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The fierce work was consummated in the afternoon. Cromwell heard that the Council of State, the creation of the destroyed legislature, was sitting as usual. Thither he repaired with Lambert and Harrison by his side. He seems to have recovered composure. “If you are met here as private persons,” Cromwell said, “ you shall not be disturbed ; but if as a Council of State, this is no place for you; and since you cannot but know what was done at the House in the morning, so take notice that the parliament is dissolved.” Bradshaw, who was in the chair, was not cowed. He had not quailed before a more dread scene with Charles four years ago. “ Sir," he replied, “ we have heard what you did at the House in the morning, and before many hours all England will hear it; but, sir, you are mistaken to think that the parliament is dissolved; for no power under heaven can dissolve them but themselves; therefore take you notice of that.”
Whatever else is to be said, it is well to remember that to condemn the Rump-a name, by the way, not known until after Cromwell's death—is to go a long way towards condemning the revolution. To justify Cromwell's violence in breaking it up, is to go a long way towards justifying Hyde and even Strafford. If the Commons had really sunk into the condition described by Oliver in his passion, such ignominy showed that the classes represented by it were really incompetent, as men like Strafford had always deliberately believed, to take that supreme share in governing the country for which Pym and his generation of reformers had so manfully contended. For the remnant was the quintessence left after a long series of elaborate distillations. They were not presbyterians, moderates, respectables, bourgeois, pedants, Girondins. They, or the great majority of them, were the men who had resisted a continuance of the negotiations at Newport. They had made themselves accomplices in Pride's Purge. They had ordered the trial of the king. They had set up the Commonwealth without lords or monarch. They were deep in all the proceedings of Cromwellian Thorough. They were the very cream after purification upon purification. If they could not govern, who could ?
We have seen the harsh complaints of Cromwell against the parliament in 1652, how selfish its members were, how ready to break into factions, how slow in business, how scandalous the lives of some of them. Yet this seems little better than the impatient indictment of the soldier, if we remember how only a few months before, the French agent had told Mazarin of the new rulers of the Commonwealth, “ Not only were they powerful by sea and land, but they live without ostentation. ... They were economical in their private expenses, and prodigal in their devotion to public affairs, for which each one toils as if for his personal interests. They handle large sums of money, which they administer honestly.” We cannot suppose that two years had transformed such men into the guilty objects of Cromwell's censorious attack. Cromwell admitted after he had violently broken them up, that there were persons of honour and integrity among them, who had eminently appeared for God and for the public good both before and throughout the war. It would in truth have been ludicrous to say otherwise of a body that contained patriots so unblemished in fidelity, energy, and capacity as Vane, Scot, Bradshaw, and others. Nor is there any good reason to believe that these men of honour and integrity were a hopeless minority. We need not indeed suppose that the Rump was without time-servers. Perhaps no deliberative assembly in the world ever is without them, for time-serving has its roots in human nature. The question is what proportion the time
servers bore to the whole. There is no sign that it was large. But whether large or small, to deal with time-servers is part, and no inconsiderable part, of the statesman's business, and it is hard to see how with this poor breed Oliver could have dealt worse.
Again, in breaking up the parliament he committed what in modern politics is counted the inexpiable sin of breaking up his party. This was the gravest of all. This was what made the revolution of 1653 a turning-point. The presbyterians hated him as the greatest of independents. He had already set a deep gulf between himself and the royalists of every shade by killing the king. To the enmity of the legitimists of a dynasty, was now added the enmity of the legitimists of parliament. By destroying the parliamentary remnant, he set a new gulf between himself and most of the best men on his own side. Where was the policy? What foundations had he left himself to build upon ? What was his calculation, or had he no calculation, of forces, circumstances, individuals, for the step that was to come next ? When he stamped in wrath out of the desecrated House, had he ever firmly counted the cost? Or was he in truth as improvident as King Charles had been when he too marched down the same floor eleven years ago ? In one sense his own creed erected improvidence into a principle. “ Own your call,” he says to the first of his own parliaments, “ for it is marvellous, and it hath been unprojected. It's not long since either you or we came to know of it. And indeed this hath been the way God dealt with us all along. To keep things from our own eyes all along, so that we have seen nothing in all his dispensations long beforehand.” And there is the famous saying of his, that “ he goes furthest who knows not where he is going,”—of which Retz said that it showed Cromwell to be a simpleton. We may at least admit the peril of a helmsman who does not forecast his course.
It is true that the situation was a revolutionary one, and the remnant was no more a legal parliament than Cromwell was legal monarch. The constitution had long vanished from the stage. From the day in May 1641, when the king had assented to the bill making a dissolution depend on the will of parliament, down to the days in March 1649 when the mutilated Commons abolished the House of Lords and the office of a king, story after story of the constitutional fabric had come crashing to the ground. The Rump alone was left to stand for the old tradition of parliament, and it was still clothed, even in the minds of those who were most querulous about its present failure of performance, with a host of venerated associations—the same associations that had lifted up men's hearts all through the fierce tumults of civil war. The rude destruction of the parliament gave men a shock that awakened in some of them angry distrust of Cromwell, in others a broad resentment at the overthrow of the noblest of experiments, and, in the largest class of all, deep misgivings as to the past, silent self - questioning whether the whole movement since 1641 had not been a grave and terrible mistake.
Guizot truly says of Cromwell that he was one of the men who know that even the best course in political action always has its drawbacks, and who accept without flinching the difficulties that may be laid upon them by their own decisions. This time, however, the day was not long in coming when Oliver saw reason to look back with regret upon those whom he now handled with such impetuous severity. When he quarrelled with the first parliament of his Protectorate, less than two years hence, he used his old foes, if foes they were, for a topic of reproach against his new ones. “I
faw reason to handled Wied with the
will say this on behalf of the Long Parliament, that had such an expedient as this government [the Instrument] been proposed to them; and could they have seen the cause of God provided for; and been by debates enlightened in the grounds of it, whereby the difficulties might have been cleared to them, and the reason of the whole enforced, and the circumstances of time and persons, with the temper and disposition of the people, and affairs both abroad and at home might have been well weighed, I think in my conscience,—well as they were thought to love their seats—they would have proceeded in another manner than you have done.” To cut off in a fit of passion the chance of such a thing was a false step he was never able to retrieve.