Formative Influences of the Scotch-Irish

Henry Jones Ford

Events of a kind that make or break character came hard and fast in Ulster. They belong to Irish history and they do not concern this work save as they operated in forming Scotch-Irish character, so for the present purpose it is necessary only to take some note of their nature and dimensions.

In 1625 Charles I. succeeded James I. In 1633 Thomas Wentworth, better known by his later title of Lord Strafford, was appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland. The career of this man remains a historical puzzle but of his ability there can be no question. He had been a leader of the parliamentary opposition to the absolutist policy of Charles and suddenly went over to the King's side as the energetic Minister of the policy against which he had previously contended. The same year that Wentworth became chief of the Government of Ireland, Laud became Archbishop of Canterbury. The two worked in hearty accord in asserting royal authority and in enforcing religious conformity. The Irish Established Church, under official pressure, discarded the articles of religion whose Puritan tone had facilitated working agreement with the Presbyterian ministers of Ulster.

In 1634 the Irish Church in convocation adopted the English articles, and it was ordered that they were to be subscribed by every minister and to be read by him publicly in church at least once a year. A high commission court was set up in Dublin, its purpose being, as Strafford wrote, "to support ecclesiastical courts and officers, to provide for the maintenance of the clergy and for their residence, either by themselves or able curators, to bring the people here to a conformity in religion, and in the way of all these to raise perhaps a good revenue to the Crown." Wentworth, whose motto was "thorough," knew perfectly well the significance of his policy. In a letter to Laud, describing the measures he had taken, he remarked: "So as now I can say, the King is as absolute here as any prince in the whole world can be."

To have a just appreciation of motives it should be observed that at that period, and indeed for over a century later, the weight of political theory was on the side of principle of absolutism in government. A good statement of opinion will be found in Chapter XXII of Sidgwick's Development of European Polity. He points out that the development of national unity, coherence and order, the suppression of the anarchical resistance of powerful individuals and groups, and the formation of sovereignty, all took place upon the basis of royal prerogative. Even so late as the middle of the eighteenth century "an impartial Continental observer . . . would probably have regarded monarchy of the type called absolute as the final form of government to which the long process of formation of orderly country-states had led up; and by which the task of establishing and maintaining a civilized political order had been, on the whole, successfully accomplished, after other modes of political construction had failed to realize it."

Therefore it would be a great mistake to suppose that because a man held absolutist principles of government he was abject in his attitude toward kings or insensible to liberty. For the. King as an individual he might have contempt while valuing the office and its unrestricted authority as the essential principle of public order. Before the French Revolution absolutist principles in government were not considered inconsistent with liberalism. Indeed, on the Continent of Europe the two were traditionally associated. It was the tendency of kings to promote reforms for the benefit of the people while such organs of constituted authority as existed apart from royal authority were shelters of class privilege. Hence Voltaire, the great apostle of liberalism, was absolutist. He wrote to D'Alembert in 1765: "Who would have thought that the cause of kings would be that of philosophers? But it is evident that the sages who refuse to admit two powers are the chief support of royal authority." Again he said, "There ought never to be two powers in the State." This mode of thought was originally characteristic of British Toryism, and persisted in literature long after absolutism has been extinguished as a working scheme of government. In 1741 the Scotch philosopher Hume published an essay in which he held that the tendency to amass authority in the House of Commons may produce a tyranny of factions, and he concluded that "we shall at last, after many convulsions and civil wars, find repose in absolute monarchy, which it would have been happier for us to have established peacefully from the beginning." Considerations of this order supported the high Toryism of a thinker of such robust common sense as Dr. Samuel Johnson.

In his charming novel The Vicar of Wakefield Goldsmith argues the case at length through the mouth of one of his characters. It is in Chapter XIX, entitled "The Description of a Person Discontented with the Present Government, and Apprehensive of the Loss of Our Liberties." The gist of the argument is that by placing themselves under a king the people "diminish the number of tyrants and put tyranny at the greatest distance from the greatest number of people." He argues that the alternative to kingship is not liberty but oppression:

"What they may then expect, may be seen by turning our eyes to Holland, Genoa or Venice, where the laws govern the poor and the rich govern the laws. I am then for, and would die for, monarchy, sacred monarchy: for if there be anything sacred among men, it must be the anointed sovereign of his people; and every diminution of his power, in war or in peace, is an infringement upon the real liberties of the subject."

When such views were still extant in the middle of the eighteenth century, it cannot surprise us that they should subsist along with sincere patriotism and genuine love of liberty in the middle of the seventeenth century. The issue was not intentionally one between despotism and liberty but between conflicting interpretations of liberty. To Wentworth and Laud the liberty proper to good Christians and good subjects was a particular state of civil and religious order which the Government prescribed and which it was its business to apply. Wentworth's conversion from the King's chief opponent to his chief agent is a puzzling circumstance but it is not unparalleled. A recent biographer, H. D. Traill, thinks the most plausible explanation is that his period of opposition was the familiar political expedient of making oneself such a nuisance to the Government that one has to be let into power. At any rate, Wentworth displayed such initiative, vigor and zeal in his administration as accords with sincere conviction and not with merely selfish calculation. His character was admired by Bismarck who too in his time acted as the champion of prerogative against parliamentary opposition. At a crisis in his career he declared he would persevere to the end even though it brought him Strafford's fate, but in his case it brought glory and honor; so much depends upon occasion and opportunity.

History has in a way vindicated the champions of absolutism as well as the champions of freedom, although it is the latter that naturally have the popular renown. The protagonists in the long drawn out battle between prerogative and popular rule that was not ended until the nineteenth century were both partly in the right. It is historically evident that the principle of the sovereignty of the State, which confers the power of volition essential to the discharge of the functions of modern government, was worked out on the basis of royal prerogative. What has happened is that the legal institution has been detached from the individual control of the incumbent of the kingly office. The custody has passed to the representatives of the people, but the institution itself is stronger than ever before, and it has become the cardinal principle of popular government. The great authority of the late Professor F. W. Maitland may be cited in support of this statement. In his Constitutional History of England (1908) he remarks:

"We must not confuse the truth that the King's personal will has come to count for less and less with the falsehood (for falsehood it would be) that his legal powers are diminishing. On the contrary, of late years they have enormously grown. The principle being established that the King must govern by the advice of Ministers who are approved by the House of Commons, Parliament has entrusted the King with vast powers, statutory powers. Many governmental acts, which in the last century would have required the passing of an act of Parliament, are now performed by exercise of statutory powers conferred on the King. Acts which give these powers often require that they shall be exercised by Order in Council. Thus in addition to his prerogative or common law powers the King now has statutory powers. All this, coupled with the delegation of other powers to this Minister and that, is the result of a new government which began about 1830."

Thus things may now be done in the King's name that involve larger claim of legal authority than would have been deemed conceivable in the time of the Stuarts or admissible even by so thoroughgoing an agent of prerogative as Wentworth himself. The difference is that now what is done in the King's name is done at the instance of the people constitutionally expressed, and it is done on the public business in the people's interest and for the general welfare. And the same remarks apply to the case of modern republics in which the term "the Crown" is superseded by the term "the People" as the source of authority. The apparatus of sovereignty used by modern democracy may be traced to institutions originally embodying royal authority. Thus in a way the champions of absolutism have contributed to the ultimate triumph of popular rule by their incidental service in developing the sovereignty of the State as a legal institution. Where the course of events has depleted sovereignty, popular government now suffers in its competency. The student of jurisprudence finds instances of such defect in the constitutional history of the United States, particularly in the government of the several States.

In the struggle over the constitution of government which began in the seventeenth century the legists of the period were so heavily on the side of prerogative that the opposition would have been fatally weak in the moral and intellectual force of its contention, had it not been able to offer on its side a principle of legitimacy and order. Religion supplied that principle. In opposition to the claims of royal prerogative it set up the paramount title of divine sovereignty. No one more strongly asserted the duty of obedience than John Calvin. With characteristically unflinching logic he insists upon passive obedience "if we are inhumanly harassed by a cruel prince; if we are rapaciously plundered by an avaricious or luxurious one; if we are neglected by an indolent one; or if we are persecuted on account of piety, by an impious and sacrilegious one." But he proceeds to make an exception which practically does away with his rule. The duty of obedience to magistrates is subordinate to one's duty to God. "If they command anything against Him, it ought not to have the least attention; nor in this case, ought we to pay any regard to all that dignity attached to magistrates."

Thus religious dissent contributed to constitutional progress. Mr. Figgis, who supplied to the Cambridge Modern History the article on "Political Thought in the Sixteenth Century," sums up the case by saying that religious liberty the parent of political liberty:

"Religious liberty arose, not because the sects believed in it, but out of their passionate determination not to be extinguished either by political or religious persecution. . . . The forces in favor of monarchy were so strong that, apart from a motive appealing to the conscience, making it a duty (even though a mistaken one in any individual case) to resist the Government, there would have been no sufficient force to withstand the tyranny of centralization which succeeded the anarchy of feudalism."

The mere assertion of this principle did not necessarily make for constitutional government. It was capable under individualistic interpretations of becoming an agency of social dissolution to counteract which the recourse would be to arbitrary power. This mode of thought received powerful expression in Milton's Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth published in 1659-60. He argued from the experience of ancient republics that popular assemblies "either little availed the people, or else brought them to such a licentious and unbridled democracy as in fine ruined themselves with their own excessive power." That authority may be stable it should have a perpetual tenure. Therefore he proposed that the people should elect their ablest and wisest men to sit as a grand council for the management of public affairs, holding office for life. "Safest therefore to me, it seems, and of less hazard and interruption to affairs, that none of the grand council be moved, unless by death or just conviction of some crime; for what can be expected firm or steadfast from a floating foundation." The "Long Parliament" was a sufficiently close approximation to this scheme of government to expose its characteristic quality. It remained in existence twenty years and until its behavior became so intolerable that Cromwell turned what was left of it out of doors.