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Oliver Cromwell

      And now a new and alarming class of symptoms began to appear in the distempered body politic. There had been, from the first, in the Parliamentary party, some men whose minds were set on objects from which the majority of that party would have shrunk with horror. These men were, in religion, Independents. They conceived that every Christian congregation had, under Christ, supreme jurisdiction in things spiritual; that appeals to provincial and national synods were scarcely less unscriptural than appeals to the Court of Arches or to the Vatican; and that popery, prelacy, and Presbyterianism were merely three forms of one great apostasy. In politics they were, to use the phrase of their time, Root and Branch men, or, to use the kindred phrase of our own time, Radicals. Not content with limiting the power of the monarch, they were desirous to erect a commonwealth on the ruins of the old English polity. At first they had been inconsiderable both in numbers and in weight; but, before the war had lasted two years, they became, not indeed the largest, but the most powerful faction in the country. Some of the old Parliamentary leaders had been removed by death, and others had forfeited the public confidence. Pym had been borne, with princely honors, to a grave among the Plantagenets. Hampden had fallen, as became him, while vainly endeavoring, by his heroic example, to inspire his followers with courage to face the fiery cavalry of Rupert. Bedford had been untrue to the cause. Northumberland was known to be lukewarm. Essex and his lieutenants had shown little vigor and ability in the conduct of military operations. At such a conjuncture it was, that the Independent party, ardent, resolute, and uncompromising, began to raise its head both in the camp and in the Parliament.

      The soul of that party was Oliver Cromwell. Bred to peaceful occupations, he had, at more than forty years of age, accepted a commission in the Parliamentary army. No sooner had he become a soldier, than he discerned, with the keen glance of genius, what Essex and men like Essex, with all their experience, were unable to perceive. He saw precisely where the strength of the Royalists lay, and by what means alone that strength could be overpowered. He saw that it was necessary to reconstruct the army of the Parliament. He saw, also, that there were abundant and excellent materials for the purpose; materials less showy, indeed, but more solid, than those of which the gallant squadrons of the king were composed. It was necessary to look for recruits who were not mere mercenaries; for recruits of decent station and grave character, fearing God and zealous for public liberty. With such men he filled his own regiment, and, while he subjected them to a discipline more rigid than had ever before been known in England, he administered to their intellectual and moral nature stimulants of fearful potency.

      The events of the year 1644 fully proved the superiority of his abilities. In the south, where Essex held the command, the Parliamentary forces underwent a succession of shameful disasters, but in the north the victory of Marston Moor fully compensated for all that had been lost elsewhere. That victory was not a more serious blow to the Royalists than to the party which had hitherto been dominant at Westminster; for it was notorious that the day, disgracefully lost by the Presbyterians, had been retrieved by the energy of Cromwell, and by the steady valor of the warriors whom he had trained.

      These events produced the Self-denying Ordinance and the new model of the army. Under decorous pretexts, and with every mark of respect, Essex and most of those who had held high posts under him were removed, and the conduct of the war was intrusted to very different hands. Fairfax, a brave soldier, but of mean understanding and irresolute temper, was the nominal lord-general of the forces, but Cromwell was their real head.

Cromwell's daughter entreats him to refuse the crown.

      Cromwell made haste to organize the whole army on the same principles on which he had organized his own regiment. As soon as this process was complete, the event of the war was decided. The Cavaliers had now to encounter natural courage equal to their own, enthusiasm stronger than their own, and discipline such as was utterly wanting to them. It soon became a proverb that the soldiers of Fairfax and Cromwell were men of a different breed from the soldiers of Essex. At Naseby took place the first great encounter between the Royalists and the remodelled army of the Houses. The victory of the Roundheads was complete and decisive. It was followed by other triumphs in rapid succession. In a few months the authority of the Parliament was fully established over the whole kingdom. Charles fled to the Scots, and was by them, in a manner which did not much exalt their national character, delivered up to his English subjects.

      But while the Houses were employing their authority thus, it suddenly passed out of their hands. It had been obtained by calling into existence a power which could not be controlled. In the summer of 1647, about twelve months after the last fortress of the Cavaliers had submitted to the Parliament, the Parliament was compelled to submit to its own soldiers.

      Thirteen years followed, during which England was, under various names and forms, really governed by the sword. Never before that time, or since that time, was the civil power in our country subjected to military dictation.

      To keep down the English people was no light task even for that army. No sooner was the first pressure of military tyranny felt, than the nation, unbroken to such servitude, began to struggle fiercely. Insurrections broke out even in those counties which, during the recent war, had been the most submissive to the Parliament. Indeed, the Parliament itself abhorred its old defenders more than its old enemies, and was desirous to come to terms of accommodation with Charles at the expense of the troops. In Scotland, at the same time, a coalition was formed between the Royalists and a large body of Presbyterians, who regarded the doctrines of the Independents with detestation. At length the storm burst. There were risings in Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Kent, Wales. The fleet in the Thames suddenly hoisted the royal colors, stood out to sea, and menaced the southern coast. A great Scottish force crossed the frontier and advanced into Lancashire. It might well be suspected that these movements were contemplated with secret complacency by a majority both of the Lords and of the Commons.

      But the yoke of the army was not to be so shaken off. While Fairfax suppressed the risings in the neighborhood of the capital, Oliver routed the Welsh insurgents, and, leaving their castles in ruins, marched against the Scots. His troops were few when compared with the invaders; but he was little in the habit of counting his enemies. The Scottish army was utterly destroyed. A change in the Scottish government followed. An administration, hostile to the king, was formed at Edinburgh; and Cromwell, more than ever the darling of his soldiers, returned in triumph to London.

      England had already ceased to struggle; but the two other kingdoms which had been governed by the Stuarts were hostile to the new republic. The Independent party was equally odious to the Roman Catholics of Ireland and to the Presbyterians of Scotland. Both these countries, lately in rebellion against Charles I., now acknowledged the authority of Charles II.

      But everything yielded to the vigor and ability of Cromwell. In a few months he subjugated Ireland as Ireland had never been subjugated during the five centuries of slaughter which had elapsed since the landing of the first Norman settlers. He resolved to put an end to that conflict of races and religions which had so long distracted the island, by making the English and Protestant population decidedly predominant. For this end he gave the rein to the fierce enthusiasm of his followers, waged war resembling that which Israel waged on the Canaanites, smote the idolaters with the edge of the sword, so that great cities were left without inhabitants, drove many thousands to the Continent, shipped off many thousands to the West Indies, and supplied the void thus made, by pouring in numerous colonists of the Anglo-Saxon blood and of the Calvinistic faith. Strange to say, under that iron rule the conquered country began to wear an outward face of prosperity. Districts which had recently been as wild as those where the first white settlers of Connecticut were contending with the red men, were in a few years transformed into the likeness of Kent and Norfolk. New buildings, roads, and plantations were everywhere seen. The rent of estates rose fast; and soon the English land-owners began to complain that they were met in every market by the products of Ireland, and to clamor for protecting laws.

      From Ireland the victorious chief, who was now in name, as he had long been in reality, lord-general of the armies of the commonwealth, turned to Scotland. The young king was there. He had consented to profess himself a Presbyterian, and to subscribe the Covenant; and, in return for these concessions, the austere Puritans who bore sway at Edinburgh had permitted him to hold, under their inspection and control, a solemn and melancholy court in the long-deserted halls of Holyrood. This mock royalty was of short duration. In two great battles Cromwell annihilated the military force of Scotland. Charles fled for his life, and, with extreme difficulty, escaped the fate of his father. The ancient kingdom of the Stuarts was reduced, for the first time, to profound submission. Of that independence, so manfully defended against the mightiest and ablest of the Plantagenets, no vestige was left. The English Parliament made laws for Scotland. The English judges held assizes in Scotland. Even that stubborn Church, which has held its own against so many governments, scarce dared to utter an audible murmur.

      Thus far there had been at least the semblance of harmony between the warriors who subjugated Ireland and Scotland, and the politicians who sat at Westminster; but the alliance which had been cemented by danger was dissolved by victory. The Parliament forgot that it was but the creature of the Army. The Army was less disposed than ever to submit to the dictation of the Parliament. Indeed, the few members who made up what was contemptuously called the Rump of the House of Commons, had no more claim than the military chiefs to be esteemed the representatives of the nation. The dispute was soon brought to a decisive issue. Cromwell filled the house with armed men. The speaker was pulled out of his chair, the mace taken from the table, the room cleared, and the door locked. The nation, which loved neither of the contending parties, but which was forced, in its own despite, to respect the capacity and resolution of the general, looked on with patience, if not with complacency.

      King, Lords, and Commons had now, in turn, been vanquished and destroyed, and Cromwell seemed to be left the sole heir of the powers of all three. Yet were certain limitations still imposed on him by the very army to which he owed his immense authority. That singular body of men was, for the most part, composed of zealous republicans. In the act of enslaving their country, they had deceived themselves into the belief that they were emancipating her. The book which they most venerated furnished them with a precedent which was frequently in their mouths. It was true that the ignorant and ungrateful nation murmured against its deliverers; even so had another chosen nation murmured against the leader who brought it, by painful and dreary paths, from the house of bondage to the land flowing with milk and honey. Yet had that leader rescued his brethren in spite of themselves; nor had he shrunk from making terrible examples of those who contemned the proffered freedom, and pined for the flesh-pots, the task-masters, and the idolatries of Egypt. The object of the warlike saints who surrounded Cromwell was the settlement of a free and pious commonwealth. For that end they were ready to employ, without scruple, any means, however violent and lawless. It was not impossible, therefore, to establish by their aid a monarchy absolute in effect; but it was probable that their aid would be at once withdrawn from a ruler who, even under strict constitutional restraints, should venture to assume the regal name and dignity.

      The sentiments of Cromwell were widely different. He was not what he had been; nor would it be just to consider the change which his views had undergone as the effect merely of selfish ambition. When he came up to the Long Parliament, he brought with him from his rural retreat little knowledge of books, no experience of great affairs, and a temper galled by the long tyranny of the government and of the hierarchy. He had, during the thirteen years which followed, gone through a political education of no common kind. He had been a chief actor in a succession of revolutions. He had been long the soul, and at last the head, of a party. He had commanded armies, won battles, negotiated treaties, subdued, pacified, and regulated kingdoms. It would have been strange indeed if his notions had been still the same as in the days when his mind was principally occupied by his fields and his religion, and when the greatest events which diversified the course of his life were a cattle-fair, or a prayer-meeting at Huntingdon. He saw that some schemes of innovation for which he had once been zealous, whether good or bad in themselves, were opposed to the general feeling of the country, and that, if he persevered in those schemes, he had nothing before him but constant troubles, which must be suppressed by the constant use of the sword. He therefore wished to restore, in all essentials, that ancient constitution which the majority of the people had always loved, and for which they now pined. The course afterward taken by Monk was not taken by Cromwell. The memory of one terrible day separated the great regicide forever from the house of Stuart. What remained was that he should mount the ancient English throne, and reign according to the ancient English polity. If he could effect this, he might hope that the wounds of the lacerated state would heal fast. Great numbers of honest and quiet men would speedily rally round him. Those Royalists, whose attachment was rather to institutions than to persons, to the kingly office than to King Charles I. or King Charles II., would soon kiss the hand of King Oliver. The peers, who now remained sullenly at their country houses, and refused to take any part in public affairs, would, when summoned to their House by the writ of a king in possession, gladly resume their ancient functions. Northumberland and Bedford, Manchester and Pembroke, would be proud to bear the crown and the spurs, the sceptre and the globe, before the restorer of aristocracy. A sentiment of loyalty would gradually bind the people to the new dynasty, the royal dignity might descend with general acquiescence to his posterity.

      The ablest Royalists were of opinion that these views were correct, and that, if Cromwell had been permitted to follow his own judgment, the exiled line would never have been restored. But his plan was directly opposed to the feelings of the only class which he dared not offend. The name of king was hateful to the soldiers. Some of them were, indeed, unwilling to see the administration in the hands of any single person. The great majority, however, were disposed to support their general, as elective first magistrate of a commonwealth, against all factions which might resist his authority; but they would not consent that he should assume the regal title, or that the dignity, which was the just reward of his personal merit, should be declared hereditary in his family.[16] All that was left to him was to give to the new republic a constitution as like the constitution of the old monarchy as the army would bear. That his elevation to power might not seem to be his own mere act, he convoked a council, composed partly of persons on whose support he could depend, and partly of persons whose opposition he might safely defy. This assembly, which he called a Parliament, and which the populace nicknamed, from one of the most conspicuous members, Barebones's Parliament, after exposing itself during a short time to the public contempt, surrendered back to the general the powers which it had received from him, and left him at liberty to frame a plan of government.

      How Oliver's Parliaments were constituted, however, was practically of little moment; for he possessed the means of conducting the administration without their support, and in defiance of their opposition. His wish seems to have been to govern constitutionally, and to substitute the empire of the laws for that of the sword; but he soon found that, hated as he was both by Royalists and Presbyterians, he could be safe only by being absolute. The first House of Commons which the people elected by his command questioned his authority, and was dissolved without having passed a single act. His second House of Commons, though it recognized him as Protector, and would gladly have made him king, obstinately refused to acknowledge his new lords. He had no course left but to dissolve the Parliament. "God," he exclaimed, at parting, "be judge between you and me!"

      Yet was the energy of the Protector's administration in nowise relaxed by these dissensions. Those soldiers who would not suffer him to assume the kingly title stood by him when he ventured on acts of power as high as any English king has ever attempted. The government, therefore, though in form a republic, was in truth a despotism, moderated only by the wisdom, the sober-mindedness, and the magnanimity of the despot. The country was divided into military districts; these districts were placed under the command of major-generals. Every insurrectionary movement was promptly put down and punished. The fear inspired by the power of the sword in so strong, steady, and expert a hand, quelled the spirit both of Cavaliers and Levellers. The loyal gentry declared that they were still as ready as ever to risk their lives for the old government and the old dynasty, if there were the slightest hope of success; but to rush at the head of their serving-men and tenants on the pikes of brigades victorious in a hundred battles and sieges, would be a frantic waste of innocent and honorable blood. Both Royalists and Republicans, having no hope in open resistance, began to revolve dark schemes of assassination; but the Protector's intelligence was good; his vigilance was unremitting; and, whenever he moved beyond the walls of his palace, the drawn swords and cuirasses of his trusty body-guards encompassed him thick on every side.

      Had he been a cruel, licentious, and rapacious prince, the nation might have found courage in despair, and might have made a convulsive effort to free itself from military domination; but the grievances which the country suffered, though such as excited serious discontent, were by no means such as impel great masses of men to stake their lives, their fortunes, and the welfare of their families against fearful odds. The taxation, though heavier than it had been under the Stuarts, was not heavy when compared with that of the neighboring states and with the resources of England. Property was secure. Even the Cavalier, who refrained from giving disturbance to the new settlement, enjoyed in peace whatever the civil troubles had left him. The laws were violated only in cases where the safety of the Protector's person and government were concerned. Justice was administered between man and man with an exactness and purity not before known. Under no English government since the Reformation had there been so little religious persecution. The unfortunate Roman Catholics, indeed, were held to be scarcely within the pale of Christian charity; but the clergy of the fallen Anglican Church were suffered to celebrate their worship on condition that they would abstain from preaching about politics. Even the Jews, whose public worship had, ever since the thirteenth century, been interdicted, were, in spite of the strong opposition of jealous traders and fanatical theologians, permitted to build a synagogue in London.

      The Protector's foreign policy at the same time extorted the ungracious approbation of those who most detested him. The Cavaliers could scarcely refrain from wishing that one who had done so much to raise the fame of the nation had been a legitimate king; and the Republicans were forced to own that the tyrant suffered none but himself to wrong his country, and that, if he had robbed her of liberty, he had at least given her glory in exchange. After half a century, during which England had been of scarcely more weight in European politics than Venice or Saxony, she at once became the most formidable power in the world, dictated terms of peace to the United Provinces, avenged the common injuries of Christendom on the pirates of Barbary, vanquished the Spaniards by land and sea, seized one of the finest West India islands, and acquired on the Flemish coast a fortress which consoled the national pride for the loss of Calais. She was supreme on the ocean. She was the head of the Protestant interest. All the Reformed churches scattered over Roman Catholic kingdoms acknowledged Cromwell as their guardian. The Huguenots of Languedoc, the shepherds who, in the hamlets of the Alps, professed a Protestantism older than that of Augsburg, were secured from oppression by the mere terror of that great name. The Pope himself was forced to preach humanity and moderation to popish princes; for a voice which seldom threatened in vain had declared that, unless favor were shown to the people of God, the English guns should be heard in the Castle of St. Angelo. In truth, there was nothing which Cromwell had, for his own sake and that of his family, so much reason to desire as a general religious war in Europe. In such a war he must have been the captain of the Protestant armies. The heart of England would have been with him. His victories would have been hailed with a unanimous enthusiasm unknown in the country since the rout of the Armada, and would have effaced the stain which one act, condemned by the general voice of the nation, has left on his splendid fame. Unhappily for him, he had no opportunity of displaying his admirable military talents except against the inhabitants of the British Isles.

      While he lived his power stood firm, an object of mingled aversion, admiration, and dread to his subjects. Few indeed loved his government; but those who hated it most, hated it less than they feared it. Had it been a worse government, it might, perhaps, have been overthrown in spite of all its strength. Had it been a weaker government, it would certainly have been overthrown in spite of all its merits. But it had moderation enough to abstain from those oppressions which drive men mad; and it had a force and energy which none but men driven mad by oppression would venture to encounter.

      It has often been affirmed, but apparently with little reason, that Oliver died at a time fortunate for his renown, and that, if his life had been prolonged, it would probably have closed amid disgraces and disasters. It is certain that he was, to the last, honored by his soldiers, obeyed by the whole population of the British Islands, and dreaded by all foreign powers; that he was laid among the ancient sovereigns of England with funeral pomp such as London had never before seen, and that he was succeeded by his son Richard as quietly as any king had ever been succeeded by any Prince of Wales.

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