Accession of James II. - His declaration in council; acceptable to the nation - Arbitrary designs of his reign - Former ministers continued - Money transactions with France - Revenue levied without authority of Parliament - Persecution of Dissenters - Character of Jeffreys - The King's affectation of independence - Advances to the Prince of Orange - The primary object of this reign - Transactions in Scotland - Severe persecutions there - Scottish Parliament - Cruelties of government - English Parliament; its proceedings - Revenue - Votes concerning religion - Bill for preservation of the King's person - Solicitude for the Church of England - Reversal of Stafford's attainder rejected - Parliament adjourned - Character of the Tories - Situation of the Whigs.
Charles II. expired on the 6th of February, 1684-85, and on the same day his successor was proclaimed king in London, with the usual formalities, by the title of James the Second. The great influence which this prince was supposed to have possessed in the government during the latter years of his brother's reign, and the expectation which was entertained in consequence, that his measures, when monarch, would be of the same character and complexion with those which he was known to have highly approved, and of which he was thought by many to have been the principal author, when a subject left little room for that spirit of speculation which generally attends a demise of the crown. And thus an event, which when apprehended a few years before had, according to a strong expression of Sir William Temple, been looked upon as the end of the world, was now deemed to be of small comparative importance.
Its tendency, indeed, was rather to ensure perseverance than to effect any change in the system which had been of late years pursued. As there are, however, some steps indispensably necessary on the accession of a new prince to the throne, to these the public attention was directed, and though the character of James had been long so generally understood as to leave little doubt respecting the political maxims and principles by which his reign would be governed, there was probably much curiosity, as upon such occasions there always is, with regard to the conduct he would pursue in matters of less importance, and to the general language and behaviour which he would adopt in his new situation. His first step was, of course, to assemble the privy council, to whom he spoke as follows:-
"Before I enter upon any other business, I think fit to say something to you. Since it hath pleated Almighty God to place me in this station, and I am now to succeed so good and gracious a king, as well as so very kind a brother, I think it fit to declare to you that I will endeavour to follow his example, and most especially in that of his great clemency and tenderness to his people. I have been reported to be a man for arbitrary power; but that is not the only story that has been made of me; and I shall make it my endeavour to preserve this government, both in Church and State, as it is now by law established. I know the principles of the Church of England are for monarchy, and the members of it have shown themselves good and loyal subjects; therefore I shall always take care to defend and support it. I know, too, that the laws of England are sufficient to make the king as great a monarch as I can wish; and as I shall never depart from the just rights and prerogatives of the crown, so I shall never invade any man's property. I have often heretofore ventured my life in defence of this nation and I shall go as far as any man in preserving it in all its just rights and liberties."
With this declaration the council were so highly satisfied, that they supplicated his majesty to make it public, which was accordingly done; and it is reported to have been received with unbounded applause by the greater part of the nation. Some, perhaps, there were, who did not think the boast of having ventured his life very manly, and who, considering the transactions of the last years of Charles's reign, were not much encouraged by the promise of imitating that monarch in clemency and tenderness to his subjects. To these it might appear, that whatever there was of consolatory in the king's disclaimer of arbitrary power and professed attachment to the laws, was totally done away, as well by the consideration of what his majesty's notions of power and law were, as by his declaration that he would follow the example of a predecessor, whose government had not only been marked with the violation, in particular cases, of all the most sacred laws of the realm, but had latterly, by the disuse of parliaments, in defiance of the statute of the sixteenth year of his reign, stood upon a foundation radically and fundamentally illegal. To others it might occur that even the promise to the Church of England, though express with respect to the condition of it, which was no other than perfect acquiescence in what the king deemed to be the true principles of monarchy, was rather vague with regard to the nature or degree of support to which the royal speaker might conceive himself engaged. The words, although in any interpretation of them they conveyed more than he possibly ever intended to perform, did by no means express the sense which at that time, by his friends, and afterwards by his enemies, was endeavoured to be fixed on them. There was, indeed, a promise to support the establishment of the Church, and consequently the laws upon which that establishment immediately rested; but by no means an engagement to maintain all the collateral provisions which some of its more zealous members might judge necessary for its security.