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March 15. -A few days before the declaration of 1672. war> he published an indulgence to dissenters and popish recusants, dispensing with the penal laws in force against them. He thought that having already secured the church party*, who, with a servility not unusual to them, supported the views of the court, he should by this step gain the dissenters; but so contrary to his hopes was the event, that when parliament met in 1673, the dissenters publicly desired their interests might not be considered by the House of Commons. An address to the Crown was voted, declaring that penal statutes, in matters ecclesiastical, cannot be suspended but by act of parliament. Clifford attacked this vote violently in the House of Lords; but Shaftesbury, who had been made chancellor expressly to affix the great seal to the declaration, spoke in favour of the Commons t; and the King, after saying in his first speech, " I tell you plainly, gentlemen, I mean to stick to my declaration," was obliged, a few days after, to
f It was during this debate that the Duke of York, alluding to Shaftesbury, is reported to have said, " Brother, what a rogue you have of a Lord Chancellor." To which Charles replied, " Brother, what a fool you have of a Lord Treasurer."
cancel it. Nor was this all: the Test Act was the offspring of the jealousy he had awakened* and it was no sooner carried into a law, than the Duke and Clifford, the two firmest pillars of prerogative, were removed from their offices.
From this time we may date the origin of the party to which Lord Russell henceforward belonged. There are persons who think the name of Party implies blame; who, whilst they consider it natural and laudable that men should combine, for any other object of business or pleasure, and whilst they are lavish in bestowing their confidence on government, which must in its nature be a party, find something immoral and pernicious in every union of those who join together to save their country from unnecessary burdens or illegal oppression. To such persons Lord Russell's conduct must appear indefensible.
But to all those who allow that party may sometimes be useful, and opposition often even necessary, I may safely appeal for the justification of liis conduct. To overthrow a scheme so formed as that of Charles and James^ it was not sufficient to give honest, but unconnected votes in the House of Commons. It was necessary to oppose public discussion to secret intrigue, and persevering union to interested combination: it was necessary to overlook the indiscreet violence of partisans, to obtain thefruits of the zeal from which it sprung: it was necessary to sink every little difference in the great cause of the Protestant religion, and our ancient freedom: in fine, it was the duty of the lovers of their country to counteract system by system, and numbers by numbers. It may likewise be remarked, that the manner in which this party opposed the crown, was characteristic of the nation to which they belonged. In any of the continental monarchies, a design on the part of the king to alter the religion and the laws of the kingdom would have been met either with passive submission, insurrection, or assassination. For in those countries, men who did not dare to speak the truth to their sovereign, were not afraid to take up arms against him. But in England the natural and constitutional method of resisting public measures hurtful to the liberty or welfare of the people, is by a parliamentary opposition. This was the only course which Lord Russell and his friends ever thought of adopting; and they did it under circumstances extremely discouraging, for they could expect little support in a parliament chosen in the heat of the Restoration, and still less assistance from a press restrained by the curb of a Licence Act.
The individuals who made themselves most conspicuous amongst the country party were, Lord Russell, Lord Cavendish, Sir W. Coventry, Col. Birch, Mr. Powle, and Mr. Littleton. Of the first, the subject of this work, Burnet says, "Lord Russell was a man of great candour, and of a general reputation; universally beloved and trusted; of a generous and obliging temper. He had given such proofs of an undaunted courage, and of an unshaken firmness, that I never knew any man have so entire a credit in the nation as he had. He quickly got out of some of the disorders into which the court had drawn him, and ever after that his life was unblemished in all respects. He had from his first education an inclination to favour the nonconformists, and wished the laws could have been made easier to them, or they more pliant to the law. He was a slow man, and of little discourse; but he had a true judgment, when he considered things at his own leisure: his understanding was not defective; but his virtues were so eminent, that they would have more than balanced real defects, if any had been found in the other." Lord Cavendish, an intimate friend of Lord Russell, had more quickness and talent, and was a very accomplished scholar. He maintained, through a long life, an ardent love of freedom, of which he gave proofs on many occasions. Sir W. Coventry was the model of a country gentleman, open, honest, Vol. i. F «
and sensible, not swayed either by ambition or animosity. CoJ. Birch spoke with force and vehemence, and was an excellent debater for a popular assembly, though his language retained somewhat of the roughness of his early habits. Before the civil war he had been a carrier. Powle was very learned in parliamentary forms, and Littleton had, more than any other person of his time, that command of historical knowledge, and that skill in argument, which are necessary to form an able speaker of the present day.
The Opposition at first proceeded in a very cautious manner. They agreed to vote a subsidy of 600,0001. for eighteen months, which was increased to 1,200,0001. by the treachery of Lee and Garroway, two of their party. * And when at the end of the session a petition of grievances was moved, it touched only on some irregular taxation, and some abuses in the conduct of the army, without mentioning the war, the ministry, or the shutting up of the Exchequer. The opposition reaped the benefit of their moderation. During the recess the mis.fortunes of the war made it very unpopular;.
* Marvel seems to allude to this story, when he says,' "Till Lee and Garroway shall bribes reject."