Графични страници
PDF файл

to support the regency of the Prince and Princess of Orange, and a security against any attempt of the Duke would be £>und in his fears of forfeiting his landed property. Sir W. Jones replied, that to him who was playing for a kingdom, such a stake as an estate in land, would not be worthy of consideration; and that, by the doctrine of the law, all incapacity is done away by coming to the throne; so that the restrictions would of themselves fall to the ground.

After a long debate, the House resolved, that the Bill of Exclusion be brought in.

An impartial observer of those times would probably have been inclined to blame the imprudence of the Whigs in rejecting the limitations offered by the King. Experience teaches us not to rely on the continued support of the people, for the establishment of a check to arbitrary power, entirely prospective in its object. The utmost that the great body of a nation can be brought to do, is to apply a remedy to an evil that has been felt* and to provide at the same time against its future recurrence. By the alarm of the Popish plot, however, a certain degree of popularity had been procured for the Exclusion Bill. At that time, and with all the strength, both in parliament and in the council, which could ever be reasonably expected, the measure had been tried, and failed. It was evident the Parliament had not been assembled at Oxford for the purpose of granting the [petition of the Commons. The best course that remained for the Whigs, was to obtain the banishment of the Duke for life, and rely upon their force for maintaining it. On the other hand, Charles was availing himself with great dexterity of the partiality which is always felt by the people for persons of royal blood. The higher his offers were, the greater appeared the violence of opposition; and he wished to seem opprest, in order to become an oppressor.

Whilst, however, we withhold the praise of judgment and discretion from the Whigs, it is impossible to deny them a tribute of admiration for their fearlessness and patriotism. Neither the manifest power nor the pervading influence of the Crown prevented their making a direct attack upon the brother of the King, who was at the same time his favourite and friend. Nor did they seek their object by any bye-ways or illegal methods : they asked for the exclusion of James by a bill regularly proposed in a full parliament ; and at thejsame time that they abstained from using force themselves, they not only shut themselves out for ever from the favour, but exposed themselves to the persecution of an arbitrary and vindictive Prince.

On the 28th of March, the Exclusion Bill was read a first time. The House then proceeded to the question of the impeachment of Fitzharris; but Sir W. Jones had hardly entered upon it when the Black Rod knocked at the door, and gave notice that the King commanded the attendance of the House immediately in the House of Lords. After a short speech from the Throne, the Lord Chancellor declared the King's pleasure, that the Parliament should be dissolved, without any previous prorogation. Although this step was taken in great apparent haste, and kept secret till the moment of execution, several circumstances serve to show it had been long premeditated. When Sir William Temple offered to stand for Cambridge, the King informed him, that he should have no occasion for his services in this Parliament. And so totally unsupported was the Crown in the House of Commons, that when Secretary Jenkins moved to throw out the Bill of Exclusion, his motion was not seconded. It is also said, that the Duchess of Mazarine spoke of the dissolution in London, some hours before it had taken place at Oxford. #

The King set off in great haste for Windsor, and soon afterwards published a declaration,

* Just and modest Vindication.

assigning his reasons for dissolving the two last parliaments. To the first, he objected, that they presented remonstrances under the title of addresses; voted eminent persons enemies of the King and kingdom, without proof; arrested many persons under the false pretence of privilege ; stopped the payment of tallies and anticipations; and, lastly, assumed to themselves legislative power, by interfering in the regular prosecution by law of Protestant Dissenters. The Parliament assembled at Oxford, he reproached with stirring the Exclusion Bill, to which he had declared he never would consent; and with their vote against the House of Lords, on the subject of Fitzharris. He concluded by warning the people against designing men, who accused him of an intention of laying aside parliaments, and by declaring his determination that, after the lapse of a short period, their meetings should be constant and frequent.

This declaration of the King was, by an order in council, directed to be read in all churches and chapels. The order was very generally obeyed, and the effect produced corresponded to the wishes of the court and clergy. The part which alluded to the Dissenters raised a cry of Church and King through the whole kingdom. Addresses poured in from all sides vying with each other in fulsomeness and adulation. One of these, from Norwich, was presented as a libel by the grand jury of Middlesex.

An able answer to the Declaration, under the title of " A just and modest Vindication of the two last Parliaments," was published by the Opposition. It was first written by Algernon Sydney, but a new draught was made by Mr. Somers, afterwards Lord Somers, and corrected by Sir W. Jones. In this pamphlet, the proceedings of the Commons were shown to be agreeable to law and precedent; but, though the argument was clear and convincing, and the stile more than usually correct and forcible, this and other writings, in favour of the Parliament, produced little effect. Nothing could more clearly prove the imprudence of the party in refusing the King's offers.

There was yet another indiscretion of the Whigs, which contributed to give strength to their enemies. Having united themselves closely with the Presbyterians, they had [begun too soon to promote measures in their favour. Hence an alarm was excited that the Presbyterians were the same with the opposers of the * Court, and that their object was no other than to gain possession of the government of the church; and as the fear of Popery subsided, that of Presbyterianism rose. In accounting for the events of this and the following reign, religious


« ПредишнаНапред »