Academic journal article Chicago Review

Restatement of Trysts

Academic journal article Chicago Review

Restatement of Trysts

Article excerpt

I have discharged the trust of my sufferings unto you,
which hath been simply and purely for your sakes ...
--Richard Overton, An Appeale (1647)

Here is a passage from the beginning section of William Walwyn's Leveller pamphlet entitled The Bloody Project:

    In all undertakings, which may occasion war or bloodshed, men have
    great need to be sure that their cause be right, both in respect of
    themselves and others: for if they kill men themselves, or cause
    others to kill, without a just cause, and upon the extreamest
    necessity, they not only disturbe the peace of men, and familyes,
    and bring misery and poverty upon a Nation, but are indeed absolute
    murtherers.
         Nor will it in any measure satisfy the Conscience, or Gods
    justice, to go on in uncertainties, for in doubtfull cases men ought
    to stand still, and consider, untill certainty do appear, especially
    when killing and sleying of men (the most horrid worke to Nature and
    Scripture) is in question.
         Far be it from any man hastily to engage in any undertaking,
    which may occasion a War, before the cause he is to fight for, be
    rightly, and plainly stated, well considered, and thoroughly
    understood to be just, and of absolute necessity to be maintained;
    nothing being more abominable in the sight of God or good men, then
    such persons who runne but to shed blood for money, or to support
    this or the other Interest, but neither consider the cause for which
    they engage, nor ought else, but pay, interest, honor & c.... and
    because it best consists with their present honour, profit or
    humours, make it their business to pick quarrels and increase
    divisions ... that so they may fish in the waters which they
    themselves have troubled.

Writing at the height of the second phase of the English Civil War, in August 1648, Walwyn witnesses in dismay the resumption of fighting to no purpose other than "to shed blood for money" and to promote and secure self-interest. It is the essence of the "bloody project" to "go on in uncertainties" in pursuit of power or of enrichment or to defend those already enriched. A "project" is, etymologically, something that is "thrown forth"--hence the inexorable process Walwyn's tract comments upon culminates in showers of projectiles. Throwing forth, moving forward, refusing to stop, refusing to consider alternatives but seeking to engage, rushing, seizing, killing, maiming: the aggressiveness of the project, as it barrels ahead, leaving everyone aghast at its violence and the nakedness of its motives, signifies for Walwyn a criminal betrayal of trust. A similar point had previously been made by Walwyn and Richard Overton, in their pamphlet, A Remonstrance of Many Thousand Citizens (1646), which was addressed to Parliament, whose power, the authors point out, "was only of us but a Power of Trust, which is ever revokable, and cannot be otherwise, and to be imployed to no other end, then our owne well-being." If in The Bloody Project the deferral of Walwyn and the Levellers' ambitious hopes for the adoption of their revolutionary constitution accounts for part of the tone, what is clearly foremost in Walwyn's mind is the sheer irresponsibility of all antagonistic parties, none of whom seek to proceed with reasoned deliberation, but act peremptorily and arbitrarily, with no sense of those on whose authority, and in whose interest, they act.

A trust exists when one has authorized someone else to act on one's behalf and in one's best interest. In the context of property law, the trustee takes title to property on behalf of another person and for that person's benefit; as Austin Wakeman Scott notes in The Law of Trusts (3rd ed. 1967), the trustee undertakes the burdens of ownership while providing the benefits of ownership to the beneficiary of the trust. Although trusts had long existed in England, the OED records the first modern use of the term "trustee" in 1653, five years after Walwyn's "yeer of dissembling. …

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