Were the MPs of the Rump primarily responsible for their expulsion in 1653
The historical debate asks whether the Rump were revolutionaries who became corrupt – thus justifying their expulsion in 1653 – or whether it was a premeditated act by Cromwell and the army that overthrew an otherwise well-running Parliament. Roger Lockyer supports the former argument; he suggests that Cromwell gave the Rump every opportunity to hold new elections, and it was only after recurrent provocations that he retaliated.
Blair Worden, on the other hand, argues that the Rump was expelled because they were going to hold new elections; the army would be threatened by the votes of a conservative population, and Cromwell stepped in to defend them. It could be argued that the Rump was corrupt through self-perpetuation; following his return to London after the Battle of Worcester, Cromwell immediately began to put pressure on the Rump to call new elections. Their response was to appoint a committee to supervise the drafting of plans for new elections, but this action was considered by most as a play for time.
When a date was finally set for Parliament’s dissolution, MPs were suitably distracted from further preparations for the new representative – particularly after the outbreak of the Anglo-Dutch War in May 1652. This war in itself can stand as evidence for their corruption: Cromwell called it ‘disgraceful’ and ‘against God’ as its sole purpose was to make money. It also required new expenditure, and the Rump put out contacts to ‘Rumpers’ and their friends to help with the navy, through which they again made a lot of money.
Lockyer argues that the Rump’s inactivity was what pushed Cromwell’s patience to the point of dissolving them: they introduced a series of Acts apparently in order to promote godly reform – the Act against non-observance of the Sabbath, the Adultery Act and the Blasphemy Act – but none were ever really enforced. The Act for the Propagation of the Gospel in northern England and Wales was introduced in April 1651, but no money was provided for it, and so it too failed to have any effect.
These events suggest MPs were guilty of completely disappointing the aims of what they claimed to be fighting for – and so when Cromwell marched into Parliament in April 1653 to illegally dissolve the Rump, it is unsurprising that there was no great reaction from the country. This apathy, or perhaps even latent approval displayed by the nation confirms the unpopularity of the Rump and suggests they did indeed govern poorly. However, it could be argued that the Rump were successful on the whole.
While the Anglo-Dutch War proved unpopular with many, it did stimulate British trade and industry when Britain needed it, and it was very well managed and fought. The nation was completely bankrupt and facing continuous threats of civil war when the Rump took over, and so their successes were arguably more substantial. Blair Worden accredits this view; he argues that, given the situation, they were remarkably efficient and did bring peace. Moreover, Cromwell himself displayed signs of corruption on various occasions; after dissolving the Rump, he kept the war going for a full year thereafter.
This seems to compromise his integrity – he was endorsing something he’d previously termed ungodly, and was doing so for the sake of money. Accounts from a conversation with Bulstrode Whitelocke in 1652 stress the army’s distaste for the Rump, with Cromwell calling them ‘hopeless’. These events make the proposition of his premeditating the Rump’s dissolution all the more likely. Worden asserts that the Rump had never regarded itself as anything more than an interim government, and believes they were planning new elections with a free vote.
This could justify Cromwell’s dissolving them; he was stopping a radical vote that could have potentially resulted in the army’s disbandment. Ultimately, the decisive moment was when Cromwell illegally dissolved the Rump. The fact that he had to subvert the law stands as evidence for his personal corruption; the Rump upheld a legitimate authority and was, by law, entitled to remain in sitting. Their wrongdoings rarely exceeded inactivity, which was in itself of no great consequence to the nation, and so their expulsion was more likely the result of Cromwell’s ulterior motive and personal aversion to them.