Diary of Thomas Burton Esq: Volume 1, July 1653 - April 1657. Originally published by H Colburn, London, 1828.
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This hasty dissolution, before the Parliament could compleat, and present for the acceptance of the Protector, the new constitution, left him to rule, as he was not ill-inclined, in cases unconnected with his personal interests, according to the ancient laws, under the authority of his own Instrument of Government; unsupported even by the semblance of a Parliamentary sanction.
His first attention, in concert with the Council, (fn. 1) was engaged to publish various ordinances of a popular tendency. (fn. 2) Nor would the industry of his enemies, both royalists and republicans, sometimes in an unnatural union, yet against a common enemy, permit any relaxation of his well-tried and consummate vigilance. (fn. 3)
The Protector had sent Blake into the Mediterranean, to chastise the marauding corsairs of Algiers, for their plunder of English vessels. He had also dispatched Penn and Venables, to commence hostilities against the power of Spain in the West Indies. The fleet under Penn, with a military force commanded by Venables, had sailed from Portsmouth, December 24th. Arriving at Barbadoes, March 30th, 1655, (fn. 4) they opened their sealed orders, which directed an attack on Domingo. In this they miserably failed, from the alleged misconduct of the commander of the land forces; but, on their return, they made an easy conquest of Jamaica. (fn. 5)
The war against Spain produced, as might have been expected, a disposition towards peace and amity between "Louis XIV. the most Christian King of France and Navarre;" or rather, those who governed in the name of the royal minor, and " the Most Serene and Potent Protector of the Republic of England, Scotland, and Ireland." (fn. 6) To England was dispatched " the Lord de Bordeaux, Lord Ambassador;" and the Protector " deputed Commissioners, (Nathaniel Fiennes and Walter Strickland,) for so holy a work;" which was " done at Westminster, the third of November, 1655." (fn. 7)
Of the amicable tendencies, which issued in this alliance, the Protector had availed himself, in May this year, in favour of the foreign Protestants. (fn. 8) Afterwards, in the secret articles of the treaty, he patronized, in a manner probably without example, the interests of the reformed in France; even making the English nation a guarantee for the freedom of their public worship. (fn. 9)
At home, to detect and depress the impugners of his authority, and especially to weaken their influence by sequestrations of their property, the Protector divided England into twelve districts, and added a district for South Wales. Over these he placed major-generals, ruling a Committee in each district, with uncontrolled authority. (fn. 10) For this measure he has been generally censured. The conduct of these irresponsible officers became, indeed, so obnoxious, that in a few months he revoked their appointment. (fn. 11)
It appears, that in this year, there was a " petition of divers counties, humbly to desire his Highness to accept the title and exercise the power of a king." (fn. 12) Bishop Burnet relates, on the authority of one of Cromwell's courtiers, a very different proposal, even a premature project for the restoration of the Stuarts. (fn. 13)
Amidst anxieties thus inseparable from a usurped sovereignty, exacting general acquiescence, but ill-supported by general approval; and to which Royalists, whose power he had subdued, and Republicans, (fn. 14) whose interests he had be trayed, were equally disinclined; the Protector did not fail to recommend his administration, by acts of liberal and enlightened policy. Thus, he was desirous of conceding to the Jews, the equal rights of citizens, (fn. 15) while he availed himself of their commercial resources, and of their well-known facilities for continental intelligence. (fn. 16) He also assembled a council of merchants, " to consider how to improve, order, and regulate, the trade and navigation of the Commonwealth." (fn. 17)
Restraints on the press, that chief guardian of freedom, and the detector of despotism, under every disguise, had been disgracefully sanctioned by the Long Parliament, " deaf to the voice of the charmer," in the Areopagitica of Milton. These restraints still continued, and were too often enforced by the Protector, to preclude the agitation of political questions; (fn. 18) though he is said, in some happy moment of just and liberal feeling, to have uttered the generous sentiment, that if his Government would not stand against paper-shot it was not worthy of preservation. Yet he was disposed, with few, if any exceptions, to rescue the victims of religious intolerance out of the power of their oppressors; (fn. 19) whether these were the misguided Independents, violating their own sacred principle, that the profession of religion is a concern strictly personal; or those more consistent persecutors, the Presbyterians, who, according to one who could well describe them, were only " priests writ large."
Though, at the commencement of the year. 1656, the Protector had further success against the Spaniards, (fn. 20) yet his project of drawing from the New World pecuniary resources for the suppprt of his government, (fn. 21) appears to have entirely failed. Thus he was at length constrained again to encounter the animadversions of a Parliament. (fn. 22)