On February 12, 1869, Historian Edward Everett Hall delivers a requested lecture before the Lowell Institute on his chosen subject.
In its success, as I believe, the history of constitutional liberty begins. That change was made by men who meant that their new-born State should not be dependent, if they could help it, on the powers which were ruling England to her ruin.
(April 25, 1599—September 3, 1658)
Puritan Politics in England
and New England.
A lecture delivered in a course before the Lowell Institute in Boston, by the members of the Massachusetts Historical Society, on Subjects relating to the Early History of Massachusetts, 1869.
I AM to treat in an hour, as I can, a subject which could be scarcely entered upon had the whole of this course of lectures been devoted to it. It is a subject, as I believe, for which we are now but beginning to collect the materials. For the religious and political prejudices of England did a great deal, in two centuries, to shroud in England the motives and even the acts of the men to whom is due the English liberty of to-day. And on our side of the water the complete change of time and circumstance has swept away most of the traditions, and all the prejudices, of the politics of the fathers. It is not seventy years, I think, since Oliver Cromwell’s portrait still hung as a tavern sign in Boston; and quite up to our own times such names as Newbury Street and Worcester Street ought to remind the children what kings fled before their fathers in the fights of Newbury and Worcester. But in fact I am afraid such memorials have availed but little. For most of us who are men and women, while we were taught in our childhood to weep over the sorrows of the exiles in the “Mayflower,” drank in at the same time, from fountains fed by David Hume and Walter Scott, the notion that King Charles was a martyr and that his judges were crazy men. I should say it was only within the last twenty years that there had been fair chance for an honest verdict as to Puritan politics, whether in this country or in England. In that time, the service for King Charles the Martyr has been omitted by authority from the English prayer-book. The opening of the English State papers has given us more light than we had before. Not that we have even yet the complete materials for history, but the graves are giving up their dead; and from hour to hour the lies of Clarendon and the rest are exposed.
I can only attempt the outline of the political movements of the founders of Massachusetts, and the Puritans of New England,—the great men who have been wisely called “the greatest geniuses for government that the world ever saw embarked together in one common cause.”
I shall be guided all along by the studies and by the philosophy of our own great historian Dr. Palfrey, from whose crowded chapters, I find, I took unconsciously even the title which the lecture bears. I have been indebted to his thoughtful kindness or to his counsel, from the first moment of my life; and it is no new experience to me that in my enterprise of this evening I find him my constant guide. And I have also the constant advantage of the exquisite care, the range of observation, and the profound discrimination, of Mr. Haven, who, as the members of the Historical Society well know, is far better fitted than I to enter on this theme.
I think the key to the whole story may be found in the ominous words which King James’s first House of Commons addressed to the House of Lords immediately after he had been lecturing them on his own prerogative, and on his intolerance to the Puritans: “There may be a people without a king, but there can be no king without a people.” This was comfortable doctrine for a monarch who, in his escape from Scotland, had promised himself the privileges of unrestricted tyranny. Fortunately for civil liberty in England and America, in all countries and in all times, none of the Stuarts ever learned in time what this ominous sentence means—not James I., the most foolish of them; nor Charles I., the most false; nor Charles II., the most worthless; nor James II., the most obstinate. For eighty-six years, however, it was the business of the Puritans of England, counselled and led in large measure by the Puritans of New England, to teach the Stuarts, and to teach the world, that lesson. And they taught it—that the people is stronger than the king, and can tie the king’s hands. The state-craft jugglery of the closet shall not undo the knots; the trenchant sword of battle shall not cut the cords. If the king will learn the lesson in no other way, he shall learn it when he sees the headsman’s axe flashing before his eyes. The people is stronger than the sovereign; and from the people’s power his power comes. That is the lesson. There may be a people without a king; there can be no king without a people.
I must not enter on the history of Elizabeth’s reign, though the name of Puritan in English history belongs as far back as the year 1550.
King James, at the age of thirty-five, came to the crown in 1603. On his journey from Scotland to London, just halfway from the frontier to the city, he passed through Sherwood Forest, and entertained the day, under good conduct, in hunting there,—the last huntsman mentioned, I think, in the series where Robin Hood is first. In that day’s sport, he passed the manor-house of Scrooby, where William Brewster lived,—afterwards our old Plymouth elder. At that very time our Pilgrim Fathers met privately to worship in that house every Sunday. James took, very likely, a mug of ale from William Brewster’s hands, he lunched in the open air on the bank of a stream a little farther on, and in such sylvan amusement came on to Worsop, where he slept. The manor of Scrooby, Brewster’s home, belonged to the Archbishop of York. It attracted the king’s attention, so that he thought he would like it for a royal residence, whenever he might hunt again in Sherwood Forest. It is a little curious now to see that the first letter written by the Presbyterian king to the Archbishop of York after his arrival at the capital was not a discussion of theology, but a proposal to the archbishop to sell to him the manor-house in which the Pilgrim Fathers were then secretly meeting, on the Lord’s Day, for their weekly worship; and in which they continued to meet till this same Presbyterian king “harried them out of the kingdom.” The incident, trifling in itself, illustrates very perfectly the relation between the three parties then in England. The extreme Puritans, represented by no man better than William Brewster, were meeting in private houses for their worship. They were expecting grace and help from a Presbyterian monarch. The bishops and archbishops were doubting and dreading what might come to them and theirs from a king who had been nursed in the school of John Knox and Jane Geddes. And this king, who was to arbitrate between the parties, and meet the hopes of the one and the fears of the other, was thinking more of himself and his own comfort than of the consciences of either. All this, I say, is typified when James I. asks Archbishop Hutton to turn William Brewster out of his home, that he may have a convenient hunting-lodge.
In five years more Brewster and the fathers who met to worship in the archbishop’s manor-house were harried out of England. James and the Church, of which the archbishop was the second officer, were in absolute accord, hunting the same game!
The first incident of his reign, around which the politics of the time took form, was the conference of the clergy at Hampton Court, for the revision of the liturgy, in which the Puritan and the High-Church party were both represented. The king showed at once that he meant to throw himself into the arms of the party which would give him most power in the state, and could do most to place him in the position of the absolute monarchs of the continent of Europe. All pretensions of his Scottish reign were swept away like other pettinesses and inconveniences of his northern home. He silenced the Puritan doctors by entering himself into the arena.
“If you aim at a Scottish presbytery, it agrees as well with monarchy as God and the devil.” These words show the spirit of the king’s contributions to the discussion, of which Archbishop Whitgift was pleased to say that “undoubtedly his Majesty spake by the special assistance of God’s Spirit.” It was in this conference that his favorite axiom, “No bishop, no king,” first appears on the royal lips. Perhaps it suggested the more ominous axiom, which I have quoted from his first Parliament,—”There can be no king without a people.”
That Parliament was not summoned till the king had been on the throne more than a year; a pestilence in London delaying its assembly. The celebrated gunpowder plot—in which twenty resolute men, who kept a secret for a year and a half, expected to destroy the king, his family, the Lords, and the Commons, and in which they came so near success—was detected just as the session began. The reaction from that plot might have given to James that hold on the people which, I think, he never gained. But he did not enter into the rage against the Roman Church, to whose church the conspirators belonged; and the terrible experience prolonged only a little the “inevitable conflict” between him and his subjects.
If we trace the history of the court, the chapters of this reign are the histories of favorites, Carr and Villiers; of the death of Prince Henry; of the matches proposed for Prince Charles; and of the fortunes of the Princess Elizabeth, at one moment the object of Protestant idolatry. The episodes in that court history are such as closed poor Raleigh’s life. If we trace the history of the people, we find the steady growth of resistance to other authority than the authority of the law. We find the luxury of wide and wider study of the Scripture, passing sometimes into the fanaticism and folly of a novelty. We trace the growth to manhood of Eliot and Hampden, Winthrop and Vane and Cromwell. Shakespeare died in 1615, midway in the king’s reign. The Colony of Virginia was planted under the old system of colonization, 1607; and, in the same year, the Pilgrim Fathers were driven out of England, little knowing that they were to be the great exemplars of the success of the new system of colonization. The received version of the English Scriptures was made by a commission appointed by the king, and came into common use in England. The two things in history which preserve the reign of James from contempt are the translation of the Bible and the settlement of America. And I can give no better illustration of the way in which history has been written in the past, than by saying that in the two great English histories of this reign, by Hume and by Lingard, the translation of the Bible is not so much as mentioned, and that Lingard does not give a word to the planting of America. Hume only squeezes out for it a wretched page in the midst of chapters devoted to the disgusting intrigues of Rochester and the Countess of Essex and Buckingham and the rest, none of whom are of any worth but for this,—that they were busily destroying the last relics of the regard which men had for the institutions of feudal times.
The intrigues of the court and the deep determination of the people of England can be put face to face, however, by dragging out from history the contemporary revelations. William Brewster, telling of old times around his pine-knot fire in Plymouth, filled his stage with such actors as Mary Queen of Scots, Queen Elizabeth, King James, Raleigh, Essex, Southampton, all of whom he must have seen, as I suppose he must have seen William Shakespeare. On that Christmas season of 1620, at the moment when John Carver and Edward Winslow were cutting the timber for the first storehouse of Plymouth, building better than they knew indeed, King James was entertaining at his palace the embassy which first proposed the ill-fated marriage between Charles I. and Henrietta of France. Of the masque prepared for that royal entertainment, all that is known is that the humor consisted in the ridicule of a Puritan. From the building of the storehouse grew the old Colony, the richer Colony of Massachusetts, the New England confederation, the union of the United States and the republican government and the civil liberty of America. From the policy which united Charles and Henrietta, grew the English rebellion and the English revolution; from that marriage came Charles II., James II., and Queen Mary. The two lines of history which are thus suggested lead out from the contrast between the history of the court and the history of the people in the reign of King James.
But in King Charles’s time, people and king come closer, and the history of the politics of the people is the history of the politics of the king. Charles quarrelled with his first Parliament; and if he could have had his way, he would never have had another. Our associate, Mr. Sabine, reminds us that the very first question on which king and Commons broke was an American question,—a question of the fisheries. For eleven years Charles reigned as absolutely as Philip II. ever reigned in Spain. He and his would have been glad to reign so until now, and might have done so, but that there was an English church and an English people. Nay, do not let me, even in the accident of expression, imply that between the church and the people there was any distinction, if you speak of the real church and the real people. Of that great crisis of English history, the secret is this,—that the real people of England were religious men and women to the very bottom of their hearts; that what they did in matters politic they did as matter of religious duty; not as what poor James called a piece of statecraft, but as a part of their religious allegiance to the King of kings. I believe this profound conviction of religious duty has been the secret of all the successful politics of the men of that race from that day to this day. But it was a divine mystery which it was not given to politicians like Wentworth, or formalists like Laud, or liars like King Charles, to understand. None the less was there a fire beneath the whole, of which the tokens were sometimes fearful and sometimes awful. Its presence there gives to the study of the politics to which it lent the heat, an interest, which to the intrigues of courtiers like those of Louis, or even to the rivalries of statesmen like those of Elizabeth, is all unknown.
It is, of course, impossible to measure by any statistics the extent or the depth of this religious feeling or of any religious feeling. It is to be observed, however, that a long series of nonconformity on the one hand, and of what the English Church calls pluralism on the other, left but two thousand clergymen in the service of the ten thousand livings of England, in Queen Elizabeth’s time. Of these two thousand clergymen, nearly one thousand marked themselves as Puritan by joining in the petition which, at James’s accession, begged him to amend the rubrics in favor of Puritan consciences. These figures show that, while there were ten thousand congregations of churches in England, but little more than one thousand of her clergy gave even a silent acquiescence to such extravagant pretensions as those of Whitgift and Bancroft, who, in such matters, were the predecessors of Laud. In Charles’s time, the fact is incidentally stated that, in the dead-weight of property, the Puritan House of Commons was three times as rich as was the House of Lords, a very considerable part held with the people as against the king. Be it always remembered, too, that on the side of the king also, as soon as you leave the rank of mere soldiers and mere courtiers, you are surrounded by men and women of the purest conscience. You meet such men as George Herbert and Owen Feltham. When they came to the arbitrament of arms, the misfortune to the king was that five sixths of England were against him. And, as I said, that which gives the terrible reality to the history is the truth which I think no man will question, that, on both sides, a large portion of the combatants were actuated by profound religious conviction. And what saved England and America in that crisis was that the monarchs who wished to play the tyrant there found the English Church and the English people on the other side.
The first years of Charles’s reign gave no hope to the people of England. I speak of the people in contrast to the men and women of the court, who were trying to hold to the methods of feudal rule. The marriage of the king with a Roman Catholic princess had offended and affronted the Protestantism of England. When he made war with France under the pretext of coming to the defence of the hard-pressed Huguenots, he conducted the war under such lead as Buckingham’s; collected his revenue under such systems as Louis and Philip would have used; and, by the method, disgusted the English people, who might have been interested in the cause of the war. Two years after his reign began, Charles wanted the help of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The archbishop was in disgrace already, because he had refused the aid of the Church in the disgusting intrigue—with which I will insult no man’s ears—in which Somerset and the Lady Essex were the actors. Now, in his retirement, he refused to license the printing of a sermon, in which a court chaplain, Sibthorpe, had laid down the doctrine that a king might do what he pleased; and no man might say, “What dost thou?” For this refusal, King Charles suspended him,—the highest officer of the Church beneath himself. The act at this day would disgust the most ardent lover of the Episcopacy as much as it then disgusted the most eager Puritan. Buckingham’s disgrace on the coast of France soon followed. The king’s third Parliament was summoned, and Charles strove to govern it by buying Wentworth,—afterwards known as Lord Strafford,—”the first Englishman,” says Macaulay boldly, “disgraced by a peerage.” Laud was placed at the head of the High Commission Court. Parliament defied the king, and the king defied them. He dissolved them; and, as I said, began to reign for years as an absolute monarch. The Star Chamber was in its glory, and such men as Eliot and Hollis were in the Tower.
Such were the first five years of this young king’s reign,—one steady insult to the best feeling of his people. In those five years Rev. John White, minister of Dorchester, the founder of Massachusetts, was in his way encouraging this man who had heard of New England, and teaching that to whom the name had never come before. “There was a land of refuge,” White was saying to all men. And a larger and larger company of the merchants of London, of the merchants of the other cities, and gradually of the country gentlemen of England, were learning that, if their battle were lost at home, it might be won in a land where there was no bishop and no king. I make no question that White, and those who acted with him, appealed to every motive that was honest, that would swell the number of those who would engage in the colonization movement. I have myself, in my poor way, in later times acted with those who were -promoting emigration to the west of the Missouri River, when we thought that on that emigration great principles for all time depended. And I think, therefore, that unless men are very different now from what they were then, men entered into the great emigration from which we have grown with a large variety of motive. Only I am sure no man came here because he loved King Charles, or because he believed in Laud’s Court of High Commission. And I am sure that John White and Matthew Cradock and Isaac Johnson and Richard Saltonstall and our great leader Winthrop meant that the enterprise should be controlled by men who would never give in to the tyrannies of Charles or to the pretensions of Laud. How well those intentions were carried out, I have next to show.
England “grows weary of her inhabitants; so as man, who is the most precious of all creatures, is here more vile and base than the earth we tread upon.” These are the words which Winthrop uses, in the “Nine Reasons” which justify the new plantation. These reasons are passed from hand to hand among the men most saddened by the oppressions of the Star Chamber, and most determined to find freedom somewhere. As soon as Mr. Forster published his larger life of Sir John Eliot, our President, Mr. Winthrop, in correspondence with him, discovered that the paper on Emigration there spoken of, sent by Eliot in the Tower to Hampden in his house, was a copy of Winthrop’s “Nine Reasons.” Eliot had transcribed Winthrop’s Paper, and sent it to Hampden for his study. These men, the great leaders of the English Puritans, were thus personally interested in the enterprise here. We knew already that it had the support of Lords Brooke and Warwick and Say and Sele. They say John Hampden is not the Hampden who spent a winter at our Plymouth;* a but it is equally certain that he and Eliot were interesting themselves in our Massachusetts Colony when it sailed, and were among those who saw how essential was this beginning to the success of their great cause. Under such auspices, the government and charter were transferred from England to New England,—the boldest change of base in history. In its success, as I believe, the history of constitutional liberty begins. That change was made by men who meant that their new-born State should not be dependent, if they could help it, on the powers which were ruling England to her ruin.
* Since I wrote this Mr. Mead has given Hampden back to us.
On their arrival here, they settled the great question of bishop or no bishop, which was one of the elements of strife at home. They settled it by an arrangement of their churches, in the face of all that had been asserted by Whitgift and Bancroft and Laud. So far as the forms of government went, they swore their magistrates, their freemen, and their people to be faithful to the government of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Bay; but they alluded no more in that oath to their allegiance to King Charles than to allegiance to King Louis or to the Pope of Rome. The governor and assistants only, for the first twelve years, were sworn to be faithful to King Charles; but so soon as he took up arms against the Parliament, his name disappears from the oath, long before it was disused by any one in England. Four years only after the foundation of Boston, a rumor came from England that a governor-general was to be appointed by the king. The magistrates took counsel with the ministers; and the ministers advised that if a governor-general were sent, “we ought not accept him; but defend our lawful possessions if we were able; otherwise, to avoid and protract.” Two years later, some English ship captains in our harbor intimated that they should be glad to see the royal colors displayed on the fort in the harbor. They were answered that we had not the king’s colors to show. The shipmasters offered to lend them, but it cost a day’s discussion, and evident heart-burnings, before they could be displayed there; and this was done only on a nicely drawn distinction on the king’s authority in the fort, and the king’s authority in the Colony. Early in the history, Endicott cut the cross out of the colors; and from that moment till the Restoration, I think, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts had a flag of its own. On a new rumor, that the king or the Star Chamber proposed to extend their authority thus far, the chronicler, who had left his home to establish his tabernacle, undoubtedly expresses the determination of all the leaders when he says, they would rather remove again, and establish themselves in a “vacuum domicilium,”—a home which no sovereign claimed,—this side the King of kings. To the valley of the Mohawk, perhaps, or, if God guided, farther west, to some Salt Lake Valley, if it were needed! They meant that men should know whether Charles’s authority could go farther in America than the shores which the guns of his ships could command.
But there was no danger for Massachusetts. The bow had been bent too far, and it broke. The little history which had thus been rehearsed by a handful of zealous men, on the little stage of Massachusetts, was to be acted out by a larger company, to whom they sent many teachers, in the England which they feared. William Vassall, one of the Massachusetts Company, Lord Say and Sele and John Hampden, both patentees of Connecticut, determined to bring the question of ship-money to trial. Once more, as Mr. Sabine reminds us, the turning question is a question of the fisheries. The ship-money built the fleet which drove off Dutch intrusion of the English fishing privileges. Sir John Eliot, meanwhile, Hampden’s friend and ours, had died in the Tower. Laud had tried his hand on the reformation of Scotland. Charles had followed up the experiment with an army; and Alexander Leslie, with his other army of ministers,—an army which was within itself a church, of which every corps possessed a presbytery,—drove Charles and his army back to England. Sq passed the ten years, while Winthrop and Dudley and the rest were organizing New England into an independent State. The king had no choice left. By his own folly, he had wriggled himself to the corner of his board. He called, at last, a Parliament, and dissolved it. Then he was forced to call the Long Parliament; and then, though he did not know it, the game was done. “Shah-mat,” says the Persian, as he finishes on the chessboard the game of simulated war, and the words have passed into all languages. Sometimes you take the bit of crowned ivory from the board, sometimes you leave it there. That is nothing. The game is ended. Shah-mat,—checkmate. The king is dead!
In Charles’s case, the king, with his knights and bishops, hopped from square to square on their little board, for eight short years, hoping to avoid the inevitable. But the people of England had the power in their hands. The Great Remonstrance, at the end of 1641, showed that the Long Parliament understood its duty, and could do it. “If the vote had been lost,” said Cromwell, as they left the House that night, “I would have sold all I had to-morrow, and would never have seen England more.” He meant he would have come to New England.
“O’er the deep
Fly, and one current to the ocean add;
One spirit to the souls our fathers had;
One freeman more, America, to thee.” †
This was not the time when Charles stopped the ships on the Thames, when, it is said, Hampden was on board ready to emigrate. It is fairly doubted, whether Cromwell had joined that earlier emigration. This was four years later,—at the end of 1641. Had Cromwell come, he would have arrived here just before the first Commencement of Harvard College; he would have arrived just as the General Court was striking the name of King Charles out of the oath; he would have arrived just as the short-lived standing council was disarmed; he would have arrived just as the position of the Lower House first came into discussion; he would have arrived just as the four colonies were arranging their confederation. At the election day of that year, John Winthrop was chosen governor for the first year of his third term. Would he perhaps have yielded his seat the next year to Oliver Cromwell? Would Oliver Cromwell have been the sixth governor of Massachusetts? or would he have led a company to Strawberry Bank, to the Connecticut, or to the Mohawk, and become himself the Protector of an infant Commonwealth?
It was not so written. The king tried war,—under the impression that has more than once deceived the cavaliers of a waning chivalry, that people who believe in precedents and principles, who trust in prayer because they trust in God, will not prove quick at fighting. At the stronghold of Nottingham, in the Sherwood Forest, where James had hunted, Charles displayed his banner. Two years of skirmishing advanced the final settlement but little; and the death of Hampden and Pym took from the Parliament the men who seemed their ablest guides. These two leaders were almost American except in name, both early friends of Massachusetts, both grantees of the charter of Connecticut. If Lord Nugent is to be believed, Hampden was actually on shipboard once on his way hither. Meanwhile our Earl of Warwick, who had really secured for us the Massachusetts charter, showed that his training for maritime adventures stood him well in stead, in his command of the Parliament fleet, which cut off from the king any foreign resources.
At this point, the Independents of England began more distinctly to study the methods of Massachusetts. Unterrified by the shock of arms, Parliament attempted the difficult question of church administration. The celebrated Westminster Assembly was convened,—hated, with good reason, by most children of recent generations,—but, for the first years of its existence, second only to the Long Parliament itself in its influence in England. To this assembly, Cotton, Hooker, and Davenport, the ministers of the first churches of Boston, Hartford, and New Haven, were earnestly invited by leading men in England, who dreaded the Presbyterian influence of that body. They were strongly tempted, I suppose, but they did not go. Hooker, for one, felt sure that he could arrange the church system of America. He believed in the independence of America too thoroughly, to compromise our system by any failure in England. And, as it proved, the plans of Cotton have worked well here to this hour.
On the question of Presbyterian Church Government, or Independency, or Congregationalism, as Cotton preferred to call our form of it, a great deal seemed to depend. Among other things, the alliance with Presbyterian Scotland seemed to depend upon it. At the outset of the civil war, there seemed no doubt that the Presbyterian influence prevailed both in the Parliament and the Westminster Assembly. We are to remember all along, as Lord Nugent says, that nothing has more tended to cloud this history than the use of the one word “Puritan” to represent Presbyterians and Independents. When we speak of the Puritans as proclaiming religious liberty in the trumpet tones of Milton, we mean not the Presbyterians, but the Independents. Looking back upon history, we can see that the Presbyterians were tempted to hold that midway position of compromise, which seldom triumphs in revolutions which involve a principle,—the position which the Girondists held in France in the first revolution, and which the Parliamentary opposition in the French Chambers held in the last. The little company of Independents steadily gained force in Parliament and in the Assembly, which their numbers at the outset did not seem to promise. What is of vast importance at such a crisis, it proved that, with such leaders as Cromwell, they were gaining the sway of the army, while the simplicity and democracy of their system gained, for the moment at least, the confidence of the great body of the people. In all their argument, they had always the great advantage of showing our working example of their theory. A working example is what the Englishman of American, of Saxon lineage, always respects as he respects no untried theory. The New England churches were Independent Churches; and Cromwell and Vane and Fiennes and St. John used the tracts of Cotton and Hooker and Norton, and the other New England ministers, as being for a thousand reasons the best weapons in their arsenal.
In the arrangement of the churches of England, the theory of the New England Independents triumphed over the theory of the Presbyterians. I do not claim that it triumphed because of their advocacy. I think it more safe to say, that it triumphed because it was an extreme opinion, and those were extreme times. It triumphed without any formal vote. On the other hand, the formal votes of the Westminster Assembly arranged the Presbyterian order, and the Presbyterian machinery was established in London and in Lancashire. But no enactment of Parliament carried it out through England; and the more simple statement, which made each congregation an independent church, was the statement which, for the period of the English Commonwealth, prevailed in practice.
But the times had swept men beyond any mere question of ecclesiastical arrangement. It was now a question between halfway men and men who, in President Lincoln’s phrase, would “put it through.” Cromwell and his friends among the Independents had found out what I suppose the leaders of the people find out in the beginning of all civil wars. They found out that, in their own army, the Essexes and the Manchesters were afraid of beating the king too well. The question of Independent versus Presbyterian, which was at first a question of church discipline, became a question of strategy in the field, of diplomacy in negotiation, of stern practice in Parliament, and at last in the Palace Yard. It became at last the question between the army and the Parliament. And, in that question, the Independents,—who ruled the army,—as we know, prevailed. The army purged the Parliament. The purged Parliament created the High Court of Justice for the trying and judging of Charles Stuart. The High Court of Justice found him guilty of treason and beheaded him. There may be a people without a king,—there cannot be a king without a people.
I should like to discuss the question, whether their success were the success of might, or of right, or of both together. I believe the right conquered when the might conquered. The Fathers of New England thought so: I think with them. I must not discuss that question now. I must leave it where Cromwell left it in his letter to Hammond. Two lawful powers in England disagree as to the disposition to be made of the king. One is the army, lawfully called, and consisting of thousands of Christian men, who have risked, and still risk, their lives, as witness for their sincerity. The other is Parliament, chosen eight years since by the clumsy borough system of England; of which a majority believes that the king’s word may still be taken. These two are at issue. Cromwell says that the army is the truer representation of the people of England. I think he is right. As to the question decided, whether Charles could be believed for an instant, when his interest required him to be false, all men know now that the decision of the army was the true one.
If I know myself, I can speak without prejudice here. Personally, I am proud to run back the lines of my own ancestry to Adrian Scrope, who voted for the king’s death, and afterwards, trusting in Charles’s II.’s amnesty, lost his own head for trusting it. By another line, I am proud to trace my ancestry to Mary Dyer, the Quaker, who, at nearly the same time, was hanged by the Massachusetts Puritans here on Boston Common, because she, too, thought she ought to obey God rather than man. I am proud of both these ancestors. I am as proud of one of them as I am of the other. They teach me very distinctly the lesson of the narrowness of Puritan presumption. But while I learn that lesson, I learn also the lesson of the Puritan’s unfaltering loyalty to the King of kings. I think no man studies history fairly who does not learn one of those lessons, while he learns the other; and, speaking for myself, if I had been called upon to make the great decision between the people of England and him who had a fair chance to prove himself their king,—I hope I should not have been daunted by the terrors which then surrounded the mere name of Royalty. I hope I should have meted to him justice for his every act of falsehood and of treason. I hope I should have treated him as fairly as I would have treated the meanest soldier in his army. So tried, I have no doubt that Charles the First deserved death, if it were ever deserved by man from the hand of man.
That work was the work of the English Independents. The same men who established the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in this act established the Commonwealth of England. Not that the Independents voted, without distinction, for the execution of the king; but they did mean, without distinction, to give to the people the rule of the Commonwealth. I have no desire to overstate the share which New Englanders who had recrossed to England had in the great issue. I say simply that New England did, on a small scale, what England then did on a large scale; and that the same men directed there as had sympathized here. Here, were but ten thousand men, all told; there, were at least a million. The population of England was at least five millions, of whom one fifth, I suppose, were men. To the assistance of England the ten thousand here lent such men as Stephen Winthrop, Edward Winslow, John Leverett, and Robert Sedgwick, who took the highest military rank; such men as Desborough, Peters, Downing, and Hopkins, who took high civil rank. And you remember it is said that of the first graduates of Harvard College, the abler part always returned to England to give there the service of their lives.
The words “Independence” and “Independent” are now favorite words in America. I have observed in later days that they have found especial favor in connection with the word “Sovereignty” in those States of this Union which fancy they are descended from the cavaliers of England. “Independent and Sovereign States,” they say. Favorite words in America since a Continental Congress of the United States, led by the children of Roundheads, proclaimed the United States to be “free and independent.” It is well, therefore, to remember how those words came into the English language. They are not in the English Bible. They are not in Shakespeare’s plays. You read there of Dependence. Yes. But not yet of Independency. The word “Independency” was born when the hated Brownists separated themselves from the Church of England. The word “Independent” was borrowed from their vocabulary, to designate the men who triumphed with Cromwell; and from that dictionary of the Church the word was borrowed again in 1776, when the United States of America became an Independent nation.
I must not attempt any further details of the triumphs of the Commonwealths of England and of New England. I have attempted to show that their politics were at heart the same. The leaders of the Commonwealth of England were the friends of New England. The leaders in New England came here with omens which seemed unpromising, to win a success which was denied at home. I know no self-sacrifice in history more loyal and gallant than that of our great governor when he was asked to go back to England to take a place of honor and command, in their hopeful beginnings; and when he held to the little State in the wilderness rather than return to the delights of home and the certainty of distinction. It was that little State, of perhaps thirty thousand people, which treated almost as an equal with the Parliament of England. In speaking of that State, the Long Parliament speaks of commerce between “the kingdom of England” and “the kingdom of New England.” To that independent State the Parliament yielded the privilege of universal commerce, which to all colonies of England was denied. And that independent State, in the next session of the General Court of Massachusetts, returned the international civility, and, by the first reciprocal treaty, gave to the kingdom of England like privileges to those which to “the kingdom of New England” had thus been granted. To the navigation laws of that Parliament, and of Cromwell, England owes this day the commerce which whitens every sea. To that first reciprocal treaty New England owed the early maritime development which has sent her ships to every ocean.
As time has passed by, the Parliament of England has learned that Oliver Cromwell was never sovereign in that island. In the line of statues of English sovereigns in Parliament House, the eye first rests upon the vacant space between the images of Charles I. and Charles II. There is no Cromwell there! Yet if he were not sovereign of England for the ten years after the royal traitor died, it would be hard to say who was. He was not the sovereign of New England in those years. In those years New England knew no sovereign but her people. But he was the friend of New England and the friend of her rulers. They loved him, they believed in him, they honored him. He represented the policy which for ten years triumphed in Old England, and which has triumphed in New England till this time. Massachusetts is about to acknowledge her debt to Winthrop, which she can never pay, by erecting his statue in the National Capitol. There it is to stand first among the founders of America; first, where Virginia Dare and John Smith and George Calvert, and even Roger Williams and William Penn, are second. When that obligation is thus acknowledged, Massachusetts may well erect in her own capitol, face to face with Chantrey’s statue of George Washington, the statue which England has not reared of Oliver Cromwell. It may bear this inscription:—they loved to the congregations which had come over that they might enjoy it. And in Plymouth there gathered in their common house for worship the little assembly of the Pilgrims, to listen to the same gospel as it was proclaimed by William Brewster, the godly printer, who had received no call to the ministry but the call of the Holy Spirit, and had no ordination but the ordination of the living God. Let me stop to say that we do not forget to-night the misfortune which has just now befallen the fourth temple which has been built on that spot for this same worship. It is scarcely a month since, by a conflagration, that church was burned down, and the successors of Brewster and his followers are to rebuild it,—the first church built in New England “for the greater glory of God.” Let us highly resolve, before we leave this hall this evening, that we, speaking for the other representatives of the Pilgrim Fathers in all parts of the country, will see to it that the church which is to arise on that place shall stand, for a thousand years to come, a monument of the energy and simplicity of their faith, and of the love and admiration of their children.—
This man believed in Independency.
He was the sovereign of England for ten years.
He was the friend of New England through his life.
This statue stands here till the England which we love,
and from which we were born, shall know who
her true heroes were.