of belted knights and sturdy yeomen marching in the pomp and circumstance of war to win a bloodless triumph from a recreant king. Here we have no true English prelate like the archbishop Langton standing for a nation's right against a tyrant's usurpation. In this strife we have on one side royalty with all its prestige; on the other a plain English House of Commons; and between, we see the church arrayed upon the side of royalty against the people; while the peers sustain the commons at the same time that they strive to reconcile a quarrel which portends so terrible an end. On the surface nothing tells at first of the volcanic fire that threatens the existence of the constitution of the kingdom or the sovereign's throne. The war—for war it is—seems to be but a paper fusillade. The king sends messages to Parliament; adjourns, prorogues, dissolves the Parliament; proclaims the nullity of laws passed by the Parliament; gives orders for the levying of taxes, and imprisons freemen without trial, in defiance of the Parliament; all on paper. Parliament, on the other hand, sends back what is apparently a shower of paper balls and nothing more. It passes resolutions, signs addresses, and remonstrances, and humble parliamentary petitions, and asserts its rights-on paper. But anon the papers glow with passion and men's hearts burn, and the torch of civil war lights up the land ; and by and by, as oftenest happens in the course of revolutions, people, weary of the strife, give up all they have fought for to the hands of a worse tyrant than they had before-enduring under a man they call (in mockery is it?) Lord Protector of a Commonwealth (!) more grinding and degrading despotism than they suffered in the worst days of their beheaded king. Yet were the Greeks wise who said, All things are born of battle. For by the paper fusillade, no less than the civil strife, and the hatred roused against the puritan Lord Destroyer of the Kingdom, the atmosphere of English mind was cleared. And liberty, at length, defined and guarded by sufficient safeguards, grew, as she only can grow, by the aliment of strife and war. He who has no imagination would do well to pass over the outwardly dull details of parliamentary contention we are now about to lay before him. But he who has eyes to see the national life that burns and glows, or sometimes only faintly smoulders, under their paper protocols and manifestoes, may learn much therefrom not altogether useless in this epoch of the history of the United States. We are now about to give the parliamentary history of England under the Stuart kings, in order to bring clearly out the necessities which called for the second and third Great Charters of the liberties of England, commonly called the Petition of Right and the Bill of Rights. The same necessities may arise again ; many citizens of these States think they have occurred already in the past three years. Nor are there wanting those who hold that Charles I. never did, in all his reign, commit more flagrant outrages upon the English constitution and the rights of Englishmen, than have been openly and boldly committed on the fourth Great Charter—the incomparable Constitution of the United States, and on free-born Americans by a so-called republican (!) administration. Whether these accusations be true or not, we leave our readers to determine. We shall tell the simple tale, neither extenuating nor maliciously exaggerating anything whatever.


JAMES THE Sixth of Scotland and First of England, the successor of Elizabeth, ascended the throne on the 24th of March, 1603. He was received with great and hearty welcome by the people, who had become tired of their long submission to Elizabeth ; and it is probable that the ardent patriots who had sprung up in the nation toward the end of her reign looked forward to the occupation of the throne by a foreigner, for an opportunity to establish the principles of liberty, for which they had contended under her repressive system. Yet in the outset of James's reign the most extreme flattery--which we have no mind to repeat-was addressed to the monarch ; though we must observe that it was always flattery of his person, never flattery of his official prerogative. Such as it was, it proved acceptable to James; and nothing could have been more promising or more fallacious than the concord which at first prevailed between the first king of the House of Stuart and the kingdom he had come to govern. The assembling of Parliament was delayed on account of the plague which prevailed during the year of James's accession, and did not meet before the 19th of March, 1604. It was opened with a long speech from the king, in which he so plainly defined the rights and duties of a constitutional

sovereign, that his words are quoted by Locke in support of his definition of tyranny, which the philosopher describes as "the exercise of power beyond right." James said, “ I will ever prefer the weal of the public and of the whole commonwealth, in making of good laws and constitutions, to any particular and private ends of mine ; thinking ever the wealth and weal of the commonwealth to be my greatest weal and worldly felicity—a point wherein a lawful king doth directly differ from a tyrant. For I do acknowledge that the special and greatest point of difference that is between a rightful king and a usurping tyrant, is this :—that whereas the proud and ambitious tyrant doth think his kingdom and people are only ordained for satisfaction of his desires and unreasonable appetites, the righteous and just king doth by the contrary acknowledge himself to be ordained for the procuring of the wealth and property of the people.” It is curious to find such constitutional principles laid down at the commencement of the career of the Stuart kings -a dynasty to which we owe the monstrous doctrine of divine RIGHT. This doctrine, which we do not hesitate to stampas monstrous, was thoroughly believed by James and his immediate successor, Charles I., and being in fact the platform of their principles, must be clearly understood if we would have an intelligent conception of the motives which actuated the Stuarts in their long struggle with their subjects. It was current in the reign of James, who went so far as to employ his pen to enforce it; but we may collect a more concise account of it, and of the arguments by which it was maintained, from a later and more celebrated work, called the "Patriarch," written by Sir Robert Filmer in the reign of Charles I., and published after the restoration of Charles II. “All government (it is asserted) is absolute monarchy. No man is born free; and therefore could never have the liberty to choose either governor or form of government. The father of a family governs by no law but his own. Kings, in the right of parents, succeed to the exercise of supreme jurisdiction. They are above all laws. They have a divine right to absolute power; and are not answerable to human authority.” The consequence of these propositions was assumed to be that all laws, privileges, and grants of princes have no force but during their lives, if they be not ratified by the express consent or the sufferance or the prince following; and that a perfect kingdom is that where the king rules all things according to his own will." This doctrine was preached by the Church and acted upon by the Stuart kings.

This Parliament was chiefly occupied with passing and restoring penal laws against the Roman Catholics. Its most important acts will be described hereafter. The second session of Parliament commenced on the 5th of November, 1605, the day after the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot; and the act which was immediately passed for establishing an annual public thanksgiving for the deliv. erance of the king, was used as an occasion for more of that fulsome and even blasphemous adulation which had been addressed to him at the beginning of his reign. This Parliament was chiefly noted for severities against the Roman Catholics.

The Parliament held in 1609 continued the same course of severity against the papists' (i. e., to enforce the established religion upon them). It passed an act that no person should be naturalized, or restored in blood (in other words, relieved from the penalties of attainder), unless he received the sacrament before the bill was exhibited, and took the oath of allegiance and supremacy before it was read a second time.

An act of the same session, 1609, shows the willing concurrence of Parliament in severe laws. It was “for administering the oath of allegiance, and reformation of married women recusants.” “To show how greatly your loyal subjects approve the oath, they prostrate themselves at your majesty's feet, that the oath may be administered to all your subjects.” It required the oath to be taken by all persons, ecclesiastical and temporal, of both sexes, above the age of eighteen years.

Numerous clauses describe the officials before whom the several orders and ranks in the state--the church, the law, the army and navy, members of the universities and of Parliament, doctors of physic, aldermen, and freemen-should take the oath, which was to be taken by all within six months. Any of the privy council, or a bishop, might require any baron or baroness above the age of eighteen-and two justices of the peace might require any other

person above the same age—to take the oath. If refused, the person tendering the oath was to commit the

offender to the common jail, there to remain without bail, until the next assizes, or quarter sessions; where if the oath were again refused, the person refusing incurred the penalties of præmunire; except married women, who were to be imprisoned without bail, until they would take the oath. Persons refusing the oath were disabled to hold any public place of judicature, to bear any office, or to practise the common law, or civil law, or physic, or surgery, or the art of an apothecary, or any liberal science for gain, until they should receive the oath.

But ere long a change became apparent in the actions of the Commons. James" the wisest fool in Christendom "-was little likely to sustain the reverence inspired by his position. He was a striking contrast to his predecessor; and the House of Commons, relieved from the dread with which Elizabeth had inspired them, soon gave James to understand that he must not expect submission to his absolute will where their privileges were concerned. These they brought forward, and enforced with an energy and spirit, in striking contrast with the humble language of their statutes. In the first Parliament they entered into a contest, in which the king took personal part, as to their right to decide upon election returns. The king having assumed a right to limit the selection of the people in regard to the persons whom they might return as members of the House of Commons, and in the Court of Chancery to set aside elections not made in accordance with his proclamation, the house made so determined a resistance to this manifest invasion of its privilege, that James was glad to end the matter by a compromise which left the house substantially victorious; and from this time forward no attempt ever was made to dispute their jurisdiction over the returns of their members.

In the same Parliament they established (not without a struggle) their privilege to deliver out of custody members arrested in execu. tion for debt, and to punish those who made or procured such arrest; which privilege was put into an indisputable position by an act of the same Parliament.

Besides these successes, the House of Commons of James's first Parliament laid a strong foundation for the future efforts by a, bold and explicit statement of their constitutional rights and liber

« ForrigeFortsett »