Classic History Books


The History of England by A. E. Pollard

of the Roman Catholics worse than it was before the Declaration.

This failure convinced Charles that one of his two designs must go by the board. He threw over the less
popular cause of his co-religionists; and henceforth devoted himself to the task of emancipating the

crown from parliamentary interference. But popular suspicion had been aroused by Charles's secret

dealings and James's open professions; and Titus Oates, who knew something about real plans for the

reconversion of England, inflated his knowledge into a monstrous tale of a popish plot. The Whigs, as the

opposition party came to be called, used it for more than it was worth to damage the Tories under Danby.

The panic produced one useful measure, the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679, many judicial murders, and a

foolish attempt to exclude James from the succession, As it subsided, Charles deftly turned the reaction

to the ruin of the Whigs (1681). Of their leaders, Shaftesbury fled to Holland, and Sidney and Russell

were brought to the block; their parliamentary strongholds in the cities and towns were packed with

Tories; and for the last four years of his reign Charles ruled without a parliament, but with the goodwill

of the Tories and the church.

This half of the nation would probably have acquiesced in the growth of despotism under James II, had
not the new king ostentatiously ignored the wisdom of Charles II. He began (1685) with everything in his

favour: a Tory parliament, a discredited opposition, which further weakened its case by Argyll's and

Monmouth's rebellions, and a great reputation for honesty. Within a couple of years he had thrown away

all these advantages by his revival of Charles II's abandoned Roman Catholic policy, and had alienated

the Anglican church, by whose support alone he could hope to rule as an English despot. He suspended

and dispensed with laws, introduced Roman Catholics into the army, the universities, the privy council,

raised a standing force of thirty thousand men, and finally prosecuted seven bishops for seditious libel.

William III, the husband of James's daughter Mary, was invited by representatives of all parties to come

over as England's deliverer, and James fled on his approach. He could not fight, like his father, because

no English party supported his cause.

The Revolution of 1688 was singularly negative so far as its results were expressed in the Bill of Rights
and the Act of Settlement. These celebrated constitutional documents made little provision for national

self-government. One king, it is true, had been evicted from the throne, and Roman Catholics were to be

always excluded; and these measures disposed of divine hereditary right. But that had been a Stuart

invention, and kings had been deposed before James II. Why should self-government follow on the

events of 1688 any more than on those of 1399, 1461, or 1485? Future sovereigns were, indeed, to refrain

from doing much that James had done. They were not to keep a standing army in time of peace, not to

pardon ministers impeached by the House of Commons, not to dismiss judges except on an address from

both Houses of Parliament, not to suspend laws at all nor to dispense with them in the way James had

done, not to keep a parliament nor do without one longer than three years, and not to require excessive

bail. Religious toleration, too, was secured in some measure, and freedom of the press to a limited extent.

But all these enactments were safeguards against the abuse of royal power and infringement of civil

liberty rather than provisions for self-government. No law was passed requiring the king to be guided by

ministers enjoying the confidence of parliament; he was still the real and irresponsible executive, and

parliament was limited to legislation. The favourite Whig toast of "civil and religious liberty" implied an

Englishman's right to freedom from molestation, but not a right to a voice in the government of the

country. Responsible self-government was not guaranteed by the laws, but it was ensured by the facts, of

the Revolution.

The truth is, that the methods of English constitutional progress have been, down to this day, offensive

 

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