The dispersion of the Parliament and of the Council of State left England without a government, for the authority of every official ended with that of the body from which his power was derived. Cromwell, in fact, as Captain-General of the forces, was forced to recognize his responsibility for the maintenance of public order. But no thought of military despotism can be fairly traced in the acts of the general or the army. They were in fact far from regarding their position as a revolutionary one. Though incapable of justification on any formal ground, their proceedings since the establishment of the Commonwealth had as yet been substantially in vindication of the rights of the country to representation and self-government; and public opinion had gone fairly with the army in its demand for a full and efficient body of representatives, as well as in its resistance to the project by which the Rump would have deprived half England of its right of election. It was only when no other means existed of preventing such a wrong that the soldiers had driven out the wrongdoers. " It is you that have forced me to this," Cromwell exclaimed, as he drove the members from the House; "I have sought the Lord night and day that He would rather slay me than put me upon the doing of this work." The act was one of violence to the members of the House, but the act which it aimed at preventing was one of violence on their part to the constitutional rights of the whole nation.
The people had in fact been "dissatisfied in every corner of the realm " at the state of public affairs: and the expulsion of the members was ratified by a general assent. " We did not hear a dog bark at their going," the Protector said years afterwards. Whatever anxiety may have been felt at the use which was like to be made of "the power of the sword," was in great part dispelled by a proclamation of the officers. Their one anxiety was " not to grasp the power ourselves nor to keep it in military hands, no not for a day," and their promise to " call to the government men of approved fidelity and honesty" was to some extent redeemed by the nomination of a provisional Council of State, consisting of eight officers of high rank and four civilians, with Cromwell as their head, and a seat in which was offered, though fruitlessly, to Vane. The first business of such a body was clearly to summon a new Parliament and to resign its trust into its hands: but the bill for Parliamentary reform had dropped with the expulsion: and reluctant as the Council was to summon a new Parliament on the old basis of election, it shrank from the responsibility of effecting so fundamental a change as the creation of a new basis by its own authority.
[Authorities. - Many of the works mentioned before are still valuable, but the real key to the history of this period lies in Cromwell's remarkable series of Speeches (Carlyle, " Letters and Speeches," vol. iii.). Thurlow's State Papers furnish an immense mass of documents. For the Second Parliament of the Protector we have Burton's "Diary." For the Restoration, M. Guizot's " Richard Cromwell and the Restoration," Ludlow's "Memoirs," Baxter's "Autobiography," and the minute and accurate account given by Clarendon himself].
It was this difficulty which led to the expedient of a Constituent Convention. Cromwell told the story of this unlucky assembly some years after with an amusing frankness. "I will come and tell you a story of my own weakness and folly. And yet it was done in my simplicity - I dare avow it was.... It was thought then that men of our own judgment, who had fought in the wars, and were all of a piece on that account - why, surely, these men will hit it, and these men will do it to the purpose, whatever can be desired! And surely we did think, and I did think so - the more blame to me!" Of the hundred and fifty-six men, "faithful, fearing God, and hating covetous-ness," whose names were selected for this purpose by the Council of State, from lists furnished by the congregational churches, the bulk were men, like Ashley Cooper, of good blood and "free estates;" and the proportion of burgesses, such as the leather-merchant, Praise-God Barebones, whose name was eagerly seized on as a nickname for the body to which he belonged, seems to have been much the same as in earlier Parliaments. But the circumstances of their choice told fatally on the temper of its members.
Cromwell himself, in the burst of rugged eloquence with which he welcomed their assembling, was carried away by a strange enthusiasm. "Convince the nation," he said, "that as men fearing God have fought them out of their bondage under the regal power, so men fearing God do now rule them in the fear of God.... Own your call, for it is of God: indeed, it is marvellous, and it hath been unprojected.... Never was a supreme power under such a way of owning God, and being owned by Him." A spirit yet more enthusiastic appeared in the proceedings of the Convention itself. The resignation of their powers by Cromwell and the Council into its hands left it the one supreme authority; but by the instrument which convoked it provision had been made that this authority should be transferred in fifteen months to another assembly elected according to its directions. Its work was, in fact, to be that of a constituent assembly, paving the way for a Parliament on a really national basis. But the Convention put the largest construction on its commission, and boldly undertook the whole task of constitutional reform. Committees were appointed to consider the needs of the Church and the nation.
The spirit of economy and honesty which pervaded the assembly appeared in its redress of the extravagance which prevailed in the civil service, and of the inequality of taxation. With a remarkable energy it undertook a host of reforms, for whose execution England has had to wait to our own day. The Long Parliament had shrunk from any reform of the Court of Chancer)', where twenty-three thousand cases were waiting unheard. The Convention proposed its abolition. The work of compiling a single code of laws, begun under the Long Parliament by a committee with Sir Matthew Hale at its head, was again pushed forward. The frenzied alarm which these bold measures aroused among the lawyer class was soon backed by that of the clergy, who saw their wealth menaced by the establishment of civil marriage, and by proposals to substitute the free contributions of congregations for the payment of tithes. The landed proprietors too rose against the scheme for the abolition of lay-patronage, which was favoured by the Convention, and predicted an age of confiscation. The "Barebones Parliament," as the assembly was styled in derision, was charged with a design to ruin property, the Church, and the law, with enmity to knowledge, and a blind and ignorant fanaticism.