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of their seats, and the army leaders now proposed to substitute for this a general election modified by qualifications which would exclude all men of Royalist proclivities. The question at this time dividing Parliament and Army was therefore merely the choice of the best means of controlling the national verdict. The plan on either side might be one that men might reasonably adopt according to different points of view. Neither was likely to excite enthusiasm or to be generally accepted as a new basis of authority round which the nation could be expected to rally. There is no reason to suppose that Cromwell had anything better to propose, and it is certain that the theory, accepted at the present day, that it is better to allow a nation to learn by experience of misfortune than to force it, even to its own benefit, in a given direction, had no supporters in 1652, and least of all was it likely to find an advocate in Cromwell.
Cromwell had the strongest faith in the virtue of conferences at which such problems could be threshed out by men of good-will separated only by intellectual differences. It had been by an appeal to a committee that he had surmounted the difficulties which had faced him when the Levellers, in 1647, called prematurely for the trial of the King. He now, in October, 1652, secured the meeting of a conference between the leading members of Parliament and the principal officers. "I believe," he afterwards declared, "we had at least ten or twelve meetings, most humbly begging and beseeching of them that by their own means they would bring forth those good things which had been promised and expected; that so it might appear they did not do them by any suggestion from the army, but from their own ingenuity, so tender were we to preserve them in the reputation of the people." Vane and Bradshaw, and even, politically speaking, Henry Marten, the champions of the existing Parliament, were men of the highest character, and were justly apprehensive of giving way either to a military dictatorship, or to a Royalist reaction. Cromwell, on the other hand, had his eye increasingly fixed on the immediate evils of the present system. "How hard and difficult a matter was it," he complained at a somewhat later date, "to get anything carried without making parties, without things unworthy of a Parliament." In November he opened his mind to Whitelocke. "As for members of Parliament," he said, "the army begins to have a strange distaste against them, and I wish there were not too much cause for it; and really their pride and ambition, and their self-seeking, engrossing all places of honour and profit to themselves and their friends, and their daily breaking forth into new and violent parties and factions; their delay of business and design to perpetuate themselves and to continue the power in their own hands; their meddling in private matters between party and party contrary to the institution of Parliament, their injustice and partiality in those matters, and the scandalous lives of some of the chief of them; these things, my lord, do give much ground for people to open their mouths against them and to dislike them; nor can they be kept within the bounds of justice and law or reason, they themselves being the supreme power of the nation, liable to no account of any, nor to be controlled or regulated by any other power; there being none superior or co-ordinate with them." Cromwell was evidently harking back to his proposal for mixing something of monarchy with the existing institutions. "Unless," he continued, " there be some authority and power so full and so high as to restrain and keep things in better order, and that may be a check to these exorbitances, it will be impossible in human reason to prevent our ruin." To Whitelocke's constitutional objections he replied sharply: "What if a man should take upon him to be a King?" Whitelocke replied that it would be better to recall Charles II, Cromwell's utterance was plainly unpremeditated, and may be taken as a sign that the idea of his own elevation was, even at this early date, present in his mind, at least as a possibility, though it was far from having as yet crystallised itself into a settled design.
It was no restoration of kingship, but the speedy choice of a new Parliament that was in the thoughts «
of Cromwell's subordinates. In January, 1653, a circular was sent by them to the regiments, asking the soldiers, as well as the officers, to approve of a petition for ' successive Parliaments consisting of men faithful to the interests of the Commonwealth, men of truth, fearing God and hating covetousness,' as well as for law reform and liberty of conscience. For some time it seemed as if Parliament would consent to hasten its own dissolution. In March, however, though a bill for new elections was considered, the pace slackened, and the hopes of the army again fell. In the army, indeed, there was far from being complete unanimity. A party headed by Lambert would have been content with a new Parliament from which members hostile to the Commonwealth were excluded, whilst the perfervid Harrison advocated the principles of the Fifth Monarchy, and asked that the government should be entrusted to moral and religious men, without recourse to popular election. Both Lambert and Harrison concurred in urging Cromwell to proceed to a forcible dissolution. Cromwell hesitated long. "I am pushed on," he complained, " by two parties to do that, the consideration of the issue whereof makes my hair stand on end."
If only Parliament could have been induced to clear the way for its successor on the terms proposed by the army, Cromwell would have been the first to rejoice. In the early part of April he was still prepared to stand by Parliament if it would proceed in earnest with the Bill for the new elections. Yet on the 6th, one of the days appointed for its consideration, the Bill was quietly passed over. By degrees it came out that the Bill, when completed, would be one authorising Vane's pet scheme of partial elections, the old members not only retaining their seats but forming an election committee with power to exclude any member whose presence was distasteful to them. There are even reasons to believe that it was intended that this arrangement should be a permanent one, and that each successive Parliament should have the right of shedding such members as were not to its taste. Moreover, as soon as the Bill was passed, Parliament was to adjourn till November, that it might be out of its power to repeal or amend the act under military pressure.
Such an arrangement must have irritated Cromwell to the uttermost. On April 15, having been absent from Parliament for a month, he returned to his place to plead against it. "It is high time," was the answer vouchsafed by one of the leading personages to his pleading for a new Parliament, "to choose a new general." Cromwell, in reply, offered his resignation, but as no officer could be found to take his place, the demand for it was soon dropped. Still anxious for a compromise, he made a fresh proposal. Why should not the difficulty be got over by a temporary suspension