England, Scotland, Ireland, all lying now subdued at the feet of the Puritan Parliament, the practical question arose, What was to be done with it?
Continuing Of Cromwell’s Rule In England and the Restoration
with a selection from On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and The Heroic in History by Thomas Carlyle published in 1841. The selections are presented in a series of ten easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Of Cromwell’s Rule In England and the Restoration.
Place: Great Britain
Precisely here, however, lies the rub for Cromwell. His other proceedings have all found advocates, and stand generally justified; but this dismissal of the Rump Parliament and assumption of the Protectorship, is what no one can pardon him. He had fairly grown to be King in England; Chief Man of the victorious party in England: but it seems he could not do without the King’s Cloak, and sold himself to perdition in order to get it. Let us see a little how this was.
England, Scotland, Ireland, all lying now subdued at the feet of the Puritan Parliament, the practical question arose, What was to be done with it? How will you govern these Nations, which Providence in a wondrous way has given — up to your disposal? Clearly those hundred surviving members of the Long Parliament, who sit there as supreme authority, cannot continue forever to sit. What is to be done? — It was a question which theoretical constitution — builders may find easy to answer; but to Cromwell, looking there into the real practical facts of it, there could be none more complicated. He asked of the Parliament, What it was they would decide upon? It was for the Parliament to say. Yet the Soldiers too, however contrary to Formula, they who had purchased this victory with their blood, it seemed to them that they also should have something to say in it! We will not “For all our fighting have nothing but a little piece of paper.” We understand that the Law of God’s Gospel, to which He through us has given the victory, shall establish itself, or try to establish itself, in this land!
For three years, Cromwell says, this question had been sounded in the ears of the Parliament. They could make no answer; nothing but talk, talk. Perhaps it lies in the nature of parliamentary bodies; perhaps no Parliament could in such case make any answer but even that of talk, talk! Nevertheless the question must and shall be answered. You sixty men there, becoming fast odious, even despicable, to the whole nation, whom the nation already calls “Rump” Parliament, you cannot continue to sit there; who or what, then, is to follow? “Free Parliament,” right of election, constitutional formulas of one sort or the other — the thing is a hungry fact coming on us, which we must answer or be devoured by it! And who are you that prate of constitutional formulas, rights of Parliament? You have had to kill your king, to make pride’s purges, to expel and banish by the law of the stronger whosoever would not let your cause prosper: there are but fifty or threescore of you left there, debating in these days. Tell us what we shall do; not in the way of formula, but of practicable fact!
How they did finally answer, remains obscure to this day. The diligent Godwin himself admits that he cannot make it out. The likeliest is, that this poor Parliament still would not, and indeed could not, dissolve and disperse; that when it came to the point of actually dispersing, they again, for the tenth or twentieth time, adjourned it — and Cromwell’s patience failed him. But we will take the favorablest hypothesis ever started for the Parliament; the favorablest, though I believe it is not the true one, but too favorable.
According to this version: At the uttermost crisis, when Cromwell and his officers were met on the one hand, and the fifty or sixty Rump Members on the other, it was suddenly told Cromwell that the Rump in its despair was answering in a very singular way; that in their splenetic, envious despair, to keep — out the Army at least, these men were hurrying through the House a kind of Reform Bill — Parliament to be chosen by the whole of England; equable electoral division into districts; free suffrage, and the rest of it! A very questionable, or indeed for them an unquestionable, thing. Reform Bill, free suffrage of Englishmen? Why, the Royalists, themselves, silenced indeed but not exterminated, perhaps outnumber us; the great numerical majority of England was always indifferent to our cause, merely looked at it and submitted to it. It is in weight and force, not by counting of heads, that we are the majority! And now with your Formulas and Reform Bills, the whole matter sorely won by our swords, shall again launch itself to sea; become a mere hope, and likelihood, small even as a likelihood? And it is not a likelihood; it is a certainty, which we have won, by God’s strength and our own right hands, and do now hold here. Cromwell walked down to these refractory Members; interrupted them in that rapid speed of their Reform Bill; — ordered them to begone, and talk there no more. — Can we not forgive him? Can we not understand him? John Milton, who looked on it all near at hand, could applaud him. The Reality had swept the Formulas away before it. I fancy, most men who were realities in England might see into the necessity of that.
The strong daring man, therefore, has set all manner of Formulas and logical superficialities against him; has dared appeal to the genuine Fact of this England, Whether it will support him or not? It is curious to see how he struggles to govern in some constitutional way; find some Parliament to support him; but cannot. His first Parliament, the one they call “Barebones’ Parliament,” is, so to speak, a Convocation of the Notables. From all quarters of England the leading Ministers and chief Puritan Officials nominate the men most distinguished by religious reputation, influence, and attachment to the true cause: these are assembled to shape — out a plan. They sanctioned what was past; shaped as they could what was to come. They were scornfully called Barebones’ Parliament, the man’s name, it seems, was not Barebones, but Barbone — a good enough man. Nor was it a jest, their work; it was a most serious reality — a trial on the part of these Puritan Notables how far the Law of Christ could become the Law of this England. There were men of sense among them, men of some quality; men of deep piety I suppose the most of them were. They failed, it seems, and broke — down, endeavoring to reform the Court of Chancery! They dissolved themselves, as incompetent; delivered up their power again into the hands of the Lord — General Cromwell, to do with it what he liked and could.
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