Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury
   

   

Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury (1621 - 1683), was the most versatile and brilliant of the Lords Proprietors. Like Albemarle, he had served the Parliamentary forces but he also cooperated with George Monck in restoring Charles II as the only means of national peace.

Shaftesbury was a pronounced liberal and very much opposed to religious intolerance and persecution. The Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina, the laws for the new providence, were the work of Shaftesbury's friend and secretary, the philosopher John Locke, but they contain evidences of Shaftesbury's collaboration, too. The laws he helped to write produced the greatest measure of political and religious freedom in British North America (and, indeed, in much of the world). He was the author of the Habeas Corpus Act whereby an accused man cannot be held indefinitely in prison without trail, an English law which was passed along to the United States.

Shaftesbury not only had his holdings in Carolina, but he had been part owner of a sugar plantation on Barbados, and a shareholder in the Hudson Bay Company. As Charles II grew more absolute in his rule, and as Protestantism faced extinction in England if Charles' Catholic brother, James II, should succeed him, Shaftesbury opposed the growing political and religious absolutism he saw approaching, fell out of Charles' favor, was exiled to Holland and died there.


Anthony Ashley Cooper was an English statesman. In the English civil war he supported the Crown until 1644 but then joined the parliamentarians. He was made a member of the Commonwealth council of state and supported Oliver Cromwell until 1654, when he turned against the Protectorate because of his distrust of autocratic rule.

He supported the Rump Parliament against John Lambert and then participated in the Restoration (1660) of Charles II.

Cooper was made a privy councilor and Baron Ashley in 1661and he assisted in the trial of the regicides, but otherwise worked for a lenient settlement. The same year he became chancellor of the exchequer and gained royal favor by his support of religious toleration.

Named one of the proprietors of Carolina, he took considerable interest in plans for the colony, commissioning his friend John Locke to draw up a constitution for it. He joined the opposition to the 1st earl of Clarendon and, when the latter fell (1667), became a member of the Cabal administration.

Created Earl of Shaftesbury, he became Lord Chancellor in 1672.

Shaftesbury had not been party to the secret Treaty of Dover (1670), and he gradually became suspicious of the king’s efforts to improve the position of Roman Catholics. Renouncing his earlier belief in toleration, he supported the Test Act (1673). He was dismissed from office in the same year.

Out of favor at court and embittered by his imprisonment in 1677 for opposing the prorogation of Parliament, he made use of the Popish Plot to promote opposition to the Earl of Danby and to encourage anti-Catholic feeling. Using the Green Ribbon Club as his headquarters, Shaftesbury built up a party organization, and his followers, soon to be designated Whig, dominated the three Parliaments of 1679 to 1681.

On Danby’s fall in 1679, Shaftesbury became president of the privy council and began to press for the exclusion bill to keep the Roman Catholic James, Duke of York (later James II), from the throne. He supported instead the claims of the duke of Monmouth.

Again dismissed in 1679, he continued the fight for exclusion until Charles dissolved the 1681 Parliament. Shaftesbury’s position was now precarious, since his party was discredited and the King in complete control of the government. An indictment for treason failed, but he fled in 1682 to Holland and soon died.

Aided by his wealth and an exceptional mind, Shaftesbury has been called the most skillful politician of his day.


 


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