monarchy, nor yet to the supremacy of reason as expressed by the popular conviction, but to the transition theory of a social compact, to constitutional monarchy.
The commons, by a vast majority, declared the executive power to be a conditional trust; and the hereditary assembly of patricians, struggling in vain for a compromise with legitimacy by the appointment of a regency friendly to the church, or by simply acknowledging the accession of the next unquestioned heir, at length, after earnest debates, submitted to confess an original contract between king and people.
The election of William III.
to be king for life was a triumph of the perseverance of the more popular party in the commons over the deep, inherited prejudices of the high aristocracy.
In this lies the democratic tendency that won to the revolution the scattered remnant of ‘the good old’ republican ‘cause;’ this appropriated to the whigs the glory of the change, in which they exulted, and of which the tories regretted
and excused the necessity.
This also has commended
to the friends of freedom the epoch in which the great-European world beheld a successful insurrection against legitimacy and authority over mind.
By resolving that James II.
had abdicated, the representatives of the English
people assumed to sit in judgment on its kings.
By declaring the throne vacant, they annihilated the principle of legitimacy.
By disfranchising a dynasty for professing the Roman
faith, they not only exerted the power of interpreting the original contract, but of introducing into it new conditions.
By electing a king, they made themselves his constituents; and the parliament of England became the fountain of sovereignty for the English
The royal prerogative of a veto on English legislation soon fell into disuse.
The dispensing power was expressly abrogated, or denied.
The judiciary was rendered independent of the crown; so that enfranchisements were safe against executive interference, and state trials ceased to be collisions between bloodthirsty hatred and despair.
, parliament was absolute.
The progress of civilization had gradually elevated the commercial classes, and given importance to towns.
It now set up, as its landmark and evidence of advancement, the acknowledged influence and power of the men of business; of those who make the exchanges between the consumer and the producer, and those also who assist the exchanges by advances.
The reverence for the landed aristocracy was deeply branded into the rural mind; in the parliament of Richard Cromwell
, it had even been said that the country people were ready to become insurgents for
It was in cities and towns, among
those engaged in commerce, in which the ancient patricians had no share, that the spirit of liberty became active, and was quickened by the cupidity which sought new benefits for trade through political influence.
The day for shouting liberty and equality had not come; the cry was, ‘Liberty and property.’
The revolution was made by the property of the country, and wealth became a power in the state; and when, at elections, the country people were first invited to seek other representatives than the large landholders, it was not the leveller or the republican, but the merchant, or a candidate in the interest of the merchant, who taught the timid electors their first lessons in independence.
But the moneyed class gained influence in two other modes—the manner of granting supplies, and the credit system.
The civil list was fixed for the whole reign; all other supplies were granted annually, and were subjects of special appropriation; so that the king, who had been elected by parliament, was subject to its enactments, and, dependent on its annual supplies, was also held responsible for the expenditure of the public treasure.
Moreover, as the expenses of wars soon exceeded the revenue of England
, the government prepared to avail itself of the largest credit which, not the accumulations of wealth only, but the floating credits of commerce and the funding system, could supply.
The price of such aid was political influence.
That the government should, as its paramount policy, promote commerce, domestic manufactures, and a favorable balance of trade; that the classes benefited by this policy should sustain the government with their credit
and their wealth, was the reciprocal relation and com-
promise, on which rested the fate of parties in England
The floating credits of commerce, aided by commercial accumulations, soon grew powerful enough to balance the landed interest: stock aristocracy competed with feudalism.
So imposing was the spectacle of the introduction of the citizens and of commerce as the arbiter of alliances, the umpire of factions, the judge of war and peace, that it roused the attention of speculative men; that, at last, Bolingbroke, claiming to speak for the landed aristocracy, described his opponents, the whigs, as the party of the banks, the commercial corporations, and, ‘in general, the moneyed interest;’ and the gentle Addison
, espousing the cause of the burghers, declared nothing to be more reasonable than that ‘those who have engrossed the riches of the nation should have the management of its public treasure, and the direction of its fleets and armies.’
In a word, the old English aristocracy was compelled to respect the innovating element imbodied in the moneyed interest.
Still more revolutionary was the political theory developed by the revolution.
The old idea of a Christian monarchy resting on the law of God was exploded, and political power sought its origin in compact.
Absolute monarchy was denied to be a form