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Oliver Cromwell was born at Huntingdon on April 25, 1599. He was the grandson of Sir Henry Cromwell, and the son of Robert Cromwell, a man of good property, and a brewer at Huntingdon. Having been educated at the free-school of that city, and at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, he became a law student at Lincoln's Inn. Here, however, he did not remain long; as in his twenty-first year he married Elizabeth Bourchier, the daughter of Sir James Bourchier, and settled at Huntingdon.
He was elected member of Parliament for Huntingdon in 1628. His first appearance in Parliament was in February, 1629. In 1640 he represented Cambridge. In his parliamentary career he was remarkable rather for his business-like habits and energy of character, than for elegance of language or gracefulness of delivery. His appearance and dress, too, were plain and unprepossessing. Nevertheless he acquired considerable influence even in Parliament; and in 1642, when it was resolved to levy forces to oppose the king, Cromwell received a commission from the Earl of Essex, and raised a troop of horse at Cambridge, of which he, of course, had the command. He soon distinguished himself by his courage and military skill, especially at the battle of Marston Moor, in 1644; he was excepted from the self-denying ordinance, and soon afterwards won the decisive victory of Naseby. In 1648 he defeated the Scots at Preston, and then invaded Scotland and took Berwick. He was a member of the High Court of Justice for the trial of Charles I, and signed the warrant for his execution. In August, 1649, he was named lord-lieutenant and commander-in-chief in Ireland. The great towns submitted without resistance, and Ireland was subdued.
In consequence of the expected return of Prince Charles to Scotland, Cromwell was recalled, leaving Ireton as deputy. He was appointed lord-general, and set out for Scotland. On September 3, 1650, the great battle of Dunbar was fought, and the Scots were totally defeated. Edinburgh surrendered, and Perth was taken some months later. Charles having marched into England, Cromwell followed him, and on September 3, 1651, won the decisive battle of Worcester. In 1663, while the Dutch war was going on, he dissolved the Long Parliament, formed a council of state, and had a new parliament called, which soon resigned its power to Cromwell, and by the “Instrument of Government” he was created “Lord Protector.”
He showed himself equal to the hard task he had undertaken, by sharp decisive means keeping down plotting royalists, jealous Presbyterians, and intractable Levellers; and by a magnanimous foreign policy making England greater and more honored than ever. He died on September 3, 1658, the anniversary of his two victories of Dunbar and Worcester.
His “Speech on the Dissolution of Parliament,” delivered on January 22, 1655, is a striking specimen of Cromwellian fervor and eloquence, combined with Cromwellian determination to carry things with a high hand.
SPEECH ON THE DISSOLUTION OF PARLIAMENT
Delivered January 22, 1655
ENTLEMEN: I perceive you are here as the House of Parliament, by your Speaker whom I see here, and by your faces which are in a great measure known to me. When I first met you in this room it was to my apprehension the hopefulest day that ever mine eyes saw, as to the considerations of this world. For I did look at, as wrapped up in you together with myself, the hopes and the happiness of though not of the greatest—yet a very great “people”; and the best people in the world. And truly and unfeignedly I thought it so: as a people that have the highest and clearest profession amongst them of the greatest glory, namely, religion: as a people that have been, like other nations, sometimes up and sometimes down in our honor in the world, but yet never so low but we might measure with other nations:—and a people that have had a stamp upon them from God; God having, as it were, summed up all our former honor and glory in the things that are of glory to nations, in an epitome, within these ten or twelve years last past! So that we knew one another at home, and are well known abroad. And if I be not very much mistaken, we were arrived—as I, and truly I believe as many others, did think—at a very safe port; where we might sit down and cqntemplate the dispensations of God and our mercies; and might know our mercies not to have been like to those of the ancients—who did make out their peace and prosperity, as they thought, by their own endeavors; who could not say, as we, that all ours were let down to us from God Himself! Whose appearances and providences amongst us are not to be outmatched by any story. Truly this was our condition. And I know nothing else we had to do, save as Israel was commanded in that most excellent Psalm of David: “The things which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us, we will not hide them from our children; showing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and His strength, and His wonderful works that He hath done. For He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel; which He commanded our fathers that they should make known to their children; that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born, who should arise and declare them to their children: that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments.” " This I thought had been a song and a work worthy of England, whereunto you might happily have invited them—had you had hearts unto it. You had this opportunity fairly delivered unto you. And if a history shall be written of these times and transactions, it will be said, it will not be denied, that these things that I have spoken are true! This talent was put into your hands. And I shall recur to that which I said at the first: I came with very great joy and contentment and comfort, the first time I met you in this place. But we and these nations are, for the present, under some disappointment!—If I had proposed to have played the orator—which I never did affect, nor do, nor I hope shall—I doubt not but upon easy suppositions, which I am persuaded every one among you will grant, we did meet upon such hopes as these. I met you a second time here: and I confess, at that meeting I had much abatement of my hopes, though not a total frustration. I confess that that which damped my hopes so soon was somewhat that did look like a parricide. It is obvious enough unto you that the then management of affairs did savor of a not owning—too-too much savor, I say, of a not owning of the authority that called you hither. But God left us not without an expedient that gave a second possibility—shall I say possibility? It seemed to me a probability—of recovering out of that dissatisfied condition we were all then in, towards some mutuality of satisfaction. And therefore by that recognition, suiting with the indenture that returned you hither; to which afterwards was also added your own declaration,” conformable