Page:The House of Lords and the nation.djvu/14

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10
The Lesson of the Commonwealth.

the scaffold, an ordinance was passed (which twelve years later was unanimously condemned as utterly unconstitutional and illegal) to the effect that England should be governed as a Commonwealth by the representatives of the people in Parliament, without any King or House of Lords.

Let those who conceive that a similar measure at the present day would be advantageous to the country, consult history as to what was the result of that proceeding two hundred and fifty years ago. "Was the authority of the House of Commons increased by the proceeding? Was the country benefited by it? Scarcely had four years elapsed from the time of its taking place, when he, who had been the ruling spirit in accomplishing the overthrow of the Upper House, found it expedient to do away with the Lower House also. The power of the Commons, instead of being augmented by its release from the check of a co-ordinate assembly, had become absolutely effete. The House, which not many years before had resented the intrusion of the King into its debates as an unwarrantable breach of its privileges, tamely submitted while Oliver Cromwell, with an armed force, interrupted its proceedings. We all remember how he ordered the removal of the Speaker's mace (which, through the degeneracy of the House, had, in fact, become what he designated it, a mere "bauble"), how he ejected the members, and locked the doors. After this Cromwell made one or two further attempts to govern the country with a House of Commons alone. But success did not attend the experiment. He had recourse a second time to a body of soldiers to disperse the country's legislators; and the newly elected House, which met in 1654, was allowed so little freedom that every member was stopped at the door by an armed guard and refused admission until he had subscribed a declaration that he would not vote for any alteration in the government. When another election took place in 1657, upwards of a hundred of the representatives returned by the constituencies were regarded by Cromwell as disaffected towards himself, and were prohibited by him from taking their seats.[1] It is instructive to notice that so convinced did he at last become of the impracticability

  1. This is the period referred to by Sir Wilfrid Lawson in St. James's Hall, on August 9th, 1884, when he reminded his hearers that "We had got on very well without the House of Lords for nine years during the Commonwealth, and had never been more prosperous." So much for Radical interpretation of history!