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Cromwell's reign created the seeds of a modern nation. But he was unable to resolve the relationship between the executive and Parliament. He believed that the liberties of the people could better be protected by a government of many than a government of one; and therefore, Parliament ought to supersede the executive in authority. But Parliament during his reign never wanted the responsibility of governing. They trusted Cromwell more than they trusted themselves to manage the affairs of state. Even over his objections, Parliament always abdicated its own duly constituted authority. Moreover, the British were still monarchists, not republicans, at heart, and 12 years of Puritan rule was not sufficient by itself to change centuries of English thought and custom. Charles I could be dismissed as an anomaly, and not representing an inherent flaw in the principle of Crown supremacy. After all, one could point to the many good kings and queens in England's past.
After Cromwell's death, his son Richard was given the office of Lord Protector, which, like his father, he did not want. The Puritans were never comfortable in power because to rule was in fundamental conflict with their basic creed, which was to level human authority. A man without the force of personality or the desire to govern, Richard Cromwell resigned after only a few months in office. The Puritan movement had no leader to replace Cromwell and had not satisfactorily answered the constitutional problems created by overthrowing the King. Unable to organize, the Puritans gave up power to a determined General Monek, who had assembled a formidable army and occupied London. Charles II promised to abide by the concessions his father had made, and a reconstituted pro-Royalist "Free" Parliament restored the Stuart monarchy. On May 25, 1660, 13 years after the beheading of his father, Charles II returned from exile and landed on Dover Beach. Exhausted by years of political and social turmoil, the English people willingly accepted a return to old ways.
King Charles II, with his now overwhelmingly Loyalist and Anglican House of Commons, moved quickly to restore the bishops to their old positions and take revenge on the Puritans. Puritan ministers were immediately ejected from the English Church, and in 1661 the Corporation Act was passed barring non-members of the English Church from holding public office -an effort to ensure a pro-monarchy and pro-episcopal Parliament. In 1662, the Act of Uniformity was passed, demanding "unfeigned assent and consent" to all tenets of the official Anglican Book of Common Prayer. This excluded many Puritans who disagreed with some practices of the English Church, but were willing to call themselves Anglicans. Those who did not conform to official church rites were expelled. If the Anglican Loyalists had learned one lesson from the Cromwellian period, it was that the English Church needed to be more rigid in its theology, form of worship, and administrative apparatus.
Added was the Conventicle Act of 1664 forbidding clergy who were excommunicated by the Act of Uniformity from preaching to gatherings of more than five people. The Five Mile Act, passed the following year, prohibited these expelled clergy from traveling within five miles of any location where they had at one time held worship services. This package of laws made up what came to be called the Clarendon Code, named after Charles' Chancellor - who paradoxically counseled against the most severe aspects of the legislation because he feared another Puritan backlash. Taking Clarendon's advice, Charles-who was far more politically astute than his father - issued in 1672 a Declaration of Indulgence that permitted non-conformists to worship with the appropriate license. But his Anglican-dominated Parliament, declaring that the King did not have the authority to unilaterally repeal Parliament's statutes, countered by passing the Test Act, which Charles agreed to sign. The Test Act strengthened the Corporation Act, declaring that the Anglican Church's religious rites would be used as a political litmus test to exclude non-conformists from public office.
Against this background, John Locke's friendship with Anthony Ashley Cooper, the first Earl of Shaftesbury, takes on importance. It was Shaftesbury who drew Locke's attention to the political arena. Shaftesbury was the man of action, while Locke was a man of ideas. The combined efforts of these two individuals helped establish a whig (republican) political tradition in England that would find an especially favorable reception in the American colonies and provide a philosophical and moral justification for America's decision to break with England.
John Locke was raised in a Puritan home. His father had fought on Cromwell's side during the Puritan Revolution. Locke studied at Oxford during the reign of Oliver Cromwell, and his ideas on politics were certainly influenced during this period. But Locke's main interest as a young man was science, not politics. He worked closely with one of the founders of modern chemistry, Robert Boyle, and became a physician. It was as a medical doctor that Locke first came to the attention of the statesman Lord Ashley (later the Earl of Shaftesbury), who hired Locke to tutor his son and serve as the family physician. Locke rapidly gained Ashley's confidence and began advising him on political affairs.
Though the facts of Ashley's early political life are sketchy, it seems he was involved in establishing the "Little Parliament" in 1653, and then in December of that year persuaded Parliament to turn its powers over to Cromwell. Ashley was then appointed to Cromwell's Council of State, established by the Instrument of Government; he was also elected to serve in the "Assembly of Saints." He was not, though, a zealous Puritan, but rather a Puritan-leaning Anglican. Though he had supported Cromwell, he decided ultimately that the Protectorate was not right for England. Some middle ground, he thought, was preferable, and so he stood for constitutional monarchy, the Protestant succession, religious toleration, civil liberty, and the supremacy of Parliament. He was also a politician of consummate skill-though often reckless and Machiavellian in his tactics.
Shaftesbury grew alarmed at Charles II's government on two counts. First, Charles, following his father's practices, had formed a close friendship with the French monarch Louis XIV. In fact, Louis was subsidizing Charles, thus freeing the English Crown from dependence on Parliament for revenue. Second, Charles was suspected of having secretly converted to the Catholic Church during his exile in France, a view that seemed to be confirmed by the fact that French Catholic money was steadily flowing into Charles' treasury. The great fear-among both Episcopal Anglicans and Puritans - was that Charles was conspiring with Louis to bring the English Church back into communion with Rome. Moreover, Charles was suspected of having gained an appreciation of the French monarchial dictatorship while in exile there. John Locke, meanwhile, assisted Shaftesbury in writing treatises designed to excite the English people to oppose Charles' attempts to circumvent Parliament and subvert England's Protestant religion.
Titus Oates's "exposure" of the so-called "Popish Plot" threw fuel on the fire of English paranoia about the Catholic threat. Oates charged that he had evidence of Charles' secret plan to move England back into the Roman fold. His charges were unfounded, but Shaftesbury capitalized on them brilliantly and his followers - who formed the nucleus of an emerging Whig or "country" political party- swept three successive parliamentary elections. Charles was suddenly in serious political difficulty, as he had only about 30 supporters in the entire House of Commons (despite all the anti-Puritan legislation designed to ensure a Royalist Parliament). To make matters worse for Charles, Shaftesbury then initiated a series of bills to ease restrictions on dissenting Protestant groups.
The issue that brought the conflict between Charles and Shaftesbury to a head was the matter of who would inherit the throne. Charles had no legitimate heir; so his brother James II, the Duke of York, held the greatest claim. But James II had converted to the Roman Catholic Church, and thus appeared totally unacceptable from both an Anglican and Puritan per spective. Shaftesbury's candidate for king was Charles' illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth. Monmouth became the darling of the Whig cause for two reasons: he was a Protestant, and his bastard birth undermined the principle of hereditary succession. The Puritans were skeptical, however, because of the immorality it implied. Though they had nothing personally against Monmouth, it seemed inappropriate to reward the fruit of promiscuity with the Crown. Even the Anglican Church was squeamish about this stain on Monmouth's character. In Shaftesbury's view, though, Monmouth's illegitimate birth was an asset because it would make the executive an essentially elective rather than a hereditary office.
But Charles II was a good politician. He saw Shaftesbury's attempt to exclude James from succession as the perfect opportunity to eliminate Shaftesbury permanently from the political arena. When Shaftesbury confronted the King on the floor of the House of Lords, an episode chronicled by Stuart Prall in his excellent book, The Bloodless Revolution, Charles seized the moment and fought back. With all his ministers present and the full dignity of the office behind him, the King stared at Shaftesbury. "Let there be no disillusion," he said. "I will not yield, nor will I be bullied. Men usually become more timid as they grow older. It is the opposite with me, and for what may remain of my life I am determined that nothing will tarnish my reputation. I have law and reason and all right thinking on my side." And then, pointing at an assembly of bishops, he concluded: Most importantly, "I have the Church, and nothing will ever separate us."
Shaftesbury had miscalculated, thinking the King would back down. He would not. Charles sensed that England would not support Shaftesbury to the point of setting off another civil war. The legacy of the Puritan Revolution was double-edged: Cromwell had established that a nation could eliminate its king; but only at a heavy price. The Church, the gentry, the aristocracy, and the merchant class all stood to lose from war. Exclusion of James II from the throne was not worth the cost. Moreover, King Louis of France would likely have come to the assistance of the embattled English monarch with arms and men. Shaftesbury had gambled and lost. On July 2, 1681, Shaftesbury was arrested, denied common law Habeas Corpus protections of due process, convicted in the King's court of treason, peijury, and seditious libel, and sent to the Tower. Prior to Shaftesbury's trial, John Dryden published his famous satirical attack on Shaftesbury, entitled Absalom and Achitophel, a work that is largely responsible for the unfavorable and unjust image of Shaftesbury in history. After a year in prison Shaftesbury was released in poor health and died in Holland in January 1683.
A politically rehabilitated King Charles II began a program of restructuring the boroughs to guarantee the election of a Loyalist (later called Tory) Parliament. Through a series of what were essentially executive orders, Charles revoked corporate and borough charters from his political enemies and awarded them to his Tory supporters. Charles and the Loyalists then proceeded to exercise their restored power without restraint. The Puritans and non-conformist Protestants absorbed the full brunt of the King's wrath. It was the old story, so reminiscent ofpast Stuart behavior. Dissenting Protestants could be brought up on charges and fined or sent to prison. Property and business assets of the accused were frequently seized to pay fines. The prisons were overcrowded, disease-ridden, cold, and filthy beyond human tolerance. Charles seemed to have repealed Cromwell's legacy, and appeared to be pulling England's political system back into the Middle Ages.
Times of persecution and social upheaval often produce great literature, and the period of the Stuart Restoration was no exception. Reflecting on the fading Puritan dream in England, an aging John Milton wrote his great allegorical poem Paradise Lost. He seemed to have concluded that God was unhappy with the way in which the Puritans had mishandled themselves in government. Perhaps they had reveled too much in their victory over the King; and instead of establishing a Christian commonwealth that guaranteed the civil liberties of all Englishmen, their failures resulted in a Stuart despotism more tyrannical than ever. Milton illustrated the point in a famous passage in which Eve is unable to resist the flattery of the serpent and eats the apple, arguing that she no longer needs God to govern her life:
But of this Tree we may not taste nor touch;
God so commanded, and left that Command
Sole Daughter of his Voice; the rest, we live
Law to our selves, our Reason is our Law.
As God punished Adam and Eve for deliberately breaking His command, Milton thought, so He must also be punishing England and the Puritans for their transgressions by giving Satan free reign of the countryside through the instrument of Charles II. It was a punishment the Puritans deserved, thought Milton, as the title of his poem Pairadise Lost, and not "Paradise Stolen," suggests.
The most moving work of Puritan literature, written during the Restoration period, was John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, published in 1678. Samuel Coleridge called it the best evangelical Christian work "ever produced by a writer not miraculously inspired." Bunyan, a Separatist Protestant, wrote the book while serving time in one of Charles' dungeons. It constitutes the first English novel, and is the story of a troubled soul's painful search for salvation. In the end, and after many trials, the searching sinner of Bunyan's tale is mercifully spared by God's providence. Other than the Bible, Pilgim's Progress was the most widely read book in the colonies. Indeed, the wrath the Puritans endured under Charles II seemed to serve a definite purpose, rekindling the pure and humble Christian spirit that they may have lost while in control of the government. Power tends to breed arrogance. No longer in a position of political authority, the Puritans had no choice but to return to the itinerant religious practices of preaching and persuasion that had made them such a dominant intellectual and moral force in English culture. To men such as Milton and Bunyan, God's ways were not pointless or arbitrary: He was humbling His children for a reason, for some great future purpose.
But the writer most responsible for developing a distinctly Whig political philosophy was John Locke, also of Puritan stock. He applied Protestant theology and principles to the ordering of government. Since Shaftesbury's friends were all in grave danger in England so long as the Stuarts remained in power, Locke followed his patron to Holland. In 1684, Locke's name appeared on a list of 84 traitors sent by the English government to the Hague. To avoid arrest, he went into hiding where he continued scribbling down his thoughts on a variety of subjects, from religion to politics.
Locke was a pious man, who venerated the Scriptures. He authored paraphrases of Paul's epistles to the Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, and Paul's two letters to the Corinthians. He also wrote a book entitled The Reasonableness of Christianity, in which he ventured to prove that the Christianity of Scripture, free from corrupt human mixtures, makes sense. Locke's Christian convictions are also apparent in his two Treatises of Civil Government, which contain 102 biblical citations to add weight to his case. Civil Government, which he began writing in 1682 (though it was not published until 1690), is Locke's most important work in terms of the development of American constitutional theory.
Locke strongly favored the separation of the executive, legislative, and judicial functions of government as a way to avoid the concentration of power and make less likely the rise of a tyrant. Locke wrote his book with the Stuart monarchy in mind. Civil Government was a devastating refutation of the divine right of kings, for which he substituted the "social contract" as an alternative. He based the idea on "that Paction which God made with Noah after the Deluge." He was also well aware of the church covenants of Congregational and other independent Protestants as well as the Mayflower Compact signed 60 years earlier by the Pilgrim settlers of Plymouth, Massachusetts. The social compact, according to Locke, involves a group of people voluntarily joining together into a community for their own protection and to pursue common aims. The "consent of the people," thought Locke, is the only legitimate basis for just government.
Locke began his argument with the proposition that God intended man to own private property, and referred the reader to Genesis: "God gave the world to Adam and his posterity in common," said Locke. He then went on to cite Paul's first letter to Timothy: "God . . richly supplies us with all things(1 Tim. 6:17). But, Locke added hastily, this is by no means a prescription for socialism, as man also possesses property in the form of his own exertions. Thus any individual who takes what God has provided equally to all and tailors it to his own purposes becomes the sole owner of that property. A farmer, for example, who builds a fence and cultivates the land for the production of food becomes the legitimate owner of the land. According to Locke's view: "God, when He gave the World in common to all mankind, commanded man also to labor . . . God in His reason commanded him to subdue the Earth, subdue it for the benefit of life, and therein lay out something upon it that was his own, his labor. He that in obedience to this command of God subdued, tilled and sowed any part of it, thereby annexed to it something that was his property, which another had no title to, and could not without injury take it from him." Moreover, "thou shalt not steal" and "thou shalt not covet" are commandments of God designed to protect private property.
From his reading of Genesis, Locke noted that man at one time existed outside the bounds of civil government, was in a "state of nature" and completely free. But once sin entered into the world through Adam's indiscretion, the safety of men and their property became tenuous. Man's fallen state required that he give up some of his freedom and prudently subject himself to civil government, without which his ability to enjoy the fruits of his labor and defend his rights "is very uncertain and constantly exposed to the invasion of others." Locke added: "For all men being kings such as he, every man his equal and the greater part no strict observers of equity and justice, the enjoyment of the property he has in this state [of nature] is very unsafe, very insecure. This makes him willing to quit this condition, which however free, is full of fears and continual dangers."
Frail and defenseless individuals, in Locke's view, were forced by the brutish circumstances of existence to band together for their own mutual protection to form civil societies, entrusting to some sovereign agent the power to wield the sword against bandits and foreign invaders. But Locke, wanting to confine the duties of government to a narrow compass, was quick to add that the power of government is by no means absolute; the people had entered into a mutual and binding trust with each other and had established a regime with precisely defined obligations. If this trust or "compact" is at any time broken, the people have the right to withdraw their allegiance - even to rebel and depose their ruler - an astonishing notion to those who believed the monarch's authority flowed from divine right.
To the question: Who shall judge the king? Locke replied, "The people shall be the judge," though in the end, said Locke, "God in Heaven is Judge. He alone, ‘tis true, is Judge of the right. But every man is judge for himself. . . whether he should appeal to the Supreme Judge, as Jephthah did" and wage war against an oppressor (Judges 11:27-33). "I will not dispute now whether princes are exempt from the laws of their country," wrote Locke, "but this I am sure, they owe subjection to the laws of God," and added: "No body, no power, can exempt them from the obligations of that Eternal Law. . . Whatever some flatterers say to princes of the world, who all together, with all their people joined to them, are, in comparison to the Great God, but a drop of a bucket, or a dust on the balance, inconsiderable, nothing" (Isaiah 40:15). Rebellion, for Locke, was a measure of last resort, to be exercised only when all other means of redress had been exhausted. But, in his view, to appeal to the ultimate Judge, the Maker of Heaven and earth, was a legitimate option.
Locke's argument for disobeying a king was actually a conservative one. While Royalists believed rejection of the monarch's authority was the same as disobeying God, Locke thought little harm would come from acknowledging the people's prerogative to exercise their ultimate right to reject the civil authority, because "people are not so easily got out of old forms as some are apt to suggest." "Great mistakes," said Locke, "will be born by the people without mutiny or murmur." Only "a long train of abuses, prevarications and artifices, all tending the same way," that is towards subverting the people's God-given liberties, could make the people "rouse themselves." Indeed, thought Locke, that's the way it should be.
Locke was merely applying Protestant religious principles to the world of politics. If the individual has the authority to interpret Scripture for himself, without a human agent acting as intermediary, isn't it also up to the individual to determine his own relationship to the government and indeed to the rest of society? Under extreme circumstances, thought Locke, the conscience of the individual, informed by Scripture and right reason, can supersede the government and even the collective judgment of the group because society is a voluntary union, from which anyone can exit if he so chooses. Locke was making here the modern distinction between the state and the collection of individuals that form society, a distinction the medieval world did not make.
Locke's treatise was aimed specifically at undermining political support for the regime of Charles II. But the American colonists applied these same Lockean principles to great effect when making their case for severing their relationship to the British government and establishing a new political order, one better designed to defend the people's rights to "life, liberty and property," Locke's words which appear in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. No political philosopher has been more widely quoted in American political discourse than John Locke, which is why it is important for Americans to have at least a bare understanding of events in England during this period. For it was events, which he witnessed and took part in, that were decisive in shaping his political views.
In this sense, Locke was more a social scientist than an abstract political philosopher. He sought first to observe events, and then develop a theory to explain them. The radical ideologue, by contrast, adheres to a theory regardless of the facts, and then tries to make events conform to his theory. Locke was no radical. He was a conservative, and often criticized radicals who labor to destroy without proposing a viable alternative. "A building," he said, "diseases them. They find great fault in it, and welcome, if they will, but endeavor to raise another in its place."
Locke was not doctrinaire politically, but adjusted his views continuously in light of the facts. Indeed, he initially supported the restoration of the Stuart monarchy, believing that Cromwell's Protectorate was too radical a change in England's body politic. Locke was a pure scientist, who transferred the skills he learned as a chemist and physician to the world of politics. He observed that the medieval order had broken down, had become dysfunctional, and that the vast majority of people were becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the despotic nature of the Stuart monarchy. The divine-right doctrine was clearly dead, both morally and politically. Locke saw his task as: a) providing moral and philosophical justification for those who already opposed the monarchy; and b) providing a sensible alternative, the "social compact," meaning the consent of the people, which seemed to have the sanction of common sense, historical precedent, and Holy Writ. Locke merely codified and popularized a political doctrine that events had started to bring into being.
The relationship between the men of action and the men of ideas is critical in judging the prospects of a revolution succeeding in replacing the old regime with an improved regime. If action precedes the theory, then the revolution stands a chance of success. On the other hand, if theory or ideology precedes events, particularly if the ideologues are militantly wedded to their theories, then there is virtually no chance that the new regime will be freer and more tolerant than the old. Communist revolutions, for example, attempt to impose a preconceived Marxist ideology on reality and explain every event through the lens of communist dialectical materialism. The result has been tyranny and mass murder because the communist's sense of the truth is never altered by the facts. Locke, though, had no wish to inflict an abstract ideology upon the world, but instead formed his views largely in response to actual political developments emerging from Shaftesbury's conflict with Charles II. Republican ideas of government never could have taken root in Anglo-American life had they not flowed naturally from the course of events and already existing patterns of thought.
Although the King defeated Shaftesbury, he did so narrowly, and the existence of the Whigs as a formidable political party was clear. After Shaftesbury's confrontation with King Charles II, as Stuart Prall points out in his book, there began to develop an understanding in English politics that four complementary and interacting elements are necessary to modern functioning constitutional government. First, there must be general elections at regular intervals. Second, there must exist at least two strong political parties attempting to advance specific programs for government. Third, there must be enough common ground between the parties to ensure that the winners do not seek to eliminate the losers, nor would the losers feel compelled to take up arms against the winners. Fourth, office-seekers must feel free to campaign against the party in power.
Shaftesbury, in a sense, was the first realistic alternative to a sitting monarch, and had a party of followers who became known as Whigs. Locke, working closely with Shaftesbury, provided the philosophical program. Supporters of the King and national church (Tories) were then forced to respond with programs of their own to counter Whig initiatives. What was still lacking, however, was the spirit of cohesion and compromise, whereby whichever side won, it would not attempt to eliminate the other; and the losers would peacefully accept defeat in the hope that they might achieve victory in some future election. The fact that the losers did not take up arms in this case was not because of a new conciliatory spirit, but because Shaftesbury's followers knew there was no hope of defeating the King militarily. Moreover, Charles had no interest in establishing a constitu tional government. He liked the old way, where officeholders owed their positions to him and not some opposition party. His wish was for centrally-administered government; he had no patience for the political give-and-take of coalition building and persuasion so integral to democracy.
The attempt to exclude James II from the throne had paved the way for the emergence of Sir Edward Seymour as leader of the Tory party. The Tory interest distinguished itself from the royal interest in that it saw its mission as preserving the Anglican Church from creeping Catholicism. Seymour also believed that a nation ought to be governed by accountable politicians and not remote royal administrators. Thus Shaftesbury's defeat was not in vain. The "exclusion issue" had planted the seeds of the two-party political system. When Charles II died in 1685 and the Duke of York, James II, succeeded him, the new King had working against him a consolidated Whig/Puritan opposition and the embryo of a Tory/Anglican party which, though friendly to old ways, had its own constituents and political agenda distinct from the Crown's.
Immediately after his succession, James began attending Mass ostentatiously, making it a state occasion. He also demanded that his ministers accompany him. Some did, others refused. The Earl of Rochester, a Tory leader, spent his Sundays in the country so he would not have to attend. The Earl of Ormonde, another Tory, waited for the King outside the chapel. Even more alarming, from a Protestant (Anglican or Puritan) perspective, was that James would openly seek the advice of French Jesuits and entertain them at Court. The Jesuits were seen as a highly effective subversive force whose main mission was to advance both papal and French interests in Protestant countries. They were, from the Protestant perspective, the Catholic equivalent of the K.G.B., created to undermine the achievements of the Reformation. The Jesuits, at one point, had hatched a plot to overthrow Queen Elizabeth, an incident that had not escaped the memories of the English people.
In addition, James, like Charles, received large subsidies from the French treasury, making it appear as though he was a pawn of both Rome and Versailles. The steady supply of French revenue enabled James to dissolve Parliament on July 2, 1687. He then began removing Protestants and placing Catholics into key positions in the military and the Anglican Church. The culmination of James' policy to advance the Catholic interest in England was the issuing of a Declaration of Indulgence on April 4, 1687, which repealed by decree the odious Test Act (which required all holders of public office to conform to all Anglican Church rites). At first glance, this would seem a great boon for the cause of religious toleration - which is exactly the motive James claimed for himself. But very few believed religious toleration was his true aim - a view that seemed confirmed by recent events. James, it appeared, wanted to clear the way for moving Catholics (who in the 17th century did not believe in religious toleration) into all areas of government. Many saw the Declaration of Indulgence as the logical first step toward his eventual goal of re-establishing Roman Catholicism as the official religion of the English state.
That same year, James launched a radical program to alter the religious composition of the universities. He ordered the board of directors of Oxford's Magdalen College to appoint Anthony Farmer, a Catholic sympathizer, to the presidency. The board refused, and instead appointed their own Protestant nominee, administering the traditional oaths in violation of the Declaration of Indulgence. William Penn, the Quaker founder of Pennsylvania and a true friend of religious toleration, attempted to mediate the dispute. Naive about the King's real aims, Penn hoped James and the college could arrive at a compromise. Penn's efforts failed, and James placed Magdalen College under Cathohc administration.
Questions raised by the Magdalen College episode and the Declaration of Indulgence were similar to those leading to Cromwell's revolt and later the American War of Independence. William Penn saw religious toleration as an inalienable right, granted by the Lord Himself, and the Declaration of Indulgence as therefore desirable, no matter what the King's true intentions. Penn, a member of the much-persecuted Quaker sect, believed it necessary to go to virtually any length to arrive at religious toleration, even if this meant breaking duly established English law, precedent, and custom. Tories, who wanted an established Protestant church, disagreed with Penn. But most Whigs, advocates of religious toleration, differed with Penn as well: what good is toleration if the price is the subversion of law and the consolidation of royal power for future acts of despotism?
The Catholicization of Magdalen College mobilized against James not only Whigs and Puritans, who were a perpetual thorn in the side of royal prerogative, but also many Tories who began to panic over the seemingly inevitable dissolution of the Anglican Church. A number of Tories began corresponding with William of Orange in Holland, seeking his assistance in a coup d'etat. William's right to the English throne rested with his wife, Mary, eldest daughter of James. William of Orange was England's hope for a bloodless revolution. The unexpected news in November 1687 that James' Queen was pregnant established the prospect of Roman Catholic succession and made the overthrow of James all the more urgent in the minds ofEnglish Protestants. The incident that sparked the English Revolution of 1688 was the reissuing of the Declaration of Indulgence by James on May 7, 1688, and his subsequent order that it be read from every church pulpit. Thus, James was ordering the Anglican clergy not only to condone previously outlawed Catholic practices, but to assist him in bringing the Anglican Church back under papal jurisdiction.
A central Anglican and Tory assumption had been that the Crown and the Church combined to form the same reality, which was the English nation. But, as Dr. Prall demonstrates in his study of the period, James had created a situation in which the Crown could not be defended without opposing the Church, and vice versa. If the clergy had chosen loyalty to the King, it would also have been choosing the elimination of the Anglican Church. The clergy chose self-preservation, and the established Church allied itself with the Puritan non-conformists. It was rapidly becoming apparent that Protestantism in England could not be guaranteed without the deposition of James II and without religious toleration, at least among Protestants. An Anglican Tory named Sir John Reresby went so far as to concede in May 1688 that "most men were now convinced that liberty of conscience was a thing of advantage to the nation." For an Anglican Tory, this was a revolutionary idea and in opposition to the entire concept of a unified church and state which he had fought to defend in the past. Virtually all of England, it seemed, had adopted Whiggery in its essentials, if not all its particulars.
The Archbishop of Canterbury and six of his bishops petitioned the King to withdraw the order to read his Declaration from the pulpit. James prosecuted the bishops for seditious libel. But on July 10, they were acquitted in a humiliating defeat for the Crown. That same day, some of England's highest ranking Tory leaders sent an invitation to Prince William to rescue England from its tyrannical king. The case made to William was that it was not the people who were rebelling against the Crown, but the Crown which had declared war against the people, subverting their constitution and destroying their church. Indeed, this was precisely the thesis of John Locke's Civil Government. The vast majority of Englishmen were inclined to agree with Locke that King James II had broken the "social compact." Prince William calculated that the time was ripe to invade.
Before he arrived with his Dutch fleet, William sent ships ahead with copies of a declaration to be distributed among the English people so that they would not panic. This was a revolutionary document, after which America's Declaration of Independence would be patterned; essentially, it was a catalogue of abuses by the King and his "evil advisers." Most important, however, from the standpoint of marking an advance in political theory, it made the Lockean distinction that the nation, rather than the king, ought to be the object of the people's loyalty.
James turned virtually everyone in England against him when he attempted to rally the Irish Catholic army to defend his interests against his political opponents and the Dutch invasion. To the average Englishman, the Irish were sub-human savages who, as Macaulay put it, "did not belong to our branch of the human family." When Prince William landed, James saw he stood no chance and tried to flee for France, which turned out to be a series of comic mishaps. He was captured by fishermen who were patrolling for Catholic priests and returned to London, much to William's irritation. Twelve days later, William allowed James to sail into exile.
The kingdom was without a king. The major worry was the possible degeneration of society into anarchy. A Parliamentary convention assembled on January 22, 1689, and stood at the crossroads of history. What proceeded was the most momentous debate about the nature of constitutional government in the history of England. The substance of Locke's Civil Government was debated item by item and put to the vote. The central issue was the nature of the monarchy. Did this institution exist by divine right, or by "original contract" between the people and the king? "Original contract" won in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
A related issue was the nature of the throne's vacancy. The Whigs wanted it declared that James had abdicated rule and that a new leader needed to be elected. The Tories, however, saw the word abdicated as lethal to the principle of hereditary succession and therefore deadly to the doctrine of rule by divinely dispensed privilege. The Tories wanted James declared legally dead, which would mean that Mary was already queen and that the throne was not really vacant at all. Such a discussion sounds arcane to modern ears, but it was by no means frivolous to the 17th-century Englishman. The nature of the throne's vacancy cut right to the heart of the relationship between government and society.
The Whigs won the day merely by pointing out that the King was not dead, but had deserted his post, a view that was not only correct ideologically but squared with the facts. The Tories in the House of Lords, in a final effort to rescue the hereditary principle, asked the House of Commons to adopt the following amendment: James II had deserted his administration, but this did not change the fact that he was still king. One Whig pointed out that if this were true, the present Parliament was an illegal assembly since it had not been convened by the King him-self. If James' authority was still acknowledged as legitimate, England was in a de facto state of civil war. This was an intolerable idea to both Whigs and Tories. Even the most hard line Tory never wished to see James on English soil again. Both law and practicality dictated that the throne was vacant and that someone other than James had to be given the Crown.
Mary made it clear that she would not accept the throne if it meant excluding her husband, William. With the mobs gathering in the streets, and fearing civil war, the Tories conceded that under dire circumstances Parliament could alter the line of succession and elect a king. But the Tories did not suffer a total defeat. Just as Mary would not exclude William, so William would not exclude Mary. Moreover, William had no interest in surrendering royal prerogative to Parliament. He had a vested interest in reasserting, as far as possible, the doctrine of divine right. Even the most doctrinaire Whigs saw that they could not "elect" William unless they also honored Mary's hereditary right to be queen. To do one to the exclusion of the other would create a volatile situation, possibly plunge the kingdom into anarchy, and pave the way for the emergence of a military dictatorship, as is likely to be the case when both law and custom are uprooted. It was resolved that both William and Mary should sit on the throne, one by Parliamentary election and the other by divine right. This compromise passed both houses swiftly and was made law on February 7, 1689.
While the Tories in the House of Lords were busy arguing about what legal precedent permitted such a settlement, the Whigs in the House of Commons established a committee headed by Sir John Sommers, a Whig, to draw up an oath to be taken by the new King and Queen and to draft a Declaration of Rights. Following in the tradition of its predecessors, the document catalogued 28 grievances against James II and listed 22 specific legislative measures for their redress.
The importance of the Revolution of 1688 - called the "Glorious Revolution" by its supporters-was not the expansion of the list of officially recognized rights. This was merely the logical extension of a centuries-old tradition beginning with Magna Carta and extended by the Petition of Right and other such documents. Both John Locke and the most staunch Tory, after all, agreed that people had rights. The argument was over how these rights were to be best protected. The question under discussion was the nature of the social contract between the ruler and the people. In the minds of the Tories, the king was God's provision for man's protection, was responsible for defending the rights and interests of his subjects and realm. But for writers such as Locke, the king was not a party to any contract, but a civil servant set up under it, serving at the whim of the people.
The events of the Glorious Revolution established the overthrow of a king as legitimate (at least under extreme circumstances). Moreover, these events proved that he could be deposed without going to war. A bloodless revolution, in other words, was possible-which ultimately leads us to the next step, which is a constitutional democracy. Democracy is nothing more than a series of legal revolutions where the people can, at regular intervals, opt to overthrow their governors. There are no guillotines and no reigns of terror in democratic revolutions, which take place under controlled legal procedures. The social stability rests in the very facts that the jobs of officeholders are unstable and fluid, but that they can lose their jobs without losing their heads.
Though important progress had been made, England was by no means yet a republican democracy. The idea that political sovereignty should rest with the people still would have struck most members of the British ruling class as ludicrous. That most risky of all experiments in political science would have to wait another century until the Philadelphia Convention of 1787.
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Published by the Christian Defense Fund.
© Copyright 1997 by the Christian Defense Fund. All rights reserved.
© Copyright 1988, Benjamin Hart