Monday, January 9, 2012

The Glorious Revolution . . . or Abdication

In Search of the Republic--23

Religion again became the issue that sparked a revolution in England.

In 1687 King James issued a Declaration of Indulgence. He hoped to remove legal disabilities from those who dissented from the officially established Church of England, especially Catholic dissenters. Even many of the king's Tory supporters now grew alarmed. They saw this as the first step in disestablishing the Church of England and undoing the lonstanding Tudor religious settlement of the sixteenth century.

This led to several constitutional battles. Parliament claimed that the King did not possess the legal authority of simply dismiss duly enacted laws of Parliament. James secured a legal victory for his position by dismissing judges who sided with Parliament a appointing supporters in their place.

He issued a second Declaration of Indulgence and ordered it read in every parish. When several minsters refused, they were arrested for sedition. A jury acquitted them.

He removed Henry Compton from his position as Bishop of London when the Bishop  refused to discipline a rector named John Sharp for anti-Catholic writings.


He forced Magdelen College at Oxford to install a Catholic supporter of the king as its President.

In addition, he began to expand a large standing army, removing Protestant officers, and  appointing Catholic officers in their place.


Consequently,  secret correspondence began to be exchanged between English opponents of the King and William of Orange, the king's son in law in Holland, inquiring about military intervention. These efforts were somewhat ironic in that the English had defeated the Dutch in two wars during the 1650s and 1670s.


In June1688, his wife gave birth to a son. Now the king's opponents faced the prospect of a Catholic dynasty. This apparently moved leaders to a more "formal" request.


In late June Bishop of London Henry Compton and six nobles sent a letter explaining that they feared for their “religion, liberties, and properties." They believed that the English people would soon revolt against the king on their own. They assured William of the support of the majority of English should he intervene.


While William and his advisers considered the request, other geopolitical events in Europe increased the attraction of intervention. France intended an invasion of the Germans states and warned the Dutch not to interfere. The Dutch suspected that a French-English alliance against the Dutch was in the works in order to insure their neutrality on the German question. In order the prevent such an alliance, William and his advisers decided to invade England.


William of Orange gathered an invasion force of 20,000 men on nearly 500 ships in early October. He eluded the English navy and landed on English soil the following month. With the loss of two small battles, the desertion of several key English commanders, a conspiracy among others to side with William, and anti-Catholic rioting in London and other cities, King James abdicated his throne and fled to France.

Elections seated a new Parliament that declared William and Mary the new monarchs of England. The Parliament also passed a Bill of Rights, a conservative document that basically denied that a revolution had taken place. Instead, Parliament declared that the king had abdicated and that the throne was vacant. Moreover, the document asserted virtually no new principles. It only charged that King James had subverted the existing "religion, laws, and liberties" of England and it reaffirmed the rights of Parliament and the English people. Finally, Parliament passed the Act of Toleration that removed some restrictions against religious dissenters. They could subsequently worship in their own congregations as long as the congregation registered their meetinghouse with the county and their minister took the required oaths from the local justice of the peace.

One of the prime movers against James II did not live long enough to see the revolution. The Earl of Shaftesbury died in exile in 1683. And one of the writers who crafted a theory of government and a justification of revolution against James II failed to publish his work in time to influence events. Shaftesbury' personal physician, John Locke, returned  to England after the revolution in 1688. He finally published his manuscript, Two Treatises on Civil Government, in 1690, too late to impact the revolution and the cause of republican government.

Less than a century later, however, another generation of Englishmen would take up the cause of republican government and use John Locke as their philosophical foundation. Steeped in the ideas of Locke, the English settlers of North American revolted in 1776 to create the greatest of modern republics.

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