Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

graceful fact, the English have less national feeling than any

other people. It is notorious that the bitterest enemies of England in America, the writers who by their falsehoods and virulent invectives bave most contributed to exasperate the Americans against Great Britain, are natives and subjects of this country, who with the feelings of renegades and traitors, hate the land in which they were born and bred. And well it is when this generation of vipers transport themselves : but too many of them remaju at home to hiss and to sting. We talk of patriotism, but no men ever possessed so little as our self-styled patriots. They are ready at all times to impeach the motives and calumniate the measures of the government, labouring even, as far as they can, to obstruct its common and necessary operations. In times of war they go on from step to step, pleading the enemy's cause with all the warmth and zeal of unfeed advocates, till they have identified their own feelings with his; and they pursue so precisely the course which is best suited to his interests, that he reckons their efforts among the circumstances which facilitate his success. In times of peace they join in any cry however senseless, take up airy cause however frivolous or unjust, and follow any leader however worthless, desperate, or despicable, for the sake of annoying the government at least, if they cannot succeed in inflicting upon it any serious injury.

A spirit like this has never existed in any other country, unless it were Carthage; and had it not been by the prevalence of such a spirit, Carthage perhaps might not have been overthrown, for Hannibal, like Marlborough, had his worst enemies at home.

It may be neither uninteresting nor unprofitable to trace, if we can, the growth of a spirit by which England is so peculiarly characterized and disgraced, and to seek for the causes which have tended to combine so many persons against the best government in the world,

The wars between the rival houses of York and Lancaster, bloody as they were, and important in their political consequences, were of the same character as contested elections in the present day: the game was of the same kind, though the stake differed tremendously in magnitude ; men were engaged ou either side from-partyfeeling, or private and accidental circumstances, such as their connections, or their birth-place,--not from any public principle, or clear conception that their cause was right. And when the ferocious struggle was terminated by the union of the two families, it is surprizing how little avimosity seeins to have survived it. The religious disputes under Henry VIII. divided the nation in a different manner, and produced a long train of consequences, wbich are acting at this hour, and the end of which no human foresight can discern. The first Reformers were possessed by a burning fiery

zeal; have

[ocr errors]

zeal; they trampled under foot all personal considerations ; the strongest human ties proved as weak as the green withs which Sampson snapt asunder when he arose from his sleep: their coin, forts, their worldly wealth and prospects, their affections, their liberty, their lives, were as dust and ashes compared to the kingdom of Heaven, on which their hearts were fixed, and which was ever present to their fervent imagination. Impatient of restraint, and intolerant of all error or even difference of opinion, however harmless, they were equally ready to stand in triumph beside the stake as persecutors, or sing in the flames themselves triumphantly as martyrs. The Catholics, on their part, were neither-less sincere, nor less zealous: they saw distinctly the enormous present evil to which their antagonists shut their eyes, and the perilous consequences which those antagonists, perhaps, were incapable of seeing; but they were blind themselves to the corruptions and abominations which had provoked this destructive hostility. Both parties had their time-servers, who sought only to advance themselves in the confusion ; but the feelings of the great majority, as well as of the leading persons on both sides, were unalloyed with any baser motives, though all the fiercer passions were called into full play.

During the first heat and effervescence of this great revolution, the most momentous by which civilized society had ever, till then, been convulsed, the religious part of the question was exclusively regarded; but it was not long before its earthly relations were perceived: and the church of England had hardly been established by Elizabeth before theological opinions produced two political parties in the state, each mortally inimical to the other, but both hating the new church which stood at equal distance from either. The Catholics looked to Spain, hoping to recover their lost supremacy by the arms of a foreign power. Their hearts had ceased to be English when the government of England became heretical, and Burleigh tells us that Philip II. was even greatly beloved by theni : his domestic tyranny, his persecution of the Jews in Spain, and his in, fernal cruelties in the Netherlands excited in them neither shame nor indignation; the more formidable he was, the greater were their hopes; they looked to him, as the ultra-whigs of the present day have looked to Buonaparte, and in like nianner forgave his insatiable ambition, his falsehoods, his murders, and his massacres,

because he was the enemy of their own government. The Pu:ritans were not less disaffected, but they were less treasonable, be

cause they expeeted no foreign assistance, neither were they at this time so strong a party in themselves. It soon became apparent that they tended naturally toward republicanism ; for certain it is, that monarchy and episcopacy, the throne and the altar, are much more nearly connected tham writers of bad faith, or little reflection, KK 4

[ocr errors]

will part.

have sought to persuade mankind. They who disregard all sanction of antiquity, who dissent from the institutions and abhor the ceremonies of their country, have proceeded far in denaturalizing themselves. Resistance, according to a memorable declaration of Mr. Fox, must always be considered by such men as a question of prudence; they are held to their allegiance by a cable of which only one weak strand is uncut;-when the first gale comes on it

Besides this insensible, but natural, inclination toward democracy, which arises from the principles of a popular church government, there was another cause why the current should set in that direction; it was only under commonwealths that the Puritans saw their beloved discipline flourish; the sufferance which it had obtained in France was won in opposition to the crown, and exposed to continual and imminent danger from its known enmity. At that tine the elements of our constitution had not yet adjusted themselves; there was a fair external, but it was like a crust upon the chaos,

congestaque eodem Non bene junctarum discordia semina rerum, and these fermenting principles were in full activity within. The prince was for extending too far his undefined prerogative, and the people were equally disposed for pushing to extremes their undetined riglits. Perhaps political causes would not have produced a civil war, if a religious ferment had not existed at the same time and combined with them,--as some diseases are known in a certain degree to be influenced by any endemic malady which happens to prevail, and thus to acquire a type more malignant than their own. The Puritans were intolerant, fanatica), insolent and seditious; on the other hand their opponents were equally bigoted, and they were imperious and cruel ; but it should not be forgotten that they clearly understood the designs of the discontented, and that their foresight was fully confirmed by the sequel. Laud cut off the ears of his libellers; and as injuries of this kind are never repaid without large interest, when their day of triumph arrived they cut off his head. His journal was published for the sake of vilifying his character, but malice is as often deficient in judgment as in generosity, and it proved his best vindication. Time enough should now have elapsed for us to contemplate this part of our history with indifferent minds, neither extenuating the errors of one party, nor aggravating those of the other, but the memory of Laud is still pursued with calumny and insult.

Do not let us identify our own feelings too much with those of our forefathers. The rank among the nations which, by their valour, they have won for us, we are bound resolutely to maintain; the liberties which, by their virtues, they have bequeathed to us,

[ocr errors]

we

we are bound religiously to preserve; the institutions which, in their wisdom, they have franied for us, we are bound faithfully to, uphold, that our children after us may inherit those privileges and blessings wbich have been our happy inheritance. But let

us not perpetuate the spirit of factions which have done their work of evil and good. Let us do honour to their sincerity, to their sa.. crifices, to their sufferings, and to their zeal,--when it was on the suffering side. But let us mark out distinctly upon our historical chart the errors of their course, lest we, in our time, and others after us, should suffer shipwreck upon the same rocks and quicksands.

The wisest thing which the government and the rulers of the church in those days could liave done, would have been to encourage the emigration to New England, instead of impeding it. In an evil hour for the body politic did they close that abscess which the peccant humour had opened for itself. They should have afforded every possible outlet. You will not live contentedly under our system; go then where you may establish your own, and go in peace. This should have been their language. But they did not understand the nature of the steam which was at work, and alarmed at hearing the vapour hiss as it issued out, they stopt the safety-valve. Indeed, throughout this whole portion of our history, to whatever communion or party the writer may belong, he will have almost as much to blush for, as to forgive.,

The political struggle which began on both sides, rather from resentment of their

purpose, assumed in its progress a character of decided principle. On the one part there was a generous sense of loyalty which shrunk: from no personal sacrifices, but would have given unlimited power to the object of its idolatrous devotion; on the other, a sentiment, not less noble in degree, and of austerer kind, which offered up old feelings and old institutions at the altar of Republican Liberty. But the sects who associated for the subversion of the monarchy remained united no longer than while the contest was doubtful; their mutual animosity had only been suspended while they were bent upon the destruction of a common enemy. One of these sects perceived the error which they had committed, and addressed, in 1657, a memo-, rial to Charles II. offering their services to assist in his restoration. A few brief extracts from this paper may be read with peculiar advantage at this time,--and with interest at all times for their wisdom and the feeling with which it is expressed. The memorial came from certain Baptists,' and spoke the sense of that body of Christians, who have ever been the most tolerant of the secta-, rians. Like poor bewildered travellers, perceiving that we have lost our

wrongs
than in

any
fised

way,

way, we are necessitated, though with tired and irksome steps, thus to walk the same ground over again, that we may discover where it was we first turned aside, and may institute a more prosperous course in the progress of our journey. Thus far we can say we have gone right, keeping the road of honesty and sincerity, and having yet done nothing but what we think we are able to justify, not by those weak and beggarly arguments drawn either from success, which is the same to the just and the unjust, or from the silence and satisfaction of a becalmed conscience,- but from the sure, safe, sound, and unerring maxims of law, justice, reason, and righteousness.

• How have our hopes been blasted! how have our expectations been disappointed ! how have our ends been frustrated! All those pleasant gourds under which we were sometimes solacing and caressing ourselves, how are they perished in a moment! how are they withered in a night! how are they vanished and come to nothing ! Righteous is the Lord, and righteous are all his judgments! We have sown the wind, and we have reaped a whirlwind; we have sown faction, and have reaped confusion; we have sown folly, and we have reaped deceit. When we looked for liberty, behold slayery! When we expected righteousness, behold oppression! When we sought for justice, behold a cry-a'great and a lamentable cry throughout the whole nation!

• Time, the great discoverer of all things, has at last unmasked the disguised designs of this mysterious age,' and made that obvious to the dull sense of fools which was before visible enough to the quick-sighted prudence of wise men,--that liberty, religion, and reformation, the wonted engines of politicians, are but deceitful baits by which the easily-deluded multitude are tempted to a greedy pursuit of their own ruin.'

The abuse of these wonted engines' led necessarily to a violent reaction ; and the people laid their liberties, with their crown, at the feet of Charles the Second. Under his reign it is that we first discover a set of men acting, with or without cause, in regular opposition to government, sometimes upon just grounds, at others for the mere purpose of vexatiously impeding it in its ordinary course; and even at times forcing it into measures of iniquity and blood. Three classes may distinctly be perceived in this first regular Opposition:--the stern old republicans, who, though they had seen by experience how impossible it was to establish a commonwealth in England, clung nevertheless to their darling theory : some of these men were of high principles and stoical virtue, who nursed in themselves a consolatory pride, by thinking that though fallen on evil days, they were worthy of a purer system and a happier age. With these men most of the Independents joinedam feeling, and differed from them only in the reverence with which they regarded the memory of Oliver, whom the higber class beheld as the be. trayer of their cause, but whose name was precious to those of his own community. The second class consisted of such men as Lord

· Russel,

« AnteriorContinuar »