Transcribed from the 1888 Cassell & Company edition by David Price, email email@example.com
CASSELL'S NATIONAL LIBRARY.
A HISTORY OF THE EARLY PART OF THE REIGN OF JAMES THE SECOND
BY CHARLES JAMES FOX.
CASSELL & COMPANY, LIMITED: LONDON, PARIS, NEW YORK & MELBOURNE. 1888.
Fox's "History of the Reign of James II.," which begins with his view of the reign of Charles II. and breaks off at the execution of Monmouth, was the beginning of a History of England from the Revolution, upon which he worked in the last years of his life, for which he collected materials in Paris after the Peace of Amiens, in 1802—he died in September, 1806—and which was first published in 1808.
The grandfather of Charles James Fox was Stephen, son of William Fox, of Farley, in Wiltshire. Stephen Fox was a young royalist under Charles I. He was twenty-two at the time of the king's execution, went into exile during the Commonwealth, came back at the Restoration, was appointed paymaster of the first two regiments of guards that were raised, and afterwards Paymaster of all the Forces. In that office he made much money, but rebuilt the church at Farley, and earned lasting honour as the actual founder of Chelsea Hospital, which was opened in 1682 for wounded and superannuated soldiers. The ground and buildings had been appointed by James I., in 1609, as Chelsea College, for the training of disputants against the Roman Catholics. Sir Stephen Fox himself contributed thirteen thousand pounds to the carrying out of this design. Fox's History dealt, therefore, with times in which his grandfather had played a part.
In 1703, when his age was seventy-six, Stephen Fox took a second wife, by whom he had two sons, who became founders of two families; Stephen, the elder, became first Earl of Ilchester; Henry, the younger, who married Georgina, daughter of the Duke of Richmond, and was himself created, in 1763, Baron Holland of Farley. Of the children of that marriage Charles James Fox was the third son, born on the 24th of January, 1749. The second son had died in infancy.
Henry Fox inherited Tory opinions. He was regarded by George II. as a good man of business, and was made Secretary of War in 1754, when Charles James, whose cleverness made him a favoured child, was five years old. In the next year Henry Fox was Secretary of State for the Southern Department. The outbreak of the Seven Years' War bred discontent and change of Ministry. The elder Fox had then to give place to the elder Pitt. But Henry Fox was compensated by the office of Paymaster of the Forces, from which he knew even better than his father had known how to extract profit. He rapidly acquired the wealth which he joined to his title as Lord Holland of Farley, and for which he was attacked vigorously, until two hundred thousand pounds—some part of the money that stayed by him—had been refunded.
Henry Fox, Lord Holland, found his boy, Charles James, brilliant and lively, made him a companion, and indulged him to the utmost. Once he expressed a strong desire to break a watch that his father was winding up: his father gave it him to dash upon the floor. Once his father had promised that when an old garden wall at Holland House was blown down with gunpowder before replacing it with iron railings, he should see the explosion. The workmen blew it down in the boy's absence: his father had the wall rebuilt in its old form that it might be blown down again in his presence, and his promise kept. He was sent first to Westminster School, and then to Eton. At home he was his father's companion, joined in the talk of men at his father's dinner-parties, travelled at fourteen with his father to the Continent, and is said to have been allowed five guineas a night for gambling-money. He grew up reckless of the worth of money, and for many years the excitement of gambling was to him as one of the necessaries of life. His immense energy at school and college made him work as hard as the most diligent man who did nothing else, and devote himself to gambling, horse-racing, and convivial pleasures as vigorously as if he were the weak man capable of nothing else. The Eton boys all prophesied his future fame. At Oxford, where he entered Hertford College, he was one of the best men of his time, and one of the wildest. A clergyman, strong in Greek, was arguing with young Fox against the genuineness of a verse of the Iliad because its measure was unusual. Fox at once quoted from memory some twenty parallels.
From college he went on the usual tour of Europe, spending lavishly, incurring heavy debts, and sending home large bills for his father to pay. One bill alone, paid by his father to a creditor at Naples, was for sixteen thousand pounds. He came back in raiment of the highest fashion, and was put into Parliament in 1768, not yet twenty years old, as member for Midhurst. He began his political life with the family opinions, defended the Ministry against John Wilkes, and was provided promptly with a place as Paymaster of the Pensions to the Widows of Land Officers, and then, when he had reached the age of twenty-one, there was a seat found for him at the Board of Admiralty.
At once Fox made his mark in the House as a brilliant debater with an intellectual power and an industry that made him master of the subjects he discussed. Still also he was scattering money, and incurring debt, training race-horses, and staking heavily at gambling tables. When a noble friend, who was not a gambler, offered to bet fifty pounds upon a throw, Fox declined, saying, "I never play for pence."
After a few years of impatient submission to Lord North, Fox broke from him, and it was not long before he had broken from Lord North's opinions and taken the side of the people in all leading questions. He became the friend of Burke; and joined in the attack upon the policy of Coercion that destroyed the union between England and her American colonies. In 1774, at the age of twenty-five, Fox lost by death his father, his mother, and his elder brother, who had succeeded to the title, and who had left a little son to be his heir. In February of that year Lord North had finally broken with Fox by causing a letter to be handed to him in the House of Commons while he was sitting by his side on the Treasury Bench.
"His Majesty has thought proper to order a new commission of the Treasury to be made out, in which I do not perceive your name. NORTH."
By the end of the year he was member for Malmesbury, and one of the chiefs in opposition. When Lord North opened the session of 1775 with a speech arguing the need of coercion, Fox compared what ought to have been done with what was done, and said that Lord Chatham, the King of Prussia, nay, even Alexander the Great, never gained more in one campaign than Lord North had lost. He had lost a whole continent. When Lord North's ministry fell in 1782, Fox became a Secretary of State, resigning on the death of Rockingham. In coalition with Lord North, Fox brought in an India Bill, which was rejected by the Lords, and caused a resignation of the Ministry. Pitt then came into office, and there was rivalry between a Pitt and a Fox of the second generation, with some reversal in each son of the political bias of his father.
In opposing the policy that caused the American Revolution Fox and Burke were of one mind. He opposed the slave trade. After the outbreak of the French Revolution he differed from Burke, and resolutely opposed Pitt's policy of interference by armed force.
William Pitt died on the 23rd January, 1806. Charles James Fox became again a Secretary of State, and had set on foot negotiations for a peace with France before his own death, eight months later, at the age of fifty- seven.
During the last ten or twelve years of his life Fox had withdrawn from the dissipations of his earlier years. His interest in horse-racing flagged after the death, in 1793, of his friend Lord Foley, a kindly, honourable man, upon whose judgment in such matters Fox had greatly relied. Lord Foley began his sporting life with a clear estate of 1,800 pounds a year, and 100,000 pounds in ready money. He ended his sporting and his earthly life with an estate heavily encumbered and an empty pocket.
Introductory observations—First period, from Henry VII. to the year 1588—Second period, from 1588 to 1640—Meeting of Parliament—Redress of grievances—Strafford's attainder—The commencement of the Civil War—Treaty from the Isle of Wight—The king's execution—Cromwell's power; his character—Indifference of the nation respecting forms of government—The Restoration—Ministry of Clarendon sod Southampton—Cabal—Dutch War—De Witt—The Prince of Orange—The Popish plot—The Habeas Corpus Act—The Exclusion Bill—Dissolution of Charles the Second's last Parliament—His power; his tyranny in Scotland; in England—Exorbitant fines—Executions—Forfeitures of charters—Despotism established—Despondency of good men—Charles's death; his character—Reflections upon the probable consequences of his reign and death.
In reading the history of every country there are certain periods at which the mind naturally pauses to meditate upon, and consider them, with reference, not only to their immediate effects, but to their more remote consequences. After the wars of Marius and Sylla, and the incorporation, as it were, of all Italy with the city of Rome, we cannot but stop to consider the consequences likely to result from these important events; and in this instance we find them to be just such as might have been expected.
The reign of our Henry VII. affords a field of more doubtful speculation. Every one who takes a retrospective view of the wars of York and Lancaster, and attends to the regulations effected by the policy of that prince, must see they would necessarily lead to great and important changes in the government; but what the tendency of such changes would be, and much more, in what manner they would be produced, might be a question of great difficulty. It is now the generally received opinion, and I think a probable opinion, that to the provisions of that reign we are to refer the origin, both of the unlimited power of the Tudors and of the liberties wrested by our ancestors from the Stuarts; that tyranny was their immediate, and liberty their remote, consequence; but he must have great confidence in his own sagacity who can satisfy himself that, unaided by the knowledge of subsequent events, he could, from a consideration of the causes, have foreseen the succession of effects so different.
Another period that affords ample scope for speculation of this kind is that which is comprised between the years 1588 and 1640, a period of almost uninterrupted tranquillity and peace. The general improvement in all arts of civil life, and, above all, the astonishing progress of literature, are the most striking among the general features of that period, and are in themselves causes sufficient to produce effects of the utmost importance. A country whose language was enriched by the works of Hooker, Raleigh, and Bacon, could not but experience a sensible change in its manners and in its style of thinking; and even to speak the same language in which Spenser and Shakespeare had written seemed a sufficient plea to rescue the commons of England from the appellation of brutes, with which Henry VIII. had addressed them. Among the more particular effects of this general improvement the most material and worthy to be considered appear to me to have been the frequency of debate in the House of Commons, and the additional value that came to be set on a seat in that assembly.
From these circumstances a sagacious observer may be led to expect the most important revolutions; and from the latter he may be enabled to foresee that the House of Commons will be the principal instrument in bringing them to pass. But in what manner will that house conduct itself? Will it content itself with its regular share of legislative power, and with the influence which it cannot fail to possess whenever it exerts itself upon the other branches of the legislative, and on the executive power; or will it boldly (perhaps rashly) pretend to a power commensurate with the natural rights of the representative of the people? If it should, will it not be obliged to support its claims by military force? And how long will such a force be under its control? How long before it follows the usual course of all armies, and ranges itself under a single master? If such a master should arise, will he establish an hereditary or an elective government? If the first, what will be gained but a change of dynasty? If the second, will not the military force, as it chose the first king or protector (the name is of no importance), choose in effect all his successors? Or will he fail, and shall we have a restoration, usually the most dangerous and worst of all revolutions? To some of these questions the answers may, from the experience of past ages, be easy, but to many of them far otherwise. And he will read history with most profit who the most canvasses questions of this nature, especially if he can divest his mind for the time of the recollection of the event as it in fact succeeded.
The next period, as it is that which immediately precedes the commencement of this history, requires a more detailed examination; nor is there any more fertile of matter, whether for reflection or speculation. Between the year 1640 and the death of Charles II. we have the opportunity of contemplating the state in almost every variety of circumstance. Religious dispute, political contest in all its forms and degrees, from the honest exertions of party and the corrupt intrigues of faction to violence and civil war; despotism, first, in the person of a usurper, and afterwards in that of an hereditary king; the most memorable and salutary improvements in the laws, the most abandoned administration of them; in fine, whatever can happen to a nation, whether of glorious of calamitous, makes a part of this astonishing and instructive picture.
The commencement of this period is marked by exertions of the people, through their representatives in the House of Commons, not only justifiable in their principle, but directed to the properest objects, and in a manner the most judicious. Many of their leaders were greatly versed in ancient as well as modern learning, and were even enthusiastically attached to the great names of antiquity; but they never conceived the wild project of assimilating the government of England to that of Athens, of Sparta, or of Rome. They were content with applying to the English constitution, and to the English laws, the spirit of liberty which had animated and rendered illustrious the ancient republics. Their first object was to obtain redress of past grievances, with a proper regard to the individuals who had suffered; the next, to prevent the recurrence of such grievances by the abolition of tyrannical tribunals acting upon arbitrary maxims in criminal proceedings, and most improperly denominated courts of justice. They then proceeded to establish that fundamental principle of all free government, the preserving of the purse to the people and their representatives. And though there may be more difference of opinion upon their proposed regulations in regard to the militia, yet surely, when a contest was to be foreseen, they could not, consistently with prudence, leave the power of the sword altogether in the hands of an adverse party.
The prosecution of Lord Strafford, or rather, the manner in which it was carried on, is less justifiable. He was, doubtless, a great delinquent, and well deserved the severest punishment; but nothing short of a clearly proved case of self-defence can justify, or even excuse, a departure from the sacred rules of criminal justice. For it can rarely indeed happen that the mischief to be apprehended from suffering any criminal, however guilty, to escape, can be equal to that resulting from the violation of those rules to which the innocent owe the security of all that is dear to them. If such cases have existed they must have been in instances where trial has been wholly out of the question, as in that of Caesar and other tyrants; but when a man is once in a situation to be tried, and his person in the power of his accusers and his judges, he can no longer be formidable in that degree which alone can justify (if anything can) the violation of the substantial rules of criminal proceedings.
At the breaking out of the Civil War, so intemperately denominated a rebellion by Lord Clarendon and other Tory writers, the material question appears to me to be, whether or not sufficient attempts were made by the Parliament and their leaders to avoid bringing affairs to such a decision? That, according to the general principles of morality, they had justice on their side cannot fairly be doubted; but did they sufficiently attend to that great dictum of Tully in questions of civil dissension, wherein he declares his preference of even an unfair peace to the most just war? Did they sufficiently weigh the dangers that might ensue even from victory; dangers, in such cases, little less formidable to the cause of liberty than those which might follow a defeat? Did they consider that it is not peculiar to the followers of Pompey, and the civil wars of Rome, that the event to be looked for is, as the same Tully describes it, in case of defeat—proscription; in that of victory—servitude? Is the failure of the negotiation when the king was in the Isle of Wight to be imputed to the suspicions justly entertained of his sincerity, or to the ambition of the parliamentary leaders? If the insincerity of the king was the real cause, ought not the mischief to be apprehended from his insincerity rather to have been guarded against by treaty than alleged as a pretence for breaking off the negotiation? Sad, indeed, will be the condition of the world if we are never to make peace with an adverse party whose sincerity we have reason to suspect. Even just grounds for such suspicions will but too often occur, and when such fail, the proneness of man to impute evil qualities, as well as evil designs, to his enemies, will suggest false ones. In the present case the suspicion of insincerity was, it is true, so just, as to amount to a moral certainty. The example of the petition of right was a satisfactory proof that the king made no point of adhering to concessions which he considered as extorted from him; and a philosophical historian, writing above a century after the time, can deem the pretended hard usage Charles met with as a sufficient excuse for his breaking his faith in the first instance, much more must that prince himself, with all his prejudices and notions of his divine right, have thought it justifiable to retract concessions, which to him, no doubt, appeared far more unreasonable than the petition of right, and which, with much more colour, he might consider as extorted. These considerations were probably the cause why the Parliament so long delayed their determination of accepting the king's offer as a basis for treaty; but, unfortunately, they had delayed so long that when at last they adopted it they found themselves without power to carry it into execution. The army having now ceased to be the servants, had become the masters of the Parliament, and, being entirely influenced by Cromwell, gave a commencement to what may, properly speaking, be called a new reign. The subsequent measures, therefore, the execution of the king, as well as others, are not to be considered as acts of the Parliament, but of Cromwell; and great and respectable as are the names of some who sat in the high court, they must be regarded, in this instance, rather as ministers of that usurper than as acting from themselves.
The execution of the king, though a far less violent measure than that of Lord Strafford, is an event of so singular a nature that we cannot wonder that it should have excited more sensation than any other in the annals of England. This exemplary act of substantial justice, as it has been called by some, of enormous wickedness by others, must be considered in two points of view. First, was it not in itself just and necessary? Secondly, was the example of it likely to be salutary or pernicious? In regard to the first of these questions, Mr. Hume, not perhaps intentionally, makes the best justification of it by saying that while Charles lived the projected republic could never be secure. But to justify taking away the life of an individual upon the principle of self- defence, the danger must be not problematical and remote, but evident and immediate. The danger in this instance was not of such a nature, and the imprisonment or even banishment of Charles might have given to the republic such a degree of security as any government ought to be content with. It must be confessed, however, on the other aide, that if the republican government had suffered the king to escape, it would have been an act of justice and generosity wholly unexampled; and to have granted him even his life would have been one among the more rare efforts of virtue. The short interval between the deposal and death of princes is become proverbial, and though there may be some few examples on the other side as far as life is concerned, I doubt whether a single instance can be found where liberty has been granted to a deposed monarch. Among the modes of destroying persons in such a situation, there can be little doubt but that that adopted by Cromwell and his adherents is the least dishonourable. Edward II., Richard II., Henry VI., Edward V., had none of them long survived their deposal, but this was the first instance, in our history at least, where, of such an act, it could be truly said that it was not done in a corner.
As to the second question, whether the advantage to be derived from the example was such as to justify an act of such violence, it appears to me to be a complete solution of it to observe that, with respect to England (and I know not upon what ground we are to set examples for other nations; or, in other words, to take the criminal justice of the world into our hands) it was wholly needless, and therefore unjustifiable, to set one for kings at a time when it was intended the office of king should be abolished, and consequently that no person should be in the situation to make it the rule of his conduct. Besides, the miseries attendant upon a deposed monarch seem to be sufficient to deter any prince, who thinks of consequences, from running the risk of being placed in such a situation; or, if death be the only evil that can deter him, the fate of former tyrants deposed by their subjects would by no means encourage him to hope he could avoid even that catastrophe. As far as we can judge from the event, the example was certainly not very effectual, since both the sons of Charles, though having their father's fate before their eyes, yet feared not to violate the liberties of the people even more than he had attempted to do.
If we consider this question of example in a more extended view, and look to the general effect produced upon the minds of men, it cannot be doubted but the opportunity thus given to Charles to display his firmness and piety has created more respect for his memory than it could otherwise have obtained. Respect and pity for the sufferer on the one hand, and hatred to his enemies on the other, soon produce favour and aversion to their respective causes; and thus, even though it should be admitted (which is doubtful) that some advantage may have been gained to the cause of liberty by the terror of the example operating upon the minds of princes, such advantage is far outweighed by the zeal which admiration for virtue, and pity for sufferings, the best passions of the human heart, have excited in favour of the royal cause. It has been thought dangerous to the morals of mankind, even in fiction and romance, to make us sympathise with characters whose general conduct is blameable; but how much greater must the effect be when in real history our feelings are interested in favour of a monarch with whom, to say the least, his subjects were obliged to contend in arms for their liberty? After all, however, notwithstanding what the more reasonable part of mankind may think upon this question, it is much to be doubted whether this singular proceeding has not as much as any other circumstance, served to raise the character of the English nation in the opinion of Europe in general. He who has read, and still more, he who has heard in conversation discussions upon this subject by foreigners, must have perceived that, even in the minds of those who condemn the act, the impression made by it has been far more that of respect and admiration than that of disgust and horror. The truth is that the guilt of the action—that is to say, the taking away of the life of the king, is what most men in the place of Cromwell and his associates would have incurred; what there is of splendour and of magnanimity in it, I mean the publicity and solemnity of the act, is what few would be capable of displaying. It is a degrading fact to human nature, that even the sending away of the Duke of Gloucester was an instance of generosity almost unexampled in the history of transactions of this nature.
From the execution of the king to the death of Cromwell, the government was, with some variation of forms, in substance monarchical and absolute, as a government established by a military force will almost invariably be, especially when the exertions of such a force are continued for any length of time. If to this general rule our own age, and a people whom their origin and near relation to us would almost warrant us to call our own nation, have afforded a splendid and perhaps a solitary exception, we must reflect not only that a character of virtues so happily tempered by one another, and so wholly unalloyed with any vices, as that of Washington, is hardly to be found in the pages of history, but that even Washington himself might not have been able to act his most glorious of all parts without the existence of circumstances uncommonly favourable, and almost peculiar to the country which was to be the theatre of it. Virtue like his depends not indeed upon time or place; but although in no country or time would he have degraded himself into a Pisistratus, or a Caesar, or a Cromwell, he might have shared the fate of a Cato, or a De Witt; or, like Ludlow and Sidney, have mourned in exile the lost liberties of his country.
With the life of the protector almost immediately ended the government which he had established. The great talents of this extraordinary person had supported during his life a system condemned equally by reason and by prejudice: by reason, as wanting freedom; by prejudice, as a usurpation; and it must be confessed to be no mean testimony to his genius, that notwithstanding the radical defects of such a system, the splendour of his character and exploits render the era of the protectorship one of the most brilliant in English history. It is true his conduct in foreign concerns is set off to advantage by a comparison of it with that of those who preceded and who followed him. If he made a mistake in espousing the French interest instead of the Spanish, we should recollect that in examining this question we must divest our minds entirely of all the considerations which the subsequent relative state of those two empires suggest to us before we can become impartial judges in it; and at any rate we must allow his reign, in regard to European concerns, to have been most glorious when contrasted with the pusillanimity of James I., with the levity of Charles I., and the mercenary meanness of the two last princes of the house of Stuart. Upon the whole, the character of Cromwell must ever stand high in the list of those who raised themselves to supreme power by the force of their genius; and among such, even in respect of moral virtue, it would be found to be one of the least exceptionable if it had not been tainted with that most odious and degrading of all human vices, hypocrisy.
The short interval between Cromwell's death and the restoration exhibits the picture of a nation either so wearied with changes as not to feel, or so subdued by military power as not to dare to show, any care or even preference with regard to the form of their government. All was in the army; and that army, by such a concurrence of fortuitous circumstances as history teaches us not to be surprised at, had fallen into the hands of a man than whom a baser could not be found in its lowest ranks. Personal courage appears to have been Monk's only virtue; reserve and dissimulation made up the whole stock of his wisdom. But to this man did the nation look up, ready to receive from his orders the form of government he should choose to prescribe. There is reason to believe that, from the general bias of the Presbyterians, as well as of the Cavaliers, monarchy was the prevalent wish; but it is observable that although the Parliament was, contrary to the principle upon which it was pretended to be called, composed of many avowed royalists, yet none dared to hint at the restoration of the king till they had Monk's permission, or rather command to receive and consider his letters. It is impossible, in reviewing the whole of this transaction, not to remark that a general who had gained his rank, reputation, and station in the service of a republic, and of what he, as well as others, called, however falsely, the cause of liberty, made no scruple to lay the nation prostrate at the feet of a monarch, without a single provision in favour of that cause; and if the promise of indemnity may seem to argue that there was some attention, at least, paid to the safety of his associates in arms, his subsequent conduct gives reason to suppose that even this provision was owing to any other cause rather than to a generous feeling of his breast. For he afterwards not only acquiesced in the insults so meanly put upon the illustrious corpse of Blake, under whose auspices and command he had performed the most creditable services of his life, but in the trial of Argyle produced letters of friendship and confidence to take away the life of a nobleman, the zeal and cordiality of whose co-operation with him, proved by such documents, was the chief ground of his execution; thus gratuitously surpassing in infamy those miserable wretches who, to save their own lives, are sometimes persuaded to impeach and swear away the lives of their accomplices.
The reign of Charles II. forms one of the most singular as well as of the most important periods of history. It is the era of good laws and bad government. The abolition of the court of wards, the repeal of the writ De Heretico Comburendo, the Triennial Parliament Bill, the establishment of the rights of the House of Commons in regard to impeachment, the expiration of the Licence Act, and, above all, the glorious statute of Habeas Corpus, have therefore induced a modern writer of great eminence to fix the year 1679 as the period at which our constitution had arrived at its greatest theoretical perfection; but he owns, in a short note upon the passage alluded to, that the times immediately following were times of great practical oppression. What a field for meditation does this short observation from such a man furnish! What reflections does it not suggest to a thinking mind upon the inefficacy of human laws and the imperfection of human constitutions! We are called from the contemplation of the progress of our constitution, and our attention fixed with the most minute accuracy to a particular point, when it is said to have risen to its utmost perfection. Here we are, then, at the best moment of the best constitution that ever human wisdom framed. What follows? A tide of oppression and misery, not arising from external or accidental causes, such as war, pestilence, or famine, nor even from any such alteration of the laws as might be supposed to impair this boasted perfection, but from a corrupt and wicked administration, which all the so much admired checks of the constitution were not able to prevent. How vain, then, how idle, how presumptuous is the opinion that laws can do everything! and how weak and pernicious the maxim founded upon it, that measures, not men, are to be attended to.
The first years of this reign, under the administration of Southampton and Clarendon, form by far the least exceptionable part of it; and even in this period the executions of Argyle and Vane and the whole conduct of the Government with respect to church matters, both in England and in Scotland, were gross instances of tyranny. With respect to the execution of those who were accused of having been more immediately concerned in the king's death, that of Scrope, who had come in upon the proclamation, and of the military officers who had attended the trial, was a violation of every principle of law and justice. But the fate of the others, though highly dishonourable to Monk, whose whole power had arisen from his zeal in their service, and the favour and confidence with which they had rewarded him, and not, perhaps, very creditable to the nation, of which many had applauded, more had supported, and almost all had acquiesced in the act, is not certainly to be imputed as a crime to the king, or to those of his advisers who were of the Cavalier party. The passion of revenge, though properly condemned both by philosophy and religion, yet when it is excited by injurious treatment of persons justly dear to us, is among the most excusable of human frailties; and if Charles, in his general conduct, had shown stronger feelings of gratitude for services performed to his father, his character, in the eyes of many, would be rather raised than lowered by this example of severity against the regicides. Clarendon is said to have been privy to the king's receiving money from Louis XIV.; but what proofs exist of this charge (for a heavy charge it is) I know not. Southampton was one of the very few of the Royalist party who preserved any just regard for the liberties of the people; and the disgust which a person possessed of such sentiments must unavoidably feel is said to have determined him to quit the king's service, and to retire altogether from public affairs. Whether he would have acted upon this determination, his death, which happened in the year 1667, prevents us now from ascertaining.
After the fall of Clarendon, which soon followed, the king entered into that career of misgovernment which, that he was able to pursue it to its end, is a disgrace to the history of our country. If anything can add to our disgust at the meanness with which he solicited a dependence upon Louis XIV., it is, the hypocritical pretence upon which he was continually pressing that monarch. After having passed a law, making it penal to affirm (what was true) that he was a papist, he pretended (which was certainly not true) to be a zealous and bigoted papist; and the uneasiness of his conscience at so long delaying a public avowal of his conversion, was more than once urged by him as an argument to increase the pension, and to accelerate the assistance, he was to receive from France. In a later period of his reign, when his interest, as he thought, lay the other way, that he might at once continue to earn his wages, and yet put off a public conversion, he stated some scruples, contracted, no doubt, by his affection to the Protestant churches, in relation to the popish mode of giving the sacrament, and pretended a wish that the pope might be induced by Louis to consider of some alterations in that respect, to enable him to reconcile himself to the Roman church with a clear and pure conscience.
The ministry known by the name of the Cabal seems to have consisted of characters so unprincipled, as justly to deserve the severity with which they have been treated by all writers who have mentioned them; but if it is probable that they were ready to betray their king, as well as their country, it is certain that the king betrayed them, keeping from them the real state of his connexion with France, and from some of them, at least, the secret of what he was pleased to call his religion. Whether this concealment on his part arose from his habitual treachery, and from the incapacity which men of that character feel of being open and honest, even when they know it is their interest to be so, or from an apprehension that they might demand for themselves some share of the French money, which he was unwilling to give them, cannot now be determined. But to the want of genuine and reciprocal confidence between him and those ministers is to be attributed, in a great measure, the escape which the nation at that time experienced—an escape, however, which proved to be only a reprieve from that servitude to which they were afterwards reduced in the latter years of the reign.
The first Dutch war had been undertaken against all maxims of policy as well as of justice; but the superior infamy of the second, aggravated by the disappointment of all the hopes entertained by good men from the triple alliance, and by the treacherous attempt at piracy with which it was commenced, seems to have effaced the impression of it, not only from the minds of men living at the time, but from most of the writers who have treated of this reign. The principle, however, of both was the same, and arbitrary power at home was the object of both. The second Dutch war rendered the king's system and views so apparent to all who were not determined to shut their eyes against conviction, that it is difficult to conceive how persons who had any real care or regard either for the liberty or honour of the country, could trust him afterwards. And yet even Sir William Temple, who appears to have been one of the most honest, as well as of the most enlightened, statesmen of his time, could not believe his treachery to be quite so deep as it was in fact, and seems occasionally to have hoped that he was in earnest in his professed intentions of following the wise and just system that was recommended to him. Great instances of credulity and blindness in wise men are often liable to the suspicion of being pretended, for the purpose of justifying the continuing in situations of power and employment longer than strict honour would allow. But to Temple's sincerity his subsequent conduct gives abundant testimony. When he had reason to think that his services could no longer be useful to his country he withdrew wholly from public business, and resolutely adhered to the preference of philosophical retirement, which, in his circumstances, was just, in spite of every temptation which occurred to bring him back to the more active scene. The remainder of his life he seems to have employed in the most noble contemplations and the most elegant amusements; every enjoyment heightened, no doubt, by reflecting on the honourable part he had acted in public affairs, and without any regret on his own account (whatever he might feel for his country) at having been driven from them.
Besides the important consequences produced by this second Dutch war in England, it gave birth to two great events in Holland; the one as favourable as the other was disastrous to the cause of general liberty. The catastrophe of De Witt, the wisest, best, and most truly patriotic minister that ever appeared upon the public stage, as it was an act of the most crying injustice and ingratitude, so, likewise, is it the most completely discouraging example that history affords to the lovers of liberty. If Aristides was banished, he was also recalled; if Dion was repaid for his services to the Syracusans by ingratitude, that ingratitude was more than once repented of; if Sidney and Russell died upon the scaffold, they had not the cruel mortification of falling by the hands of the people; ample justice was done to their memory, and the very sound of their names is still animating to every Englishman attached to their glorious cause. But with De Witt fell also his cause and his party; and although a name so respected by all who revere virtue and wisdom, when employed in their noblest sphere, the political service of the public, must undoubtedly be doubly dear to his countrymen, yet I do not know that, even to this day, any public honours have been paid by them to his memory.
On the other hand, the circumstances attending the first appearance of the Prince of Orange in public affairs, were, in every respect, most fortunate for himself, for England, for Europe. Of an age to receive the strongest impressions, and of a character to render such impressions durable, he entered the world in a moment when the calamitous situation of the United Provinces could not but excite in every Dutchman the strongest detestation of the insolent ambition of Louis XIV., and the greatest contempt of an English government, which could so far mistake or betray the interests of the country as to lend itself to his projects. Accordingly, the circumstances attending his outset seem to have given a lasting bias to his character; and through the whole course of his life the prevailing sentiments of his mind seem to have been those which he imbibed at this early period. These sentiments were most peculiarly adapted to the positions in which this great man was destined to be placed. The light in which he viewed Louis rendered him the fittest champion of the independence of Europe; and in England, French influence and arbitrary power were in those times so intimately connected, that he who had not only seen with disapprobation, but had so sensibly felt the baneful effects of Charles's connection with France, seemed educated, as it were, to be the defender of English liberty. This prince's struggles in defence of his country, his success in rescuing it from a situation to all appearance so desperate, and the consequent failure and mortification of Louis XIV., form a scene in history upon which the mind dwells with unceasing delight. One never can read Louis's famous declaration against the Hollanders, knowing the event which is to follow, without feeling the heart dilate with exultation, and a kind of triumphant contempt, which, though not quite consonant to the principles of pure philosophy, never fails to give the mind inexpressible satisfaction. Did the relation of such events form the sole, or even any considerable part of the historian's task, pleasant indeed would be his labours; but, though far less agreeable, it is not a less useful or necessary part of his business, to relate the triumphs of successful wickedness, and the oppression of truth, justice, and liberty.
The interval from the separate peace between England and the United Provinces, to the peace of Nymwegen, was chiefly employed by Charles in attempts to obtain money from France and other foreign powers, in which he was sometimes more, sometimes less successful; and in various false professions, promises, and other devices to deceive his parliament and his people, in which he uniformly failed. Though neither the nature and extent of his connection with France, nor his design of introducing popery into England, were known at that time as they now are, yet there were not wanting many indications of the king's disposition, and of the general tendency of his designs. Reasonable persons apprehended that the supplies asked were intended to be used, not for the specious purpose of maintaining the balance of Europe, but for that of subduing the parliament and people who should give them; and the great antipathy of the bulk of the nation to popery caused many to be both more clear-sighted in discovering, and more resolute in resisting the designs of the court, than they would probably have shown themselves, if civil liberty alone had been concerned.
When the minds of men were in the disposition which such a state of things was naturally calculated to produce, it is not to be wondered at that a ready, and, perhaps, a too facile belief should have been accorded to the rumour of a popish plot. But with the largest possible allowance for the just apprehensions which were entertained, and the consequent irritation of the country, it is wholly inconceivable how such a plot as that brought forward by Tongue and Oates could obtain any general belief. Nor can any stretch of candour make us admit it to be probable, that all who pretended a belief of it did seriously entertain it. On the other hand, it seems an absurdity, equal almost in degree to the belief of the plot itself, to suppose that it was a story fabricated by the Earl of Shaftesbury and the other leaders of the Whig party; and it would be highly unjust, as well as uncharitable, not to admit that the generality of those who were engaged in the prosecution of it were probably sincere in their belief of it, since it is unquestionable that at the time very many persons, whose political prejudices were of a quite different complexion, were under the same delusion. The unanimous votes of the two houses of parliament, and the names, as well as the number of those who pronounced Lord Strafford to be guilty, seem to put this beyond a doubt. Dryden, writing soon after the time, says, in his "Absalom and Achitophel," that the plot was
"Bad in itself, but represented wore:"
"Some truth there was, but dash'd and brew'd with lies:"
"Succeeding times did equal folly call, Believing nothing, or believing all."
and Dryden will not, by those who are conversant in the history and works of that immortal writer, be suspected either of party prejudice in favour of Shaftesbury and the Whigs, or of any view to prejudice the country against the Duke of York's succession to the crown. The king repeatedly declared his belief of it. These declarations, if sincere, would have some weight; but if insincere, as may be reasonably suspected, they afford a still stronger testimony to prove that such belief was not exclusively a party opinion, since it cannot be supposed that even the crooked politics of Charles could have led him to countenance fictions of his enemies, which were not adopted by his own party. Wherefore, if this question were to be decided upon the ground of authority, the reality of the plot would be admitted; and it must be confessed, that, with regard to facts remote, in respect either of time or place, wise men generally diffide in their own judgment, and defer to that of those who have had a nearer view of them. But there are cases where reason speaks so plainly as to make all argument drawn from authority of no avail, and this is surely one of them. Not to mention correspondence by post on the subject of regicide, detailed commissions from the pope, silver bullets, &c. &c., and other circumstances equally ridiculous, we need only advert to the part attributed to the Spanish government in this conspiracy, and to the alleged intention of murdering the king, to satisfy ourselves that it was a forgery.
Rapin, who argues the whole of this affair with a degree of weakness as well as disingenuity very unusual to him, seems at last to offer us a kind of compromise, and to be satisfied if we will admit that there was a design or project to introduce popery and an arbitrary power, at the head of which were the king and his brother. Of this I am as much convinced as he can be; but how does this justify the prosecution and execution of those who suffered, since few if any of them, were in a situation to be trusted by the royal conspirators with their designs? When he says, therefore, that that is precisely what was understood by the conspiracy, he by no means justifies those who were the principal prosecutors of the plot. The design to murder the king he calls the appendage of the plot: a strange expression this, to describe the projected murder of a king; though not more strange than the notion itself when applied to a plot, the object of which was to render that very king absolute, and to introduce the religion which he most favoured. But it is to be observed, that though in considering the bill of exclusion, the militia bill, and other legislative proceedings, the plot, as he defines it—that is to say, the design of introducing popery and arbitrary power—was the important point to be looked to; yet in courts of justice, and for juries and judges, that which he calls the appendage was, generally speaking, the sole consideration.
Although, therefore, upon a review of this truly shocking transaction, we may be fairly justified in adopting the milder alternative, and in imputing to the greater part of those concerned in it rather an extraordinary degree of blind credulity than the deliberate wickedness of planning and assisting in the perpetration of legal murders, yet the proceedings on the popish plot must always be considered as an indelible disgrace upon the English nation, in which king, parliament, judges, juries, witnesses, prosecutors, have all their respective, though certainly not equal, shares. Witnesses, of such a character as not to deserve credit in the most trifling cause, upon the most immaterial facts, gave evidence so incredible, or, to speak more properly, so impossible to be true, that it ought not to have been believed if it had come from the mouth of Cato; and upon such evidence, from such witnesses, were innocent men condemned to death and executed. Prosecutors, whether attorneys and solicitors-general, or managers of impeachment, acted with the fury which in such circumstances might be expected; juries partook naturally enough of the national ferment; and judges, whose duty it was to guard them against such impressions, were scandalously active in confirming them in their prejudices and inflaming their passions. The king, who is supposed to have disbelieved the whole of the plot, never once exercised his glorious prerogative of mercy. It is said he dared not. His throne, perhaps his life, was at stake; and history does not furnish us with the example of any monarch with whom the lives of innocent or even meritorious subjects ever appeared to be of much weight, when put in balance against such considerations.
The measures of the prevailing party in the House of Commons, in these times, appear (with the exception of their dreadful proceedings in the business of the pretended plot, and of their violence towards those who petitioned and addressed against parliament) to have been, in general, highly laudable and meritorious; and yet I am afraid it may be justly suspected that it was precisely to that part of their conduct which related to the plot, and which is most reprehensible, that they were indebted for their power to make the noble, and, in some instances, successful struggles for liberty, which do so much honour to their memory. The danger to be apprehended from military force being always, in the view of wise men, the most urgent, they first voted the disbanding of the army, and the two houses passed a bill for that purpose, to which the king found himself obliged to consent. But to the bill which followed, for establishing the regular assembling of the militia, and for providing for their being in arms six weeks in the year, he opposed his royal negative; thus making his stand upon the same point on which his father had done; a circumstance which, if events had taken a turn against him, would not have failed of being much noticed by historians. Civil securities for freedom came to be afterwards considered; and it is to be remarked, that to these times of heat and passion, and to one of those parliaments which so disgraced themselves and the nation by the countenance given to Oates and Bedloe, and by the persecution of so many innocent victims, we are indebted for the Habeas Corpus act, the most important barrier against tyranny, and best framed protection for the liberty of individuals, that has ever existed in any ancient or modern commonwealth.
But the inefficacy of mere laws in favour of the subjects, in the case of the administration of them falling into the hands of persons hostile to the spirit in which they had been provided, had been so fatally evinced by the general history of England, ever since the grant of the Great Charter, and more especially by the transactions of the preceding reign, that the parliament justly deemed their work incomplete unless the Duke of York were excluded from the succession to the crown. A bill, therefore, for the purpose of excluding that prince was prepared, and passed the House of Commons; but being vigorously resisted by the court, by the church, and by the Tories, was lost in the House of Lords. The restrictions offered by the king to be put upon a popish successor are supposed to have been among the most powerful of those means to which he was indebted for his success.
The dispute was no longer, whether or not the dangers resulting from James's succession were real, and such as ought to be guarded against by parliamentary provisions, but whether the exclusion or restrictions furnished the most safe and eligible mode of compassing the object which both sides pretended to have in view. The argument upon this state of the question is clearly, forcibly, and, I think, convincingly, stated by Rapin, who exposes very ably the extreme folly of trusting to measures, without consideration of the men who are to execute them. Even in Hume's statement of the question, whatever may have been his intention, the arguments in favour of the exclusion appear to me greatly to preponderate. Indeed, it is not easy to conceive upon what principles even the Tories could justify their support of the restrictions. Many among them, no doubt, saw the provisions in the same light in which the Whigs represented them, as an expedient, admirably, indeed, adapted to the real object of upholding the present king's power, by the defeat of the exclusion, but never likely to take effect for their pretended purpose of controlling that of his successor, and supported them for that very reason. But such a principle of conduct was too fraudulent to be avowed; nor ought it, perhaps, in candour to be imputed to the majority of the party. To those who acted with good faith, and meant that the restrictions should really take place and be effectual, surely it ought to have occurred (and to those who most prized the prerogatives of the crown it ought most forcibly to have occurred), that in consenting to curtail the powers of the crown, rather than to alter the succession, they were adopting the greater in order to avoid the lesser evil. The question of what are to be the powers of the crown, is surely of superior importance to that of who shall wear it? Those, at least, who consider the royal prerogative as vested in the king, not for his sake but for that of his subjects, must consider the one of these questions as much above the other in dignity as the rights of the public are more valuable than those of an individual. In this view the prerogatives of the crown are, in substance and effect, the rights of the people; and these rights of the people were not to be sacrificed to the purpose of preserving the succession to the most favoured prince much less to one who, on account of his religious persuasion, was justly feared and suspected. In truth, the question between the exclusion and restrictions seems peculiarly calculated to ascertain the different views in which the different parties in this country have seen, and perhaps ever will see, the prerogatives of the crown. The Whigs, who consider them as a trust for the people—a doctrine which the Tories themselves, when pushed in argument, will sometimes admit—naturally think it their duty rather to change the manager of the trust than to impair the subject of it; while others, who consider them as the right or property of the king, will as naturally act as they would do in the case of any other property, and consent to the loss or annihilation of any part of it, for the purpose of preserving the remainder to him whom they style the rightful owner. If the people be the sovereign and the king the delegate, it is better to change the bailiff than to injure the farm; but if the king be the proprietor, it is better the farm should be impaired—nay, part of it destroyed—than that the whole should pass over to an usurper. The royal prerogative ought, according to the Whigs (not in the case of a popish successor only, but in all cases), to be reduced to such powers as are in their exercise beneficial to the people; and of the benefit of these they will not rashly suffer the people to be deprived, whether the executive power be in the hands of an hereditary or of an elected king, of a regent, or of any other denomination of magistrate; while, on the other hand, they who consider prerogative with reference only to royalty, will, with equal readiness, consent either to the extension or the suspension of its exercise, as the occasional interests of the prince may seem to require. The senseless plea of a divine and indefeasible right in James, which even the legislature was incompetent to set aside, though as inconsistent with the declarations of parliament in the statute book, and with the whole practice of the English constitution, as it is repugnant to nature and common sense, was yet warmly insisted upon by the high church party. Such an argument, as might naturally be expected, operated rather to provoke the Whigs to perseverance than to dissuade them from their measure: it was, in their eyes, an additional merit belonging to the exclusion bill that it strengthened, by one instance more, the authority of former statutes in reprobating a doctrine which seems to imply that man can have a property in his fellow-creatures. By far the best argument in favour of the restrictions, is the practical one that they could be obtained, and that the exclusion could not; but the value of this argument is chiefly proved by the event. The exclusionists had a fair prospect of success, and their plan being clearly the best, they were justified in pursuing it.
The spirit of resistance which the king showed in the instance of the militia and the exclusion bills, seems to have been systematically confined to those cases where he supposed his power to be more immediately concerned. In the prosecution of the aged and innocent Lord Stafford, he was so far from interfering in behalf of that nobleman, that many of those most in his confidence, and, as it is affirmed, the Duchess of Portsmouth herself, openly favoured the prosecution. Even after the dissolution of him last parliament, when he had so far subdued his enemies as to be no longer under any apprehensions from them, he did not think it worth while to save the life of Plunket, the popish Archbishop of Armagh, of whose innocence no doubt could be entertained. But this is not to be wondered at, since, in all transactions relative to the popish plot, minds of a very different cast from Charles's became, as by some fatality, divested of all their wonted sentiments of justice and humanity. Who can read without horror, the account of that savage murmur of applause, which broke out upon one of the villains at the bar, swearing positively to Stafford's having proposed the murder of the king? And how is this horror deepened, when we reflect, that in that odious cry were probably mingled the voices of men to whose memory every lover of the English constitution is bound to pay the tribute of gratitude and respect! Even after condemnation, Lord Russell himself, whose character is wholly (this instance excepted) free from the stain of rancour or cruelty, stickled for the severer mode of executing the sentence, in a manner which his fear of the king's establishing a precedent of pardoning in cases of impeachment (for this, no doubt, was his motive) cannot satisfactorily excuse.
In an early period of the king's difficulties, Sir William Temple, whose life and character is a refutation of the vulgar notion that philosophy and practical good sense in business are incompatible attainments, recommended to him the plan of governing by a council, which was to consist in great part of the most popular noblemen and gentlemen in the kingdom. Such persons being the natural, as well as the safest, mediators between princes and discontented subjects, this seems to have been the best possible expedient. Hume says it was found too feeble a remedy; but he does not take notice that it was never in fact tried, inasmuch as not only the king's confidence was withheld from the most considerable members of the council, but even the most important determinations were taken without consulting the council itself. Nor can there be a doubt but the king's views, in adopting Temple's advice, were totally different from those of the adviser, whose only error in this transaction seems to have consisted in recommending a plan, wherein confidence and fair dealing were of necessity to be principal ingredients, to a prince whom he well knew to be incapable of either. Accordingly, having appointed the council in April, with a promise of being governed in important matters by their advice, he in July dissolved one parliament without their concurrence, and in October forbade them even to give their opinions upon the propriety of a resolution which he had taken of proroguing another. From that time he probably considered the council to be, as it was, virtually dissolved; and it was not long before means presented themselves to him, better adapted, in his estimation, even to his immediate objects, and certainly more suitable to his general designs. The union between the court and the church party, which had been so closely cemented by their successful resistance to the Exclusion Bill, and its authors, had at length acquired such a degree of strength and consistency, that the king ventured first to appoint Oxford, instead of London, for the meeting of parliament; and then, having secured to himself a good pension from France, to dissolve the parliament there met, with a full resolution never to call another; to which resolution, indeed, Louis had bound him, as one of the conditions on which he was to receive a stipend. No measure was ever attended with more complete success. The most flattering addresses poured in from all parts of the kingdom; divine right, and indiscriminate obedience, were everywhere the favourite doctrines; and men seemed to vie with each other who should have the honour of the greatest share in the glorious work of slavery, by securing to the king, for the present, and after him to the duke, absolute and uncontrollable power. They who, either because Charles had been called a forgiving prince by his flatterers (upon what ground I could never discover), or from some supposed connection between indolence and good nature, had deceived themselves into a hope that his tyranny would be of the milder sort, found themselves much disappointed in their expectations.
The whole history of the remaining part of his reign exhibits an uninterrupted series of attacks upon the liberty, property, and lives of his subjects. The character of the government appeared first, and with the most marked and prominent features, in Scotland. The condemnation of Argyle and Weir, the one for having subjoined an explanation when he took the test oath, the other for having kept company with a rebel, whom it was not proved he knew to be such, and who had never been proclaimed, resemble more the acts of Tiberius and Domitian, than those of even the most arbitrary modern governments. It is true, the sentences were not executed; Weir was reprieved; and whether or not Argyle, if he had not deemed it more prudent to escape by flight, would have experienced the same clemency, cannot now be ascertained. The terror of these examples would have been, in the judgment of most men, abundantly sufficient to teach the people of Scotland their duty, and to satisfy them that their lives, as well as everything else they had been used to call their own, were now completely in the power of their masters. But the government did not stop here, and having outlawed thousands, upon the same pretence upon which Weir had been condemned, inflicted capital punishment upon such criminals of both sexes as refused to answer, or answered otherwise than was prescribed to them to the most ensnaring questions.
In England, the city of London seemed to hold out for a certain time, like a strong fortress in a conquered country; and, by means of this citadel, Shaftesbury and others were saved from the vengeance of the court. But this resistance, however honourable to the corporation who made it, could not be of long duration. The weapons of law and justice were found feeble, when opposed to the power of a monarch who was at the head of a numerous and bigoted party of the nation, and who, which was most material of all, had enabled himself to govern without a parliament. Civil resistance in this country, even to the most illegal attacks of royal tyranny, has never, I believe, been successful, unless when supported by parliament, or at least by a great party in one or other of the two houses. The court having wrested from the livery of London, partly by corruption, and partly by violence, the free election of their mayor and sheriffs, did not wait the accomplishment of their plan for the destruction of the whole corporation, which, from their first success, they justly deemed certain, but immediately proceeded to put in execution their system of oppression. Pilkington, Colt, and Oates, were fined a hundred thousand pounds each for having spoken disrespectfully of the Duke of York; Barnardiston, ten thousand, for having in a private letter expressed sentiments deemed improper; and Sidney, Russell, and Armstrong, found that the just and mild principles which characterise the criminal law of England could no longer protect their lives, when the sacrifice was called for by the policy or vengeance of the king. To give an account of all the oppression of this period would be to enumerate every arrest, every trial, every sentence, that took place in questions between the crown and the subjects.
Of the Rye House plot it may be said, much more truly than of the popish, that there was in it some truth, mixed with much falsehood; and though many of the circumstances in Kealing's account are nearly as absurd and ridiculous as those in Oates's, it seems probable that there was among some of those accused a notion of assassinating the king; but whether this notion was over ripened into what may be called a design, and, much more, whether it were ever evinced by such an overt act as the law requires for conviction, is very doubtful. In regard to the conspirators of higher ranks, from whom all suspicion of participation in the intended assassination has been long since done away, there is unquestionably reason to believe that they had often met and consulted, as well for the purpose of ascertaining the means they actually possessed as for that of devising others for delivering their country from the dreadful servitude into which it had fallen; and thus far their conduct appears clearly to have been laudable. If they went further, and did anything which could be fairly construed into an actual conspiracy to levy war against the king, they acted, considering the disposition of the nation at that period, very indiscreetly. But whether their proceedings had ever gone this length, is far from certain. Monmouth's communications with the king, when we reflect upon all the circumstances of those communications, deserve not the smallest attention; nor indeed, if they did, does the letter which he afterwards withdrew prove anything upon this point. And it is an outrage to common-sense to call Lord Grey's narrative written, as he himself states in his letter to James II., while the question of his pardon was pending, an authentic account. That which is most certain in this affair is, that they had committed no overt act, indicating the imagining of the king's death, even according to the most strained construction of the statute of Edward III.; much less was any such act legally proved against them. And the conspiring to levy war was not treason, except by a recent statute of Charles II., the prosecutions upon which were expressly limited to a certain time, which in these cases had elapsed so that it is impossible not to assent to the opinion of those who have ever stigmatised the condemnation and execution of Russell as a most flagrant violation of law and justice.
The proceedings in Sidney's case were still more detestable. The production of papers, containing speculative opinions upon government and liberty, written long before, and perhaps never even intended to be published, together with the use made of those papers, in considering them as a substitute for the second witness to the overt act, exhibited such a compound of wickedness and nonsense as is hardly to be paralleled in the history of juridical tyranny. But the validity of pretences was little attended to at that time, in the case of a person whom the court had devoted to destruction, and upon evidence such as has been stated was this great and excellent man condemned to die. Pardon was not to be expected. Mr. Hume says, that such an interference on the part of the king, though it might have been an act of heroic generosity, could not be regarded as an indispensable duty. He might have said with more propriety, that it was idle to expect that the government, after having incurred so much guilt in order to obtain the sentence, should, by remitting it, relinquish the object just when it was within its grasp. The same historian considers the jury as highly blamable, and so do I; but what was their guilt in comparison of that of the court who tried, and of the government who prosecuted, in this infamous cause? Yet the jury, being the only party that can with any colour be stated as acting independently of the government, is the only one mentioned by him as blamable. The prosecutor is wholly omitted in his censure, and so is the court; this last, not from any tenderness for the judge (who, to do this author justice, is no favourite with him), but lest the odious connection between that branch of the judicature and the government should strike the reader too forcibly; for Jeffreys, in this instance, ought to be regarded as the mere tool and instrument (a fit one, no doubt), of the prince who had appointed him for the purpose of this and similar services. Lastly, the king is gravely introduced on the question of pardon, as if he had had no prior concern in the cause, and were now to decide upon the propriety of extending mercy to a criminal condemned by a court of judicature; nor are we once reminded what that judicature was, by whom appointed, by whom influenced, by whom called upon, to receive that detestable evidence, the very recollection of which, even at this distance of time, fires every honest heart with indignation. As well might we palliate the murders of Tiberius, who seldom put to death his victims without a previous decree of his senate. The moral of all this seems to be, that whenever a prince can, by intimidation, corruption, illegal evidence, or other such means, obtain a verdict against a subject whom he dislikes, he may cause him to be executed without any breach of indispensable duty; nay, that it is an act of heroic generosity if he spares him. I never reflect on Mr. Hume's statement of this matter but with the deepest regret. Widely as I differ from him upon many other occasions, this appears to me to be the most reprehensible passage of his whole work. A spirit of adulation towards deceased princes, though in a good measure free from the imputation of interested meanness, which is justly attached to flattery when applied to living monarchs, yet, as it is less intelligible with respect to its motives than the other, so is it in its consequences still more pernicious to the general interests of mankind. Fear of censure from contemporaries will seldom have much effect upon men in situations of unlimited authority: they will too often flatter themselves that the same power which enables them to commit the crime will secure them from reproach. The dread of posthumous infamy, therefore, being the only restraint, their consciences excepted, upon the passions of such persons, it is lamentable that this last defence (feeble enough at best) should in any degree be impaired; and impaired it must be, if not totally destroyed, when tyrants can hope to find in a man like Hume, no less eminent for the integrity and benevolence of his heart than for the depth and soundness of his understanding, an apologist for even their foulest murders.
Thus fell Russell and Sidney, two names that will, it is hoped, be for ever dear to every English heart. When their memory shall cease to be an object of respect and veneration, it requires no spirit of prophecy to foretell that English liberty will be fast approaching to its final consummation. Their department was such as might be expected from men who knew themselves to be suffering, not for their crimes, but for their virtues. In courage they were equal, but the fortitude of Russell, who was connected with the world by private and domestic ties, which Sidney had not, was put to the severer trial; and the story of the last days of this excellent man's life fills the mind with such a mixture of tenderness and admiration, that I know not any scene in history that more powerfully excites our sympathy, or goes more directly to the heart.
The very day on which Russell was executed, the University of Oxford passed their famous decree, condemning formally, as impious and heretical propositions, every principle upon which the constitution of this or any other free country can maintain itself. Nor was this learned body satisfied with stigmatising such principles as contrary to the Holy Scriptures, to the decrees of councils, to the writings of the fathers, to the faith and profession of the primitive church, as destructive of the kingly government, the safety of his majesty's person, the public peace, the laws of nature, and bounds of human society; but after enumerating the several obnoxious propositions, among which was one declaring all civil authority derived from the people; another, asserting a mutual contract, tacit or express, between the king and his subjects; a third, maintaining the lawfulness of changing the succession to the crown; with many others of a like nature, they solemnly decreed all and every of those propositions to be not only false and seditious, but impious, and that the books which contained them were fitted to lead to rebellion, murder of princes, and atheism itself. Such are the absurdities which men are not ashamed to utter in order to cast odious imputations upon their adversaries; and such the manner in which churchmen will abuse, when it suits their policy, the holy name of that religion whose first precept is to love one another, for the purpose of teaching us to hate our neighbours with more than ordinary rancour. If Much Ado about Nothing had been published in those days, the town-clerk's declaration, that receiving a thousand ducats for accusing the Lady Hero wrongfully, was flat burglary, might be supposed to be a satire upon this decree; yet Shakespeare, well as he knew human nature, not only as to its general course, but in all its eccentric deviations, could never dream that, in the persons of Dogberry, Verges, and their followers, he was representing the vice-chancellors and doctors of our learned university.
Among the oppressions of this period, most of which were attended with consequences so much more important to the several objects of persecution, it may seem scarcely worth while to notice the expulsion of John Locke from Christ Church College, Oxford. But besides the interest which every incident in the life of a person so deservedly eminent naturally excites, there appears to have been something in the transaction itself characteristic of the spirit of the times, as well as of the general nature of absolute power. Mr. Locke was known to have been intimately connected with Lord Shaftesbury, and had very prudently judged it advisable for him to prolong for some time his residence upon the Continent, to which he had resorted originally on account of his health. A suspicion, as it has been since proved unfounded, that he was the author of a pamphlet which gave offence to the government, induced the king to insist upon his removal from his studentship at Christ Church. Sunderland writes, by the king's command, to Dr. Fell, bishop of Oxford and dean of Christ Church. The reverend prelate answers that he has long had an eye upon Mr. Locke's behaviour; but though frequent attempts had been made (attempts of which the bishop expresses no disapprobation), to draw him into imprudent conversation, by attacking, in his company, the reputation, and insulting the memory of his late patron and friend, and thus to make his gratitude and all the best feelings of his heart instrumental to his ruin, these attempts all proved unsuccessful. Hence the bishop infers, not the innocence of Mr. Locke, but that he was a great master of concealment both as to words and looks; for looks, it is to be supposed, would have furnished a pretext for his expulsion, more decent than any which had yet been discovered. An expedient is then suggested to drive Mr. Locke to a dilemma, by summoning him to attend the college on the first of January ensuing. If he do not appear, he shall be expelled for contumacy; if he come, matter of charge may be found against him for what he shall have said at London or elsewhere, where he will have been less upon his guard than at Oxford. Some have ascribed Fell's hesitation, if it can be so called, in executing the king's order, to his unwillingness to injure Locke, who was his friend; others, with more reason, to the doubt of the legality of the order. However this may have been, neither his scruple nor his reluctance was regarded by a court who knew its own power. A peremptory order was accordingly sent, and immediate obedience ensued. Thus, while without the shadow of a crime, Mr. Locke lost a situation attended with some emolument and great convenience, was the university deprived of, or rather thus, from the base principles of servility, did she cast away the man, the having produced whom is now her chiefest glory; and thus, to those who are not determined to be blind, did the true nature of absolute power discover itself, against which the middling station is not more secure than the most exalted. Tyranny, when glutted with the blood of the great, and the plunder of the rich, will condescend to bent humbler game, and make a peaceable and innocent fellow of a college the object of its persecution. In this instance one would almost imagine there was some instinctive sagacity in the government of that time, which pointed out to them, even before he had made himself known to the world, the man who was destined to be the most successful adversary of superstition and tyranny.
The king, during the remainder of his reign, seems, with the exception of Armstrong's execution, which must be added to the catalogue of his murders, to have directed his attacks more against the civil rights, properties, and liberties, than against the lives of his subjects. Convictions against evidence, sentences against law, enormous fines, cruel imprisonments, were the principal engines employed for the purpose of breaking the spirit of individuals, and fitting their necks for the yoke. But it was not thought fit to trust wholly to the effect which such examples would produce upon the public. That the subjugation of the people might be complete, and despotism be established upon the most solid foundation, measures of a more general nature and effect were adopted; and first, the charter of London, and then those of almost all the other corporations in England, were either forfeited or forced to a surrender. By this act of violence two important points were thought to be gained; one, that in every regular assemblage of the people in any part of the kingdom the crown would have a commanding influence; the other, that in case the king should find himself compelled to break his engagement to France, and to call a parliament, a great majority of members would be returned by electors of his nomination, and subject to his control. In the affair of the charter of London, it was seen, as in the case of ship-money, how idle it is to look to the integrity of judges for a barrier against royal encroachments, when the courts of justice are not under the constant and vigilant control of parliament. And it is not to be wondered at, that, after such a warning, and with no hope of seeing a parliament assemble, even they who still retained their attachment to the true constitution of their country, should rather give way to the torrent than make a fruitless and dangerous resistance.
Charles being thus completely master, was determined that the relative situation of him and his subjects should be clearly understood, for which purpose he ordered a declaration to be framed, wherein, after having stated that he considered the degree of confidence they had reposed in him as an honour particular to his reign, which not one of his predecessors had ever dared even to hope for, he assured them he would use it with all possible moderation, and convince even the most violent republicans, that as the crown was the origin of the rights and liberties of the people, so was it their most certain and secure support. This gracious declaration was ready for the press at the time of the king's death, and if he had lived to issue it, there can be little doubt how it would have been received at a time when
"nunquam libertas gratior extat Quam sub rege pio,"
was the theme of every song, and, by the help of some perversion of Scripture, the text of every sermon. But whatever might be the language of flatterers, and how loud soever the cry of a triumphant, but deluded party, there were not wanting men of nobler sentiments and of more rational views. Minds once thoroughly imbued with the love of what Sidney, in his last moments, so emphatically called the good old cause, will not easily relinquish their principles: nor was the manner in which absolute power was exercised, such as to reconcile to it, in practice, those who had always been averse to it in speculation. The hatred of tyranny must, in such persons, have been exasperated by the experience of its effects, and their attachment to liberty proportionably confirmed. To them the state of their country must have been intolerable: to reflect upon the efforts of their fathers, once their pride and glory, and whom they themselves had followed with no unequal steps, and to see the result of all in the scenes that now presented themselves, must have filled their minds with sensations of the deepest regret, and feelings bordering at least on despondency. To us, who have the opportunity of combining in our view of this period, not only the preceding but subsequent transactions, the consideration of it may suggest reflections far different and speculations more consolatory. Indeed, I know not that history can furnish a more forcible lesson against despondency, than by recording that within a short time from those dismal days in which men of the greatest constancy despaired, and had reason to do so, within five years from the death of Sidney arose the brightest era of freedom known to the annals of our country.
It is said that the king, when at the summit of his power, was far from happy; and a notion has been generally entertained that not long before his death he had resolved upon the recall of Monmouth, and a correspondent change of system. That some such change was apprehended seems extremely probable, from the earnest desire which the court of France, as well as the Duke of York's party in England, entertained, in the last years of Charles's life, to remove the Marquis of Halifax, who was supposed to have friendly dispositions to Monmouth. Among the various objections to that nobleman's political principles, we find the charge most relied upon, for the purpose of injuring him in the mind of the king, was founded on the opinion he had delivered in council, in favour of modelling the charters of the British colonies in North America upon the principles of the rights and privileges of Englishmen. There was no room to doubt (he was accused of saying) that the same laws under which we live in England, should be established in a country composed of Englishmen. He even dilated upon this, and omitted none of the reasons by which it can be proved that an absolute government is neither so happy nor so safe as that which is tempered by laws, and which limits the authority of the prince. He exaggerated, it was said, the mischiefs of a sovereign power, and declared plainly that he could not make up his mind to live under a king who should have it in his power to take, when he pleased, the money he might have in his pocket. All the other ministers had combated, as might be expected, sentiments so extraordinary; and without entering into the general question of the comparative value of different forms of government, maintained that his majesty could and ought to govern countries so distant in the manner that should appear to him most suitable for preserving or augmenting the strength and riches of the mother country. It had been, therefore, resolved that the government and council of the provinces under the new charter should not be obliged to call assemblies of the colonists for the purpose of imposing taxes, or making other important regulations, but should do what they thought fit, without rendering any account of their actions except to his Britannic Majesty. The affair having been so decided with a concurrence only short of unanimity, was no longer considered as a matter of importance, nor would it be worth recording, if the Duke of York and the French court had not fastened upon it, as affording the best evidence of the danger to be apprehended from having a man of Halifax's principles in any situation of trust or power. There is something curious in discovering that even at this early period a question relative to North American liberty, and even to North American taxation, was considered as the test of principles friendly or adverse to arbitrary power at home. But the truth is, that among the several controversies which have arisen there is no other wherein the natural rights of man on the one hand, and the authority of artificial institution on the other, as applied respectively by the Whigs and Tories to the English constitution, are so fairly put in issue, nor by which the line of separation between the two parties is so strongly and distinctly marked.
There is some reason for believing that the court of Versailles had either wholly discontinued, or, at least, had become very remiss in, the payments of Charles's pension; and it is not unlikely that this consideration induced him either really to think of calling a parliament, or at least to threaten Louis with such a measure, in order to make that prince more punctual in performing his part of their secret treaty. But whether or not any secret change was really intended, or if it were to what extent, and to what objects directed, are points which cannot now be ascertained, no public steps having ever been taken in this affair, and his majesty's intentions, if in truth he had any such, becoming abortive by the sudden illness which seized him on the 1st of February, 1685, and which, in a few days afterwards, put an end to his reign and life. His death was by many supposed to have been the effect of poison; but although there is reason to believe that this suspicion was harboured by persons very near to him, and, among others, as I have heard, by the Duchess of Portsmouth, it appears, upon the whole, to rest upon very slender foundations.
With respect to the character of this prince, upon the delineation of which so much pains have been employed, by the various writers who treat of the history of his time, it must be confessed that the facts which have been noticed in the foregoing pages furnish but too many illustrations of the more unfavourable parts of it. From these we may collect that his ambition was directed solely against his subjects, while he was completely indifferent concerning the figure which he or they might make in the general affairs of Europe; and that his desire of power was more unmixed with love of glory than that of any other man whom history has recorded; that he was unprincipled, ungrateful, mean, and treacherous, to which may be added, vindictive and remorseless. For Burnet, in refusing to him the praise of clemency and forgiveness, seems to be perfectly justifiable, nor is it conceivable upon what pretence his partisans have taken this ground of panegyric. I doubt whether a single instance can be produced of his having spared the life of any one whom motives either of policy, or of revenge, prompted him to destroy. To allege that of Monmouth as it would be an affront to human nature, so would it likewise imply the most severe of all satires against the monarch himself, and we may add, too, an undeserved one; for, in order to consider it as an act of meritorious forbearance on his part, that he did not follow the example of Constantine and Philip II., by imbruing his hands in the blood of his son, we must first suppose him to have been wholly void of every natural affection, which does not appear to have been the case. His declaration that he would have pardoned Essex, being made when that nobleman was dead, and not followed by any act evincing its sincerity, can surely obtain no credit from men of sense. If he had really had the intention, he ought not to have made such a declaration, unless he accompanied it with some mark of kindness to the relations, or with some act of mercy to the friends of the deceased. Considering it as a mere piece of hypocrisy, we cannot help looking upon it as one of the most odious passages of his life. This ill-timed boast of his intended mercy, and the brutal taunt with which he accompanied his mitigation (if so it may be called) of Russell's sentence, show his insensibility and hardness to have been such, that in questions where right feelings were concerned, his good sense, and even the good taste for which he has been so much extolled, seemed wholly to desert him.
On the other hand, it would be want of candour to maintain that Charles was entirely destitute of good qualities; nor was the propriety of Burnet's comparison between him and Tiberius ever felt, I imagine, by any one but its author. He was gay and affable, and, if incapable of the sentiments belonging to pride of a laudable sort, he was at least free from haughtiness and insolence. The praise of politeness, which the stoics are not perhaps wrong in classing among the moral virtues, provided they admit it to be one of the lowest order, has never been denied him, and he had in an eminent degree that facility of temper which, though considered by some moralists as nearly allied to vice, yet, inasmuch as it contributes greatly to the happiness of those around us, is in itself not only an engaging but an estimable quality. His support of the queen during the heats raised by the popish plot ought to be taken rather as a proof that he was not a monster than to be ascribed to him as a merit; but his steadiness to his brother, though it may and ought, in a great measure, to be accounted for upon selfish principles, had at least a strong resemblance to virtue.
The best part of this prince's character seems to have been his kindness towards his mistresses, and his affection for his children, and others nearly connected to him by the ties of blood. His recommendation of the Duchess of Portsmouth and Mrs. Gwyn, upon his death-bed, to his successor is much to his honour; and they who censure it seem, in their zeal to show themselves strict moralists, to have suffered their notions of vice and virtue to have fallen into strange confusion. Charles's connection with those ladies might be vicious, but at a moment when that connection was upon the point of being finally and irrevocably dissolved, to concern himself about their future welfare and to recommend them to his brother with earnest tenderness was virtue. It is not for the interest of morality that the good and evil actions, even of bad men, should be confounded. His affection for the Duke of Gloucester and for the Duchess of Orleans seems to have been sincere and cordial. To attribute, as some have done, his grief for the loss of the first to political considerations, founded upon an intended balance of power between his two brothers, would be an absurd refinement, whatever were his general disposition; but when we reflect upon that carelessness which, especially in his youth, was a conspicuous feature of his character, the absurdity becomes still more striking. And though Burnet more covertly, and Ludlow more openly, insinuate that his fondness for his sister was of a criminal nature, I never could find that there was any ground whatever for such a suspicion; nor does the little that remains of their epistolary correspondence give it the smallest countenance. Upon the whole, Charles II. was a bad man and a bad king; let us not palliate his crimes, but neither let us adopt false or doubtful imputations for the purpose of making him a monster.
Whoever reviews the interesting period which we have been discussing, upon the principle recommended in the outset of this chapter, will find that, from the consideration of the past, to prognosticate the future would at the moment of Charles's demise be no easy task. Between two persons, one of whom should expect that the country would remain sunk in slavery, the other, that the cause of freedom would revive and triumph, it would be difficult to decide whose reasons were better supported, whose speculations the more probable. I should guess that he who desponded had looked more at the state of the public, while he who was sanguine had fixed his eyes more attentively upon the person who was about to mount the throne. Upon reviewing the two great parties of the nation, one observation occurs very forcibly, and that is, that the great strength of the Whigs consisted in their being able to brand their adversaries as favourers of popery; that of the Tories (as far as their strength depended upon opinion, and not merely upon the power of the crown), in their finding colour to represent the Whigs as republicans. From this observation we may draw a further inference, that, in proportion to the rashness of the crown in avowing and pressing forward the cause of popery, and to the moderation and steadiness of the Whigs in adhering to the form of monarchy, would be the chance of the people of England for changing an ignominious despotism for glory, liberty, and happiness.
Accession of James II.—His declaration in council; acceptable to the nation—Arbitrary designs of his reign—Former ministers continued—Money transactions with France—Revenue levied without authority of Parliament—Persecution of Dissenters—Character of Jeffreys—The King's affectation of independence—Advances to the Prince of Orange—The primary object of this reign—Transactions in Scotland—Severe persecutions there—Scottish Parliament—Cruelties of government—English Parliament; its proceedings—Revenue—Votes concerning religion—Bill for preservation of the King's person—Solicitude for the Church of England—Reversal of Stafford's attainder rejected—Parliament adjourned—Character of the Tories—Situation of the Whigs.
Charles II. expired on the 6th of February, 1684-85, and on the same day his successor was proclaimed king in London, with the usual formalities, by the title of James the Second. The great influence which this prince was supposed to have possessed in the government during the latter years of his brother's reign, and the expectation which was entertained in consequence, that his measures, when monarch, would be of the same character and complexion with those which he was known to have highly approved, and of which he was thought by many to have been the principal author, when a subject left little room for that spirit of speculation which generally attends a demise of the crown. And thus an event, which when apprehended a few years before had, according to a strong expression of Sir William Temple, been looked upon as the end of the world, was now deemed to be of small comparative importance.