Sunday, November 13, 2011

English Thoughts on Republicanism

In search of the republic--17

Before the recent tour of Occupy Wall Street, Right Detour featured  a series of posts examining the curious history of republicanism. These posts concluded with England's experiment with republican government that began with the English Civil War in 1641 and  lasted until the Restoration of 1660.

After the English Civil War and the overthrow of  King Charles I, the House of Commons declared England to be a Commonwealth, or republic.  The House of Commons abolished the monarchy and the House of Lords. In their place, it set up Oliver Cromwell as the chief magistrate with a Council of State.

 The Commonwealth era proved to be one of turmoil and disorder during which the English repeatedly modified their government in its search for order.  Presbyterian parliamentarians who maintained royalist sympathies found themselves purged from the Commons, leaving a 50 or so member Rump Parliament. Cromwell eventually dissolved the Rump and replaced them with a new one incorporating representatives from Scotland and Wales with himself as Lord Protector. This parliament, too, was abandoned. After Cromwell's death and the ascension of his son Richard as Lord Protector, the army forced a recall of the original Rump Parliament. The Rump parliament soon readmitted surviving members of the purged Presbyterians. Finally, as the Englished moved closer to abandoning their republican experiment, a Convention Parliament with a new House of Lords assembled. This Parliament effected the end of the republic and the restoration of monarchy.

Although the English Republican experiment failed, the tumultuous period generated several polemical and philosophical writings about republican government. These writings not only inspired the English in their "Glorious Revolution of 1688" against monarchical absolutism, but also influenced the thinking of British North Americans over one hundred years later, when they revolted against their mother country. These next couple of posts will look at some of those writings.

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