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Anthony Ashley Cooper Shaftesbury, 1st earl of

Shaftesbury, Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st earl of, 1621–83, 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. Made a privy councilor and Baron Ashley (1661), 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 (see Oates, Titus) 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 (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 (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 (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. He was bitterly satirized in John Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel.

See biography by K. H. D. Haley (1968); J. R. Jones, The First Whigs: The Politics of the Exclusion Crisis, 1678–83 (1961).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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