Monday, July 8, 2013

John Cotton Answers Accusations that Oliver Cromwell is a Dangerous Usurper

The American Puritan John Cotton, known for writing the theonomic legal code An Abstract of the Laws of New England, sent a letter of brotherly encouragement in 1651 to Oliver Cromwell, the commander-in-chief of the New Model Army. In this letterwritten after Cromwell's famous victory over the Scots at DunbarCotton answers accusations that Cromwell was a usurper and destructive of the liberty and safety of the kingdom. 

Cotton notes that when the concessions of the former king Charles I did not allow for peace with the church and the commonwealth, the Commissioners of Scotland and the English Parliament agreed that he should not be restored under such concessions. 

Therefore, the English Parliament's reneging on this was in opposition to a lawful act. And so when the New Model Army purged the Parliament of sympathizers to King Charles I, and put him to trial (which resulted in his beheading), the army showed its faithfulness to its duties by preserving the safety of Christianity and the state. (It must be noted that the New Model Army purged Parliament without Cromwell's knowledgealthough Cromwell approved of the purge, and supported Charles I's execution.) This is because when soldiers must choose between the righteous cause that they fight for, and the private ends or lusts of those who send them, they must choose the former. Cotton argues that a similar case can be found in Scripture regarding Joab, who, while exceeding his commission in executing Absalom, did not exceed his fidelity. 

The purge of sympathizers of King Charles
I, enemy of the realm and Christainity,
from Parliament
Cotton then addresses the Solemn League and Covenant, in the context of, we gather, the purging of Parliament and the trying and executing of Charles I, and/or Cromwell's war with Scotland. Some quick background info, aside from Cotton's comments: Cromwell and the army backed the execution of the king, even though the SLC advocates maintaining the "happiness of the King". In addition, on behalf of England Cromwell launched a preemptive war with Scotland, even though the SLC was a mutual covenant between the two countries. (Although before this, and after the SLC's formation, Scotland itself had invaded England; and Cromwell subsequently went on to subdue Scotland because he believed that Scotland was about to invade England again.)

Keeping this in mind, Cotton notes that if one must violate one article of a covenant in order to fulfill another, then it must be a subordinate article instead of a fundamental article. Therefore, according to Cotton, if Cromwell and his army violated one or more articles of the Solemn League and Covenant, they violated subordinate articles in order to fulfill the fundamental articles. While not stated by Cotton, surely the fundamental articles of the SLC include "the glory of God, the enlargement of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, and the peace and tranquillity of Christian kingdoms and commonwealths". 

Excerpt from a Letter from Mr. John Cotton to Lord General Cromwell:
I am not ignorant that you suffer no small dishonor in the tongues of many, not only as a sectary, but as out of your calling, being set on work (as is pretended) by an usurped power, and yourself (with the army) exercising a power destructive, in some cases, to the privileges of the Parliament, and the liberty and safety of the kingdom. But three or four principles there be, upon which it seemeth to me your proceedings have been grounded and carried on, and wherein my judgment (reasonable it is) hath been fully satisfied.
1. That the concessions of the late King never came up to such a posture as whereon to lay a firm foundation of a safe peace, either to church or commonwealth. 
2. That when the Parliament was full, and assisted with the Commissioners of Scotland (in the treaty at Uxbridge, or Newport, or elsewhere) they agreed together that the King could not be restored to his former state upon such terms. And therefore (unless his concessions afterwards in the Isle of Wight were more safe and satisfactory) if the Parliament of England voted the contrary afterwards, in a nightly consultation, it was not an act of Parliament, but a prevarication of a former just and lawful act. And therefore, when the army discerned, not only their own safeties, but the safety of religion and state, and their cause and victories gained in defence thereof, all of them given away in that prevarication, I know not how they could have approved their faithfulness better to the state and cause, than by purging the Parliament of such corrupt humors, and presenting the king to public trial. 
3. That the army, though they be inferior and subordinate to the state that giveth them commission and pay; yet neither their consciences nor services are mercenary, though they do receive wages for their support in the service; though soldiers may take oaths of fidelity to the state, in undertaking an expedition, yet they, regarding the cause as well as the persons that set them on work, do perform their fidelity, if they attend to the cause for which they fight, rather than to the private ends or lusts of such as send them forth. Joab (the general of David's host) though he went beyond his commission in putting Absalom to death, yet not beyond his fidelity. 
4. That when covenants are plighted, which consist of many articles (some principal and fundamental, others subordinate and accessory) if it so fall out that all the articles cannot be performed without breach of some or other, there may be just cause of repenting the undertaking of such covenants; but yet, if some articles cannot be performed without breach of others, the covenanters must chiefly attend to the performance of the principal articles, though (with grief) they be put to it to violate the subordinate. These things are so clear to my own apprehension, that I am fully satisfied, that you have all this while fought the Lord's battles, and the Lord hath owned you, and honored himself in you, in all your expeditions, which maketh my poor prayers the more serious and faithful and affectionate (as God helpeth) in your behalf.

Read John Cotton's entire letter, as well as Oliver Cromwell's reply


[1] "Copy of a Letter from Mr. John Cotton to Lord General Cromwell.," in Thomas Hutchinson, A Collection of Original Papers Relative to the History of the Colony of Massachusets-bay (Carlisle, MA: Applewood Books, 2010), 233, 234. We have made minor grammatical corrections to the text.


Theon said...

Indeed. I love the Scots, but who can argue that they were completely foolish in their opposition to Cromwell even while they supported Charles II?

Great point that I had not thought much on, however; could really have been the Scots who violated the SLC first?

Good article?

Steve C. Halbrook said...

Thanks - and surely by siding with an enemy of God such as Charles II, and by invading England, they violated the SLC. It's beyond me how one can choose Charles II over Cromwell; it's toleration at its worst.