The Cambridge Modern History: Planned by the Late Lord Acton - Vol. 4

By A. W. Ward; G. W. Prothero et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XV.
THE COMMONWEALTH AND THE PROTECTORATE.
(1649-59.)

THE execution of Charles I was followed by votes of the House of Commons for the abolition of the House of Lords ( February 6, 1649) and of the kingship (February 7). Although the formal Acts for putting these votes into execution only passed on March 17 and 19, the votes themselves were instantly effective. The Lords did not meet again after February, 1649. The new executive was vested in a Council of State of 41, with full authority in the management of home affairs. But the Council of State was intended to be subordinate to the Parliament which nominated it, and to that end its duration was fixed for one year only. Further, the members of it were to declare their approval of the execution of the King and of the abolition of the monarchy. No personal head was chosen for the Council; and, to prevent the possibility of any such office developing itself, Parliament refused to allow the title of Lord President to be adopted (although Bradshaw was subsequently elected President and by tacit consent was generally styled Lord President). Out of this Council of 41 not less than 31 sat in Parliament; and, as the average attendance in the latter body was only 56, the Council might be regarded as simply a large committee of the House. It is a mere question of terms whether this Government should be described as a mixture of the legislative and the executive or simply as a double-headed executive; or again whether the Council should be held to have ruled the Parliament or vice versâ. The main feature of the situation was that there was practical unanimity between the two. This unanimity did not, however, eliminate a certain amount of confusion. The Council worked by means of committees, and at the same time the Parliament had its committees; and not unfrequently the two sets are, or seem, competitive, and can only with difficulty be distinguished from each other. Thus by the vote of February 22 the power of the Admiralty was vested in the Council; but two days later the House appointed a committee of its own for the Navy. Similarly by the side of the Council's power over the Army

-434-

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