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O N T H E CONDITION OF ENGLAND UN DER T H E D UK E OF BU C KING HAM

BY

SIR JOHN ELIOT

SIR JOHN ELIOT
1592–1632

When we learn that Eliot lived during the reign of Charles I, and that he died in the Tower, we need nothing more to assure us that he was a patriot and a man of courage and honor. Resistance to tyrants in times of political oppression takes the form of advocating measures of reform. Those who do this do it at the peril of their welfare, and, two centuries ago, of their lives also. Eliot was born in 1592, while Elizabeth was still on the throne, and Shakespeare was writing and acting in London. He was an Oxford student, and afterwards studied law in London; and in 1625, when he was thirty-three years of age, he appeared in the first Parliament convened by Charles I. The struggle for the constitution was then on foot, and Eliot was its most conspicuous and courageous champion; his eloquence was of the most urgent and compelling kind, and made him a hero with the popular party. He became in consequence persona non grata to Charles; and in the next Parliament he was arrested and imprisoned; but, Parliament declining to proceed with business in his absence, the King was forced to release him. In the third Parliament Eliot was the principal agent in the drawing-up of the Bill of Rights—an affirmation of the ancient constitutional rights of the English people, providing that “no freeman be required to give any gift, loan, benevolence, or tax without common consent by Act of Parliament; that no freeman be imprisoned or detained contrary to the law of the land; that soldiers and sailors be not billeted in private houses; and that commissions to punish soldiers and sailors by martial law be revoked and no more issued.” In support of this petition, Eliot made a speech which remains among the most eloquent pleas for human freedom in English annals. The provisions of the instrument itself have since become an essential part of the English constitution; but at the time when Eliot championed it, the forces of oppression were in the ascendant; and he suffered accordingly. After the dissolution of the Parliament in 1629, Eliot was arrested, and the charge of conspiracy against the King was brought against him. Under those circumstances, to be accused was to be condemned; and the bold commoner was sent to the Tower, not to emerge thence until he should have paid a fine of £2,000, and have confessed his “guilt.” It is needless to say that Eliot was not the man to submit to such tyranny; he refused to recant; and after lingering three years in his cell, he died in 1632, at the early age of forty.

But the seeds which he had sown fell upon fertile ground; and Charles owed the loss of his head to his stubborn refusal to yield to the tide of destiny in season. Thirteen years later he met defeat at the hands of the Parliamentary forces at Naseby; and was tried for treason and beheaded at Whitehall in 1649. He was the victim of his own despotism; but Eliot is remembered as one of the early martyrs of British liberty.

ON THE CONDITION OF ENGLAND UNDER THE DUKE OF BUCKINGHAM

Delivered in the House of Commons, June 3, 1628

R. SPEAKER: We sit here as the great council of the King, and, in that capacity, it is our duty to take into consideration the state and affairs of the kingdom; and, where there is occasion, to give them in a true representation by way of council and advice, what we conceive necessary or expedient for them. In this consideration, I confess, many a sad thought has frighted me: and that not only in respect of our dangers from abroad, which yet I know are great, as they have been often in this place prest and dilated to us; but in respect of our disorders here at home, which do enforce those dangers, as by them they were occasioned. For I believe I shall make it clear unto you, that as at first the causes of those dangers were our disorders, our disorders still remain our greatest dangers. It is not now so much the potency of our enemies, as the weakness of ourselves, that threatens us; and that saying of the Father may be assumed by us, “Non tam potentia sua quam negligentia nostra.” Our want of true devotion to Heaven, our insincerity and doubling in religion, our want of councils, our precipitate actions, the insufficiency or unfaithfulness of our generals abroad, the ignorance or corruption of our ministers at home, the impoverishing of the sovereign, the oppression and depression of the subject, the exhausting of our treasures, the waste of our provisions, consumption of our ships, destruction of our men!— these make the advantage to our enemies, not the reputation of their arms. And if in these there be not reformation, we need no foes abroad Time itself will ruin us. You will all hold it necessary that what I am about to urge seem not an aspersion on the State or imputation on the government, as I have known such mentions misinterpreted. Far fs it from me to purpose this, that have none but clear thoughts of the excellency of His Majesty, nor can have other ends but the advancement of his glory. To show what I have said more fully, therefore, I shall desire a little of your patience extraordinary to open the particulars: which I shall do with what brevity I may, answerable to the importance of the cause and the necessities now upon us; yet with such respect and observation to the time as I hope it shall not be thought too troublesome. For the first, then, our insincerity and doubling in religion, the greatest and most dangerous disorder of all others, which has never been unpunished, and for which we have so many strange examples of all states and in all times to awe us—what testimony does it want? Will you have authority of books? look on the collections of the committee for religion, there is too clear an evidence. Will you have records? see then the commissions procured for composition with the papists in the North. Note the proceedings thereupon. You will find them to little less amounting than a toleration in effect, though upon some slight payments; and the easiness in them will likewise show the favor that's intended. Will you have proofs of men? witness the hopes, witness the presumptions, witness the reports of all the papists generally. Observe the dispositions of commands, the trust of officers, the confidence of secrecies of employments, in this kingdom, in Ireland, and elsewhere. They all will show it has too great a certainty. And, to these, add but the incontrovertible evidence of that all-powerful hand which we have felt so sorely, to give it full assurance! For as the Heavens oppose themselves to us, it was our impieties that first opposed the Heavens. For the second, our want of councils, that great disorder in a State with which there cannot be stability, if effects may show their causes, as they are often a perfect demonstration of them, our misfortunes, our disasters, serve to prove it! And (if reason be allowed in this dark age, by the judgment of dependencies, the foresight of contingencies, in affairs) the consequences they draw with them confirm it. For, if we view ourselves at home, are we in strength, are we in reputation, equal to our ancestors? If we view ourselves abroad, are our friends as many, are our enemies no more? Do our friends retain their safety and possessions? Do our enemies enlarge themselves, and gain from them and us? What council, to the loss of the Palatinate, sacrificed both our honor and our men sent thither; stopping those greater powers appointed for that service, by which it might have been defensible? What council gave directions to that late action whose wounds lie yet a bleeding? I mean the expedition unto Rhée, of which there is yet so sad a memory in all men! What design for us, or advantage to our State, could that work import? You know the wisdom of our ancestors, the practice of their times; and how they preserved their safeties We all know, and have as much cause to doubt as they had, the greatness and ambition of that kindom which the old world could not satisfyl Against this greatness and ambition we likewise know the proceedings of that princess, that never to be forgotten excellence, Queen Elizabeth; whose name, without admiration, falls not into mention with her enemies. You know how she advanced herself, how she advanced this kingdom, how she advanced this nation, in glory and in State; how she depressed her enemies, how she upheld her friends; how she enjoyed a full security, and made them then our scorn, who are made our terror! Some of the principles she built on, were these; and if I be mistaken, let reason and our statesmen contradict me. First, to maintain, in what she might, a unity in France, that that kingdom, being at peace within itself, might be a bulwark to keep back the power of Spain by land. Next, to preserve an amity and league between that State and us; that so we might join in aid of the Low Countries, and by that means receive their help and ships by sea. Then, that this treble cord, so wrought between France, the States, and us, might enable us, as occasion should require, to give assistance unto others; by which means, the experience of that time doth tell us, we were not only free from those fears that now possess and trouble us, but then our names were fearful to our enemies. See now what correspondence our action hath had with this. Square it by these rules. It did induce as a necessary consequence the division in France between the Protestants and Vol. I.-6

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