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CHAPTER VI.

A PARLIAMENTARY CONSTITUTION.

It was all the worse for Oliver from the financial point of view, that he was now pursuing a foreign policy which—whatever opinion we may have of it on other grounds—at least increased the burdens of the nation to a point at which Englishmen began to grow restive. Even before the signature of the Dutch peace in the spring of 1654, Oliver had cast about in his mind for a foreign policy, and it was only on rare occasions that he appears to have contemplated the possibility of keeping peace with all nations unless he were compelled to engage in war in defence of the honour or interests of the country. He seems to have regarded the victorious fleet bequeathed to him by the Commonwealth and the victorious army which he had done more than any other man to forge into an instrument of dominion, as inviting him to choose an enemy to be the object of his defiance, rather than sure guards for the country which he ruled. The sword itself drew on the man, and the weakness of the two great Continental nations, France and Spain, embroiled in an internecine war, each coveting the alliance of England, and each dreading her enmity, increased its attractive power.

Not that Oliver was without principles underlying his actions. He had indeed two—not always easily reconcileable. He wanted to increase the trade of the country by strengthening its maritime power, and he wanted to uphold the cause of God in Europe by the formation of a great Protestant alliance against what he believed to be the aggressive Papacy. This second principle gave to his actions a nobility which only an honest devotion to higher than material interests can impart, whilst at the same time it led him into the greatest practical mistakes of his career, because he was always ready to overestimate the persecuting tendencies of the Roman Catholic States, which, since the Peace of Westphalia, had been local and spasmodic, and to overestimate the strength of religious conviction in the rulers of Protestant States, as well as to imagine it possible to unite these last in a Protestant crusade. It was a still more deplorable result that his own character became somewhat deteriorated by the constant effort to persuade himself that he was following the higher motives, when in reality material considerations weighed most heavily in the scale.

In truth, Oliver's day of rule lay between two worlds—the world in which the existence of Protestantism had been really at stake, at the time when men so alien from the dogmatism of the sects as Drake, Raleigh and Sidney had enlisted in its cause—and the world of trade and manufacture, which was springing into being. Oliver's mind comprehended both. Doubtless his mind was the roomier that it could respond to the double current, but it was not to be expected that a generation whose face was set in the direction of material interests should be otherwise than impatient of a call to the Heavens to place themselves on the side of English trade.

During the greater part of 1654 Oliver had been hesitating whether to ally himself with Spain or with France. For some time he inclined to the side of Spain. His religious sympathies were touched by the sufferings of the French Huguenots. The succour which he proposed to convey to them would have brought him into direct alliance with Spain, and it was only the revelation of Spanish financial and military weakness which turned him aside from his project. Then came a suggestion long weighed and finally taken up, for carrying on war against the Spanish West Indies. It would be hard to deny that, even in modern eyes, a casus belli, apart from all ideal schemes of weakening the Government which sheltered the Inquisition, was to be found—not in the refusal of the Spanish authorities to allow English ships to trade in the Spanish islands, but in the deliberate seizure of English ships and the enslavement of English crews guilty of no other crime than that of being bound for Barbados or for some other English colony. The strangest part of the matter is that Oliver closed his eyes to the natural consequence of an attack upon a Spanish colony. He fancied that it would be still possible to carry out the Elizabethan plan of keeping peace in Europe and making war in the Indies. He was probably strengthened in this opinion by the fact that, almost from the first days of the Commonwealth, a war of reprisals had been going on at sea with France without disturbing the nominally amicable relations between the two countries. Why should he not take a West Indian Island as a reprisal for the seizure of English ships, and peace be maintained with Spain as if nothing had happened?

Before the end of 1654 two fleets sailed on their several missions. The one, under Blake, entered the Mediterranean, where he was most hospitably received by the Governors of the Spanish ports and by the officials of the Grand Duke of Tuscany at Leghorn. He ransomed a number of English captives at Algiers, but the Bey of Tunis, some of whose subjects had recently been sold for galley-slaves to the Knights of Malta by an English scoundrel, was naturally less compliant. Blake destroyed nine of his vessels at Porto Farina, but Tunis itself was inaccessible, and he was unable to recover a single English slave from that quarter. Penn sailed for Barbados with some 2,500 soldiers on board under Venables. Both in Barbados and in other English islands reinforcements were shipped, and with this ill-compounded force a landing was effected in Hispaniola. The attempt to seize on the city of San Domingo failed, and the expedition sailed for Jamaica, at that time little more than a desert island, and established itself in possession. Some years passed before the colony became self-supporting, but Oliver was unremitting in his resolution not only to increase the numbers of the first military settlers, but to supply them with all things necessary for the foundation of homes in the wilderness. It was annoying that the first operations in the Spanish West Indies had opened with a check, but it was doubtless fortunate that the new English colony was not built up on Spanish foundations. The soldiers who, on their march towards San Domingo, pelted with oranges an image of the Virgin which they had torn down from the walls of a deserted monastery, would hardly have been at their best in the midst of a Roman Catholic population.

Much to Oliver's surprise, the news of the proceedings of his men in Hispaniola aroused the bitterest indignation at Madrid, an indignation already, to some extent, aroused when Blake sailed out through the Straits of Gibraltar to meet and capture the treasure ships expected from America. The features

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