Oliver Cromwell gave this speech after forming a new parliament and declaring himself Lord Protector of England.
This government called you hither; the constitution thereof being limited so -- a single person and a Parliament. And this was thought most agreeable to the general sense of the nation; having had experience enough, by trial, of other conclusions; judging this most likely to avoid the extremes of monarchy on the one hand, and of democracy on the other; and yet not to found dominium in gratia “either”. And if so, then certainly to make the authority more than a mere notion, it was requisite that it should be as it is in this “frame of” government; which puts it upon a true and equal balance. It has been already submitted to the judicious, true and honest people of this nation, whether the balance be not equal? And what their judgment is, is visible -- by submission to it; by acting upon it; by restraining their trustees from meddling with it. And it neither asks nor needs any better ratiﬁcation? But when trustees in Parliament shall, by experience, ﬁnd any evil in any parts of this “frame of” government, “a question” referred by the government itself to the consideration of the Protector and Parliament -- of which evil or evils time itself will be the best discoverer: how can it be reasonably imagined that a person or persons, coming in by election, and standing under such obligations, and so limited, and so necessitated by oath to govern for the people’s good, and to make their love, under God, the best under-propping and only safe footing: how can it, I say, be imagined that the present or succeeding Protectors will refuse to agree to alter any such thing in the government as may be found to be for the good of the people? Or to recede from anything which he might be convinced casts the balance too much to the single person? And although, for the present, the keeping up and having in his power the militia seems the hardest “condition”, yet if the power of the militia should be yielded up at such a time as this, when there is as much need of it to keep this cause (now most evidently impugned by all enemies), as there was to get it “for the sake of this cause”: what would become of us all! Or if it should not be equally placed in him and the Parliament, but yielded up at any time -- it determines his power either for doing the good he ought, or hindering Parliaments from perpetuating themselves; from imposing what religion they please on the consciences of men, or what government they please upon the nation. Thereby subjecting us to dissettlement in every Parliament, and to the desperate consequences thereof. And if the nation shall happen to fall into a blessed peace, how easily and certainly will their charge be taken off, and their forces be disbanded! And then where will the danger be to have the militia thus stated? What if I should say: If there be a disproportion, or disequality as to the power, it is on the other hand!
And if this be so, wherein have you had cause to quarrel? What demonstrations have you held forth to settle me to your opinion? I would you had made me so happy as to have let me know your grounds! I have made a free and ingenuous confession of my faith to you. And I could have wished it had been in your hearts to have agreed that some friendly and cordial debates might have been toward mutual conviction. Was there none amongst you to move such a thing? No ﬁtness to listen to it? No desire of a right understanding? If it be not folly in me to listen to town talk, such things have been proposed; and rejected, with stiffness and severity, once and again. Was it not likely to have been more advantageous to the good of this nation? I will say this to you for myself; and to that I have my conscience as a thousand witnesses, and I have my comfort and contentment in it; and I have the witness too of divers here, who I think truly would scorn to own me in a lie: That I would not have been averse to any alteration, of the good of which I might have been convinced. Although I could not have agreed to the taking it off the foundation on which it stands; namely, the acceptance and consent of the people.
I will not presage what you have been about, or doing, in all this time. Nor do I love to make conjectures. But I must tell you this: That as I undertook this government in the simplicity of my heart and as before God, and to do the part of an honest man, and to be true to the interest -- which in my conscience “I think” is dear to many of you; though it is not always understood what God in His wisdom may hide from us, as to peace and settlement: so I can say that no particular interest, either of myself, estate, honor, or family, are, or have been, prevalent with me to this undertaking. For if you had, upon the old government, offered me this one, this one thing -- I speak as thus advised, and before God; as having been to this day of this opinion; and this hath been my constant judgment, well known to many who hear me speak: if, “I say,” this one thing had been inserted, this one thing, that the government should have been placed in my family hereditary, I would have rejected it. And I could have done no other according to my present conscience and light.
I will tell you my reason; though I cannot tell what God will do with me, nor with you, nor with the nation, for throwing away precious opportunities committed to us.
Now to speak a word or two to you. Of that, I must profess in the name of the same Lord, and wish there had been no cause that I should have thus spoken to you! I told you that I came with joy the ﬁrst time; with some regret the second; yet now I speak with most regret of all! I look upon you as having among you many persons that I could lay down my life individually for. I could, through the grace of God, desire to lay down my life for you. So far am I from having an unkind or unchristian heart towards you in your particular capacities! I have this indeed as a work most incumbent upon me; this of speaking these things to you. I consulted what might be my duty in such a day as this; casting up all considerations. I must confess, as I told you, that I did think occasionally, this nation had suffered extremely in the respects mentioned; as also in the disappointment of their expectations of that justice which was due to them by your sitting thus long. “Sitting thus long;” and what have you brought forth? I did not nor cannot comprehend what it is. I would be loath to call it a fate; that were too paganish a word. But there hath been something in it that we had not in our expectations.
I did think also, for myself, that I am like to meet with difficulties; and that this nation will not, as it is fit it should not, be deluded with pretexts of necessity in that great business of raising of money. And were it not that I can make some dilemmas upon which to resolve some things of my conscience, judgment and actions, I should shrink at the very prospect of my encounters. Some of them are general, some are more special. Supposing this cause or this business must be carried on, it is either of God or of man. If it be of man, I would I had never touched it with a ﬁnger. If I had not had a hope ﬁxed in me that this cause and this business was of God, I would many years ago have run from it. If it be of God, He will bear it up. If it be of man, it will tumble; as everything that hath been of man since the world began hath done. And what are all our histories, and other traditions of actions in former times, but God manifesting Himself, that He hath shaken, and tumbled down and trampled upon, everything that He had not planted? And as this is, so let the all-wise God deal with it. If this be of human structure and invention, and if it be an old plotting and contriving to bring things to this issue, and that they are not the births of Providence -- then they will tumble. But if the Lord take pleasure in England, and if He will do us good -- He is very able to bear us up! Let the difficulties be whatsoever they will, we shall in His strength be able to encounter with them. And I bless God I have been inured to difﬁculties; and I never found God failing when I trusted in Him. I can laugh and sing, in my heart, when I speak of these things to you or elsewhere. And though some may think it is a hard thing to raise money without Parliamentary authority upon this nation; yet I have another argument to the good people of this nation, if they would be safe, and yet have no better principle: Whether they prefer the having of their will though it be their destruction, rather than comply with things of necessity? That will excuse me. But I should wrong my native country to suppose this.
For I look at the people of these nations as the blessing of the Lord: and they are a people blessed by God. They have been so; and they will be so, by reason of that immortal seed which hath been, and is, among them: those regenerated ones in the land, of several judgments; who are all the ﬂock of Christ, and lambs of Christ.
We know the Lord hath poured this nation from vessel to vessel till He poured it into your lap, when you came ﬁrst together. I am conﬁdent that it came so into your hands; and was not judged by you to be from counterfeited or feigned necessity, but by Divine providence and dispensation. And this I speak with more earnestness, because I speak for God and not for men. I would have any man to come and tell of the transactions that have been, and of those periods of time wherein God hath made these revolutions; and ﬁnd where he can ﬁx a feigned necessity! I could recite particulars, if either my strength would serve me to speak, or yours to hear. If you would consider the great hand of God in His great dispensations, you would ﬁnd that there is scarce a man who fell off, at any period of time when God had any work to do, who can give God or His work at this day a good word.
“It was”, say some, “the cunning of the Lord Protector” -- I take it to myself -- “it was the craft of such a man, and his plot, that hath brought it about!” And, as they say in other countries, “There are ﬁve or six cunning men in England that have skill; they do all these things.” Oh, what blasphemy is this! Because men that are without God in the world, and walk not with Him, know not what it is to pray or believe, and to receive returns from God, and to be spoken unto by the Spirit of God -- who speaks without a Written Word sometimes, yet according to it! God hath spoken heretofore in divers manners. Let Him speak as He pleaseth. Hath He not given us liberty, nay, is it not our duty to go to the law and the testimony? And there we shall ﬁnd that there have been impressions, in extraordinary cases, as well without the Written Word as with it. And therefore there is no difference in the thing thus asserted from truths generally received -- except we will exclude the Spirit; without whose concurrence all other teachings are ineffectual. He doth speak to the hearts and consciences of men; and leadeth them to His law and testimony.
There is another necessity, which you have put upon us, and we have not sought. I appeal to God, angels and men -- if I shall “now” raise money according to the article in the government, whether I am not compelled to do it! Which “government” had power to call you hither; and did; and instead of seasonably providing for the army, you have labored to overthrow the government, and the army is now upon free-quarter! And you would never so much as let me hear a tittle from you concerning it. Where is the fault? Has it not been as if you had a purpose to put this extremity upon us and the nation? I hope this was not in your minds. I am not willing to judge so: but such is the state into which we are reduced. By the designs of some in the army who are now in custody it was designed to get as many of them as possible -- through discontent for want of money, the army being in a barren country, near thirty weeks behind in pay, and upon other specious pretences -- to march for England out of Scotland; and, in discontent, to seize their General there [General Monk], a faithful and honest man, that so another [Colonel Overton] might head the army. And all this opportunity taken from your delays. Whether will this be a thing of feigned necessity? What could it signify, but “The army are in discontent already; and we will make them live upon stones; we will make them cast off their governors and discipline?” What can be said to this? I list not to unsaddle myself, and put the fault upon your backs. Whether it hath been for the good of England, whilst men have been talking of this thing or the other, and pretending liberty and many good words -- whether it has been as it should have been? I am conﬁdent you cannot think it has. The nation will not think so. And if the worst should be made of things, I know not what the Cornish men nor the Lincolnshire men may think, or other counties; but I believe they will all think they are not safe. A temporary suspension of “caring for the greatest liberties and privileges” (if it were so, which is denied) would not have been of such damage as the not providing against free-quarter hath run the nation upon. And if it be my “liberty” to walk abroad in the ﬁelds, or to take a journey, yet it is not my wisdom to do so when my house is on ﬁre!
I have troubled you with a long speech; and I believe it may not have the same resentment with all that it hath with some. But because that is unknown to me, I shall leave it to God; and conclude with this: That I think myself bound, as in my duty to God, and to the people of these nations for their safety and good in every respect -- I think it my duty to tell you that it is not for the proﬁt of these nations, nor for common and public good, for you to continue here any longer. And therefore I do declare unto you, that I do dissolve this Parliament.