Front Page Titles (by Subject) William Cavendish, Reasons for His Majesties Passing the Bill of Exclusion - The Struggle for Sovereignty: Seventeenth-Century English Political Tracts, vol. 2
Return to Title Page for The Struggle for Sovereignty: Seventeenth-Century English Political Tracts, vol. 2
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
William Cavendish, Reasons for His Majesties Passing the Bill of Exclusion - Joyce Lee Malcom, The Struggle for Sovereignty: Seventeenth-Century English Political Tracts, vol. 2 
The Struggle for Sovereignty: Seventeenth-Century English Political Tracts, 2 vols, ed. Joyce Lee Malcolm (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999). Vol. 2.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
William Cavendish, Reasons for His Majesties Passing the Bill of Exclusion
[William Cavendish, Duke of Devonshire, 1640-1707]
His Majesties Passing
To a FRIEND.
Printed for J. W. and sold by Langly Curtis, 1681.
William Cavendish, dashing nobleman, ardent Whig, and leading member of Parliament, is considered the author of this exclusionist tract.
In the limelight from the start of the Restoration, Cavendish was one of four young noblemen chosen to bear Charles II’s train at his coronation in April 1661. He was elected to Parliament for Derby that same year and was a leading member of Parliament for the next twenty years. His service was characterized by his anxiety to protect both the Protestant faith and the role and dignity of Parliament. These aims eventually brought him into league with the Whig opposition. When Parliament met in 1676 after a prorogation of fifteen months, it was Cavendish who moved that the overlong recess meant Parliament was, in fact, dissolved. He was later an urgent inquirer into the details of the supposed popish plot of 1678.
Cavendish’s concern for the Protestant faith made him fear the accession of Charles’s brother, the Catholic Duke of York, to the throne. In 1679 he was among the battery of Whigs Charles brought into the Privy Council in hopes of forming a coalition. With the others Cavendish supported suggestions to protect their religion without disturbing the succession. Unfortunately this government coalition broke down the following year, and he resigned from the Council. By 1681, when the short pamphlet reprinted below was written, he had come to the conclusion that there could be no compromise: James must be excluded. The tract assesses the position of the king within the government and the role of religion within a state, then calls upon Charlesto deny his brother the throne for the public good. Cavendish had been influenced by the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes but, as this tract demonstrates, rejected it arguing that the king should bow to the will of the people. This work makes a compelling, and reasoned, plea. Only a single edition was published.
With the collapse of the exclusion campaign Cavendish prudently avoided discussions and subsequent plots against the Duke of York. Nevertheless he remained loyal to his more impulsive friends. He appeared as a witness for William Lord Russell at the latter’s trial, even, apparently, offering to change clothes with him in prison so Russell might escape.
On James’s accession Cavendish kept his distance from the rebellion of Charles’s Protestant son, the illegitimate James Duke of Monmouth. After Monmouth’s defeat, however, Cavendish retired from Court and devoted himself primarily to the building of Chatsworth. At home he abandoned at last the caution that had kept him safe and joined in attempts to bring William of Orange to England. When William finally landed Cavendish worked hard for his triumph. The duke sat in the Convention Parliament where he argued for the deposition of James and the elevation of a new king rather than a regent. He was later sworn to William’s Privy Council. At the coronation of William and Mary he was given the signal honor of bearing the crown. A faithful friend, he also worked to reverse the attainders of Lord Russell, Algernon Sidney, and other Whigs.
Reasons for His Majesties Passing the Bill of Exclusion.
I Am not ignorant that you have lately heard Reports to my disadvantage, concerning some matters relating to the Publick: and though I flatter myself (much more I confess from your Partiality to me, than any Merit I can pretend to) that you do not think the worse of me for them; yet because one cannot be too sure of what one values so highly, as I do your Esteem, I take the liberty to give you some account of my Thoughts of the present posture of Affairs, that if I am not so happy as to continue still in the good opinion you have formerly had of my firmness to the Publick Interest, I may learn at least in what particular you conceive I have varied from it. Which last, though perhaps less welcome than the first, will yet be owned as a very great mark of your Friendship, since I assure myself, you have too much Charity for me to impute my Errours in this kinde to any worse cause than want of Understanding.
I must confess, I have had no great Veneration of late for some Men, who though extreme zealous in appearance for things of Publick Concern, and particularly for the Bill for Excluding the Duke of York from the Succession to the Crown, have yet taken such Methods for the obtaining that Bill, as (with respect to their Popularity) looked to me, as if they had rather wished it should be denied, than granted.
I mean a sort of men that pass with the Vulgar for very publick Spirits, yet are no otherwise for the Publick Good, than as they think it may conduce to their own private Designs. If matters be not disposed for them to leap into a great Place, or to be restored to some Office they have formerly enjoyed, and in which they have discovered Principles far different from what they now profess: if every one they have a prejudice to be not immediately removed, or perhaps if they fancy themselves the most likely to head the Rabble, should things fall into confusion; they will be sure with great appearance of Zeal to press things of less moment, and which they think will be denied, lest anything that really tends to Settlement should be granted. And they are for the most part gainers by this, for their Vehemence, which proceeds from dark and hidden causes, seldom fails of being mistaken by the Vulgar for a true and hearty Love of their Country. I believe His Majesty will finde these men harder, I am sure less necessary to be satisfied, than the Nation. And therefore I hope you will not wonder if I, who care not much for a great Office if the Bill of Exclusion do pass, or to be popular with the Rabble if it do not, cannot heartily concur with all that seems to be aimed at by that sort of people.
I suppose you have heard which way I have declared my Opinion concerning that Bill, when I thought it to any purpose. But give me leave (with as little reflection upon the Causes of the breach of the last Parliament, as the subject will permit) to tell you, what in my poor judgment may most conduce to the passing it in the Parliament which is to meet at Oxford. I cannot imagine how popular Speeches in either House, or angry Votes that are not always backt with the strongest Reason, much less the Pamphlets that fly about in the Intervals of Parliament, can signifie much to the obtaining this Bill; for to what purpose are Arguments to the People to prove the necessity of that, which they are so fully convinced of already?
I should rather think it worthy the Wisdom of the next Parliament, to consider what Arguments are most likely to prevail with the King himself in this matter; and instead of such Addresses as carry the least shew of Menace in them, which cannot but be offensive, since to suppose a King capable of Fear, is the worst Complement can be made him; instead of angry Votes which may alienate the Hearts of the people yet farther from His Majesty, and make him more averse from granting their reasonable Desires, and consequently from consenting to this Bill, to lay before him such Reasons for it, as may convince him that it is his own particular Interest to pass it.
I do not mention the House of Lords, being too well assured of the Loyalty of that Noble Assembly, to doubt of their passing anything for which His Majesty shews the least Inclination. Taking it then for granted that this Bill only sticks with His Majesty, no Arguments are of moment to obtain it, but such as ought to be of weight with Him; and those I conceive to be of this Nature.
One Objection must first be removed: for since Kings, of all Men living, ought to have the greatest regard to Justice, we must not suppose that His Majesty can ever consent to this Bill, till he be satisfied of the Justice of it. I shall therefore endeavour to prove, not only that it is just, but agreeable to the very intention and design of Government.
It seems to me to be an undeniable Position, that Government is intended for the safety and protection of those that are Governed; and that where the Supreme power is lodged in a single Person, he is Invested with that power, not for his own greatness or pleasure, but for the good of the People. The Tyrannies in Aristotle’s time, and those that continue to this day in the Eastern parts, must certainly have degenerated from a better kind of Government by some accident or other; since what people can be supposed to have been so void of sense, and so servilely inclined, as to give up their Lives and Liberties to the unbounded disposal of one man, without imposing the least condition upon him? For admit, according to Mr. Hobbes, that Monarchical Government is formed by an Agreement of a Society of Men, to devolve all their power and interest upon one Man, and to make him Judge of all Differences that shall arise among them; ’tis plain, that this can be for no other end, than the Security and protection of those that enter into such a Contract; otherwise, you must suppose them Mad-men, voluntarily to strip themselves of all means of Defence, against the fury and violence of one of their number, rather than continue in a state of War, where at the worst, they are as free to Rob, as they are subject to be Robbed. ’Tis hard therefore to conceive, that Absolute Monarchy could ever have been constituted by consent of any Society of Men, (besides that we see those that live under them, would be glad to shake off their Yoke if they could) but ’tis probable they may have been raised by the Ambition and Valour of some Prince, or Succession of Princes, or by the people’s supineness in suffering themselves to be enslaved by degrees, and so being at last forced to submit, when ’twas too late to oppose.
I have insisted the longer upon this Argument, because another depends upon it, which comes nearer the present Question; for if no Reason of Government can be assigned, but the Safety and Protection of the People, it follows naturally, that the Succession of Princes in Hereditary Monarchies, cannot be binding, nor ought to be admitted, where it proves manifestly inconsistent with those ends. I need not instance in all the cases that incapacitate a Prince to perform the Office of a Chief Governour; but I can think of no disability so strong or so undeniable, as his being of a different Religion from that which is generally owned by the People.
Religion, considered only in a Politick Sense, is one of the chief Supports of Civil Government; for the fear of corporal Punishments, nay of Death itself, would often prove insufficient to deter men from refusing Obedience to their Superiours, or from breaking their Laws, without those stronger ties of Hope of Reward, and Fear of Punishment in another Life. The Romans, of a fierce and rude people, were made tractable by Numa, and submitted to such Laws and Customs as he thought fit to introduce, not so much by their being convinced of the reasonableness of those Laws, as by the finding a way to perswade them, that all his new Constitutions were the Dictates of a Divinity, with whom he pretended daily to converse. This sense of Religion raised that People afterwards to that incredible exactness of Order and Discipline; and the belief they had the Gods on their side, made them run so intrepidly upon Dangers, that Cicero observes, that though some Nations excelled them in Learning and Arts, others equalled if not exceeded them in Valour and Strength, ’twas to Religion, and their respect to Divine Mysteries, that they owed their Conquest of the World. But this very Religion, that is the Bond of Union between a Prince and his People, when both profess the same, must of necessity produce the contrary Effects, and be the seed of the most fatal Disorders, nay of the Dissolution of Governments, where they differ. The same Conscience that ties the People’s Affections fastest to the Prince in the first case, dissolves all manner of Trust, all bonds of Obedience, in the second.
It is impossible that a Prince should signifie anything towards the support of the People’s Religion, being himself of another; nor would it ever be believed, if he could. And how can that Government subsist, where the People are unanimously possest with a belief that the Prince is incapable of protecting them in that which for the most part the value above all other considerations? I know no instance can be given in this Northern part of the World, even in those Kingdoms that have varied from their Original Constitution and are become Absolute, that a Prince of a different Religion from the People, was ever admitted to the Crown. Queen Mary here in England met with some opposition; yet she could not be said to be of a different Religion from the People: for Popery was so far from being extirpated in her days, that she found a Parliament that joined with her in the restoring of that Religion. But in France, when the King of Navarre, a Protestant,1 was presumptive Heir to the Crown, the States assembled at Blois (as all Historians of that Time agree) had certainly Excluded him, and the rest of that Branch that were Protestants from the Succession, if they had not parted abruptly, upon the Death of the Duke of Guise and his Brother. Nay some affirm, that the King himself, though of the Established Religion, was not out of danger of being Deposed, upon a Suspicion of his favouring too much the Protestant Faction, in opposition to the League. After the King’s Death the Hereditary Right was without Dispute in the King of Navarre; but he found none to assist him in the making good his Title, but the Protestant Party, of whom he was the Head, and some Creatures of his Predecessour, that took his part more out of Hatred to the League, than Affection to him. This Prince was at last indeed admitted to the Crown, upon his Conversion to the Church of Rome. But that would not have sufficed, nor would the Generality of the People, who were extremely zealous for their Religion, ever have trusted one that had been of another, had he not happened to be a Prince of incomparable Courage and Conduct, who through Seas of Blood, and after many Victories, forcing his Entrance into the Capital City, made his way to the Throne by Conquest, rather than by a voluntary Admission of the People. It is observable by the way, that the Bishops and Clergy of France were so far from setting up a Divine Right of Succession above the Religion established, that most of them opposed him even after his Conversion, all of them before; and the Pulpits rung with such bitter Invectives against him, (only upon the account of Religion) as perhaps no Age can parallel. This I should think might serve for Instruction to some Bishops, that I could name, who by maintaining that nothing ought to overrule the Hereditary Right of Succession, must either confess, that their Religion deserves not so much to be defended as the Romish doth, or that they themselves are not so zealous in the defence of it as they ought to be. Let these Assertors of Divine Right tell me, if in France, at this day the most Absolute Monarchy in Europe, and where the Succession is held most Sacred, a Protestant Prince would be admitted to the Crown.
And here in England, besides the consideration of Religion, that of Property is not to be neglected, since what security can be given that Abbey-Lands, in which most Landed men in the Kingdom have a share, would not be restored to the Church under the Reign of a Popish Prince? The Objection that a Prince may be of the Church of Rome, and yet not change the Establisht Religion, is frivolous. For though there may be a possibility of his not attempting it, deterred perhaps by the people’s universal detestation of Popery, or discouraged by the ill success of former Attempts; this amounts to no more, than that he will not bring Popery in, because he cannot. But is this all that a King of England is obliged to do, by the Oath which he takes at his Coronation? An Oath not only a Crime for him to take, (if he be a Papist) but impossible for him to keep. For can a Papist defend that Religion to the utmost of his power, which cannot be fully secured but by the suppression of his own? Can he be a fit Head of the Protestant Interest abroad, who (while he continues of the Church of Rome) must wish there were never a Protestant left in the world? If he be incapable of doing this, that is, if the ends of Government cannot be obtained in the ordinary course of Succession, the State must of necessity fall into Confusion, if there be not an extraordinary power lodged somewhere, to provide for its preservation.
That Power here in England, is in a Parliament, and has often been made use of; but I conceive, for the Reasons above mentioned, never more justly than upon this occasion.
And though the Justice of this Bill be very clear, I think the next thing yet easier to prove, which is, That it is His Majesty’s real Interest to pass it. For if this Government be so constituted, that the King having the Hearts of his People, is one of the most considerable Princes in Europe, but without them signifies but little, either at home or abroad, as I doubt that is the case; and if nothing can contribute more to the alienating the people’s Affections from him, than his denying this Bill, one would think there needed no other Motives to induce His Majesty to pass it. But besides, I should not think this unworthy of His Majesty’s Consideration, if there are some persons to whom he may have a just prejudice; and who if they cannot bring to pass what-ever they propose to themselves, will still be endeavouring to make the Breach wider; whether the denial of this Bill may not furnish them with too plausible Arguments with the People, to refuse such necessary demands as His Majesty may make for the Safety of the Kingdom, or the support of his Alliances; and whether on the contrary, the passing it may not very much disappoint those Counterfeit Patriots, by taking from them the best pretence they have of stirring up the People to Sedition.
Nay, who knows but the refusal of this Bill may exasperate the Nation to that degree, that a Title may be set up on pretence of a former Marriage,2 by the help of false Witnesses, which though as ridiculous in itself, as injurious to His Majesty’s Reputation, may yet put the whole Kingdom into a flame?
The Expedient of taking away all Regal Power from a Popish Successor, and leaving him only the Name of a King, can be no satisfactory security to the Nation, unless such a Form of Government were setled during the Life of his Predecessor. For otherwise the Successor, (having a right to the Crown, which without an Act to exclude him he will have) may not only pretend that the Predecessor cannot give away his Prerogative, but probably may succeed in opposing it, by the difficulty that is always found in the introducing of New Constitutions. Now whether this Expedient (being put in practice during the Life of the present King) be not as good for the people, as the Bill, I shall not now dispute; but as to the King himself, I think ’tis clear, that nothing can be less for his Honour or Interest, than to admit of such an Expedient.
The Objection that this Bill may Disunite Scotland from England, seems not very weighty. For first, we know not but a Free Parliament there, may pass a Bill to the same effect; but if they do not, the Disunion cannot happen, unless the Duke outlive the King; and in that case, will continue but during his Survivance, for the next Successor will unite the Kingdoms again. This inconvenience therefore, if it be at all, will be of so short continuance, as cannot be of weight to ballance with those present and visible Mischiefs that may fall upon the Nation for want of this Bill.
Some have fancied, and I hope ’tis but a fancy, that the King has made a Solemn promise to his Brother, never to pass it. I will suppose the worst. If His Majesty have made such a promise, I conceive, with submission, it is void in itself. For if he have taken an Oath at his Coronation to maintain the Establisht Religion, and in order to that, it be necessary to pass this Bill, I doubt no subsequent promise can absolve him from the performance of that Oath. In the next place, all promises are understood to be for the advantage of him that makes them, or of him they are made to, or both. But the performing this would not only be ruinous to His Majesty, but of no advantage to his Royal Highness: for how great soever his Merit and Vertues are acknowledged to be, he lies under a circumstance that makes it impossible for him to come to the Crown (though this Bill never pass) but by Conquest; and that way he may have it, notwithstanding all the Acts that can be made to oppose him.
I shall add no more to the trouble I have given you upon this Subject, but that I am for this Bill, because I think it just and necessary, not because it is contended for by a Party: for I hold myself as free to differ with that Party, when I think them in the wrong, as to agree with them when they have reason of their side. This may be an Errour, at least may be subject to mis-construction, in a time that most things are so; but I hope you that have known me long, will judge more charitably of