The Early Stuarts, 1603-1660

By Godfrey Davies | Go to book overview

VII
POLITICAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL HISTORY, 1649-58

HE establishment of the commonwealth really began on 4 January 1649, when the house of commons voted that the people are, under God, the original of all just power: . . . that the commons of England, in parliament assembled, being chosen by, and representing, the people, have the supreme power in this nation: . . . that whatsoever is enacted, or declared for law, by the commons, in parliament assembled, hath the force of law; and all the people of this nation are concluded thereby, although the consent and concurrence of king, or house of peers be not had thereunto.1

On the day of Charles's execution an act was passed against the proclamation of any successor to him, and the above vote was read again and ordered to be printed. A week later it was resolved 'that the house of peers in parliament is useless and dangerous, and ought to be abolished: and that an act be brought in, to that purpose'.2 On the morrow it was further resolved 'that it hath been found by experience, and this house doth declare, that the office of a king in this nation, and to have the power thereof in any single person, is unnecessary, burden- some, and dangerous to the liberty, safety, and publick interest of the people of this nation; and therefore ought to be abolished: and that an act be brought in, to that purpose'.3 Finally the two acts, for abolishing the kingly office and the house of lords respectively, were passed on 17 and 19 March of this year.4

The supreme legislative and executive authority therefore resided in the one remaining estate. The Speaker of the house of commons was first in dignity in the land, and the house itself was unhampered by any check except whatever prudential restraint might be imposed by the knowledge that its authority rested solely upon the army. It was, of course, merely a fragment of the parliament elected in 1640. Membership was practically confined to those who approved of the proceedings against the king, and they numbered only about a tenth of

____________________
1
Commons' Journals, vi. 111.
4
Acts and Ordinances, ii. 18-20, 24.

-160-

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