Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

HARRINGTON'S AGRARIAN PROPOSALS

119

against the Agrarian, was based on different grounds. “ Were the Agrarian

· at once established, wrote Wren, “the Nobility would be so thoroughly plumed, that they would be just as strong of wing as Wild-fowle are in moulting-time." Not only would the upper classes decline but they would desert the estates, which they had been compelled to divide, and flock to London. London, the abode of smoke, disease, and democracy, would grow in consequence to an undesirable size, and all the legislation which had been directed against its further growth would be undone. This would be regrettable not only from the economic but also from the political point of view. It would result in the government of the country by the inhabitants of its capital. The history of the next century was to prove the truth of this criticism in France.

The third criticism was based on economic grounds. It was argued that it was impossible to have a fixed agrarian because of the continual changing of the value of money. In addition to this, the maximum of property which it was lawful to hold would automatically get lower and lower until it resulted in complete levelling. Harrington replied that this was unlikely, because the hired labourer, who earned £20 a year and kept his cow on the common, would be unwilling to exchange his position for that of a landowner in possession of land worth no more than £10 a year. But he was better versed in politics than economics, and could never satisfactorily refute this argument.

1 “Considerations ... on Oceana," p. 93.

Cf. ibid. 86, and "Monarchy Asserted," pp. 149-50. Cf. Petty's frequent objections to the increase of London, and Evelyn's "Fumifugium,” written in 1661. 3 Cf. A Discourse for a King and Parliament.”

Considerations ... on Oceana," p. 85; "Monarchy Asserted," pp. 149-50.

120

HARRINGTON'S THEORIES IMPOSSIBLE

The theory on which the agrarian was based was also criticised. There was a certain amount of truth in Wren's contention that Harrington, in speaking of the balance of property, was simply using a new vocabulary to express the truism that “riches means power."1 But Harrington seems to have realised this, his purpose being rather to emphasise the peculiar power, which has undoubtedly been in the hands of the landowning classes in the course of history.

Such were the main objections urged against Harrington's theories. Many of them were sensible, but none of them vital. In view, however, of the actual development of English institutions, it should be pointed out that the system of rotation, necessitating as it does, periodical elections, would have made the cabinet system impossible. Where legislative and executive functions are entirely confused, as in English local government, the period of membership must be limited by some such arrangement.

And where legislative and executive functions are as much separated as they are in the United States, rotation could be extended to the House of Representatives without causing much alteration in the working of the constitution as a whole. But in the case of the subtle compromise between the separation and confusion of powers which is effected by the cabinet system, the result would be disastrous. It is true that the legislative body would be given more frequent opportunities for dismissing the executive ; but the executive would lose one of the greatest sources of its strength, the power to dissolve the legislative body at its will.

The tendency of the political theory of the Commonwealth, as indeed of much subsequent English political

1 “Considerations ... on Oceana," p. 14.

UNDER MODERN CONDITIONS

121

theory, was antagonistic to the actual line of development. Nevile, as will be shown later, was the only republican, and one of the few men who foresaw the possibility of something like that which actually happened. But the times in which he wrote were comparatively quiet. Harrington, writing in a period of general chaos, when it seemed that a new political era had dawned and what was good in mediæval conditions was forgotten in the condemnation of what was bad, not unnaturally made proposals which stood in need of modification when the old order was restored. His writings still influenced English political theory; but English institutions developed along other lines. To receive embodiment in practice the theories of the Commonwealth had to be conveyed to infant states across the Atlantic.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

WHEN it was certain that Charles II. would be restored, Harrington retired into private life. Whether he had given up all hopes of the ultimate establishment of republican institutions or still thought that his prophecy would be fulfilled and things would right themselves automatically we cannot tell. In his retirement he was not idle. People still came to discuss politics with him, and he continued his literary work. One of his visitors, an eminent royalist, persuaded him to apply his theories to monarchy and draw up some schemes which would assist the nation to settle down quietly and quickly under the old régime. The scheme which he drew up, submitted to several members of Charles II.'s court, and finally handed over to one of his ministers, has unfortunately not survived. The other work in which he was engaged, although it is nothing more than a fresh repetition of the old proposals of “Oceana,” was preserved in manuscript by one of Harrington's sisters and passed on to Toland, who published it for the first time in 1700. Called "A System of Politics,” it is the best and the clearest of all Harrington's writings, and, though it is not written in the picturesque form of a Utopia, it deserves to be placed above the more famous Oceana.'

Harrington made no secret of the fact that he was

122

REPUBLICAN PLOTTING IN 1661

123

still engaged in republican compositions, and suffered for his audacity. On November 26th, 1661, he was committed to the Tower by the late chairman of his club, Sir William Poulteney, in company with his fellowRota-man, Major John Wildman, and the notorious Praisegod Barebones. These two men were implicated in a plot headed by an old Cromwellian officer, Colonel Salmon, which, following closely on Venner's Insurrection, created a great deal of excitement at the time. Cromwellians, supporters of the Long Parliament, Londoners, Purchasers, officers of the disbanded army, Independents, and Fifth Monarchy men were all concerned in the movement, these seven parties being represented by an inner council of twenty-one, which met in Bow Street and other parts of London. The aims of the conspirators are not quite clear. According to one account wholesale assassinations were arranged, and insurrections were to start in Shrewsbury, Coventry, and Bristol, to be followed by the return of all the republican exiles. According to another account they merely attempted to get the right men elected for Parliament, and began with the members for the City of London, intending subsequently to petition Parliament for a preaching ministry and liberty of conscience, and to subdivide into local committees in view of extending the movement over the whole country. Harrington was not unnaturally suspected of being implicated. Although his name did not occur in the report of the committee which was appointed by both houses to inquire into the whole plot, his friend Nevile had been selected for special mention,

1 “Commons Journals,” vii. 342. Kennet, “Register,” p. 602. Parker, History of his Own Time," ed. 1728, pp. 13 and 14. W. C. Abbott, “English Conspiracy and Dissent, 1660-1674,” in the "American Historical Review for April 1909, pp. 508 and 509.

* Cf. Toland's account in the Introduction to Harrington's “Works,” XXXV.

« AnteriorContinuar »