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Oliver’s task was necessarily conditioned by the nature of the opposition he had to encounter. His new system, if it were to have a chance of becoming permanent, would have to commend itself to that large majority of men who follow no ideals, but are content to live under any rule, whatever may have been its origin, if only the rulers confer upon them a reasonable amount of protection, and are sufficiently in sympathy with the governed to be regarded with love rather than with fear. It was this quality that had mainly helped Elizabeth to make a doubtful legal position a step in her triumphant career, and it was to Elizabeth alone amongst English sovereigns that Oliver looked with respect and admiration. Nor was he deficient in many of the characteristics which had made Elizabeth great. He had the same patriotism, the same skill in the selection of agents, the same impatience of partisan bitterness in Church and State, the same readiness to trust in the healing virtues of time. The chief obstacles in the way of a repetition of Elizabeth’s success lay, not merely in the stain of the king’s blood upon his hands, but also in his leadership of an army of which the officers shaped their conduct in accordance with distinct religious and political ideas. He had risen to power by the sympathy of these men. Vt/as it possible to secure the sympathy of the nation without alienating the army to the support of which he must look till he could "place his authority on a wider basis?
ln the first and easiest portion of the task before the Protector, the redress of grievances weighing upon the people, there was no hesitation. The Instrument had conferred upon Oliver and his council the right of issuing ordinances with the force of law up to the meeting of Parliament; and in little more than eight months no fewer than eighty-two of these ordinances had been issued subject to amendment, if Parliament chose to interfere. The Council was, in fact, like the Cabinet of to-day, far more capable of initiating legislation than a Parliament consisting of several hundred members, and that so little criticism attended these ordinances may be taken as satisfactory evidence that there was good reason for that strengthening of the government which had been the main argument of
the founders of the new constitution. The ordinance for the reform of Chancery was certainly exposed to the conservative objections of the lawyers and was, no doubt, susceptible of improvement, but it aimed at the removal of acknowledged abuses, especially at accelerating the movements of a Court whose long delays had caused that wide-spread irritation which had given support even to the exaggerated proposals of the nominated Parliament.
Still more important was the adoption of the new scheme of Church government. The minister presented to a living was required to have a certificate of fitness from three persons of known godliness and integrity, one of whom was to be a settled minister, after which he was to hand this certificate to certain commissioners known as Triers and to obtain their testimony that he was “a person for the grace of God in him, his holy and unblameable conversation, as also for his knowledge and utterance, able and fit to preach the gospel.” Having become an incumbent, he was liable to expulsion by a local body of Ejectors for immorality or for holding blasphemous or atheistical opinions. As long as he was maintained in his post, he might uphold any Puritan system he pleased and organise his congregation on the Presbyterian, Independent, or Baptist system, if he could persuade them to follow him. Those persons, whether lay or clerical, who objected to the system upheld in their parish church, were at liberty to form separate congregations—gathered churches, as they were called—at their own discretion. Later on, in I656, Oliver’s tolerant spirit gave way to the return of the Jews, who had been exiled from England since the reign of Edward I. A few Unitarians were no doubt excluded from the benefits of his toleration. Mereover, the Society of Friends, now rising into importance under the leadership of George Fox, was also excluded as presumably guilty ofblasphemy. Even if this had been otherwise, the Society put in no claim for participation in a legal support or even for acknowledgment by the State.
That the church thus constituted was but a Puritan Church, after all, is the charge commonly brought against the system of the Protectorate. That it was so is certainly not to be denied, but after all, it must be
remembered that, so far as opposition to Puritanism was based on definite religious grounds, and not merely on moral slackness, it was confined to a comparatively small number of Englishmen. Before the days of Laud, the clergy of the Church had been for the most part, so far as their teaching was concerned, Puritan in their ideas, and lax in their ceremonial observances, so that the ecclesiastical changes initiated by the Long Parliament had been received by the bulk of the laity rather as the removal of innovations than as the establishment of something entirely new. The honour in which episcopacy and the Prayer Book were now held was mainly confined to the Royalist gentry and to scholars expelled from the Universities, and was therefore understood to be closely connected with political aims. Even so, there was no attempt as yet on the part of the Government to suppress the use of the Prayer Book in private houses, and there is reason to suppose that if no political disturbances had followed, no such attempt would have been made at a later time. The system of the Protectorate was undoubtedly the most tolerant yet known in England—even more tolerant than public opinion would, if left to itself, have sanctioned.
Not only by its legal reforms did the Protectorate strive to commend itself to the nation. Oliver had never thrown his heart into the Dutch war, and a little before he dissolved the Long Parliament, a great English victory in a battle which began off Portland and ended under Cape Grisnez, had secured the mastery over the Channel to the English fleet. That fleet rallied to the new government ; even Blake, who was hostile at first, accepting the result of political changes, and finally throwing in his lot with the Protectorate, on the ground that it was the business of the navy to leave politics alone, and—though the expression is not traceable on sufficient evidence to Blake’s lips—“to keep foreigners from fooling us." The wound that Blake received off Portland incapacitated him from taking a considerable part in the later battles of the war, the burden lying for the most part on Monk, who won victories off the Gabbard in June and off the Texel in July, not long after the nominated Parliament had entered
on its unlucky career. In the latter conflict, Tromp, the great Dutch admiral whose ill success was due not to any failure of his powers or to any want of manliness in his crews, but to the inefficiency of the Government he served, was killed by a shot as he was entering into the battle. Even whilst the nominated Parliament was still in session, a negotiation with the Dutch was opened, and this negotiation countenanccd by Oliver from the first, was carried on earnestly by him as Protector and ended in a peace signed on April 5, 1654.
Those who wish to estimate the value of Oliver’s foreign policy and its bearing upon the fortunes of the government he hoped to establish will do well to study at length the story of his negotiation with the Dutch, and of his contemporary excursions into the domain of Continental affairs. lt is beyond doubt that he was desirous of peace with the Dutch on the ground that they were Protestants, and that he was also desirous of allying himself with other Protestant States for the protection of Protestants under persecution by Roman Catholic Governments. Yet, not only did this fail to hinder him from exacting hard terms from the Dutch, but the motive of his diplomacy is revealed in his eagerness to make an agreement with his actual enemies a step to immediate hostilities with other nations. At one time he proposed a plan for the partition between England and the Netherlands of so much of the globe as lies outside Europe whilst he was at the same time negotiating with the Governments of France and Spain, offering to make common cause with one or the other in the war then raging between them. No doubt some religious element could be imported into either quarrel. To help Spain against France, at least in the way he proposed, was to vindicate the French Protestants against a persecution to which they were to some extent exposed, in spite of the acceptance by their Government of the Edict of Nantes. To assist France against Spain was to weaken the most bigoted Roman Catholic Government in existence.
\Vhat we are here concerned with, however, is not the details of Oliver’s foreign policy, but its conception as a whole. It is true that the existing
position of affairs in Europe,—in which France and Spain were neutralising the forces of one another—-was almost an invitation to the strong military and naval power of the Protectorate to extend its influence at the expense of one or other of the rivals; but, so far as this consideration may have played its part in bringing Oliver to a decision, it has left no traces in his recorded words. Obviously. when he undertook the negotiation with the Dutch, he had two courses before him, either to lay the foundations of a general peace, or to leave himself free to push military and naval enterprises in other directions. It was the latter course on which he resolved—a course which has gained him the admiration of a posterity prompt to recognise in Oliver the ruler who, having received from the Commonwealth an excellently organised army and navy, was the first to apply those potent instruments of conquest to the acquisition of over-sea dominion. \Vhat posterity has failed to observe is that this design was incompatible with his other design of settling the Government of England on a constitutional basis. By his resolve to seek military employment for the magnificent force that he had welded together, and to find reasons for going to war with some nation or other, rather than to be driven into war by the necessity of upholding the honour and interests of the country, Oliver was compelled to keep up a military and naval establishment which may not have been in excess of the taxable capacity of the nation; but which at all events imposed on it a burden much heavier than that to which Englishmen had been accustomed to submit. Before Parliament met, after many hesitations, he had resolved to send out one fleet under Blake into the Mediterranean to enforce the release of English prisoners taken by the pirates of the Barbary coast, and another fleet under Penn to seize upon Hispaniola or some other \Vest Indian island as a response to the refusal of Spain to allow English merchantmen to trade even with English colonies in the \Vest Indies, and to various acts of violence already committed by Spanish officials in American waters.
That in both these cases Oliver was justified in seeking redress can hardly be denied. As regards Spain, he had already made a twofold demand