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imagination and feeling and is more vividly realized than the conflicts between ideas. We read how the English barons at Runnymede compelled King John to grant them the privileges which are set down in the Great Charter. Or we think of the Peasant Revolt when the peasants of England, who were then mainly serfs, suddenly marched to London and demanded emancipation. Or of the war in England between King Charles I and the Parliament, as the result of which the king was beheaded. Or of the American Revolution or French Revolution. Some of these did accomplish something; some of them, like the Peasant Revolt, failed. Another Peasant Revolt, which took place in Germany in 1525, seemed for a time likely to succeed, but it ended in the triumph of the lords, who put to death 100,000 or more of the peasants, and left them worse off than ever, so that they remained serfs for more than two hundred years after it.
Why has a fight for freedom so often failed? The case of the Peasants' Revolt in England in 1381 is instructive. A great body of peasants, who at that time were villeins, marched to London and demanded of the king, “ We will that you free us forever, us and our lands, and that we be nevermore named or held for serfs.” They were promised this by the king and even given charters of freedom, but (1) they had no friend in the actual government and they were not themselves ready to upset the whole state and rule themselves. They had, therefore, no security except the king's word. As soon as they had scattered and the king was no longer afraid of them, he refused to keep his promise, and when shown his own charters, answered scornfully: “ Villeins you were and villeins you are. In bondage you shall abide, and that not your old bondage but a
Why revolts fail
worse.” Parliament likewise, made up as it was of landlords or townsmen, had no sympathy for the peasants, and when the question of freeing the villeins was submitted to them, they said that they would never consent were they all to die in one day.” Promises of a ruling class cannot be relied upon to secure freedom. (2) The peasants committed
committed acts of violence, burned buildings, pillaged houses, and thus made the townsfolk turn against them.
If now we ask, “Why did not the peasants keep control of the government when they had frightened the king into yielding?" and, “Why did they not keep order in their own uprising so as to keep the sympathy of neutrals ? " the answer is that they were not well enough educated to think out all these things. When the king and his band of warriors originally established the beginnings of a state, they killed off their enemies, but kept a strict discipline. When they had thus kept order for a long period there would be many people who would prefer order even if a great body of villeins were unfairly treated, and so would side with the king and the law. The Peasants' War in Germany in 1525 failed for about the same reasons.
Consider now the revolutions which succeeded, such as that against King Charles. (1) The rebels in this case were as well educated as the king's party. (2) They had control of Parliament, and so had a regular way of carrying on government and keeping order. This kept the favor of the business people in the towns. (3) Besides, they were fortunate enough to have a general of great ability, Oliver Cromwell, who so organized his troops that they were more than a match for professionals.
The American Revolution was carried on by men who had practice in governing and were intelligent and able to keep order. The French Revolution was also begun by those who had a place in the French Parliament. And, although the people of Paris rose as mob when things did not move fast enough to suit them; although this mob stormed the Bastille—the prison-and compelled the execution of the king and queen, it was, after all, because there were men in the government able to carry out plans for reform that any permanent gain was made.
The fighting which has most helped the cause of liberty has been the fighting between leaders, not the fighting of common people against rulers. In England, France, and Germany the king and the lords struggled against each other and each side kept the other from being strong enough to do as it pleased. The party that felt weaker would appeal to the towns or common people for help. Out of the struggles between these parties and the need of getting the common people on one side or the other, great gains for liberty have since been made. History shows that fighting has won little directly for freedom unless the fighters have first been sufficiently well-educated to organize and submit to discipline, and second, have had training in government.
To gain rights by buying them may strange way, but as regards civil rights-protection from oppression by some ruling class or by the government-men have gained more by bargaining than by fighting. These bargains have nearly always been made by some group or class for itself. Then later on the class might be enlarged so that more would share in it. Many illustrations of this are found in English history,
but three of the most striking are (1) the rights of “freemen ” secured in Magna Carta, (2) the rights of towns secured by special charters, (3) the rights of petition and at last to have a share in making laws, which were secured by bargains with the king in exchange for grants of money.
Magna Carta is frequently spoken of as if it granted liberty. It really granted “ liberties,” that is, special privileges to certain groups. We have already quoted one of its provisions as to freemen. At first this did not help most Englishmen at all. It granted erty" to those who already were “ free," that is, to a small part of the people. Yet when in later times the serfs gained their freedom they could then enjoy the benefits of the law for freemen.
The towns gained privileges or "liberties” from the king by giving him money. These privileges included the right to trade, and indeed the monopoly, with certain exceptions, of trading within the bounds of the town. They included also the right to be free from certain taxes and duties which others had to pay. To have the “ freedom” of the town thus meant a great deal. But this “liberty" did not belong to every one living in the town. It belonged only to those who were members of “the corporation” or of the gild. And later on, when craft gilds arose, they also had certain privileges for their members. Yet this right, which was at first for the few, became extended to many as the towns multiplied and other groups in them came to have a share in citizenship.
But the most striking case of liberty gained by bargaining is seen in the origin of political liberty, that is right to share in governing. So far as governing means lawmaking, no one in early times really thought
of making laws. The customs of the old tribes and villages were not thought of as made by any one. They had simply been the customs as far back as any one knew. When the people came together in the court of the hundred or the shire they declared what the customs were, but did not think of making new ones. The first laws of the king, for example, the laws of King Ine before the Norman Conquest, were a sort of
summary of the customs. How
The Norman kings were in theory the absolute Parliament rulers. They had a council of their chief men, includgained
ing bishops and abbots, as well as earls and barons. power
The chief business of this council was to act as a sort of court to decide cases, although when the king issued an edict he did it “ with the advice” of his great men. However, this advising of the great men with the king would probably never have led to liberty. It was because the king needed more and more money, especially for wars, that he was led to enlarge his council and to grant it more powers. For though the king had much land, and besides could take fines and “aids” of his tenants which would enable him to get on fairly well in time of
peace, he wanted more than this for war. And besides, some of the towns were now so prosperous that it seemed a pity not to squeeze more money from them. The church, too, had much land. So King Edward called together not only his tenants and the clergy, but representatives from the towns and shires to ask them for grants of money. As has been stated, no one was anxious to go. It was like receiving an invitation to attend a meeting at which a church debt is to be raised, or like a summons from a sheriff today to attend court in order to pay a fine.
But when the king sent a summons, men did not