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THE REIGN OF THE SAINTS
CROMWELL was now the one authority left standing. “ By Act of Parliament,” he said, “I was general of all the forces in the three nations of England, Scotland and Ireland; the authority I had in my hand being so boundless as it was." This unlimited condition both displeased his judgment and pricked his conscience; he protested that he did not desire to live in it for a single day; and his protest was sincere. Yet in fact few were the days during the five years and a half from the breaking of the parliament to his death, when the green withes of à constitution could bind the arms of this heroic Samson. We have seen how in the distant times when Charles I. was prisoner at Carisbrooke, Cromwell not without a visible qualm had brought to bear upon the scruples of Robert Hammond the doctrine of the People's Safety being the Supreme Law. But salus populi is the daily bread of revolutions. It was the foundation, and the only foundation, of the Cromwellian dictatorship in all its changing phases.
After the rude dispersion of the Long Parliament next came the reign of the saints. No experiment could have worked worse. Here is Cromwell's rueful admission. "Truly I will now come and tell you a story of my own weakness and folly. And yet it was done in my simplicity, I dare avow it. It was thought then that men of our judgment, who CHAP. VII
THE NEXT EXPERIMENT
had fought in the wars and were all of a piece upon that account, surely these men will hit it, and these men will do it to the purpose, whatever can be desired. And truly we did think, and I did think so, the more blame to me. And such a company of men were chosen, and did proceed to action. And this was the naked truth, that the issue was not answerable to the simplicity and honesty of the design.” Such was Oliver's own tale related four years afterwards. The discovery that the vast and complex task of human government needs more than spiritual enthusiasm, that to have “ very scriptural notions” is not enough for the reform of stubborn earthly things, marks yet another stage in Cromwell's progress. He was no idealist turned cynic,—that mournful spectacle. He was a warrior called by heaven, as he believed, to save civil order and religious freedom, and it was with this duty heavy on his soul that he watched the working of the scheme that Harrison had vehemently pressed upon him. As Ranke puts it, Cromwell viewed his own ideals not from the point of subjective satisfaction, but of objective necessity ; and this is one of the marks of the statesman. Or, if we must use philosophic diction, while the fighting men of a political party may be wrapped up in the absolute, the practical leader is bound fast by the relative.
The company of men so chosen constituted what stands in history as the Little Parliament, or, parodied from the name of one of its members, Barebones Parliament. They were nominated by Cromwell and his council of officers at their own will and pleasure, helped by the local knowledge of the congregational churches in the country. The writ of summons, reciting how it was necessary to provide for the peace, safety, and good government of the Commonwealth, by committing the trust of such weighty affairs to men with good assurance of love and courage for the interest of God's cause. was issued in the name of Oliver Cromwell, CaptainGeneral and Commander-in-Chief. One hundred and thirty-nine of these summonses went out, and presently five other persons were invited by the convention itself to join, including Cromwell, Lambert, and Harrison.
One most remarkable feature was the appearance for the first time of five men to speak for Scotland and six men for Ireland. This was the earliest formal foreshadowing of legislative union. Of the six representatives of Ireland, four were English officers, including Henry Cromwell; and the other two were English by descent. However devoid of any true representative quality in a popular sense, and however transient the plan, yet the presence of delegates sitting in the name of the two outlying kingdoms in an English governing assembly was symbolical of that great consolidating change in the English state which the political instinct of the men of the Commonwealth had demanded, and the sword of Cromwell seemed to have brought within reach. The policy of incorporation originated in the Long Parliament. With profound wisdom they had based their Scottish schemes upon the emancipation of the common people and small tenants from the oppression of their lords; and Vane, St. John, Lambert, Monk, and others had put the plan into shape. It was the curse of Ireland that no such emancipation was tried there. In Scotland the policy encountered two of the most powerful forces that affect a civilised society, a stubborn sentiment of nationality, and the bitter antagonism of the church. The sword, however, beat down military resistance, and it was left for the Instrument of Government in 1653 to adopt the policy that the Commonwealthsmen had bequeathed to it.
Though so irregular in their source, the nominees of the officers were undoubtedly for the most part
CH. VI CROMWELL'S OPENING DISCOURSE 317
to legisla f the time high-wate
men of worth, substance, and standing spired throughout its course by the enthusiastic Harrison, the convention is the high-water mark of the biblical politics of the time, of puritanism applying itself to legislation, political construction, and social regeneration. It hardly deserves to be described as the greatest attempt ever made in history to found a civil society on the literal words of scripture, but it was certainly the greatest failure of such an attempt. To the Council Chamber at Whitehall the chosen notables repaired on the fourth of July (1653), a day destined a century and more later to be the date of higher things in the annals of free government. They seated themselves round the table, and the Lord-General stood by the window near the middle of it. The room was crowded with officers. Cromwell in his speech made no attempt to hide the military character of the revolution that had brought them together. The indenture, he told them, by which they were constituted the supreme authority, had been drawn up by the advice of the principal officers of the army; it was himself and his fellow officers who had vainly tried to stir up the parliament; he had been their mouthpiece to offer their sense for them; it was the army to whom the people had looked, in their dissatisfaction at the breakdown of parliamentary performance. Yet the very thinking of an act of violence was to them worse, he declared, than any battle that ever they were in, or that could be to the utmost hazard of their lives. They felt how binding it was upon them not to grasp at power for themselves, but to divest the sword of all power in the civil administration. So now God had called this new supreme authority to do his work, which had come to them by wise Providence through weak hands. Such was his opening story. That Cromwell was deeply sincere in this intention of divesting the army of supremacy in civil affairs, and of becoming himself their servant, there are few who doubt. But we only vindicate his sincerity at the cost of his sagacity. The destruction of the old parliament that had at least some spark of legislative authority; the alienation of almost all the staunchest and ablest partisans of the scheme of a commonwealth; the desperate improbability of attracting any large body of members by the rule of the saints, all left the new order without moral or social foundation, and the power of the sword the only rampart standing.
Meanwhile Oliver freely surrendered himself to the spiritual raptures of the hour. “I confess I never looked to see such a day as this, when Jesus Christ should be so owned as he is this day in this work. God manifests this to be the day of the Power of Christ, having through so much blood, and so much trial as hath been upon these nations, made this to be one of the great issues thereof; to have his people called to the supreme authority.” Text upon text is quoted in lyric excitement from prophets, psalmists, and apostles, Old Testament dispensation, and New; appeals to the examples of Moses and of Paul, who could wish themselves blotted out of God's book for the sake of the whole people; the verses from James about wisdom from above being pure and peaceable, gentle and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits; and then at last the sixty-eighth Psalm with its triumphs so exceeding high and great.
So far as the speech can be said to have any single practical note, it is that of Tolerance. “We should be pitiful ... that we may have a respect unto all, and be pitiful and tender towards all though of different judgments. Love all, tender all, cherish and countenance all, in all things that are good. And if the poorest Christian, the most mistaken Christian, shall desire to live peaceably and quietly under you—I say, if any shall desire