Billeder på siden


ple, and drive his own army to desertion if not to mutiny." The next passage states: "The King did not think matters were got so near a crisis: so he did neither entertain the proposition, nor let it fall quite to the ground; and all came in conclusion under one of the strangest catastrophes that is in any history. A great king, with strong armies, and mighty fleets, a vast treasure and powerful allies, fell at once; and his whole strength, like a spider's web, was so irrecoverably broken with a touch, that he was never able to retrieve, what for want both of judgment and heart he threw up in a day. Such an unexpected revolution deserves to be well opened." †

Would it be possible to attribute this change to any other cause than the influence of public opinion over men's minds, and the extent and power of civilisation, by which the community were actuated at this time?

* Burnet's Hist., book iv. p. 768. † Ibid, p. 617.

Since this was written (1828), a similar event has taken place in 1830 in France.




Little Liberty in England previously to the Revolution in 1688. -The greatest Instance of the Influence of Public Opinion that had hitherto been manifested in the civilised part of the World.-William not popular in his Manners, and a Jealousy of Foreigners entertained. The Prince of Orange supported by nearly all Classes, even the Officials of James. - William's Desire to become absolute. He is frustrated by Public Opinion. - Jealousy of the French King entertained by the Nation in consequence of his Acknowledgment of the Pretender as King of England.

AFTER the events of 1688, our constitution in England was rendered secure. Liberty was enjoyed; commerce and manufactures flourished; and the people of Great Britain were enabled to retain a regal form of government, and also to possess that freedom of speech and action, that security of person and property, and that independence, so essential to a civilised people, and as yet so seldom found and so little understood in other countries.

Ever since this period, England has been governed by a legislative and executive power, founded in a great measure on public opinion.

It is true Parliament had long been in existence: but the power of the prerogative was not only ill defined and little understood, but by the servility

of the crown lawyers, as in the well-known instance of ship money, had often been turned to purposes of oppression.

On his first landing in England, and even on his arrival at Exeter, the Prince of Orange was not so warmly received as might have been anticipated, considering the existing character of public sentiment. This apparent apathy arose chiefly from the terror created in the people by the tragical end of Monmouth's attempt, and the cruelty of Jeffreys; but, as the Prince was told, there was some difficulty who should run the hazard of being the first; but if the ice were once broken they would be as much afraid of being the last, as proved to be the case; for immediately after this remark to the Prince, news came that Cheshire had espoused the cause. governor of Plymouth declared openly for the Prince; York, Derby, Nottinghamshire-all the counties were in arms against James; and, in addition to the favourable symptoms, disaffection to James, and good-will to the Prince of Orange, were rapidly spreading throughout the royal army."*


The army, therefore, and the middle class declared in favour of William and of the constitution. The same remark will apply to Scotland; though in the remote and mountainous parts of that country, where civilisation had not spread itself, where little information, and scarcely a middle class could be found, the lower class, under the entire * Burnet's Hist., vol. iii. p. 331.

[ocr errors]

control or influence of their chiefs, or of the great proprietors of land, declared for the exiled family. But in those places where, by facility of communication, and by trade or commerce, a middle class was formed, and some information spread among the people, there the desire for a constitutional government was evident, and there the Revolution of 1688 was supported.

William III. personally did not possess qualities necessary for obtaining popularity. Such qualities might have been of service to him on his arrival in this country; but, as previously observed, their possession is in general of little use to the sovereign of a free people, who is supported by public opinion. On the contrary, in despotic governments, where the monarch engrosses the entire power of the state, and therefore depends on his army, and on the good-will of a few, popularity of manners may probably conciliate those about him, and, causing the fetters of slavery to sit lightly on those by whom they are witnessed, are highly important. "He (the Prince of Orange) could not bring himself to comply enough with the temper of the English; his coldness and slowness being very contrary to the genius of the nation."*

Whatever regard, therefore, was evinced by the nation for William, could not arise from personal love of a prince with whom the people, except in name, were totally unacquainted. Besides his re

*Burnet's Hist. book iv.

served and unbending temper, he was a foreigner, scarcely acquainted with the language or manners of the English, who at that period were more averse from foreigners, and more jealous of their interference in the affairs of the government, than any other nation in Europe.

When the Prince of Orange landed in England, he was not accompanied by a sufficiently numerous army to withstand the forces of James in the field, much less was he able to encounter the opposition of the people, had such been manifested. No party joined him either from dread of his power or affection to his person; nor could any apprehension arise to prevent the people from remaining passive. On the contrary, they had nothing to fear from not having joined him, if he was ultimately successful; and every thing to dread in case the reverse happened. At this time, James II. had a numerous and welldisciplined army, and was in every respect more powerful than his father Charles I. had been, when he raised his standard against parliament; yet it

*The jealousy of the English towards foreigners in those days, is evident from the several acts of parliament passed for their exclusion. In fact, where a constitution and a popular representation exist, an individual may obtain a considerable share of political influence; and public opinion, in that case, entertains more jealousy of foreign interference than is felt by a despotic government: this seems the case in most states of Europe. In free states, few foreigners are ever admitted into a share of the government; in despotic states, they are not excluded, but on the contrary often employed.

[blocks in formation]
« ForrigeFortsæt »