The History of England Vol.8 Chapter 70 (David Hume)

The History of England Vol.8 Chapter 70 (David Hume)


THE first act of James’s reign was to assemble the privy council; where,after some praises bestowed on the memory of his predecessor, he made professions of his resolution to maintain the established government, both in church and state. Though he had been reported, he said, to have imbibed arbitrary principles, he knew that the laws of England were sufficient to make him as great a monarch as he could wish ; and he was determined never to depart from them. And as he had heretofore ventured his life in defence of the nation, he would still go as far as any man in maintaining all its just rights and liberties.

This discourse was received with great applause, not only by the council, but by the nation. The king universally passed for a man of great sincerity and great honour; and as the current of favour ran at that time for the court, men believed that his intentions were conformable to his expressions. ” We have now,” it was said, 1685. ” the word of a king; and a word never yet broken.” Addresses came from all quarters, full of duty, nay, of the most servile adulation. Every one hastened to pay court to the new monarch[1]: and James had reason to think, that, notwithstanding the violent efforts made by so potent a party for his exclusion, no throne in Europe was better established than that of England.

The king, however, in the first exercise of his authority, showed, that either he was not sincere in his professions of attachment to the laws, or that he had entertained so lofty an idea of his own legal power, that even his utmost sincerity would tend very little to secure the liberties of the people. All the customs and the greater part of the excise had been settled by parliament on the late king during life, and consequently the grant was now expired; nor had the successor any right to levy these branches of revenue. But James issued a proclamation, ordering the customs and excise to be paid as before ; and this exertion of power he would not deign to qualify by the least act or even appearance of condescension. It was proposed to him, that, in order to prevent the ill effects of any intermission in levying these duties, entries should be made, and bonds for the sums be taken from the merchants and brewers ; but the payment be suspended till the parliament should give authority to receive it. This precaution was recommended as an expression of deference to that assembly, or rather to the laws: but for that very reason, probably, it was rejected by the king ; who thought that the commons would thence be invited to assume more authority, and would regard the whole revenue