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Discourses Concerning Government (Excerpts)

 By Algernon Sidney


[Sidney, Algernon. Discourses Concerning Government. Edited by Thomas G. West. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund. 1996. 9/26/2016. Used with permission of the Online Library of Liberty. Chapter 1, Sections 1, 2, 10, 11, 18; Chapter 2, Sections 1, 3, 5, 20; Chapter 3, Sections 9,  11, 33.]

Numbers in brackets within the text refer to page numbers in the Liberty Fund’s text of the Discourses. Text in single brackets are other insertions of the Liberty Fund. Text in double brackets are insertions of this site’s editor.



 SECTION 1: Introduction.

Having lately seen a book entitled Patriarcha,[1] written by Sir Robert Filmer, concerning the universal and undistinguished right of all kings, I thought a time of leisure might be well employed in examining his doctrine, and the questions arising from it; which seem so far to concern all mankind, that, besides the influence upon our future life, they may be said to comprehend all that in this world deserves to be cared for. If he say true, there is but one government in the world that can have anything of justice in it: and those who have hitherto been esteemed the best and wisest of men, for having constituted commonwealths [6] or kingdoms; and taken much pains so to proportion the powers of several magistracies, that they might all concur in procuring the publick good; or so to divide the powers between the magistrates and people, that a well-regulated harmony might be preserved in the whole, were the most unjust and foolish of all men. They were not builders, but overthrowers of governments: Their business was to set up aristocratical, democratical or mixed governments, in opposition to that monarchy which by the immutable laws of God and nature is imposed upon mankind; or presumptuously to put shackles upon the monarch, who by the same laws is to be absolute and uncontrolled: They were rebellious and disobedient sons, who rose up against their father; and not only refused to hearken to his voice, but made him bend to their will. In their opinion, such only deserved to be called good men, who endeavoured to be good to mankind; or to that country to which they were more particularly related: and in as much as that good consists in a felicity of estate, and perfection of person, they highly valued such as had endeavoured to make men better, wiser and happier. This they understood to be the end for which men enter’d into societies: And, tho Cicero says, that commonwealths were instituted for the obtaining of justice, he contradicts them not, but comprehends all in that word; because ’tis just that whosoever receives a power, should employ it wholly for the accomplishment of the ends for which it was given. This work could be performed only by such as excelled in virtue; but lest they should deflect from it, no government was thought to be well constituted, unless the laws prevailed above the commands of men;[2] and they were accounted as the worst of beasts, who did not prefer such a condition before a subjection to the fluctuating and irregular will of a man.

If we believe Sir Robert, all this is mistaken. Nothing of this kind was ever left to the choice of men. They are not to enquire what conduces to their own good: God and nature have put us into a way from which we are not to swerve: We are not to live to him, nor to ourselves, but to the master that he hath set over us. One government is established over all, and no limits can be set to the power of the person that manages it. This is the prerogative, or, as another author of the same stamp calls it, the Royal Charter granted to kings by God. They all have an equal right to it; women and children are patriarchs; and the next in blood, without any regard to age, sex, or other qualities of the mind or body, are fathers [7] of as many nations as fall under their power. We are not to examine, whether he or she be young or old, virtuous or vicious, sober minded or stark mad; the right and power is the same in all. Whether virtue be exalted or suppressed; whether he that bears the sword be a praise to those that do well, and a terror to those that do evil; or a praise to those that do evil, and a terror to such as do well, it concerns us not; for the king must not lose his right, nor have his power diminished on any account. I have been sometimes apt to wonder, how things of this nature could enter into the head of any man: Or, if no wickedness or folly be so great, but some may fall into it, I could not well conceive why they should publish it to the world. But these thoughts ceased, when I considered that a people from all ages in love with liberty, and desirous to maintain their own privileges, could never be brought to resign them, unless they were made to believe that in conscience they ought to do it; which could not be, unless they were also persuaded to believe, that there was a law set to all mankind which none might transgress, and which put the examination of all those matters out of their power. This is our author’s work. By this it will appear whose throne he seeks to advance, and whose servant he is, whilst he pretends to serve the king. And that it may be evident he hath made use of means suitable to the ends proposed for the service of his great master, I hope to shew that he hath not used one argument that is not false, nor cited one author whom he hath not perverted and abused. Whilst my work is so to lay open these snares that the most simple may not be taken in them, I shall not examine how Sir Robert came to think himself a man fit to undertake so great a work, as to destroy the principles, which from the beginning seem to have been common to all mankind; but only weighing the positions and arguments that he allegeth, will, if there be either truth or strength in them, confess the discovery comes from him that gave us least reason to expect it, and that in spite of the ancients, there is not in the world a piece of wood out of which a Mercury may not be made.[3]


SECTION 2: The common Notions of Liberty are not from School Divines, but from Nature.

In the first lines of his book he seems to denounce war against mankind, endeavouring to overthrow the principle of liberty in which God created us, and which includes the chief advantages of the life we enjoy, as well as the greatest helps towards the felicity, that is the end of our hopes in the other. To this end he absurdly imputes to the School[4] divines[5] that which was taken up by them as a common notion, written in the heart of every man, denied by none, but such as were degenerated into beasts, from whence they might prove such points as of themselves were less evident.[6] Thus did Euclid lay down certain axioms, which none could deny that did not renounce common sense, from whence he drew the proofs of such propositions as were less obvious to the understanding; and they may with as much reason be accused of paganism, who say that the whole is greater than a part, that two halfs make the whole, or that a straight line is the shortest way from point to point, as to say, that they who in politicks lay such foundations, as have been taken up by Schoolmen and others as undeniable truths, do therefore follow them, or have any regard to their authority. Tho the Schoolmen were corrupt, they were neither stupid nor unlearned: They could not but see that which all men saw, nor lay more approved foundations, than, that man is naturally free; that he cannot justly be deprived of that liberty without cause, and that he doth not resign it, or any part of it, unless it be in consideration of a greater good, which he proposes to himself. But if he doth unjustly impute the invention of this to School divines, he in some measure repairs his fault in saying, This hath been fostered by all succeeding papists for good divinity: The divines of the reformed churches have entertained it, and the common people everywhere tenderly embrace it. That is to say, all Christian divines, whether reformed or unreformed, do approve it, and the people everywhere magnify it, as the height of human felicity. But Filmer and such as are like to him, being neither reformed nor unreformed Christians, nor of the people, can have no title to Christianity; and, in as much as they set themselves against that which is the height of human felicity, they declare themselves enemies to all that are concern’d in it, that is, to all mankind.

But, says he, They do not remember that the desire of liberty was the first [9] cause of the fall of man: and I desire it may not be forgotten, that the liberty asserted is not a licentiousness of doing what is pleasing to everyone against the command of God; but an exemption from all human laws, to which they have not given their assent. If he would make us believe there was anything of this in Adam’s sin, he ought to have proved, that the law which he transgressed was imposed upon him by man, and consequently that there was a man to impose it; for it will easily appear that neither the reformed or unreformed divines, nor the people following them, do place the felicity of man in an exemption from the laws of God, but in a most perfect conformity to them. Our Saviour taught us not to fear such as could kill the body, but him that could kill and cast into hell: And the Apostle tells us that we should obey God rather than man.[7] It hath been ever hereupon observed, that they who most precisely adhere to the laws of God, are least solicitous concerning the commands of men, unless they are well grounded; and those who most delight in the glorious liberty of the sons of God,[8] do not only subject themselves to him, but are most regular observers of the just ordinances of man, made by the consent of such as are concerned according to the will of God.

. . .


SECTION 10: Such as enter into Society, must in some degree diminish their Liberty.

Reason leads . . . to this: No one man or family is able to provide that which is requisite for their convenience or security, whilst everyone has an equal right to everything, and none acknowledges a superior to determine the controversies, that upon such occasions must continually arise, and will probably be so many and great, that mankind cannot bear them. Therefore tho I do not believe that Bellarmine said, a commonwealth could not exercise its power;[9] for he could not be ignorant, that Rome and Athens did exercise theirs, and that all the regular kingdoms in the world are commonwealths; yet there is nothing of absurdity in saying, that man cannot continue in the perpetual and entire fruition of the liberty that God hath given him. The liberty of one is thwarted by that of another; and whilst they are all equal, none will yield to any, otherwise than by a general consent. This is the ground of all [31] just governments; for violence or fraud can create no right; and the same consent gives the form to them all, how much soever they differ from each other. Some small numbers of men, living within the precincts of one city, have, as it were, cast into a common stock, the right which they had of governing themselves and children, and by common consent joining in one body, exercised such power over every single person as seemed beneficial to the whole; and this men call perfect democracy. Others chose rather to be governed by a select number of such as most excelled in wisdom and virtue; and this, according to the signification of the word, was called aristocracy: Or when one man excelled all others, the government was put into his hands under the name of monarchy. But the wisest, best, and far the greatest part of mankind, rejecting these simple species, did form governments mixed or composed of the three, as shall be proved hereafter, which commonly received their respective denomination from the part that prevailed, and did deserve praise or blame, as they were well or ill proportioned.

It were a folly hereupon to say, that the liberty for which we contend, is of no use to us, since we cannot endure the solitude, barbarity, weakness, want, misery and dangers that accompany it whilst we live alone, nor can enter into a society without resigning it; for the choice of that society, and the liberty of framing it according to our own wills, for our own good, is all we seek. This remains to us whilst we form governments, that we ourselves are judges how far ’tis good for us to recede from our natural liberty; which is of so great importance, that from thence only we can know whether we are freemen or slaves; and the difference between the best government and the worst, doth wholly depend upon a right or wrong exercise of that power. If men are naturally free, such as have wisdom and understanding will always frame good governments: But if they are born under the necessity of perpetual slavery, no wisdom can be of use to them; but all must forever depend on the will of their lords, how cruel, mad, proud or wicked soever they be.


SECTION 11: No Man comes to command many, unless by Consent or by Force.

But because I cannot believe God hath created man in such a state of misery and slavery as I just now mentioned; by discovering the vanity of our author’s whimsical patriarchical kingdom, I am led to a certain conclusion, that every father of a family is free and exempt from the domination of any other, as the seventy two that went from Babel were. ’Tis hard to comprehend how one man can come to be master of many, equal to himself in right, unless it be by consent or by force. If by consent, we are at an end of our controversies: Governments, and the magistrates that execute them, are created by man. They who give a being to them, cannot but have a right of regulating, limiting and directing them as best pleaseth themselves; and all our author’s assertions concerning the absolute power of one man, fall to the ground: If by force, we are to examine how it can be possible or justifiable. This subduing by force we call conquest. . . . [But] no right can come by conquest, unless there were a right of making that conquest, which, by reason of the equality that our author confesses to have been amongst the heads of families, and as I have proved goes into infinity, can never be on the aggressor’s side. No man can justly impose anything upon those who owe him nothing. . . .


SECTION 18: If a right of Dominion were esteemed Hereditary according to the Law of Nature, a multitude of destructive and inextricable Controversies would thereupon arise.

There being no such thing therefore, according to the law of nature, as an hereditary right to the dominion of the world, or any part of it; nor one man that can derive to himself a title from the first fathers of mankind, by which he can rightly pretend to be preferred before others to that command, or a part of it, and none can be derived from Nimrod, or other usurpers, who had none in themselves; we may justly spare our [58] pains of seeking farther into that matter. But as things of the highest importance can never be too fully explained; it may not be amiss to observe, that if mankind could be brought to believe that such a right of dominion were by the law of God and nature hereditary, a great number of the most destructive and inextricable controversies must thereupon arise, which the wisdom and goodness of God can never enjoin, and nature, which is reason, can never intend; but at present I shall only mention two, from whence others must perpetually spring. First if there be such a law, no human constitution can alter it: No length of time can be a defence against it: All governments that are not conformable to it are vicious and void even in their root, and must be so forever: That which is originally unjust may be justly overthrown. We do not know of any (at least in that part of the world in which we are most concerned) that is established, or exercised with an absolute power, as by the authors of those opinions is esteemed inseparable from it: Many, as the empire, and other states, are directly contrary; and on that account can have no justice in them. It being certain therefore that he or they who exercise those governments have no right: that there is a man to whom it doth belong, and no man knowing who he is, there is no one man who has not as good a title to it as any other: There is not therefore one who hath not a right, as well as any, to overthrow that which hath none at all. He that hath no part in the government may destroy it as well as he that has the greatest; for he neither has that which God ordained he should have, nor can shew a title to that which he enjoys from that original prerogative of birth, from whence it can only be derived.

. . .

In the second place, tho all men’s genealogies were extant, and fully verified, and it were allowed that the dominion of the world, or every part of it did belong to the right heir of the first progenitor, or any other to whom the first did rightly assign the parcel, which is under question; yet it were impossible for us to know who should be esteemed the true [59] heir, or according to what rule he should be judged so to be: for God hath not by a precise word determined it, and men cannot agree about it, as appears by the various laws and customs of several nations, disposing severally of hereditary dominions.

. . .


[76] [77]

SECTION I: That ’tis natural for Nations to govern, or to chuse Governors; and that Virtue only gives a natural preference of one man above another, or reason why one should be chosen rather than another.

In this chapter our author fights valiantly against Bellarmine and Suarez, seeming to think himself victorious, if he can shew that either of them hath contradicted the other, or himself;[10] but being no way concerned in them, I shall leave their followers to defend their quarrel. . . . He also attacks Plato and Aristotle, upon whose opinions I set a far greater value, in as much as they seem to have penetrated more deeply into the secrets of human nature;[11] and not only to have judged more rightly of the interests of mankind, but also to have comprehended in their writings the wisdom of the Grecians, with all that they had learnt from the Phoenicians, Egyptians and Hebrews[12]; which may lead us to the discovery of the truth we seek. If this be our work, the question is not, whether it be a paradox, or a received opinion, that people naturally govern, or chuse governors, but whether it be true or not; for many paradoxes are true, and the most gross errors have often been most common. Tho I hope to prove, that what he calls a paradox, is not only true; but a truth planted in the hearts of men, and acknowledged so to be by all that have hearkened to the voice of nature, and disapproved by none, but such as through wickedness, stupidity, or baseness of spirit, seem to have degenerated into the worst of beasts, and to have retained nothing of men, but the outward shape, or the ability of doing those mischiefs which they have learnt from their master the Devil.

We have already seen, that the patriarchical power resembles not the regal in principle or practice: that the beginning and continuance of regal power was contrary to, and inconsistent with the patriarchical: that the first fathers of mankind left all their children independent on each other, and in an equal liberty of providing for themselves: that every man continued in this liberty, till the number so increased, that they became troublesome and dangerous to each other; and finding no other remedy to the disorders growing, or like to grow among them, joined many families into one civil body, that they might the better provide for the conveniency, safety, and defence of themselves and their children. This was a collation of every man’s private right into a publick stock; and no one having any other right than what was common to all, except it were that of fathers over their children, they were all equally free when their fathers were dead; and nothing could induce them to join, and lessen that natural liberty by joining in societies, but the hopes of a publick advantage.


Such as were wise and valiant procured it, by setting up regular governments, and placing the best men in the administration; whilst the weakest and basest fell under the power of the most boisterous and violent of their neighbours. Those of the first sort had their root in wisdom and justice, and are called lawful kingdoms or commonwealths; and the rules by which they are governed, are known by the name of laws. These governments have ever been the nurses of virtue: The nations living under them have flourished in peace and happiness, or made wars with glory and advantage: whereas the other sort springing from violence and wrong, have ever gone under the odious title of tyrannies; and by fomenting vices, like to those from whence they grew, have brought shame and misery upon those who were subject to them. This appears so plainly in Scripture, that the assertors of liberty want no other patron than God himself; and his word so fully justifies what we contend for, that it were not necessary to make use of human authority, if our adversaries did not oblige us to examine such as are cited by them. This, in our present case, would be an easy work, if our author had rightly marked the passages he would make use of, or had been faithful in his interpretation or explication of such as he truly cites; but failing grossly in both, ’tis hard to trace him.

He cites the 16th chapter of the third book of Aristotle’s Politicks, and I do not find there is more than twelve;[13] or tho that wound might be cured, by saying the words are in the twelfth, his fraud in perverting the sense were unpardonable, tho the other mistake be passed over. ’Tis true that Aristotle doth there seem to doubt whether there be any such thing as one man naturally a lord over many citizens, since a city consists of equals: but in the whole scope of that chapter, book, and his other writings, he fully shews his doubt did not arise from an imagination that one man could naturally inherit a right of dominion over many not descended from him; or that they were born under a necessity of being slaves to him (for such fancies can proceed only from distemper’d brains) but that civil societies aiming at the publick good, those who by nature were endowed with such virtues or talents as were most beneficial to them, ought to be preferred. And nothing can be more contrary to the frantick whimsy of our author, who fancies an hereditary prerogative of dominion inherent in a person as father of a people, or heir, or to be reputed heir of the first father, when ’tis certain he is not, but that either [80] he or his predecessor came in by election or usurpation, than to shew that ’tis only wisdom, justice, valour, and other commendable virtues, which are not hereditary, that can give the preference; and that the only reason why it should be given, is, that men so qualified can better than others accomplish the ends for which societies are constituted: For tho, says he, all are equally free, all are not equally endowed with those virtues that render liberty safe, prosperous, and happy. That equality which is just among equals, is just only among equals; but such as are base, ignorant, vicious, slothful, or cowardly, are not equal in natural or acquired virtues, to the generous, wise, valiant, and industrious; nor equally useful to the societies in which they live: they cannot therefore have an equal part in the government of them; they cannot equally provide for the common good; and ’tis not a personal, but a publick benefit that is sought in their constitution and continuance. There may be a hundred thousand men in an army, who are all equally free; but they only are naturally most fit to be commanders or leaders, who most excel in the virtues required for the right performance of those offices; and that, not because ’tis good for them to be raised above their brethren, but because ’tis good for their brethren to be guided by them, as ’tis ever good to be governed by the wisest and the best. If the nature of man be reason, detur digniori [[“let it be given to the one who is worthier”]], in matters of this kind, is the voice of nature; and it were not only a deviation from reason, but a most desperate and mischievous madness, for a company going to the Indies, to give the guidance of their ship to the son of the best pilot in the world, if he want the skill required to that employment, or to one who was maliciously set to destroy them; and he only can have a right grounded upon the dictates of nature, to be advanced to the helm, who best knows how to govern it, and has given the best testimonies of his integrity and intentions to employ his skill for the good of those that are embarked. But as the work of a magistrate, especially if he be the supreme, is the highest, noblest, and most difficult that can be committed to the charge of a man, a more excellent virtue is required in the person who is to be advanced to it, than for any other; and he that is most excellent in that virtue, is reasonably and naturally to be preferred before any other. Aristotle having this in his view, seems to think, that those who believed it not to be natural for one man to be lord of all the citizens, since a city consists of equals, had not observed that inequality of endowments, virtues and abilities in men, which render some more fit than others, for the performance of their duties, and the work intended; but it will not be found, as I suppose, that he did ever dream of a natural superiority, that any man could ever have in a civil [81] society, unless it be such a superiority in virtue, as most conduces to the publick good.[14]

He confirms this in proceeding to examine the different sorts of governments, according to the different dispositions of nations; and is so bold to say, that a popular government is the best for a people, who are naturally generous and warlike: that the government of a few suits best with those, among whom a few men are found to excel others in those virtues that are profitable to societies; and that the government of one is good, when that one does so far surpass all others in those virtues, that he hath more of them than all the rest of the people together: and for the same reason that induced him to believe that equality is just amongst equals, he concludes inequality of power to be most unjust, unless there be inequality of merit; and equality of power to be so also, when there is inequality of virtue, that being the only rule by which every man’s part ought to be regulated.[15]

But if it be neither reasonable nor just that those who are not equal in virtue should be made equal in power, or that such as are equal in virtue should be unequal in power, the most brutal and abominable of all extravagancies is to make one or a few, who in virtue and abilities to perform civil functions are inferior to others, superior to all in power; and the miseries suffered by those nations, who inverting the laws of nature and reason, have placed children, or men of no virtue in the government, when men that excelled in all virtues were not wanting, do so far manifest this truth, that the pains of proving it may be spared.

’Tis not necessary for me to inquire, whether it be possible to find such a man as Aristotle calls naturâ regem, [[“king by nature”]] or whether he intended to recommend Alexander to the world, for the man designed by God and nature to be king over all, because no man was equal to him in the virtues that were beneficial to all. For pursuing my position, that virtue only can give a just and natural preference, I ingenuously confess, that when such a man, or race of men as he describes, shall appear in the world, they carry the true marks of sovereignty upon them: We ought to believe, that God has raised them above all, whom he has made to excel all: It were an impious folly to think of reducing him into the ordinary level of mankind, whom God has placed above it. ’Twere better for us to be guided by him, than to follow our own judgment; nay, I could almost say, ’twere better to serve such a master, than to be free. But this will [82] be nothing to the purpose, till such a man, or succession of men do appear; and if our author would persuade us, that all mankind, or every particular, is obliged to a perpetual subjection to one man or family, upon any other condition, he must do it by the credit of those who favour his design more than Aristotle.

I know not who that will be, but am confident he will find no help from Plato: for if his principles be examined, by which a grave author’s sense is best comprehended, it will appear, that all his books of laws, and of a commonwealth,[16] are chiefly grounded upon this, that magistrates are chosen by societies, seeking their own good; and that the best men ought to be chosen for the attaining of it: whereas his whole design of seeking which is the best form of government, or what laws do most conduce to its perfection and permanency (if one rule were by nature appointed for all, and none could justly transgress it; if God had designed an universal lord over the whole world, or a particular one over every nation, who could be bound by no law), were utterly absurd; and they who write books concerning political matters, and take upon them to instruct nations how to govern themselves, would be found either foolishly to misspend their time, or impiously to incite people to rebel against the ordinance of God. If this can justly be imputed to Plato, he is not the wise man he is supposed to have been; and can less deserve the tide of divine, which our author gives him: but if he remain justly free from such censures, it must be confessed, that whilst he seeks what is good for a people, and to convince them by reason that it is so, he takes it for granted, that they have a liberty of chusing that which appears to be the best to them. He first says, that this good consists in the obtaining of justice; but farther explaining himself, he shews that under the name of justice, he comprehends all that tends to their perfection and felicity; in as much as every people, by joining in a civil society, and creating magistrates, doth seek its own good; and ’tis just, that he or they who are created, should, to the utmost of their power, accomplish the end of their creation, and lead the people to justice, without which there is neither perfection nor happiness: That the proper act of justice is to give to everyone his due; to man that which belongs to man, and to God that which is God’s. But as no man can be just, or desire to be so, unless he know that justice is good; nor know that it is good, unless he know that original justice and goodness, through which all that is just is just, and all that is good is good, ’tis impossible for any man to perform the part of a good magistrate, unless he have the knowledge of God; or to bring [83] a people to justice, unless he bring them to the knowledge of God, who is the root of all justice and goodness.[17] If Plato therefore deserve credit, he only can duly perform the part of a good magistrate, whose moral virtues are ripened and heightened by a superinduction of divine knowledge. The misery of man proceeds from his being separated from God: This separation is wrought by corruption; his restitution therefore to felicity and integrity, can only be brought about by his reunion to the good from which he is fallen. Plato looks upon this as the only worthy object of man’s desire; and in his Laws and Politicks he intends not to teach us how to erect manufactures, and to increase trade or riches; but how magistrates may be helpful to nations in the manner beforementioned, and consequently what men are fit to be magistrates. . . .

The weakness in which we are born, renders us unable to attain this good of ourselves: we want help in all things, especially in the greatest. The fierce barbarity of a loose multitude, bound by no law, and regulated by no discipline, is wholly repugnant to it: Whilst every man fears his neighbour, and has no other defence than his own strength, he must live in that perpetual anxiety which is equally contrary to that happiness, and that sedate temper of mind which is required for the search of it. The first step towards the cure of this pestilent evil, is for many to join in one body, that everyone may be protected by the united force of all; and the various talents that men possess, may by good discipline be rendered useful to the whole; as the meanest piece of wood or stone being placed by a wise architect, conduces to the beauty of the most glorious building. But every man bearing in his own breast affections, passions, and vices that are repugnant to this end, and no man owing any submission to his neighbour; none will subject the correction or restriction of themselves to another, unless he also submit to the same rule. They are rough pieces of timber or stone, which ’tis necessary to cleave, saw, or cut: This is the work of a skillful builder, and he only is capable of erecting a great fabrick, who is so: Magistrates are political architects; and they only can perform the work incumbent on them, who excel in political virtues. Nature, in variously framing the minds of men, according to the variety [84] of uses in which they may be employ’d, in order to the institution and preservation of civil societies, must be our guide, in allotting to every one his proper work. And Plato observing this variety, affirms, that the laws of nature cannot be more absurdly violated, than by giving the government of a people to such, as do not excel others in those arts and virtues that tend to the ultimate ends for which governments are instituted. By this means those who are slaves by nature, or rendered so by their vices, are often set above those that God and nature had fitted for the highest commands; and societies which subsist only by order, fall into corruption, when all order is so preposterously inverted, and the most extreme confusion introduced. This is an evil that Solomon detested: Folly is set in great dignity, and the rich sit in low places: I have seen servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth.[18] They who understand Solomon’s language, will easily see, that the rich, and the princes he means, are such only who are rich in virtue and wisdom, and who ought to be preferred for those qualities: And when he says, a servant that reigneth is one of the three things the earth cannot bear, he can only mean such as deserve to be servants; for when they reign, they do not serve, but are served by others: which perfectly agrees with what we learn from Plato, and plainly shews, that true philosophy is perfectly conformable with what is taught us by those who were divinely inspired. Therefore tho I should allow to our author, that Aristotle, in those words, It seems to some, not to be natural for one man to be lord of all the citizens, since the city consists of equals,[19] did speak the opinion of others rather than his own; and should confess that he and his master Plato, did acknowledge a natural inequality among men, it would be nothing to his purpose: for the inequality, and the rational superiority due to some, or to one, by reason of that inequality, did not proceed from blood or extraction, and had nothing patriarchical in it; but consisted solely in the virtues of the persons, by which they were rendered more able than others to perform their duty, for the good of the society. Therefore if these authors are to be trusted, whatsoever place a man is advanced to in a city, ’tis not for his own sake, but for that of the city; and we are not to ask who was his father, but what are his virtues in relation to it. This induces a necessity of distinguishing between a simple and a relative inequality; for if it were possible for a man to have great virtues, and yet no way beneficial to the society of which he is, or to have some one vice that renders them useless, he could have no pretence to a magistratical power more than any other. They who are equally free, may equally enjoy their freedom; but the [85] powers that can only be executed by such as are endowed with great wisdom, justice and valour, can belong to none, nor be rightly conferred upon any, except such as excel in those virtues. And if no such can be found, all are equally by turns to participate of the honours annexed to magistracy; and law, which is said to be written reason, cannot justly exalt those, whom nature, which is reason, hath depressed, nor depress those whom nature hath exalted. It cannot make kings slaves, nor slaves kings, without introducing that evil, which, if we believe Solomon, and the spirit by which he spoke, the earth cannot bear.[20] This may discover what lawgivers deserve to be reputed wise or just; and what decrees or sanctions ought to be reputed laws. Aristotle proceeding by this rule, rather tells us, who is naturally a king, than where we should find him; and after having given the highest praises to this true natural king and his government, he sticks not to declare that of one man, in virtue equal or inferior to others, to be a mere tyranny, even the worst of all, as it is the corruption of the best (or, as our author calls it, the most divine), and such as can be fit only for those barbarous and stupid nations, which, tho bearing the shape of men, are little different from beasts. Whoever therefore will from Aristotle’s words infer, that nature has designed one man, or succession of men, to be lords of every country, must shew that man to be endowed with all the virtues, that render him fit for so great an office, which he does not bear for his own pleasure, glory or profit, but for the good of those that are under him; and if that be not done, he must look after other patrons than Aristotle for his opinion.

Plato does more explicitly say, that the civil or politick man, the shepherd, father, or king of a people, is the same, designed for the same work, enabled to perform it by the excellency of the same virtues, and made perfect by the infusion of the divine wisdom. This is Plato’s monarch, and I confess, that wheresoever he does appear in the world, he ought to be accounted as sent from God for the good of that people. His government is the best that can be set up among men; and if assurance can be given, that his children, heirs or successors, shall forever be equal to him in the above-mentioned virtues, it were a folly and a sin to bring him under the government of any other, or to an equality with them, since God had made him to excel them all; and ’tis better for them to be ruled by him, than to follow their own judgment. This is that which gives him the preference: He is wise through the knowledge of the truth, and thereby becomes good, happy, pure, beautiful and perfect. The divine light shining forth in him, is a guide to others; and he is a fit leader of a people to the good [86] that he enjoys.[21] If this can be expressed by words in fashion, this is his prerogative; this is the royal charter given to him by God; and to him only, who is so adapted for the performance of his office. He that should pretend to the same privileges, without the same abilities to perform the works for which they are granted, would exceed the folly of a child, that takes upon him a burden which can only be borne by a giant; or the madness of one who presumes to give physick, and understands not the art of a physician, thereby drawing guilt upon himself, and death upon his patient. It were as vain to expect that a child should carry the giant’s burden, and that an ignorant man should give wholsome physick, as that one who lives void of all knowledge of good, should conduct men to it. Whensoever therefore such a man, as is above-described, does not appear, nature and reason instruct us to seek him or them who are most like to him; and to lay such burdens upon them as are proportionable to their strength; which is as much as to say, to prefer every man according to his merit, and assign to every one such works as he seems able to accomplish.

But that Plato and Aristotle may neither be thought unreasonably addicted to monarchy; nor, wholly rejecting it, to have talked in vain of a monarch, that is not to be found; ’tis good to consider that this is not a fiction. Moses, Joshua, Samuel, and others, were such as they define; and were made to be such, by that communion with God which Plato requires: And he in all his writings, intending the institution of such a discipline as should render men happy, wise and good, could take no better way to bring his countrymen to it, than by shewing them that wisdom, virtue, and purity only could make a natural difference among men.

’Tis not my work to justify these opinions of Plato and his scholar Aristotle: They were men, and, tho wise and learned, subject to error. If they erred in these points, it hurts not me, nor the cause I maintain, since I make no other use of their books, than to shew the impudence and prevarication of those, who gather small scraps out of good books, to justify their assertions concerning such kings as are known amongst us; which being examined, are found to be wholly against them; and if they were followed, would destroy their persons and power.

. . .


SECTION 3: Government is not instituted for the good of the Governor, but of the Governed; and Power is not an Advantage, but a Burden.

The follies with which our author endeavours to corrupt and trouble the world, seem to proceed from his fundamental mistakes of the ends for which governments are constituted; and from an opinion, that an excessive power is good for the governor, or the diminution of it a prejudice: whereas common sense teaches, and all good men acknowledge, that governments are not set up for the advantage, profit, pleasure or glory of one or a few men, but for the good of the society. For this reason Plato and Aristotle find no more certain way of distinguishing between a lawful king and a tyrant, than that the first seeks to procure the common good, and the other his own pleasure or profit; and doubt not to declare, that he who according to his institution was the first, destroys his own being, and degenerates into the latter, if he deflect from that rule: He that was the best of men, becomes the worst; and the father or shepherd of the people makes himself their enemy. And we may from hence collect, that in all controversies concerning the power of magistrates, we are not to examine what conduces to their profit or glory, but what is good for the publick.

. . .


SECTION 5: Freemen join together and frame greater or lesser Societies, and give such Forms to them as best please themselves.

. . . [Filmer then] raises a question, Whether the supreme power be so in the people, that there is but one and the same power in all the people of the world; so that no power can be granted, unless all men upon the earth meet, and agree to chuse a governor:[22] I think it deserves to be answered, and might do it by proposing a question to him; Whether in his opinion, the empire of the whole world doth, by the laws of God and nature, belong to one man, and who that man is? Or, how it came so to be divided, as we have ever known it to have been, without such an injury to the universal monarch, as can never be repaired? But intending to proceed more candidly, and not to trouble myself with Bellarmine or Suarez, I say, that they who place the power in a multitude, understand a multitude composed of [98] freemen, who think it for their convenience to join together, and to establish such laws and rules as they oblige themselves to observe: which multitude, whether it be great or small, has the same right, because ten men are as free as ten millions of men; and tho it may be more prudent in some cases to join with the greater than the smaller number, because there is more strength, it is not so always: But however every man must therein be his own judge, since if he mistake, the hurt is only to himself; and the ten may as justly resolve to live together, frame a civil society, and oblige themselves to laws, as the greatest number of men that ever met together in the world.

. . . By this means every number of men, agreeing together and framing a society, became a compleat body, having all power in themselves over themselves, subject to no other human law than their own. All those that compose the society, being equally free to enter into it or not, no man could have any prerogative above others, unless it were granted by the consent of the whole; and nothing obliging them to enter into this society, but the consideration of their own good; that good, or the opinion of it, must have been the rule, motive and end of all that they did ordain. ’Tis lawful therefore for any such bodies to set up one, or a few men to govern them, or to retain the power in themselves; and he or they who are set up, having no other power but what is so conferred upon them by that multitude, whether great or small, are truly by them made what they are; and by the law of their own creation, are to exercise those powers according to the proportion, and to the ends for which they were given.

These rights, in several nations and ages, have been variously executed, in the establishment of monarchies, aristocracies, democracies, or mixed governments, according to the variety of circumstances; and the governments have been good or evil, according to the rectitude or pravity of their institution, and the virtue and wisdom, or the folly and vices of those to whom the power was committed: but the end which was ever proposed, being the good of the publick, they only performed their duty, who procured it according to the laws of the society, which were equally valid as to their own magistrates, whether they were few or many.

. . .

This is as much as is required to establish the natural liberty of mankind in its utmost extent, and cannot be shaken by our author’s surmise, That a gap is thereby opened for every seditious multitude to raise a new commonwealth:[23] For till the commonwealth be established, no multitude can be seditious, because they are not subject to any humane law; and sedition implies an unjust and disorderly opposition of that power which is legally established; which cannot be when there is none, nor by him who is not a member of the society that makes it; and when it is made, such as entered into it, are obliged to the laws of it.

This shewing the root and foundation of civil powers, we may judge of the use and extent of them, according to the letter of the law, or the true intentional meaning of it; both which declare them to be purely human ordinances, proceeding from the will of those who seek their own good; and may certainly infer, that since all multitudes are composed of [105] such as are under some contract, or free from all, no man is obliged to enter into those contracts against his own will, nor obliged by any to which he does not assent: Those multitudes that enter into such contracts, and thereupon form civil societies, act according to their own will: Those that are engaged in none, take their authority from the law of nature; their rights cannot be limited or diminished by any one man, or number of men; and consequently whoever does it, or attempts the doing of it, violates the most sacred laws of God and nature.

. . .


SECTION 20: Man’s natural love to Liberty is temper’d by Reason, which originally is his Nature.

That our author’s book may appear to be a heap of incongruities and contradictions, ’tis not amiss to add to what has already been observed, that having asserted absolute monarchy to be the only natural government, he now says, that the nature of all people is to desire liberty without restraint.[24] But if monarchy be that power which above all restrains liberty, and subjects all to the will of one; this is as much as to say, that all people naturally desire that which is against nature; and by a wonderful excess of extravagance and folly to assert contrary propositions, that on both sides are equally absurd and false. For as we have already proved that no government is imposed upon men by God or nature, ’tis no less evident, that man being a rational creature, nothing can be universally natural to him, that is not rational. But this liberty without restraint being inconsistent with any government, and the good which man naturally [192] desires for himself, children and friends, we find no place in the world where the inhabitants do not enter into some kind of society or government to restrain it: and to say that all men desire liberty without restraint, and yet that all do restrain it, is ridiculous. The truth is, man is hereunto led by reason which is his nature. Everyone sees they cannot well live asunder, nor many together, without some rule to which all must submit. This submission is a restraint of liberty, but could be of no effect as to the good intended, unless it were general; nor general, unless it were natural. When all are born to the same freedom, some will not resign that which is their own, unless others do the like: This general consent of all to resign such a part of their liberty as seems to be for the good of all, is the voice of nature, and the act of men (according to natural reason) seeking their own good: And if all go not in the same way, according to the same form, ’tis an evident testimony that no one is directed by nature; but as a few or many may join together, and frame smaller or greater societies, so those societies may institute such an order or form of government as best pleases themselves; and if the ends of government are obtained, they all equally follow the voice of nature in constituting them.

Again, if man were by nature so tenacious of his liberty without restraint, he must be rationally so. The creation of absolute monarchies, which entirely extinguishes it, must necessarily be most contrary to it, tho the people were willing; for they thereby abjure their own nature. The usurpation of them can be no less than the most abominable and outrageous violation of the laws of nature that can be imagined: The laws of God must be in the like measure broken; and of all governments, democracy, in which every man’s liberty is least restrained, because every man hath an equal part, would certainly prove to be the most just, rational and natural; whereas our author represents it as a perpetual spring of disorder, confusion and vice. This consequence would be unavoidable, if he said true; but it being my fate often to differ from him, I hope to be excused if I do so in this also, and affirm, that nothing but the plain and certain dictates of reason can be generally applicable to all men as the law of their nature; and they who, according to the best of their understanding, provide for the good of themselves and their posterity, do all equally observe it. He that enquires more exactly into the matter may find, that reason enjoins every man not to arrogate to himself more than he allows to others, nor to retain that liberty which will prove hurtful to him; or to expect that others will suffer themselves to be restrain’d, whilst he, to their prejudice, remains in the exercise of that freedom which nature allows. He who would be exempted from this common rule, must shew for what reason he should be raised above his [193] brethren; and if he do it not, he is an enemy to them. This is not popularity, but tyranny; and tyrants are said exuisse hominem,[25] to throw off the nature of men, because they do unjustly and unreasonably assume to themselves that which agrees not with the frailty of human nature, and set up an interest in themselves contrary to that of their equals, which they ought to defend as their own. Such as favour them are like to them; and we know of no tyranny that was not set up by the worst, nor of any that have been destroy’d, unless by the best of men. . . .

. . .[V]icious wretches have in all times endeavour’d to put the power into the hands of one man, who might protect them in their villainies, and advance them to exorbitant riches or undeserved honours; whilst the best men trusting in their innocence, and desiring no other riches or preferments, than what they were by their equals thought to deserve, were contented with a due liberty, under the protection of a just law: and I must transcribe the histories of the world, or at least so much of them as concerns the tyrannies that have been set up or cast down, if I should here insert all the proofs that might be given of it. . . .



. . .


SECTION 9: Our own Laws confirm to us the enjoyment of our native Rights.

If that which our author calls divinity[26] did reach the things in dispute between us, or that the opinions of the fathers which he alleges, related to them, he might have spared the pains of examining our laws: for a municipal sanction were of little force to confirm a perpetual and universal law given by God to mankind, and of no value against it, since man cannot abrogate what God hath instituted, nor one nation free itself from a law that is given to all. But having abused the Scriptures, and the writings of the Fathers[27] (whose opinions are to be valued only so far as they rightly interpret them), he seems desirous to try whether he can as well put a false sense upon our law, and has fully compassed his design. According to his custom he takes pieces of passages from good books, and turns them directly against the plain meaning of the authors, expressed in the whole scope and design of their writings. To show that he intends to spare none, he is not ashamed to cite Bracton,[28] who of all our ancient law-writers is most opposite to his maxims. . . . His words are, Omnes sub eo, & ipse sub nullo, sed tantum sub Deo; All are under him, and he under none but God only. If he offend, since no writ can go out against him, their remedy is by petitioning him to amend his faults; which if he will not do, it is punishment enough for him to expect God as an avenger. Let none presume to look into his deeds, much less to oppose him. Here is a mixture of sense and nonsense, truth and falsehood, the words of Bracton with our author’s foolish inferences from them.[29] . . . I will not determine whether [Bracton] spoke properly or no as to England; but if he did not, all that he said being upon a false supposition, is nothing to our purpose. The same Bracton says, the king doth no wrong, in as much as he doth nothing but by law. The power of the king is the power of the law, a power of right not of wrong.[30] Again, If the king does injustice, he is not king.[31] In another place he has these words; The king therefore ought to exercise the [368] power of the law, as becomes the vicar and minister of God upon earth, because that power is the power of God alone; but the power of doing wrong is the power of the Devil, and not of God. And the king is his minister whose work he does: Whilst he does justice, he is the vicar of the Eternal King; but if he deflect from it to act unjustly, he is the minister of the Devil.[32] He also says that the king is singulis major, universis minor;[33] and that he who is in justitia exequenda omnibus major, in justitia recipienda cuilibet ex plebe fit aequalis.[34] I shall not say Bracton is in the right when he speaks in this manner; but ’tis a strange impudence in Filmer to cite him as a patron of the absolute power of kings, who does so extremely depress them. But the grossest of his follies is yet more pardonable than his detestable fraud in falsifying Bracton’s words, and leaving out such as are not for his purpose, which shew his meaning to be directly contrary to the sense put upon them. That this may appear, I shall set down the words as they are found in Bracton: Ipse autem rex non debet esse sub homine, sed sub Deo, & sub lege, quia lex facit regem. Attribuat ergo rex legi quod lex attribuit ei, id est dominationem & potestatem: Non est enim rex ubi dominatur voluntas & non lex; & quod sub lege esse debeat, cum sit Dei vicarius, evidenter apparet.[35] If Bracton therefore be a competent judge, the king is under the law; and he is not a king, nor God’s vicegerent unless he be so; and we all know how to proceed with those who being under the law, offend against it. For the law is not made in vain. In this case something more is to be done than petitioning; and ’tis ridiculous to say, that if he will not amend, ’tis punishment enough for him to expect God an avenger; for the same may be said of all malefactors. God can sufficiently punish thieves and murderers: but the future judgment, of which perhaps they have no belief, is not sufficient to restrain them from committing more crimes, nor to deter others from following their example. . . .

. . .


SECTION 11: That which is not just, is not Law; and that which is not Law, ought not to be obeyed.

Our author having for a long time pretended conscience, now pulls off his mask, and plainly tells us, that ’tis not on account of conscience, but for fear of punishment, or hopes of reward, that laws are to be obeyed. That familiar distinction of the Schoolmen, says he, whereby they subject kings to the directive, but not to the coactive [[or compulsory]] power of the law, is a confession, that kings are not bound by the positive laws of any nation, since the [381] compulsory power of laws is that which properly makes laws to be laws.[36] Not troubling myself with this distinction of the Schoolmen, nor acknowledging any truth to be in it, or that they are competent judges of such matters, I say, that if it be true, our author’s conclusion is altogether false; for the directive power of the law, which is certain, and grounded upon the inherent good and rectitude that is in it, is that alone which has a power over the conscience, whereas the coercive is merely contingent; and the most just powers commanding the most just things, have so often fallen under the violence of the most unjust men, commanding the most execrable villainies, that if they were therefore to be obeyed, the consciences of men must be regulated by the success of a battle or conspiracy, than which nothing can be affirmed more impious and absurd. . . . If this were so, the governments of the world might be justly called magna latrocinia;[37] and men laying aside all considerations of reason or justice, ought only to follow those who can inflict the greatest punishments, or give the greatest rewards. But since the reception of such opinions would be the extirpation of all that can be called good, we must look for another rule of our obedience, and shall find that to be the law, which being, as I said before, sanctio recta [[right sanction]], must be founded upon that eternal principle of reason and truth, from whence the rule of justice which is sacred and pure ought to be deduced, and not from the depraved will of man, which fluctuating according to the different interests, humors and passions that at several times reign in several nations, one day abrogates what had been enacted the other. The sanction therefore that deserves the name of a law, which derives not its excellency from antiquity, or from the dignity of the legislators, but from an intrinsick equity and justice,[38] ought to be made in pursuance of that universal reason to which all nations at all times owe an equal veneration and obedience. By this we may know whether he who has the power does justice or not: [382] Whether he be the minister of God to our good, a protector of good, and a terror to ill men; or the minister of the Devil to our hurt, by encouraging all manner of evil, and endeavouring by vice and corruption to make the people worse, that they may be miserable, and miserable that they may be worse. I dare not say I shall never fear such a man if he be armed with power: But I am sure I shall never esteem him to be the minister of God, and shall think I do ill if I fear him. If he has therefore a coercive power over me, ’tis through my weakness; for he that will suffer himself to be compell’d, knows not how to die.[39] If therefore he who does not follow the directive power of the law, be not the minister of God, he is not a king, at least not such a king as the Apostle commands us to obey: And if that sanction which is not just be not a law, and can have no obligation upon us, by what power soever it be established, it may well fall out, that the magistrate who will not follow the directive power of the law, may fall under the coercive, and then the fear is turned upon him, with this aggravation, that it is not only actual, but just. . . .

. . .


SECTION 33: The Liberty of a People is the gift of God and Nature.

If any man ask how nations come to have the power of doing these things, I answer, that liberty being only an exemption from the dominion of another, the question ought not to be, how a nation can come to be free, but how a man comes to have a dominion over it; for till the right of dominion be proved and justified, liberty subsists as arising from the nature and being of a man. Tertullian speaking of the emperors says, ab eo imperium a quo spiritus;[40] and we taking man in his first condition may justly say, ab eo libertas a quo spiritus; for no man can owe more than he has received. The creature having nothing, and being nothing but what the creator makes him, must owe all to him, and nothing to anyone from whom he has received nothing. Man therefore must be naturally free, unless he be created by another power than we have yet heard of. The obedience due to parents arises from hence, in that they are the instruments of our generation; and we are instructed by the light of reason, that we ought to make great returns to those from whom under God we have received all. When they die we are their heirs, we enjoy the same rights, and devolve the same to our posterity. God only who confers this right upon us, can deprive us of it: and we can no way understand that he does so, unless he had so declared by express [511] revelation, or had set some distinguishing marks of dominion and subjection upon men; and, as an ingenious person not long since said, caused some to be born with crowns upon their heads, and all others with saddles upon their backs.[41] This liberty therefore must continue, till it be either forfeited or willingly resigned. The forfeiture is hardly comprehensible in a multitude that is not entered into any society; for as they are all equal, and equals can have no right over each other,[42] no man can forfeit anything to one who can justly demand nothing, unless it may be by a personal injury, which is nothing to this case; because where there is no society, one man is not bound by the actions of another. All cannot join in the same act, because they are joined in none; or if they should, no man could recover, much less transmit the forfeiture; and not being transmitted, it perishes as if it had never been, and no man can claim anything from it.

’Twill be no less difficult to bring resignation to be subservient to our author’s purpose; for men could not resign their liberty, unless they naturally had it in themselves. Resignation is a publick declaration of their assent to be governed by the person to whom they resign; that is, they do by that act constitute him to be their governor. This necessarily puts us upon the inquiry, why they do resign, how they will be governed, and proves the governor to be their creature; and the right of disposing the government must be in them, or they who receive it can have none. This is so evident to common sense, that it were impertinent to ask who made Carthage, Athens, Rome or Venice to be free cities. Their charters were not from men, but from God and nature. . . . ’Tis agreed by mankind, that subjection and protection are relative; and that he who cannot protect those that are under him, in vain pretends to a dominion over them. The only ends for which governments are constituted, and obedience render’d to them, are the obtaining of justice and protection; and they who cannot provide for both, give the people a right of taking such ways as best please themselves, in order to their own safety.

The matter is yet more clear in relation to those who never were in any society, as at the beginning, or renovation of the world after the Flood; or who upon the dissolution of the societies to which they did once belong, or by some other accident have been obliged to seek new habitations. . . .

’Tis in vain to say, that wheresoever they came, the land did belong to somebody, and that they who came to dwell there must be subject to the laws of those who were lords of the soil, for that is not always true in fact. Some come into desert countries that have no lord, others into such as are thinly peopled, by men who knowing not how to improve their land, do either grant part of it upon easy terms to the new comers, or grow into a union with them in the enjoyment of the whole; and histories furnish us with infinite examples of this nature.

. . .

[1] [The notes to the present edition refer to Robert Filmer, Patriarcha and Other Political Writings, edited by Peter Laslett (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1949), based on one of the two surviving early manuscripts. Filmer’s Patriarcha was first published in 1680, eleven years after its author’s death. It was probably written around 1630. The book was divided into three chapters and 46 numbered sections. Sidney’s Discourses accordingly has three chapters, but 98 sections. . . .]

[2] Potentiora legum quam hominum imperia. Tacit. [“The rule of laws is more powerful than that of men.” Actually in Livy, History of Rome, 14 vols. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, Loeb Classical Library, 1922–1959), bk. 2, ch. 1. Subsequent citations will refer to these standard editions as “Loeb.”]

[3] [According to a proverb, not every block of wood is good enough to make a statue of the god Mercury.]

[4]  [[For Sidney, “School” describes persons or ideas belonging to or originating in medieval scholasticism, the tradition of philosophy and theology that took place in the universities of Europe throughout the Middle Ages and into the early modern period. “Schoolmen” refers to philosophers and theologians (“divines” in Sidney’s language) that participated in this tradition. The early modern philosophical project that later became known as the Enlightenment began with René Descartes as an explicit rejection of scholasticism, or at least scholasticism as it existed in universities around the year 1600. Thomas Aquinas and the thinkers described in the section of this site on the Late Medieval Transformations of natural law are examples of scholastic thinkers.]]

[5] [[theologians]]

[6] [Sidney’s quotations from Filmer in this section are from Patriarcha, ch. 1 (“The Natural Freedom of Mankind, a New, Plausible, and Dangerous Opinion”), pp. 53–54 of Laslett’s edition.]

[7] [Luke 12:4; Acts 5:29.]

[8] [[Romans 8:21.]]

[9] [Patriarcha, ch. 2, p. 56.]

[10] [Chapter II of the 1680 edition of Filmer was entitled, “It is unnatural for the People to Govern, or Choose Governours” and comprised chapters 11–21 of Filmer’s manuscript. Sidney’s Chapter II thus answers that part of Patriarcha. (Filmer’s chapters 8–10, in which Grotius, Selden, and the civil law are treated, were not printed in the 1680 edition, which may have been based on an early manuscript revised later by Filmer. Therefore Sidney does not discuss these chapters.) Suarez and Bellarmine, as well-known Catholic writers, had no prestige in Protestant England. Filmer’s chapter 11 is “Suarez’ Dispute against the Regality of Adam. Families Diversely Defined, Suarez Contradicting Bellarmine” (pp. 74–78).]

[11] [Patriarcha, ch. 12 (“Aristotle Agrees with the Scripture, Deducing Royal Authority from the Fatherhood”), pp. 78–80.]

[12] [[Since the earliest days of Christianity, many Christians believed that many insights that the pagan Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle had into human nature and philosophy in general must have derived from their reading of or from some exposure to the ideas contained in the Jewish (Hebrew) scriptures (the Old Testament). There is little evidence that Plato or Aristotle did in fact study the Jewish scriptures directly.]]

[13] [Patriarcha, ch. 12, p. 79. Filmer and Sidney are both correct. Book 3 of Aristotle’s Politics is sometimes divided into 12, sometimes into 18 chapters. The quotation used by Filmer is at 1287a.]

[14] [Aristotle, Politics, bk. 3, 1282B–1283a.]

[15] [Aristotle, Politics, bk. 3, 1288a.]

[16] Plato de Leg. & de Republ. [Plato, Laws and Republic.]

[17] Plato de Leg. [Several of these points are made in Laws, bk. 4.]

[18] Eccl. 10:7.

[19] [Aristotle, Politics, bk. 3, 1287a.]

[20] [Proverbs 30:21–22.]

[21] Plato in Alcib. 1. 1, 2. [Sidney paraphrases such passages as Alcibiades I, 133e–134e, and Alcibiades II, 145e–l47b and 150a, in Plato, Charmides, Alcibiades I, II (Loeb, 1927).]

[22] [Patriarcha, ch. 13 (“Of Election of Kings by the Major Part of the People, by Proxy, by Silent Acceptation”), p. 81.]

[23] [Patriarcha, ch. 13, p. 81.]

[24] [Patriarcha, ch. 15, p. 84; ch. 18, p. 89.]

[25] [To have laid aside the man.]

[26] [[theology]]

[27] [[The first bishops, priests, and other figures in early Christianity to expound in writing on the content of Christian faith, after the death of the Apostles (whose own writings became the New Testament). Famous Fathers of the Church include Augustine, Ambrose, Jerome, Gregory the Great, John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, Gregory Nazianzen, Gregory of Nyssa, and Origen.]]

[28] [[Henry de Bracton, “leading medieval English jurist and author of De legibus et consuetudinibus Angliae (c. 1235; ‘On the Laws and Customs of England’), one of the oldest systematic treatises on the common law” (Encyclopedia Britannica Online, s. v. “Henry de Bracton,”]]

[29] [In fact, the words quoted are entirely Bracton’s, On the Laws and Customs of England, fol. 5, p. 33. Sidney erred because in the 1680 edition of Patriarcha the Latin words are italicized while the rest of the quotation is not.]

[30] Potestas regis est potestas legis, potestas juris non injuriae. Bract. de Leg. Angl. [Bracton, On the Laws and Customs of England, fol. 107, p. 305.]

[31] Qui si facit injuriam, non est rex. Ibid.

[32] Exercere igitur debet rex potestatem juris sicut Dei vicarius & minister in terra, quia illa potestas solius Dei est, potestas autem injuriae diaboli est non Dei; & cujus horum opera fecerit rex, ejus minister erit: igitur dum facit justitiam, vicarius est regis aeterni: minister autem diaboli dum declinet ad injuriam. Ibid. l. 3. [Fol. 107, p. 305.]

[33] [“Greater than the individual (citizens)” … “less than the whole (people).”]

[34] [“(He who is) greater than all in exacting justice, becomes equal to any of the common people in receiving justice.” Fol. 107, p. 305.]

[35] [“The king himself, however, ought not to be subject to man but to God and to the law, since the law makes him king. Therefore, the king should bestow upon the law what the law bestows upon him, namely rule and power: for where mere will rules and not law, there is no king; and it is readily apparent that he ought to be under the law, since he is the vicar of God.” Fol. 5, p. 33.]

[36] [Patriarcha, ch. 23, pp. 101–102.]

[37] [“Robbery on a grand scale.” Augustine, City of God, bk. 4, ch. 4.]

[38] Tertul. [Tertullian, Apology, ch. 4, sec. 10.]

[39] Qui cogi potest nescit mori. [Seneca, The Madness of Hercules, li. 426.]

[40] [“Dominion comes from the same source as one’s spirit.” Tertullian, Apology, ch. 30. The Latin phrase that follows substitutes “liberty” for “dominion.”]

[41] [Richard “Hannibal” Rumbold, like Sidney a politically active republican, was to say something similar when executed for treason in 1685—as did Thomas Jefferson in a famous letter to Roger Weightman June 24, 1826.]

[42] Par in parem non habet imperium. [Bracton, On the Laws and Customs of England, fol. 5, p. 33.]

Cato’s Letters,
Essays on Liberty, Civil and Religious, and Other Important Subjects

By John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon


[Trenchard, John. Cato’s Letters, or Essays on Liberty, Civil and Religious, and Other Important Subjects. Four volumes in Two, edited and annotated by Ronald Hamowy. Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund. 1995. Volumes 1–4, letters 110, 31, 39, 40, 105, 108, 59, 60, 62, 15, 38. Used with permission of the Online Library of Liberty.]

Note: The letters are here ordered by the logical progression in their topics, not by the order in which they were published chronologically.


Of Liberty and Necessity

(No. 110, Saturday, January 5, 1723; by John Trenchard)


Considerations on the Weakness and Inconsistences of Human Nature

(No. 31, Saturday, May 27, 1721; by Thomas Gordon)

Of the Passions: That They Are All Alike Good or All Alike Evil, According As They Are Applied
(No. 39, Saturday, July 29, 1721; by Thomas Gordon)

Considerations on the Restless and Selfish Spirit of Man

(No. 40, Saturday, August 5, 1721; by Thomas Gordon)

Of the Weakness of the Human Mind; How Easily It Is Misled

(No. 105, Saturday, December 1, 1722; by John Trenchard)


Inquiry into the Source of Moral Virtues

(No. 108, Saturday, December 22, 1722; by John Trenchard)


Liberty Proved to Be the Unalienable Right of All Mankind

(No. 59, Saturday, December 30, 1721; by John Trenchard)


All Government Proved to Be Instituted by Men, and Only to Intend the General Good of Men

(No. 60, Saturday, January 6, 1722; by John Trenchard)


An Enquiry into the Nature and Extent of Liberty; with Its Loveliness and Advantages, and the Vile Effects of Slavery

(No. 62, Saturday, January 20, 1722; by Thomas Gordon)

Of Freedom of Speech: That the Same Is Inseparable from Publick Liberty

(No. 15, Saturday, February 4, 1721; by Thomas Gordon)


The Rights and Capacity of the People to Judge of Government

(No. 38, Saturday, July 22, 1721; by Thomas Gordon)


*          *          *

Of Liberty and Necessity

(No. 110, Saturday, January 5, 1723; by John Trenchard)

I have already said, that I could consider good and evil only as in relation to men’s actions to one another, or to the Supreme Being; in which actions they can have for their end their own interest alone, in present or futurity. But when I consider these ideas in regard to God, I must consider them as objects of his will, which can alone constitute right or wrong, though they may sometimes not quadrate with the notions that we form of justice amongst one another, and which are only prudent rules for our own separate convenience, and take in no part of the creation but ourselves. We cannot enter into the rationale of God’s punishing all mankind for the sin of their first parents, which they could not help; nor for his punishing all Israel with a pestilence for the private sin of David, which, without doubt, many of them condemned; nor for his bringing plagues upon the Egyptians, because he had hardened Pharaoh’s heart; no more than for his destroying all mankind at the Deluge, for crimes which he could have prevented; and multitudes of the like instances in Holy Writ besides, which we cannot account for by our weak reasonings (which have for their object only our own advantage). But we are very sure that these things were done, and rightly done; and all conduced to some superior, wise, and just end. Almighty God judges of the whole of things, and we only of them as they regard ourselves: The whole system of the universe is his care; and all other inferior beings must be subordinate to the interests of this great one, must all contribute, in their several stations and actions, to bring about at last the grand purposes of his providence. . . . All nature is in perpetual rotation, and working through a thousand revolutions to its last period, and the consummation of all things, when its great author will know how to make all individuals recompence for the evils which they have suffered here, and perhaps give us faculties to know, admire, and glorify his conduct, in those instances which may seem most mysterious to our narrow capacities in this frail state.

But this general and comprehensive system of the universe, this honourable conception of the deity, acquiescence in, and submission to his will, will not square with the interests of particular societies of men, who think themselves concerned to find out a system for themselves alone; and therefore, to avoid those consequences (which I can see no purposes of religion served in avoiding) they compliment away his power, prescience and general providence, to do respect to the notions which they have pleased to conceive of his justice, which they have thought fit to measure by their own interests, or what they think best for themselves. They first determine what they desire to have; then call it just, and immediately interest heaven to bring it about; and finding that it contradicts the experience of mankind, and all the notions that they can conceive of the workings of providence, and the nature of things themselves (which always operate from cause to effect) they set themselves to work to form a new scheme at the expence of denying all that they see or can know.

In order to this, they have made man the primum mobile, and his mind the first principle or spring of all his actions, independent of the author of his being, and of all the second causes which evidently influence and concur to determine his resolutions and his actions. They say, that Almighty God (who has infinite justice and power) having given to mankind a rule to act by, and annexed rewards or menaces to the observance or non-observance of this rule, has given a free uncontrolled, and impartial liberty to him to determine, without being coerced or restrained by any other power to do, or not to do an action, or to choose good or evil to himself: His justice, they say, obliges him to this conduct, and his power enables him to execute and bring it to pass; and so by affecting to do right to one attribute of his, which they cannot understand, and which they may possibly mistake, by supposing it to be different from his will (which alone, as has been said, can constitute right or wrong) they take away and rob him of all or most of the rest.

His prescience or knowledge (from all eternity) of every event which does or can happen in the universe, is denied at once; for whatever is contingent in its own nature, and may or may not happen, cannot be foreseen: for when any being sees that a thing will be, it must be; for it is impossible to know that any event will come to pass, that may not come to pass; and it is equally impossible to foresee an effect, without knowing the causes which produce it. It is no irreverence to the Supreme Being, to say, that he cannot do impossibilities, and know things which cannot be known; and it is certain he must know all things that can be known, because they depend upon his will.

It reflects upon his wisdom or power: Upon the first, as supposing that he desires or intends to bring any designs or purposes to pass, and yet that he has not chosen the proper methods to attain them; or upon the latter, that he cannot attain them if he would: It entrenches upon his providence and government of the universe, by giving part of his power out of his own hands, and by leaving it to the discretion of inferior and weak beings, to contradict himself, and disappoint his intentions: And even his justice itself, to which all the rest are so freely sacrificed, is attacked upon such reasons, in charging Almighty God with severity in punishing crimes committed through weakness, want, or predominant appetites, and which he could have prevented by giving others. I do not see what has been, or can be said to these objections more, than that we are not to reason upon the proceedings of providence, which acts upon motives and maxims far above us, and which are not to be scanned by our little rules and scanty capacities; and if these gentlemen could but be persuaded to reason thus at first, they would save themselves the trouble of solving perpetual contradictions.

For what can be more evident, than that the actions of man, which seem most spontaneous and free, depend upon his will to do them; and that that will is directed by his reasoning faculties, which depend again upon the good or ill organizations of his body, upon his complexion, the nature of his education, imbibed prejudices, state of health, predominant passions, manner of life, fortuitous reasonings with others, different kinds of diet, and upon the thousands of events, seeming accidents, and the perpetual objects which encompass him, and which every day vary and offer themselves differently to him; all or most of which causes, and many more which probably determine him, must be confessed to be out of his power? Constant experience shews us, that men differently constituted, or differently educated, will reason differently, and the same men in different circumstances. A man will have different sentiments about the same things, in youth, in middle age, and in dotage, in sickness and in health, in liquor and sobriety, in wealth and in poverty, in power and out of it; and the faculties of the mind are visibly altered by physick, exercise, or diet.

The same reason which is convincing to one man, appears ridiculous to another, and to the same man at different times; and consequently, his or their actions, which are results of those reasonings, will be different: And we not only all confess this, by endeavouring to work upon one another by these mediums, but heaven thinks fit to choose the same; for what else can be meant by offering rewards and denouncing punishments, but as causes to produce the effects designed, that is, to save those whom Almighty God in his deep wisdom has preordained to bliss, and to be influenced by those motives? We all confess, that no man can do his duty without the grace of God, and whoever has the grace of God will do his duty. It is undoubtedly to be obtained by prayer, but we must have grace to pray for it; and I am not insensible that Almighty God does any other way give his grace, but by offering to us, or by laying in our way sufficient inducements to obey his will: I am sure that I can find none else in myself, or discover them in others, whatever the enthusiastick and visionary gentlemen may do. I doubt much, that what they call grace, is what I call enthusiasm, or a strong conceit or persuasion of their own godliness and communication with the deity.

What sort of reasoning then is this, to say, that heaven gives every man sufficient power and motives to choose the best, which yet prove insufficient; that he has made every man free to act or not to act by a rule, and yet has placed him in such a situation as to find a thousand obstacles in his way to that freedom; and that he has given him a judgment capable to determine right, and opportunities rightly to exercise that judgment; yet by making use of that judgment and those opportunities, he often judges directly contrary: And all this is to make good a system, as yet owned but by a very small part of mankind, and for which I can find no foundation in reason and scripture?

I must beg leave to think it very audacious in a small number of men, to determine the workings of providence by their own narrow schemes, at the expence too of the opinions and reasonings of the greatest part of the world in all ages. All or most of the sects of philosophers in Greece and Rome, held fate or necessity, as the several sects among the Jews did, except the Essenes, a very small sect indeed, not exceeding some few thousands. The Mahometans, thro’ the world, hold predestination: The Calvinists, and some other Protestant sects, hold it now; and I do not understand the articles of the Church of England, if it be not the orthodox opinion amongst us; and it certainly was held to be so, till a few doctors in King James’ and Charles I’s time advanced the contrary system, and who, in the addresses of Parliament, were always, in those reigns, ranked with the papists for doing so; and it is yet undoubtedly the opinion of the common people through the world. However, I do not condemn any one who may think that this is derogatory to the attributes of God, for offering in a modest manner, his reasons against any dogma ever so well established (which I think is the right of all mankind); yet I could wish that he would shew the same modesty, in giving other people their liberty of defending the contrary opinion with the same good intentions.

The most pregnant and usual objection against this doctrine is, that if men are predestinated to eternal bliss or misery, their own endeavours are useless, and they can have no motives to prefer good before evil; which I confess, will always be the reasonings of men who are predestinated to the latter (if it be possible to suppose that there can be any such); but those who are determined to the first, will always believe, that God takes proper means to attain his ends, and that he designs to save men by the medium of good works, and of obeying his will; and this conviction will be an adequate cause to produce such obedience in those who are destined to happiness. If the end be predestinated, the means must be predestinated too. If a man [is] to die in war, he must meet an enemy; if he [is] to be drowned, he must come within the reach of water; or if he [is] to be starved, he must not know how to come at any victuals, or have no mind to eat them, or stomach to digest them.

For my own part, I dare not believe, that the all-good, all-wise, and most merciful God, has determined any of his creatures to endless misery, by creating and forming them with such appetites and passions as naturally and necessarily produce it; though I think it to be fully consistent with his power, goodness, and justice, to give inclinations which may lead and entitle us to happiness. And, as I conceive that there is nothing in the holy scriptures which expressly decides this difficulty, as I may possibly shew hereafter; so I shall not presume to search too narrowly into the secret dispensations of providence, or to pronounce any thing dogmatically concerning his manner of governing the universe, more than that he cannot make his creatures miserable without just and adequate reasons. And therefore, since we find in fact, that many of them are so in this state, we must account for this, but mediums agreeable to his indisputed attributes, or own that we cannot account for it at all, though it be unquestionably just in itself. All means will probably conduce in the end to impartial and universal good; and whatever, or how many states soever of probation we may pass through, yet I hope, that the mercies of God, and the merits of Jesus Christ, will at last exceed and preponderate the frailties, mistakes, and temporary trangressions of weak and mortal men; all which I shall endeavour, in time, to shew from scripture and reason: The former of which, in my opinion, is too generally mistaken or perverted, to signify what it does not intend; by straining some passages beyond their literal and genuine signification, by explaining others too literally, and by not making due allowances to the manner of speaking used amongst the eastern nations, which was very often, if not most commonly, in hyperboles, and other figures and allegories. But more of this hereafter; when I dare promise to deserve the pardon of every candid person, whom I cannot convince.

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Considerations on the Weakness and Inconsistences of Human Nature

(No. 31, Saturday, May 27, 1721; by Thomas Gordon)

The study of human nature has, ever since I could study any thing, been a principal pleasure and employment of mine; a study as useful, as the discoveries made by it are for the most part melancholy. It cannot but be irksome to a good-natured man, to find that there is nothing so terrible or mischievous, but human nature is capable of it; and yet he who knows little of human nature, will never know much of the affairs of the world, which every where derive their motion and situation from the humours and passions of men.

It shews the violent bent of human nature to evil, that even the Christian religion has not been able to tame the restless appetites of men, always pushing them into enormities and violences, in direct opposition to the spirit and declarations of the gospel, which commands us to do unto all men what we would have all men do unto us. The general practice of the world is an open contradiction and contempt of this excellent, this divine rule; which alone, were it observed, would restore honesty and happiness to mankind, who, in their present state of corruption, are for ever dealing treacherously or outrageously with one another, out of an ill-judging fondness for themselves.

. . .

The truth is, and it is a melancholy truth, that where human laws do not tie men’s hands from wickedness, religion too seldom does; and the most certain security which we have against violence, is the security of the laws. Hence it is, that the making of laws supposes all men naturally wicked; and the surest mark of virtue is, the observation of laws that are virtuous: If therefore we would look for virtue in a nation, we must look for it in the nature of government; the name and model of their religion being no certain symptom nor cause of their virtue. . . .

Of all the passions which belong to human nature, self-love is the strongest, and the root of all the rest; or, rather, all the different passions are only several names for the several operations of self-love. Self-love, says the Duke of Rochefoucauld, is the love of one’s self, and of every thing else for one’s own sake: It makes a man the idolater of himself, and the tyrant of others. He observes, that man is a mixture of contrarieties; imperious and supple, sincere and false, fearful and bold, merciful and cruel: He can sacrifice every pleasure to the getting of riches, and all his riches to a pleasure: He is fond of his preservation, and yet sometimes eager after his own destruction: He can flatter those whom he hates, destroy those whom he loves.

This is a picture of mankind; and they who say it is a false one, ought to shew that they deserve a better. I have sometimes thought, that it was scarce possible to assert any thing concerning mankind, be it ever so good, or ever so evil, but it will prove true. They are naturally innocent, yet fall naturally into the practice of vice; the greatest instances of virtue and villainy are to be found in one and the same person; and perhaps one and the same motive produces both. The observance or non-observance of a few frivolous customs shall unite them in strict friendship and confederacy, or set them a-cutting one another’s throats.

They never regard one another as men and rational beings, and upon the foot of their common humanity; but are cemented or divided by the force of words and habits. Considerations that are a disgrace to reason! The not being born in the same climate, or on this side such a river, or such a mountain, or the not wearing the like garments, or uttering the like sounds, or having the same thoughts or taste, are all so many causes of intense hatred, sometimes of mortal war. Whatever men think or do, especially if they have found a good name for it, be it ever so foolish or bad, is wisest and best in their own eyes: But this is not all; we will needs be plaguing our neighbours, if they do not quit upon our authority their own thoughts and practices for ours.

It fills me with concern, when I consider how men use one another; and how wretchedly their passions are employed: They scarce ever have proper objects for their passions; they will hate a man for what he cannot help, and what does them no harm; yet bless and pray for villains, that kill and oppress them. . . .

Every thing is so perverted and abused, and the best things most, that a very wise man had but too much reason to say, that truth did not so much good in the world, as the appearance and pretence of it did evil. Thus the saving of men’s souls is so universally understood to be a great and glorious blessing, that for the sake of it men have suffered, and do suffer, the highest misery and bondage from the impostors who pretend to bestow it, in the dark parts of the world, which are by far the greatest parts of the world. And thus civil government is the defence and security of human society. . . .

. . .

Upon the whole, we must not judge of one another by our fair pretensions and best actions; since the worst men do some good, and all men make fine professions: But we must judge of men by the whole of their conduct, and the effects of it. Thorough honesty requires great and long proof; since many a man, long thought honest, has at length proved a knave. And it is from judging without proof, or too little, of false proof, that mankind continue unhappy.

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Of the Passions: That They Are All Alike Good or All Alike Evil, According As They Are Applied

(No. 39, Saturday, July 29, 1721; by Thomas Gordon)

Nothing is more provoking than to hear men talk magisterially, and with an air of teaching, about things which they do not understand, or which they have an interest to have understood wrong. We have, all of us, heard much of the duty of subduing our appetites, and extinguishing our passions, from men, who by these phrases shewed at once their ignorance of human nature, and yet that they aimed at an absolute dominion over it.

Wrong heads and knavish designs are frequently found together; and creatures that you would not trust with laying out ten shillings for you in an instance where you trust to your own understanding, shall sometimes, by the mere sound of their voice, and an unmeaning distinction, make themselves masters of your mind and your fortune. It is by trusting to these that men come to know so little of themselves, and to be so much the prey of others as ignorant and more dishonest. I know no man so fit as himself to rule himself, in things which purely concern himself. How happy would this plain rule make the world, if they could be brought to observe it, and to remember that brown is as virtuous a colour as black; that the Almighty possesses alike every quarter of the world; and that in his sight fish and flesh in point of merit and innocence are the same! These things are self-evident, and yet the misery of mankind is in a great measure owing to their ignorance of them.

The ancient Stoicks had many admirable and virtuous precepts, but their philosophy was too rigid to be very popular; they taught men an absolute indifference for sensual pain and pleasure; but in this their doctrine was neither useful nor practicable. Men were not to be thus dealt with; they could not cease to be men, nor change nature for philosophy. Besides, these teachers being pagans, and arguing only from the topicks of wisdom strained too high, had no equivalent to offer to their disciples for parting with their appetites and their senses. But when some of their Sophists came into Christianity, and brought along with them the severe notions of their sect, they spread and recommended the same with more success, by tacking to these their opinions the rewards and terrors of the world to come, which had nothing to do with them: However, they said that it had, and quickly found credit enough to make it dangerous to contradict them.

These favourite dreams of theirs, added to some sayings and passages of the gospel, ill understood, were vehemently urged, as if they had been so many certain passports to paradise; and soon turned men’s brains, and made them really fond of poverty, hardships, and misery, and even of death itself: Enthusiasm conquered reason, and inflamed nature; and men, to be devout, grew distracted.

This came of stifling the passions, and subduing nature, as the phrase was. But the folly and mischief of this doctrine thus extravagantly pushed, were not greater than its falsehood: For, as there is no such thing as departing from nature, without departing from life, it is certain that they who were remarkable for restraining some of their appetites, were as remarkable for indulging others; so that their boasted mortification was no more than the exchange of one passion for another, and often of a better for a worse. . . .

It is the weakness and misfortune of the human race, that a man, by the means of one virtue, or the appearance of it, is often able to do a thousand mischiefs; and it is the quality of human nature, that when any one of its appetites is violently restrained, others break out into proportionable excesses. Thus men grow rash and precipitate, by trampling upon caution and fear; and thus they become cowards, by stifling the love of glory: Whereas, if the appetite for danger were checked by the appetite of self-preservation, and the lazy love of safety by the love of fame, rashness and cowardice would be no more.

It is the highest stupidity to talk of subduing the passions, in the common acceptation of that phrase; and to rail at them in gross, is as foolish. The greatest evils often proceed from the best things abused, or ill applied; and this is particularly true of the passions, which are the constituent parts of a man, and are good or ill as they are managed.

The exercise therefore of reason is nothing else, but the indulging or controlling of the passions, with an impartial hand, and giving them all fair play; it is an equal administration of the appetites, by which they are restrained from outrunning one another: Thus, for example, if men’s fears were always as powerful as their hopes, they would rarely run into danger; or, if their hopes balanced their fears, they would never despair.

Every one of the leading passions is as necessary as another; all the difficulty is to keep them well marshalled: They are only terrible by breaking out of their ranks, and when they do, they are all alike terrible, though the world generally thinks otherwise. But it is certain, that those passions to which the kindest ideas are annexed, do as much mischief when they get out of their bounds, as do those to which we annex the harshest ideas; and love and hope, which bear soft and mild names, are in their excesses as active and as formidable passions, as are anger and revenge, the names of which are apt to shock us; and anger and revenge are, in their proper limits, more desirable passions than are love and hope out of their proper limits; that is, they are all equally good, or all equally evil, just as they are let loose or restrained. A man who cuts another’s throat out of love to his wife, commits the same wickedness as if he did it out of revenge. . . .

The only way therefore of dealing with mankind, is to deal with their passions; and the founders of all states, and of all religions, have ever done so: The first elements, or knowledge of politicks, is the knowledge of the passions; and the art of governing, is chiefly the art of applying to the passions. When the publick passions (by which I mean every man’s particular warmth and concern about publick transactions and events) are well regulated and honestly employed, this is called government, or the art of governing; and when they are knavishly raised and ill employed, it is called faction, which is the gratifying of private passion by publick means.

And because passion and opinion are so nearly related, and have such force upon each other, arbitrary courts and crafty churchmen have ever endeavoured to force, or frighten, or deceive the people into a uniformity of thoughts, especially of religious thoughts. A thing tyrannical and impossible! And yet a whole people do often, through ignorance or fear, seem of one mind; and but seem: For, if they come to explain, they would find their ideas differ widely, though their words agree. Whereas in a well-governed free state, diversity of speculations is so far from clogging the publick good, that it evidently promotes the same; all men being equally engaged in the defence of that, by which all men are indifferently protected. So that to attempt to reduce all men to one standard of thinking, is absurd in philosophy, impious in religion, and faction in the state. And though the mortifying of the appetites be a very plausible phrase, and, in a restrained sense, a laudable thing; yet he who recommends it to you does often mean nothing but this, Make your passions tame, that I may ride them.

There is scarce any one of the passions but what is truly laudable when it centers in the publick, and makes that its object. Ambition, avarice, revenge, are all so many virtues, when they aim at the general welfare. I know that it is exceeding hard and rare, for any man to separate his passions from his own person and interest; but it is certain that there have been such men. Brutus, Cato, Regulus, Timoleon, Dion, and Epaminondas, were such, as were many more ancient Greeks and Romans; and, I hope, England has still some such. And though, in pursuing publick views, men regard themselves and their own advantages; yet if they regard the publick more, or their own in subserviency to the publick, they may justly be esteemed virtuous and good.

No man can be too ambitious of the glory and security of his country, nor too angry at its misfortunes and ill usage; nor too revengeful against those that abuse and betray it; nor too avaricious to enrich it, provided that in doing it he violates not the rights of others.

. . .

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Considerations on the Restless and Selfish Spirit of Man

(No. 40, Saturday, August 5, 1721; by Thomas Gordon)

It is melancholy to consider how every thing in the world is abused: The reason is, that men having themselves chiefly in view, consider all things with an eye to themselves only; and thus it is that general blessings cease to be so by being converted into private property, as is always done where it is safe or possible to be done.

Enquiring how it comes to pass that the best things in the world, such as religion, property, and power, are made to do so much hurt; I find it to proceed principally from hence, that men are never satisfied with their present condition, which is never perfectly happy; and perfect happiness being their chief aim, and always out of their reach, they are restlessly grasping at what they never can attain.

So chimerical is the nature of man! his greatest pleasures are always to come, and therefore never come. His content cannot possibly be perfect, because its highest objects are constantly future; and yet it is the more perfect for their being future. Our highest enjoyment is of that which is not: Our pleasure is deceit; and the only real happiness that we have is derived from non-entities. We are never satisfied with being just what we are; and therefore, though you give us all that we desire, or can conceive, yet we shall not have done desiring. The present possessions give but little joy, let them be ever so great; even as great as can be grasped: It is the enjoyment to come that is only or most valued. When we say, that if such a thing happened, we would be easy; we can only mean, or ought only to mean, that we would be more easy than we are: And in that too we are often mistaken; for new acquisitions bring new wants; and imaginary wants are as pungent as real ones. So that there is the same end of wishing as of living, and death only can still the appetites.

Publick blessings would really be so to every man, if every man would be content with his share: But every man would have more; nor would more satisfy him, whatever he may think; but his desires would rise with his possessions or his power, and his last wish would be to have all: Nor would the possession of all quiet the mind of man, which the whole world cannot fill. Indeed, he who has most, wants most; and care, anxious care, as it is the close companion of greatness, so it is furthest from him who has least to care for.

I own, that many have seemed to despise riches and power, and really declined the means of acquiring them: But they deceived themselves, if they thought that this conduct of theirs was owing to a real contempt for the things themselves; when in truth it was only a dislike of the terms upon which they were to be had. Disinterestedness is often created by laziness, pride, or fear; and then it is no virtue. There is not, perhaps, a man living but would be glad of wealth and grandeur, if he could acquire them with speed, and possess them with ease; and almost all men would risk, and do daily risk, ease, reputation, life, and all, to come at them. Do we not see that men venture being beggars to be rich, lose their rest for the sake of quiet, and acquire infamy to earn honour? We live in a hurry, in order to come at the resting-place; and in crowds to purchase solitude. Nor are we the nearer to our end, though the means succeed: Human life is a life of expectation and care; and he who rejects the conditions, must quit it.

Every passion, every view that men have, is selfish in some degree; but when it does good to the publick in its operation and consequence, it may be justly called disinterested in the usual meaning of that word. So that when we call any man disinterested, we should intend no more by it, than that the turn of his mind is towards the publick, and that he has placed his own personal glory and pleasure in serving it. To serve his country is his private pleasure, mankind is his mistress; and he does good to them by gratifying himself.

Disinterestedness, in any other sense than this, there is none. For men to act independently of their passions, is a contradiction! since their passions enter into all that they do, and are the source of it: And the best actions which men perform, often arise from fear, vanity, shame, and the like causes. When the passions of men do good to others, it is called virtue and publick spirit; and when they do hurt to others, it is called selfishness, dishonesty, lust, and other names of infamy. The motive of every man’s conduct is fetched from within, and has a good or an ill name according to its effect upon others; and sometimes the great difference between an honest man and a knave, is no other than a piece of humour, or a piece of chance. As the passions of men, which are only the motions raised within us by the motion of things without us, are soothed or animated by external causes, it is hard to determine, whether there be a man in the world who might not be corrupted by some means and applications; the nicety is, to choose those that are proper.

All these discoveries and complaints of the crookedness and corruption of human nature are made with no malignant intention to break the bonds of society; but they are made to shew, that as selfishness is the strongest bias of men, every man ought to be upon his guard against another, that he become not the prey of another. The too great confidence which many men have placed in one, has often ruined millions. How many sorrowful experiences have we, that men will be rogues where they dare; and that the greatest opportunities always make the greatest! Give them what you can, they will still want more than you give; and therefore the highest trusts are the most apt to be broken.

Those who have talked most of the dignity of human nature, seem to have understood it but little. Men are so far from having any views purely publick and disinterested, that government first arose from every man’s taking care of himself; and government is never abused and perverted, but from the same cause. Do we not know that one man has slaughtered a million, and overturned nations, for the gaining of one point to himself? and that almost all men would follow evil, if they found their greatest advantage or pleasure in it.

Here therefore lies the source of all the evil which men suffer from men, that every man loves himself better than he loves his whole species, and more or less consults himself in all that he does. He naturally pursues what is pleasant or profitable in his own eyes, though in doing it he entail misery upon multitudes. So that we have no other security against the malice and rapine of each other, but the security of laws or our own force. By laws societies subsist within themselves; and by force they defend themselves against each other. And as in the business of faith and leagues between nation and nation, treaties are made by consent, but kept by fear and power; and observed or violated just as interest, advantage, and opportunities invite, without regard to faith and good conscience, which are only words of good-breeding, with which courts compliment one another and themselves; so between subject and subject, and between magistrates and subjects, concord and security are preserved by the terror of laws, and the ties of mutual interest; and both interest and terror derive their strength from the impulses of self-love.

Thus one man is only safe, while it is the interest of another to let him alone; and men are knaves or honest men, according to the judgment which they make of their own interest and ease, and of the terms upon which they choose to live in the world. Many men are honest, without any virtue, or indeed a thought of honesty; as many others are rogues, without any malice: And both sorts mean only their own personal advantage; but take different roads to arrive at it. This is their great aim; and that constitution which trusts more than it needs to any man, or body of men, has a terrible flaw in it, and is big with the seeds of its own destruction. Hence arose tyrants, and tyranny, and standing armies: Marius, and Caesar, and Oliver Cromwell. How preposterously do men act! By too great confidence in one man, or a few men, they become slaves; and by a general distrust of each other, they continue so!

It may be objected, that since men are such a wretched race, made so by the apostasy of Adam, they are not worth serving; that the most unhappy of them are but what they themselves would make others, and therefore their fate is just upon them.

In answer to this, I readily own what I have been proving, that men are very bad where they dare, and that all men would be tyrants, and do what they please. But still let us preserve justice and equality in the world. Why should he, who is bad himself, oppress others who are no worse than him? Besides, the lot of humanity being an unhappy one, it is an honest ambition, that of endeavouring to mend it, to improve nature by virtue, and to mend mankind by obliging them to observe rules that are good. We do not expect philosophical virtue from them; but only that they follow virtue as their interest, and find it penal and dangerous to depart from it. And this is the only virtue that the world wants, and the only virtue that it can trust to.

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Of the Weakness of the Human Mind; How Easily It Is Misled

(No. 105, Saturday, December 1, 1722; by John Trenchard)

Things of the greatest seeming difficulty appear the easiest to us when found out. There was no wit necessary to set an egg on one end, when Columbus had shewn the way. Jugglers do many things by sleight of hand, which to a gaping beholder appear to be witchcraft; and when he knows how they are done, he wonders at himself for wondering at them. A ship as big as a castle is sailed by a rudder and a puff of wind; and a weight, which a thousand men cannot move, may be easily managed by one, by the help of wheels and pullies. The same is true in the direction of mankind, who will be always caught by a skillful application to their passions and weaknesses, and be easily drawn into what they will be very difficultly driven. The fiercest horses are subdued by the right management of the bit; the most furious wild beasts tamed by gratifying their appetites, or working upon their fears; and the most savage tempers are made tractable by soothing their foibles, or knowing how to manage their panicks.

This is what is called the knowledge of mankind, which very few of them know any thing of. Pedants hope to govern them by distinctions and grave faces; tyrants by force and terror; philosophers by solemn lectures of morality and virtue. And all these have certainly a share in influencing their minds, and determining their actions; but, all together, not half so much as applying to their reigning appetites, appearing interests, and predominant foibles, and taking artful advantages of favourable opportunities, and catching at lucky conjectures, to effect at once what a long series of wise counsels, and the best concerted measures, cannot bring about.

Wise statesmen will understand this foible in human nature, and often take advantage from a plot discovered, or a rebellion quelled; from the transports of a restoration, or a victory obtained; or during the terrors of a pestilential distemper, or the rage of a prevailing faction, or the fears of a desponding one, to accomplish what neither threats nor armies could extort, nor bribes nor allurements persuade.

The same advantages have been as luckily taken by the leaders of popular parties, upon sudden discontents and unsuccessful acts of power, to obtain concessions and privileges which they durst not think of, much less hope for, at other times. My Lord Clarendon furnishes us with many instances of such concessions, which neither the crown would have granted, nor the people been prevailed upon to ask, nor perhaps accept, before, or possibly after.

Whereas a preposterous and ill-timed attempt, on either side, would have increased the power which they designed to lessen, or take away. The greatest secret in politicks is, to drive the nail that will go.

If a solemn soothsayer, a poet, or philosopher, talk of the dignity of human nature, man is lifted up to a resemblance with his great Creator: He is lord of the universe; all things are made for his use, even such as are of no use to him, but do him mischief. The sun is placed in the firmament to ripen his cabbage, and dry his linen; and infinite millions of stars are stuck there, many thousand times bigger than the earth, to supply the want of farthing candles, though vastly many of them are not to be seen but by glasses, and, without doubt, infinite others not to be seen with them. He is made wise, discerning, formed for virtue, mutual help and assistance; and probably it was all true before the fall: But as he is now degenerated, I fear that the reverse of all this is true. It is plain that he is foolish, helpless, perfidious, impotent, easily misled and trepanned, and, for the most part, caught by as thin snares and little wiles as his fellow-creatures, which, we are told, are made for his use; and his boasted faculty of reason betrays him to some from which the others are exempt.

True reason has little to do in his speculations or his actions. Enthusiasm or panick fear often supplies the place of religion in him: Obstinacy is called constancy; and indifference, moderation: His passions, which direct and govern all the motions of his mind, seem to me to be purely mechanical; which perhaps I may shew more at large hereafter: and whoever would govern him, and lead him, must apply to those passions; that is, pull the proper ropes, and turn the wheels which will put the machine in motion. . . .

. . . We rarely see a wise man, who does not carry a half-fool about him; one who, by soothing his vanities, flattering his passions, and taking advantages of his other weaknesses, can do more with him than all the world besides. Indeed most men are governed by those who have less wit than themselves, or by what ought least to influence them. Men, like other animals, are caught by springs, wires, or subtleties: Foxes are trepanned by traces, pheasants by a red rag, and other birds by a whistle; and the same is true of mankind.

A lucky thought, a jest, a fortunate accident, or a jovial debauch, shall bring about designs and revolutions in human affairs, which twenty legions in the field could not bring about. A filthy strumpet made Alexander, for a kiss, burn Persepolis, the august seat of the Persian empire. . . . How often hath a merry story in our days turned a debate, when the most grave and solemn arguments, and the most obvious representations of publick advantage, could not prevail? And how many a fair and accomplished lady has been won by bribing her chambermaid, when perhaps all the solicitations of her parents and relations, and all the motives of self-interest, would have proved ineffectual?

The lucky adjusting of times and seasons, taking advantage of prevailing prejudices and panicks, and knowing how to humour and lay hold of the predominant enthusiasm of human nature, has given birth to most of the revolutions in religion and politicks which ever happened in the world. A juggler swallowing bibles and hour-glasses, shall do more with a modern mob than a philosopher; and a scarecrow prater, with distorted limbs and understanding, shall make thousands of them weep and wring their hands, when the oratory of Demosthenes, or the reasonings of Mr. Locke, would make them laugh or hoot. There is a certain assimilation of passions and faculties in men, which attract one another when they meet, and always strike together. As when two fiddles are tuned up to the same pitch, if you hit the one, the other sounds; so men are easiest operated upon by those of like understandings with their own, or those who the best know how to dally and play with their foibles, and can do the same thing with design as the others do naturally.

I doubt not but I shall be censured for making thus bold with the Lord of the Creation, by those who make much more bold with Him on other occasions, and who would have the monopoly of enjoying all the scandal to themselves. But, by the leave of those solemn gentlemen, I shall take the liberty of considering man as he is, since it is out of our power to give a model to have him new made by.

Since then, by the sins of our first parents, we are fallen into this unhappy and forlorn condition, all wise and honest men are obliged, in prudence and duty, not only by lectures of philosophy, religion, and morals, to fashion this sovereign of the universe into his true interest, but to make use of his weaknesses to render him happy, as wicked men do to make him miserable; in which I shall be more particular hereafter.

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Inquiry into the Source of Moral Virtues

(No. 108, Saturday, December 22, 1722; by John Trenchard)

Morality, or moral virtues, are certain rules of mutual convenience or indulgence, conducive or necessary to the well-being of society. Most of these are obvious; for every man knows what he desires himself; which is, to be free from oppression, and the insults of others, and to enjoy the fruits of his own acquisitions, arising from his labour or invention. And since he can have no reason to expect this indulgence to himself, unless he allow it to others, who have equal reason to expect it from him, it is the common interest of all, who unite together in the same society, to establish such rules and maxims for their mutual preservation, that no man can oppress or injure another, without suffering by it himself. As far as these rules are discoverable by the light of reason, or that portion of understanding, which most, or all men have, they are called morality: But when they are the productions of deeper thought, or the inventions only of men of greater sagacity, they are called political knowledge. But as men are often in such a situation in respect of one another, that the stronger can oppress the weaker, without any fear of having the injury returned; and most men will pursue their own personal advantage independently of all other men; therefore Almighty God, in compassion to mankind has annexed rewards and punishments to the observance or non-observance of these rules: The belief of which, and a practice pursuant to it, is called religion.

I have often read, with pleasure, pretty speculative discourses upon the intrinsick excellence of virtue, and of its having a real existence independent of human considerations, or worldly relations: But when I have been able to forget, or lay aside the dalliances and amusements of fancy, and the beautiful turns of expression, I could consider it philosophically, only as an empty sound, when detached and separated from natural, national, or religious politicks; unless in some few instances, where constitution, and innate tenderness, engage men to pity others in ease to themselves, which is called humanity.

All cardinal and private virtues are branches of these general politicks. Fortitude enables us to defend ourselves and others. Compassion is a fellow feeling of calamities which we may suffer ourselves; and it is evident that people feel them in proportion, as they are likely to suffer the same or the like calamities. Charity obliges us to give that relief to others, which we, our friends, or relations, may want for ourselves. And temperance and frugality are necessary to the preservation of our bodies and estates, and being useful members of society. I freely confess, that for my part I can find out no other motives in myself, or others, for these affections, or actions, except constitution, ostentation, or temporal or religious politicks, which are, in other words, our present or eternal interests; and I shall own myself beholden to any else who can find out any other; for there cannot be too many motives for a virtuous life.

How far the systematical gentlemen will agree with me in this speculative philosophy, I do not know, nor shall think myself much concerned to enquire; but it is certain that their practice, and many of the doctrines which they teach, confirm what I have said. I think that all mankind, except the Brahmins, and transmigrators of souls in the East, agree, that we may destroy other animals for food and convenience, and sometimes for pleasure, or to prevent but any trifling prejudice, to ourselves; though they have the same, or very near the same, organizations as we have, equal or greater sensations of pleasure and pain, and many of them sagacity and reasoning enough to over-reach and circumvent us; nor are they guilty of any other crime, than that of acting according to their natures, and preserving their beings by such food as is necessary to their existence.

Indeed, as things stand at present, though we had not revelation for it, we may be very sure that God Almighty has given us dominion over other creatures, because he has actually given us the power, in a good measure, to destroy and preserve them, as far as they may be hurtful or useless to us; and therefore we think them not objects of moral duties, because we can hurt them and they cannot make reprisals, or equal reprisals, upon us; But if Almighty God had thought fit to have given to lions and tigers the use of speech, length of life to have gained more experience, and had formed their claws and hands to write and communicate that experience, and by such means had enabled them to have formed themselves into societies for mutual defence against mankind (whom they could quickly have destroyed, though only by confining and starving them in enclosures and fortifications) I say, in such a circumstance of affairs, will any man affirm, that it would not have been our interest and duty to have treated them with morality and social offices? I doubt, in such a case, they would have told us, and have made us feel too, that they were not made only for our use.

I will suppose, for once, a dialogue between his Holiness and a lion, since poets and some others have informed us, that beasts have spoken formerly; and I am sure that they were never more concerned to speak than upon the present occasion.

Pope. Thou art an ugly four-footed monster, and thou livest upon the destruction of thy fellow-animals.

Lion. I am as nature has made me, which has given me many faculties beyond yourself. I have more courage, more strength, more activity, and better senses of seeing, hearing, &c. than you have: Nor do I destroy the hundredth part of my fellow-animals in comparison with those that you destroy. I never destroy my own species, unless I am provoked; but you destroy yours for pride, vanity, luxury, envy, covetousness, and ambition.

Pope. But thou art a great gormandizer, and eatest up all our victuals, which was designed for the use of men only; and therefore thou oughtest to be exterminated.

Lion. Nature, which gave me life, designed me the means of living; and she has given me claws and teeth for that purpose, namely, to defend myself against some animals, and to kill and eat others for my sustenance; and, amongst the rest, your reverence, if I cannot get younger and better food. You men, indeed, may eat and live comfortably upon the fruits of trees, and the herbs and corn of the field; but we are so formed, as to receive support and nourishment only from the flesh of other animals.

. . .

I have said, that all, or most of mankind, act upon the former principles, and, without the motives of religion, can find out no reason to hope that they should ever act otherwise; and I am sorry to say, that religion itself has yet wanted power enough to influence them (for the most part) to contrary sentiments or actions. What nation or society does not oppress another, when they can do it with security, without fear of retaliation, or of being affected by it in their own interests, and their correspondence with other states? It is plain that all social duties are here at an end; for what is called the law of nations, are only rules of mutual intercourse with one another, without which they could have no intercourse at all, but must be in constant course of war and depredation; and therefore whenever any state is in no condition to repel injuries, nor can have protection from any other, who are concerned to preserve them, constant experience shews us, that they become the prey of a greater, who think themselves obliged to keep no measures with them, nor want pretences from religion or their own interests to oppress them. . . .

Since therefore men ever have, and, I doubt, ever will act upon these motives, they ought not to be amused by the play of words, and the sallies of imagination, whilst designing men pick their pockets; but ought to establish their happiness, by wise precautions, and upon solid maxims, and, by prudent and fixed laws, make it all men’s interest to be honest; without which, I doubt, few men will be so.

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Liberty Proved to Be the Unalienable Right of All Mankind

(No. 59, Saturday, December 30, 1721; by John Trenchard)

I intend to entertain my readers with dissertations upon liberty, in some of my succeeding letters; and shall, as a preface to that design, endeavour to prove in this, that liberty is the unalienable right of all mankind.

All governments, under whatsoever form they are administered, ought to be administered for the good of the society; when they are otherwise administered, they cease to be government, and become usurpation. This being the end of all government, even the most despotick have this limitation to their authority: In this respect, the only difference between the most absolute princes and limited magistrates, is, that in free governments there are checks and restraints appointed and expressed in the constitution itself: In despotick governments, the people submit themselves to the prudence and discretion of the prince alone: But there is still this tacit condition annexed to his power, that he must act by the unwritten laws of discretion and prudence, and employ it for the sole interest of the people, who give it to him, or suffer him to enjoy it, which they ever do for their own sakes.

Even in the most free governments, single men are often trusted with discretionary power: But they must answer for that discretion to those that trust them. Generals of armies and admirals of fleets have often unlimited commissions; and yet are they not answerable for the prudent execution of those commissions? The Council of Ten, in Venice, have absolute power over the liberty and life of every man in the state: But if they should make use of that power to slaughter, abolish, or enslave the senate; and, like the Decemviri of Rome, to set up themselves; would it not be lawful for those, who gave them that authority for other ends, to put those ten unlimited traitors to death, any way that they could? The crown of England has been for the most part entrusted with the sole disposal of the money given for the Civil List, often with the application of great sums raised for other publick uses; yet, if the lord-treasurer had applied this money to the dishonour of the King, and ruin of the people (though by the private direction of the crown itself) will any man say that he ought not to have compensated for his crime, by the loss of his head and his estate?

I have said thus much, to shew that no government can be absolute in the sense, or rather nonsense, of our modern dogmatizers, and indeed in the sense too commonly practised. No barbarous conquest; no extorted consent of miserable people, submitting to the chain to escape the sword; no repeated and hereditary acts of cruelty, though called succession, no continuation of violence, though named prescription; can alter, much less abrogate, these fundamental principles of government itself, or make the means of preservation the means of destruction, and render the condition of mankind infinitely more miserable than that of the beasts of the field, by the sole privilege of that reason which distinguishes them from the brute creation.

Force can give no title but to revenge, and to the use of force again; nor could it ever enter into the heart of any man, to give to another power over him, for any other end but to be exercised for his own advantage: And if there are any men mad or foolish enough to pretend to do otherwise, they ought to be treated as idiots or lunaticks; and the reason of their conduct must be derived from their folly and frenzy.

All men are born free; liberty is a gift which they receive from God himself; nor can they alienate the same by consent, though possibly they may forfeit it by crimes. No man has power over his own life, or to dispose of his own religion; and cannot consequently transfer the power of either to any body else: Much less can he give away the lives and liberties, religion or acquired property of his posterity, who will be born as free as he himself was born, and can never be bound by his wicked and ridiculous bargain.

The right of the magistrate arises only from the right of private men to defend themselves, to repel injuries, and to punish those who commit them: That right being conveyed by the society to their publick representative, he can execute the same no further than the benefit and security of that society requires he should. When he exceeds his commission, his acts are as extrajudicial as are those of any private officer usurping an unlawful authority, that is, they are void; and every man is answerable for the wrong which he does. A power to do good can never become a warrant for doing evil.

But here arises a grand question, which has perplexed and puzzled the greatest part of mankind: Yet, I think, the answer to it easy and obvious. The question is, who shall be judge whether the magistrate acts justly, and pursues his trust? To this it is justly said, that if those who complain of him are to judge him, then there is a settled authority above the chief magistrate, which authority must be itself the chief magistrate; which is contrary to the supposition; and the same question and difficulty will recur again upon this new magistracy. All this I own to be absurd; and I aver it to be at least as absurd to affirm, that the person accused is to be the decisive judge of his own actions, when it is certain that he will always judge and determine in his own favour; and thus the whole race of mankind will be left helpless under the heaviest injustice, oppression, and misery, that can afflict human nature.

But if neither magistrates, nor they who complain of magistrates, and are aggrieved by them, have a right to determine decisively, the one for the other; and if there be no common established power, to which both are subject; then every man interested in the success of the contest, must act according to the light and dictates of his own conscience, and inform it as well as he can. Where no judge is nor can be appointed, every man must be his own; that is, when there is no stated judge upon earth, we must have recourse to heaven, and obey the will of heaven, by declaring ourselves on that which we think the juster side.

If the Senate and people of Rome had differed irreconcilably, there could have been no common judge in the world between them; and consequently no remedy but the last: For that government consisting in the union of the nobles and the people, when they differed, no man could determine between them; and therefore every man must have been at liberty to provide for his own security, and the general good, in the best manner he was able. In that case the common judge ceasing, every one was his own: The government becoming incapable of acting, suffered a political demise: The constitution was dissolved; and there being no government in being, the people were in the state of nature again.

The same must be true, where two absolute princes, governing a country, come to quarrel, as sometimes two Caesars in partnership did, especially towards the latter end of the Roman empire; or where a sovereign council govern a country, and their votes come equally to be divided. In such a circumstance, every man must take that side which he thinks most for the publick good, or choose any proper measures for his own security: For, if I owe my allegiance to two princes agreeing, or to the majority of a council; when between these princes there is no longer any union, nor in that council any majority, no submission can be due to that which is not; and the laws of nature and self-preservation must take place, where there are no other.

The case is still the same, when there is any dispute about the titles of absolute princes, who govern independently on the states of a country, and call none. Here too every man must judge for himself what party he will take, to which of the titles he will adhere; and the like private judgment must guide him, whenever a question arises whether the said prince be an idiot or a lunatick, and consequently whether he be capable or incapable of government. Where there are no states, there can be no other way of judging; but by the judgment of private men the capacity of the prince must be judged, and his fate determined. Lunacy and idiotism are, I think, allowed by all to be certain disqualifications for government; indeed they are as much so, as if he were deaf, blind, and dumb, or even dead. He who can neither execute an office, nor appoint a deputy, is not fit for one.

Now I would fain know, why private men may not as well use their judgment in an instance that concerns them more; I mean that of a tyrannical government, of which they hourly feel the sad effects, and sorrowful proofs; whereas they have not by far the equal means of coming to a certainty about the natural incapacity of their governor. The persons of great princes are known but to few of their subjects, and their parts to much fewer; and several princes have, by the management of their wives, or ministers, or murderers, reigned a good while after they were dead. In truth, I think it is as much the business and right of the people to judge whether their prince be good or bad, whether a father or an enemy, as to judge whether he be dead or alive; unless it be said (as many such wise things have been said) that they may judge whether he can govern them, but not whether he does; and that it behooves them to put the administration in wiser hands, if he be a harmless fool, but it is impious to do it, if he be only a destructive tyrant; that want of speech is a disqualification, but want of humanity, none.

That subjects were not to judge of their governors, or rather for themselves in the business of government, which of all human things concerns them most, was an absurdity that never entered into the imagination of the wise and honest ancients: Who, following for their guide that everlasting reason, which is the best and only guide in human affairs, carried liberty, and human happiness, the legitimate offspring and work of liberty, to the highest pitch that they were capable of arriving at. But the above absurdity, with many others as monstrous and mischievous, were reserved for the discovery of a few wretched and dreaming Mahometan and Christian monks, who, ignorant of all things, were made, or made themselves, the directors of all things; and bewitching the world with holy lies and unaccountable ravings, dressed up in barbarous words and uncouth phrases, bent all their fairy force against common sense and common liberty and truth, and founded a pernicious, absurd, and visionary empire upon their ruins. Systems without sense, propositions without truth, religion without reason, a rampant church without charity, severity without justice, and government without liberty or mercy, were all the blessed handy-works of these religious mad-men, and godly pedants; who, by pretending to know the other world, cheated and confounded this. Their enmity to common sense, and want of it, were their warrants for governing the sense of all mankind: By lying, they were thought the champions of the truth; and by their fooleries, impieties, and cruelty, were esteemed the favourites and confidents of the God of wisdom, mercy, and peace.

These were the men, who, having demolished all sense and human judgment, first made it a principle, that people were not to judge of their governor and government, nor to meddle with it; nor to preserve themselves from publick destroyers, falsely calling themselves governors: Yet these men, who thus set up for the support and defenders of government, without the common honesty of distinguishing the good from the bad, and protection from murder and depredation, were at the same time themselves the constant and avowed troublers of every government which they could not direct and command; and every government, however excellent, which did not make their reveries its own rules, and themselves alone its peculiar care, has been honoured with their professed hatred; whilst tyrants and publick butchers, who flattered them, have been deified. This was the poor state of Christendom before the Reformation; and I wish I could say, of no parts of it since.

This barbarous anarchy in reasoning and politicks, has made it necessary to prove propositions which the light of nature had demonstrated. And, as the apostles were forced to prove to the misled Gentiles, that they were no gods which were made with hands; I am put to prove, that the people have a right to judge, whether their governors were made for them, or they for their governors? Whether their governors have necessary and natural qualifications? Whether they have any governors or no? And whether, when they have none, every man must not be his own? I therefore return to instances and illustrations from facts which cannot be denied; though propositions as true as facts may, by those especially who are defective in point of modesty or discernment.

In Poland, according to the constitution of that country, it is necessary, we are told, that, in their diets, the consent of every man present must be had to make a resolve effectual: And therefore, to prevent the cutting of people’s throats, they have no remedy but to cut the throats of one another; that is, they must pull out their sabres, and force the refractory members (who are always the minority) to submit. And amongst us in England, where a jury cannot agree, there can be no verdict; and so they must fast till they do, or till one of them is dead, and then the jury is dissolved.

This, from the nature of things themselves, must be the constant case in all disputes between dominion and property. Where the interest of the governors and that of the governed clash, there can be no stated judge between them: To appeal to a foreign power, is to give up the sovereignty; for either side to submit, is to give up the question: And therefore, if they themselves do not amicably determine the dispute between themselves, heaven alone must. In such case, recourse must be had to the first principles of government itself; which being a departure from the state of nature, and a union of many families forming themselves into a political machine for mutual protection and defence, it is evident, that this formed relation can continue no longer than the machine subsists and can act; and when it does not, the individuals must return to their former state again. No constitution can provide against what will happen, when that constitution is dissolved. Government is only an appointment of one or more persons, to do certain actions for the good and emolument of the society; and if the persons thus interested will not act at all, or act contrary to their trust, their power must return of course to those who gave it.

. . .

It is foolish to say, that this doctrine can be mischievous to society, at least in any proportion to the wild ruin and fatal calamities which must befall, and do befall the world, where the contrary doctrine is maintained: For, all bodies of men subsisting upon their own substance, or upon the profits of their trade and industry, find their account so much in ease and peace, and have justly such terrible apprehensions of civil disorders, which destroy every thing that they enjoy; that they always bear a thousand injuries before they return one, and stand under the burdens as long as they can bear them; as I have in another letter observed.

What with the force of education, and the reverence which people are taught, and have been always used to pay to princes; what with the perpetual harangues of flatterers, the gaudy pageantry and outside of power, and its gilded ensigns, always glittering in their eyes; what with the execution of the laws in the sole power of the prince; what with all the regular magistrates, pompous guards and standing troops, with the fortified towns, the artillery, and all the magazines of war, at his disposal; besides large revenues, and multitudes of followers and dependents, to support and abet all that he does: Obedience to authority is so well secured, that it is wild to imagine, that any number of men, formidable enough to disturb a settled state, can unite together and hope to overturn it, till the publick grievances are so enormous, the oppression so great, and the disaffection so universal, that there can be no question remaining, whether their calamities be real or imaginary, and whether the magistrate has protected or endeavoured to destroy his people.

. . . No society of men will groan under oppressions longer than they know how to throw them off; whatever unnatural whimsies and fairy notions idle and sedentary babblers may utter from colleges and cloisters; and teach to others, for vile self-ends, doctrines, which they themselves are famous for not practising.

Upon this principle of people’s judging for themselves, and resisting lawless force, stands our late happy Revolution, and with it the just and rightful title of our most excellent sovereign King George, to the scepter of these realms; a scepter which he has, and I doubt not will ever sway, to his own honour, and the honour, protection, and prosperity of us his people.

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All Government Proved to Be Instituted by Men, and Only to Intend the General Good of Men

(No. 60, Saturday, January 6, 1722; by John Trenchard)

There is no government now upon earth, which owes its formation or beginning to the immediate revelation of God, or can derive its existence from such revelation: It is certain, on the contrary, that the rise and institution or variation of government, from time to time, is within the memory of men or of histories; and that every government, which we know at this day in the world, was established by the wisdom and force of mere men, and by the concurrence of means and causes evidently human. Government therefore can have no power, but such as men can give, and such as they actually did give, or permit for their own sakes: Nor can any government be in fact framed but by consent, if not of every subject, yet of as many as can compel the rest; since no man, or council of men, can have personal strength enough to govern multitudes by force, or can claim to themselves and their families any superiority, or natural sovereignty over their fellow-creatures naturally as good as them. Such strength, therefore, where-ever it is, is civil and accumulative strength, derived from the laws and constitutions of the society, of which the governors themselves are but members.

So that to know the jurisdiction of governors, and its limits, we must have recourse to the institution of government, and ascertain those limits by the measure of power, which men in the state of nature have over themselves and one another: And as no man can take from many, who are stronger than him, what they have no mind to give him; and he who has not consent must have force, which is itself the consent of the stronger; so no man can give to another either what is none of his own, or what in its own nature is inseparable from himself; as his religion particularly is.

Every man’s religion is his own; nor can the religion of any man, of what nature or figure soever, be the religion of another man, unless he also chooses it; which action utterly excludes all force, power, or government. Religion can never come without conviction, nor can conviction come from civil authority; religion, which is the fear of God, cannot be subject to power, which is the fear of man. It is a relation between God and our own souls only, and consists in a disposition of mind to obey the will of our great Creator, in the manner which we think most acceptable to him. It is independent upon all human directions, and superior to them; and consequently uncontrollable by external force, which cannot reach the free faculties of the mind, or inform the understanding, much less convince it. Religion therefore, which can never be subject to the jurisdiction of another, can never be alienated to another, or put in his power.

Nor has any man in the state of nature power over his own life, or to take away the life of another, unless to defend his own, or what is as much his own, namely, his property. This power therefore, which no man has, no man can transfer to another.

Nor could any man in the state of nature, have a right to violate the property of another; that is, what another had acquired by his art or labour; or to interrupt him in his industry and enjoyments, as long as he himself was not injured by that industry and those enjoyments. No man therefore could transfer to the magistrate that right which he had not himself.

No man in his senses was ever so wild as to give an unlimited power to another to take away his life, or the means of living, according to the caprice, passion, and unreasonable pleasure of that other: But if any man restrained himself from any part of his pleasures, or parted with any portion of his acquisitions, he did it with the honest purpose of enjoying the rest with the greater security, and always in subserviency to his own happiness, which no man will or can willingly and intentionally give away to any other whatsoever.

And if any one, through his own inadvertence, or by the fraud or violence of another, can be drawn into so foolish a contract, he is relievable by the eternal laws of God and reason. No engagement that is wicked and unjust can be executed without injustice and wickedness: This is so true, that I question whether there be a constitution in the world which does not afford, or pretend to afford, a remedy for relieving ignorant, distressed, and unwary men, trepanned into such engagements by artful knaves, or frightened into them by imperious ones. So that here the laws of nature and general reason supersede the municipal and positive laws of nations; and no where oftener than in England. What else was the design, and ought to be the business, of our courts of equity? And I hope whole countries and societies are no more exempted from the privileges and protection of reason and equity, than are private particulars.

Here then is the natural limitation of the magistrate’s authority: He ought not to take what no man ought to give; nor exact what no man ought to perform: All he has is given him, and those that gave it must judge of the application. In government there is no such relation as lord and slave, lawless will and blind submission; nor ought to be amongst men: But the only relation is that of father and children, patron and client, protection and allegiance, benefaction and gratitude, mutual affection and mutual assistance.

So that the nature of government does not alter the natural right of men to liberty, which in all political societies is alike their due: But some governments provide better than others for the security and impartial distribution of that right. There has been always such a constant and certain fund of corruption and malignity in human nature, that it has been rare to find that man, whose views and happiness did not center in the gratification of his appetites, and worst appetites, his luxury, his pride, his avarice, and lust of power; and who considered any publick trust reposed in him, with any other view, than as the means to satiate such unruly and dangerous desires! And this has been most eminently true of great men, and those who aspired to dominion. They were first made great for the sake of the publick, and afterwards at its expence. And if they had been content to have been moderate traitors, mankind would have been still moderately happy; but their ambition and treason observing no degrees, there was no degree of vileness and misery which the poor people did not often feel.

The appetites therefore of men, especially of great men, are carefully to be observed and stayed, or else they will never stay themselves. The experience of every age convinces us, that we must not judge of men by what they ought to do, but by what they will do; and all history affords but few instances of men trusted with great power without abusing it, when with security they could. The servants of society, that is to say, its magistrates, did almost universally serve it by seizing it, selling it, or plundering it; especially when they were left by the society unlimited as to their duty and wages. In that case these faithful stewards generally took all; and, being servants, made slaves of their masters.

For these reasons, and convinced by woeful and eternal experience, societies found it necessary to lay restraints upon their magistrates or publick servants, and to put checks upon those who would otherwise put chains upon them; and therefore these societies set themselves to model and form national constitutions with such wisdom and art, that the publick interest should be consulted and carried at the same time, when those entrusted with the administration of it were consulting and pursuing their own.

Hence grew the distinction between arbitrary and free governments: Not that more or less power was vested in the one than in the other; nor that either of them lay under less or more obligations, in justice, to protect their subjects, and study their ease, prosperity, and security, and to watch for the same. But the power and sovereignty of magistrates in free countries was so qualified, and so divided into different channels, and committed to the direction of so many different men, with different interests and views, that the majority of them could seldom or never find their account in betraying their trust in fundamental instances. Their emulation, envy, fear, or interest, always made them spies and checks upon one another. By all which means the people have often come at the heads of those who forfeited their heads, by betraying the people.

In despotick governments things went far otherwise, those governments having been framed otherwise; if the same could be called governments, where the rules of publick power were dictated by private and lawless lust; where folly and madness often swayed the scepter, and blind rage wielded the sword. The whole wealth of the state, with its civil or military power, being in the prince, the people could have no remedy but death and patience, while he oppressed them by the lump, and butchered them by thousands: Unless perhaps the ambition or personal resentments of some of the instruments of his tyranny procured a revolt, which rarely mended their condition.

The only secret therefore in forming a free government, is to make the interests of the governors and of the governed the same, as far as human policy can contrive. Liberty cannot be preserved any other way. Men have long found, from the weakness and depravity of themselves and one another, that most men will act for interest against duty, as often as they dare. So that to engage them to their duty, interest must be linked to the observance of it, and danger to the breach of it. Personal advantages and security, must be the rewards of duty and obedience; and disgrace, torture, and death, the punishment of treachery and corruption.

Human wisdom has yet found out but one certain expedient to effect this; and that is, to have the concerns of all directed by all, as far as possibly can be: And where the persons interested are too numerous, or live too distant to meet together on all emergencies, they must moderate necessity by prudence, and act by deputies, whose interest is the same with their own, and whose property is so intermingled with theirs, and so engaged upon the same bottom, that principals and deputies must stand and fall together. When the deputies thus act for their own interest, by acting for the interest of their principals; when they can make no law but what they themselves, and their posterity, must be subject to; when they can give no money, but what they must pay their share of; when they can do no mischief, but what must fall upon their own heads in common with their countrymen; their principals may then expect good laws, little mischief, and much frugality.

Here therefore lies the great point of nicety and care in forming the constitution, that the persons entrusted and representing, shall either never have any interest detached from the persons entrusting and represented, or never the means to pursue it. Now to compass this great point effectually, no other way is left, but one of these two, or rather both; namely, to make the deputies so numerous, that there may be no possibility of corrupting the majority; or, by changing them so often, that there is no sufficient time to corrupt them, and to carry the ends of that corruption. The people may be very sure, that the major part of their deputies being honest, will keep the rest so; and that they will all be honest, when they have no temptations to be knaves.

. . .

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An Enquiry into the Nature and Extent of Liberty; with Its Loveliness and Advantages, and the Vile Effects of Slavery

(No. 62, Saturday, January 20, 1722; by Thomas Gordon)

I have shewn, in a late paper, wherein consists the difference between free and arbitrary governments, as to their frame and constitution;’ and in this and the following, I shall shew their different spirit and effects. But first I shall shew wherein liberty itself consists.

By liberty, I understand the power which every man has over his own actions, and his right to enjoy the fruit of his labour, art, and industry, as far as by it he hurts not the society, or any members of it, by taking from any member, or by hindering him from enjoying what he himself enjoys. The fruits of a man’s honest industry are the just rewards of it, ascertained to him by natural and eternal equity, as is his title to use them in the manner which he thinks fit: And thus, with the above limitations, every man is sole lord and arbiter of his own private actions and property. A character of which no man living can divest him but by usurpation, or his own consent.

The entering into political society, is so far from a departure from his natural right, that to preserve it was the sole reason why men did so; and mutual protection and assistance is the only reasonable purpose of all reasonable societies. To make such protection practicable, magistracy was formed, with power to defend the innocent from violence, and to punish those that offered it; nor can there be any other pretence for magistracy in the world. In order to this good end, the magistrate is entrusted with conducting and applying the united force of the community; and with exacting such a share of every man’s property, as is necessary to preserve the whole, and to defend every man and his property from foreign and domestick injuries. These are the boundaries of the power of the magistrate, who deserts his function whenever he breaks them. By the laws of society, he is more limited and restrained than any man amongst them; since, while they are absolutely free in all their actions, which purely concern themselves; all his actions, as a publick person, being for the sake of society, must refer to it, and answer the ends of it.

It is a mistaken notion in government, that the interest of the majority is only to be consulted, since in society every man has a right to every man’s assistance in the enjoyment and defence of his private property; otherwise the greater number may sell the lesser, and divide their estates amongst themselves; and so, instead of a society, where all peaceable men are protected, become a conspiracy of the many against the minority. With as much equity may one man wantonly dispose of all, and violence may be sanctified by mere power.

And it is as foolish to say, that government is concerned to meddle with the private thoughts and actions of men, while they injure neither the society, nor any of its members. Every man is, in nature and reason, the judge and disposer of his own domestick affairs; and, according to the rules of religion and equity, every man must carry his own conscience. So that neither has the magistrate a right to direct the private behaviour of men; nor has the magistrate, or any body else, any manner of power to model people’s speculations, no more than their dreams. Government being intended to protect men from the injuries of one another, and not to direct them in their own affairs, in which no one is interested but themselves; it is plain, that their thoughts and domestick concerns are exempted entirely from its jurisdiction: In truth, men’s thoughts are not subject to their own jurisdiction.

Idiots and lunaticks indeed, who cannot take care of themselves, must be taken care of by others: But whilst men have their five senses, I cannot see what the magistrate has to do with actions by which the society cannot be affected; and where he meddles with such, he meddles impertinently or tyrannically. Must the magistrate tie up every man’s legs, because some men fall into ditches? Or, must he put out their eyes, because with them they see lying vanities? Or, would it become the wisdom and care of governors to establish a travelling society, to prevent people, by a proper confinement, from throwing themselves into wells, or over precipices; or to endow a fraternity of physicians and surgeons all over the nation, to take care of their subjects’ health, without being consulted; and to vomit, bleed, purge, and scarify them at pleasure, whether they would or no, just as these established judges of health should think fit? If this were the case, what a stir and hubbub should we soon see kept about the established potions and lancets? Every man, woman, or child, though ever so healthy, must be a patient, or woe be to them! The best diet and medicines would soon grow pernicious from any other hand; and their pills alone, however ridiculous, insufficient, or distasteful, would be attended with a blessing.

Let people alone, and they will take care of themselves, and do it best; and if they do not, a sufficient punishment will follow their neglect, without the magistrate’s interposition and penalties. It is plain, that such busy care and officious intrusion into the personal affairs, or private actions, thoughts, and imaginations of men, has in it more craft than kindness; and is only a device to mislead people, and pick their pockets, under the false pretence of the publick and their private good. To quarrel with any man for his opinions, humours, or the fashion of his clothes, is an offence taken without being given. What is it to a magistrate how I wash my hands, or cut my corns; what fashion or colours I wear, or what notions I entertain, or what gestures I use, or what words I pronounce, when they please me, and do him and my neighbour no hurt? As well may he determine the colour of my hair, and control my shape and features.

True and impartial liberty is therefore the right of every man to pursue the natural, reasonable, and religious dictates of his own mind; to think what he will, and act as he thinks, provided he acts not to the prejudice of another; to spend his own money himself, and lay out the produce of his labour his own way; and to labour for his own pleasure and profit, and not for others who are idle, and would live and riot by pillaging and oppressing him, and those that are like him.

So that civil government is only a partial restraint put by the laws of agreement and society upon natural and absolute liberty, which might otherwise grow licentious: And tyranny is an unlimited restraint put upon natural liberty, by the will of one or a few. Magistracy, amongst a free people, is the exercise of power for the sake of the people; and tyrants abuse the people, for the sake of power. Free government is the protecting the people in their liberties by stated rules: Tyranny is a brutish struggle for unlimited liberty to one or a few, who would rob all others of their liberty, and act by no rule but lawless lust.

So much for an idea of civil liberty. I will now add a word or two, to shew how much it is the delight and passion of mankind; and then shew its advantages.

The love of liberty is an appetite so strongly implanted in the nature of all living creatures, that even the appetite of self-preservation, which is allowed to be the strongest, seems to be contained in it; since by the means of liberty they enjoy the means of preserving themselves, and of satisfying their desires in the manner which they themselves choose and like best. Many animals can never be tamed, but feel the bitterness of restraint in the midst of the kindest usage; and rather than bear it, grieve and starve themselves to death; and some beat out their brains against their prisons.

Where liberty is lost, life grows precarious, always miserable, often intolerable. Liberty is, to live upon one’s own terms; slavery is, to live at the mere mercy of another; and a life of slavery is, to those who can bear it, a continual state of uncertainty and wretchedness, often an apprehension of violence, often the lingering dread of a violent death: But by others, when no other remedy is to be had, death is reckoned a good one. And thus, to many men, and to many other creatures, as well as men, the love of liberty is beyond the love of life.

This passion for liberty in men, and their possession of it, is of that efficacy and importance, that it seems the parent of all the virtues: And therefore in free countries there seems to be another species of mankind, than is to be found under tyrants. Small armies of Greeks and Romans despised the greatest hosts of slaves; and a million of slaves have been sometimes beaten and conquered by a few thousand freemen. Insomuch that the difference seemed greater between them than between men and sheep. It was therefore well said by Lucullus, when, being about to engage the great King Tigranes’s army, he was told by some of his officers, how prodigious great the same was, consisting of between three and four hundred thousand men: “No matter,” said that brave Roman, drawing up his little army of fourteen thousand, but fourteen thousand Romans: “No matter; the lion never enquires into the number of the sheep.” And these royal troops proved no better; for the Romans had little else to do but to kill and pursue; which yet they could scarce do for laughing; so much more were they diverted than animated by the ridiculous dread and sudden flight of these imperial slaves and royal cowards.

Men eternally cowed and oppressed by haughty and insolent governors, made base themselves by the baseness of that sort of government, and become slaves by ruling over slaves, want spirit and souls to meet in the field freemen, who scorn oppressors, and are their own governors, or at least measure and direct the power of their governors.

Education alters nature, and becomes stronger. Slavery, while it continues, being a perpetual awe upon the spirits, depresses them, and sinks natural courage; and want and fear, the concomitants of bondage, always produce despondency and baseness; nor will men in bonds ever fight bravely, but to be free. Indeed, what else should they fight for; since every victory that they gain for a tyrant, makes them poorer and fewer; and, increasing his pride, increases his cruelty, with their own misery and chains?

Those, who, from terror and delusion, the frequent causes and certain effects of servitude, come to think their governors greater than men, as they find them worse, will be as apt to think themselves less: And when the head and the heart are thus both gone, the hands will signify little. They who are used like beasts, will be apt to degenerate into beasts. But those, on the contrary, who, by the freedom of their government and education, are taught and accustomed to think freely of men and things, find, by comparing one man with another, that all men are naturally alike; and that their governors, as they have the same face, constitution, and shape with themselves, and are subject to the same sickness, accidents, and death, with the meanest of their people; so they possess the same passions and faculties of the mind which their subjects possess, and not better. They therefore scorn to degrade and prostrate themselves, to adore those of their own species, however covered with titles, and disguised by power: They consider them as their own creatures; and, as far as they surmount themselves, the work of their own hands, and only the chief servants of the state, who have no more power to do evil than one of themselves, and are void of every privilege and superiority, but to serve them and the state. They know it to be a contradiction in religion and reason, for any man to have a right to do evil; that not to resist any man’s wickedness, is to encourage it; and that they have the least reason to bear evil and oppression from their governors, who of all men are the most obliged to do them good. They therefore detest slavery, and despise or pity slaves; and, adoring liberty alone, as they who see its beauty and feel its advantages always will, it is no wonder that they are brave for it.

Indeed liberty is the divine source of all human happiness. To possess, in security, the effects of our industry, is the most powerful and reasonable incitement to be industrious: And to be able to provide for our children, and to leave them all that we have, is the best motive to beget them. But where property is precarious, labour will languish. The privileges of thinking, saying, and doing what we please, and of growing as rich as we can, without any other restriction, than that by all this we hurt not the publick, nor one another, are the glorious privileges of liberty; and its effects, to live in freedom, plenty, and safety.

These are privileges that increase mankind, and the happiness of mankind. And therefore countries are generally peopled in proportion as they are free, and are certainly happy in that proportion: And upon the same tract of land that would maintain a hundred thousand freemen in plenty, five thousand slaves would starve. In Italy, fertile Italy, men die sometimes of hunger amongst the sheaves, and in a plentiful harvest; for what they sow and reap is none of their own; and their cruel and greedy governors, who live by the labour of their wretched vassals, do not suffer them to eat the bread of their own earning, nor to sustain their lives with their own hands.

Liberty naturally draws new people to it, as well as increases the old stock; and men as naturally run when they dare from slavery and wretchedness, whithersoever they can help themselves. Hence great cities losing their liberty become deserts, and little towns by liberty grow great cities; as will be fully proved before I have gone through this argument. I will not deny, but that there are some great cities of slaves: But such are only imperial cities, and the seats of great princes, who draw the wealth of a continent to their capital, the center of their treasure and luxury. Babylon, Antioch, Seleucia, and Alexandria, were great cities peopled by tyrants; but peopled partly by force, partly by the above reason, and partly by grants and indulgencies. Their power, great and boundless as it was, could not alone people their cities; but they were forced to soften authority by kindness; and having brought the inhabitants together by force, and by driving them captive like cattle, could not keep them together, without bestowing on them many privileges, to encourage the first inhabitants to stay, and to invite more to come.

This was a confession in those tyrants, that their power was mischievous and unjust; since they could not erect one great city, and make it flourish, without renouncing in a great measure their power over it; which, by granting it these privileges, in effect they did. These privileges were fixed laws, by which the trade and industry of the citizens were encouraged, and their lives and properties ascertained and protected, and no longer subjected to the laws of mere will and pleasure: And therefore, while these free cities, enjoying their own liberties and laws, flourished under them, the provinces were miserably harrassed, pillaged, dispeopled, and impoverished, and the inhabitants exhausted, starved, butchered, and carried away captive.

This shews that all civil happiness and prosperity is inseparable from liberty; and that tyranny cannot make men, or societies of men, happy, without departing from its nature, and giving them privileges inconsistent with tyranny. And here is an unanswerable argument, amongst a thousand others, against absolute power in a single man. Nor is there one way in the world to give happiness to communities, but by sheltering them under certain and express laws, irrevocable at any man’s pleasure.

There is not, nor can be, any security for a people to trust to the mere will of one, who, while his will is his law, cannot protect them if he would. The number of sycophants and wicked counsellors, that he will always and necessarily have about him, will defeat all his good intentions, by representing things falsely, and persons maliciously; by suggesting danger where it is not, and urging necessity where there is none; by filling their own coffers, under colour of filling his, and by raising money for themselves, pretending the publick exigencies of the state; by sacrificing particular men to their own revenge, under pretence of publick security; and by engaging him and his people in dangerous and destructive wars, for their own profit or fame; by throwing publick affairs into perpetual confusion, to prevent an enquiry into their own behaviour; and by making him jealous of his people, and his people of him, on purpose to manage and mislead both sides.

By all these, and many more wicked arts, they will be constantly leading him into cruel and oppressive measures, destructive to his people, scandalous and dangerous to himself; but entirely agreeable to their own spirit and designs. Thus will they commit all wickedness by their master’s authority, against his inclinations, and grow rich by the people’s poverty, without his knowledge; and the royal authority will be first a warrant for oppression, afterwards a protection from the punishment due to it. For, in short, the power of princes is often little else but a stalking-horse to the intrigues and ambition of their minister.

But if the disposition of such a prince be evil, what must be the forlorn condition of his people, and what door of hope can remain for common protection! The best princes have often evil counsellors, the bad will have no other: And in such a case, what bounds can be set to their fury, and to the havock they will make? The instruments and advisers of tyranny and depredation always thrive best and are nearest their ends, when depredation and tyranny run highest: When most is plundered from the people, their share is greatest; we may therefore suppose every evil will befall such a people, without supposing extravagantly. No happiness, no security, but certain misery, and a vile and precarious life, are the blessed terms of such a government—a government which necessarily introduces all evils, and from the same necessity neither must nor can redress any.

The nature of his education, bred up as he ever is in perpetual flattery, makes him haughty and ignorant; and the nature of his government, which subsists by brutish severity and oppression, makes him cruel. He is inaccessible, but by his ministers, whose study and interest will be to keep him from knowing or helping the state of his miserable people. Their master’s knowledge in his own affairs, would break in upon their scheme and power; they are not likely to lay before him representations of grievances caused by themselves; nor, if they be the effects of his own barbarity and command, will he hear them.

Even where absolute princes are not tyrants, there ministers will be tyrants. But it is indeed impossible for an arbitrary prince to be otherwise, since oppression is absolutely necessary to his being so. Without giving his people liberty, he cannot make them happy; and by giving them liberty, he gives up his own power. So that to be and continue arbitrary, he is doomed to be a tyrant in his own defence. The oppression of the people, corruption, wicked counsellors, and pernicious maxims in the court, and every where baseness, ignorance, and chains, must support tyranny, or it cannot be supported. So that in such governments there are inevitable grievances, without possible redress; misery, without mitigation or remedy; whatever is good for the people, is bad for their governors; and what is good for the governors, is pernicious to the people.

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Of Freedom of Speech: That the Same Is Inseparable from Publick Liberty

(No. 15, Saturday, February 4, 1721; by Thomas Gordon)

Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom; and no such thing as publick liberty, without freedom of speech: Which is the right of every man, as far as by it he does not hurt and control the right of another; and this is the only check which it ought to suffer, the only bounds which it ought to know.

This sacred privilege is so essential to free government, that the security of property; and the freedom of speech, always go together; and in those wretched countries where a man cannot call his tongue his own, he can scarce call any thing else his own. Whoever would overthrow the liberty of the nation, must begin by subduing the freedom of speech; a thing terrible to publick traitors.

. . .

That men ought to speak well of their governors, is true, while their governors deserve to be well spoken of; but to do publick mischief, without hearing of it, is only the prerogative and felicity of tyranny: A free people will be shewing that they are so, by their freedom of speech.

The administration of government is nothing else, but the attendance of the trustees of the people upon the interest and affairs of the people. And as it is the part and business of the people, for whose sake alone all publick matters are, or ought to be, transacted, to see whether they be well or ill transacted; so it is the interest, and ought to be the ambition, of all honest magistrates, to have their deeds openly examined, and publickly scanned: Only the wicked governors of men dread what is said of them. . . .

Freedom of speech is ever the symptom, as well as the effect, of good government. . . .

Guilt only dreads liberty of speech, which drags it out of its lurking holes, and exposes its deformity and horror to day-light. . . .

The best princes have ever encouraged and promoted freedom of speech; they knew that upright measures would defend themselves, and that all upright men would defend them. . . .

. . .

Freedom of speech is the great bulwark of liberty; they prosper and die together: And it is the terror of traitors and oppressors, and a barrier against them. It produces excellent writers, and encourages men of fine genius. . . .

. . .

All ministers, therefore, who were oppressors, or intended to be oppressors, have been loud in their complaints against freedom of speech, and the licence of the press; and always restrained, or endeavoured to restrain, both. In consequence of this, they have brow-beaten writers, punished them violently, and against law, and burnt their works. By all which they shewed how much truth alarmed them, and how much they were at enmity with truth.

. . .

Freedom of speech, therefore, being of such infinite importance to the preservation of liberty, every one who loves liberty ought to encourage freedom of speech. Hence it is that I, living in a country of liberty, and under the best prince upon earth, shall take this very favourable opportunity of serving mankind, by warning them of the hideous mischiefs that they will suffer, if ever corrupt and wicked men shall hereafter get possession of any state, and the power of betraying their master. . . .

God be thanked, we Englishmen have neither lost our liberties, nor are in danger of losing them. Let us always cherish this matchless blessing, almost peculiar to ourselves; that our posterity may, many ages hence, ascribe their freedom to our zeal. The defence of liberty is a noble, a heavenly office; which can only be performed where liberty is. . . .

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The Rights and Capacity of the People to Judge of Government

(No. 38, Saturday, July 22, 1721; by Thomas Gordon)

. . .

Of all the sciences that I know in the world, that of government concerns us most, and is the easiest to be known, and yet is the least understood. Most of those who manage it would make the lower world believe that there is I know not what difficulty and mystery in it, far above vulgar understandings; which proceeding of theirs is direct craft and imposture: Every ploughman knows a good government from a bad one, from the effects of it: he knows whether the fruits of his labour be his own, and whether he enjoy them in peace and security: And if he do not know the principles of government, it is for want of thinking and enquiry, for they lie open to common sense; but people are generally taught not to think of them at all, or to think wrong of them.

What is government, but a trust committed by all, or the most, to one, or a few, who are to attend upon the affairs of all, that every one may, with the more security, attend upon his own? A great and honourable trust; but too seldom honourably executed; those who possess it having it often more at heart to increase their power, than to make it useful; and to be terrible, rather than beneficent. It is therefore a trust, which ought to be bounded with many and strong restraints, because power renders men wanton, insolent to others, and fond of themselves. Every violation therefore of this trust, where such violation is considerable, ought to meet with proportionable punishment; and the smallest violation of it ought to meet with some, because indulgence to the least faults of magistrates may be cruelty to a whole people.

Honesty, diligence, and plain sense, are the only talents necessary for the executing of this trust; and the public good is its only end: As to refinements and finesses, they are often only the false appearances of wisdom and parts, and oftener tricks to hide guilt and emptiness; and they are generally mean and dishonest: they are the arts of jobbers in politicks, who, playing their own game under the publick cover, subsist upon poor shifts and expedients; starved politicians, who live from hand to mouth, from day to day, and following the little views of ambition, avarice, revenge, and the like personal passions, are ashamed to avow them, yet want souls great enough to forsake them; small wicked statesmen, who make a private market of the publick, and deceive it, in order to sell it.

These are the poor parts which great and good governors scorn to play, and cannot play; their designs, like their stations, being purely publick, are open and undisguised. They do not consider their people as their prey, nor lie in ambush for their subjects; nor dread, and treat and surprize them like enemies, as all ill magistrates do; who are not governors, but jailers and sponges, who chain them and squeeze them, and yet take it very ill if they do but murmur; which is yet much less than a people so abused ought to do. There have been times and countries, when publick ministers and publick enemies have been the same individual men. What a melancholy reflection is this, that the most terrible and mischievous foes to a nation should be its own magistrates! And yet in every enslaved country, which is almost every country, this is their woeful case.

Honesty and plainness go always together, and the makers and multipliers of mysteries, in the political way, are shrewdly to be suspected of dark designs. Cincinnatus was taken from the plough to save and defend the Roman state; an office which he executed honestly and successfully, without the grimace and gains of a statesman. Nor did he afterwards continue obstinately at the head of affairs, to form a party, raise a fortune, and settle himself in power: As he came into it with universal consent, he resigned it with universal applause.

It seems that government was not in those days become a trade, at least a gainful trade. Honest Cincinnatus was but a farmer: And happy had it been for the Romans, if, when they were enslaved, they could have taken the administration out of the hands of the emperors, and their refined politicians, and committed it to such farmers, or any farmers. It is certain, that many of their imperial governors acted more ridiculously than a board of ploughmen would have done, and more barbarously than a club of butchers could have done.

But some have said, It is not the business of private man to meddle with government. A bold, false, and dishonest saying; and whoever says it, either knows not what he says, or cares not, or slavishly speaks the sense of others. It is a cant now almost forgot in England, and which never prevailed but when liberty and the constitution were attacked, and never can prevail but upon the like occasion.

It is a vexation to be obliged to answer nonsense, and confute absurdities: But since it is and has been the great design of this paper to maintain and explain the glorious principles of liberty, and to expose the arts of those who would darken or destroy them; I shall here particularly shew the wickedness and stupidity of the above saying; which is fit to come from no mouth but that of a tyrant or a slave, and can never be heard by any man of an honest and free soul, without horror and indignation: It is, in short, a saying, which ought to render the man who utters it for ever incapable of place or credit in a free country, as it shews the malignity of his heart, and the baseness of his nature, and as it is the pronouncing of a doom upon our constitution. A crime, or rather a complication of crimes, for which a lasting infamy ought to be but part of the punishment.

But to the falsehood of the thing: Publick truths ought never to be kept secrets; and they who do it, are guilty of a solecism, and a contradiction: Every man ought to know what it concerns all to know. Now, nothing upon earth is of a more universal nature than government; and every private man upon earth has a concern in it, because in it is concerned, and nearly and immediately concerned, his virtue, his property, and the security of his person: And where all these are best preserved and advanced, the government is best administered; and where they are not, the government is impotent, wicked, or unfortunate; and where the government is so, the people will be so, there being always and every where a certain sympathy and analogy between the nature of the government and the nature of the people. This holds true in every instance. Public men are the patterns of private; and the virtues and vices of the governors become quickly the virtues and vices of the governed.

. . .

Nor is it example alone that does it. Ill governments, subsisting by vice and rapine, are jealous of private virtue, and enemies to private property. . . . They must be wicked and mischievous to be what they are; nor are they secure while any thing good or valuable is secure. Hence it is, that to drain, worry, and debauch their subjects, are the steady maxims of their politicks, their favourite arts of reigning. In this wretched situation the people, to be safe, must be poor and lewd: There will be but little industry where property is precarious; small honesty where virtue is dangerous.

Profuseness or frugality, and the like virtues or vices, which affect the publick, will be practised in the City, if they be practised in the court; and in the country, if they be in the City. Even Nero (that royal monster in man’s shape) was adored by the common herd at Rome, as much as he was flattered by the great; and both the little and the great admired, or pretended to admire, his manners, and many to imitate them. Tacitus tells us, that those sort of people long lamented him, and rejoiced in the choice of a successor that resembled him, even the profligate Otho.

Good government does, on the contrary, produce great virtue, much happiness, and many people. Greece and Italy, while they continued free, were each of them, for the number of inhabitants, like one continued city; for virtue, knowledge, and great men, they were the standards of the world; and that age and country that could come nearest to them, has ever since been reckoned the happiest. Their government, their free government, was the root of all these advantages, and of all this felicity and renown; and in these great and fortunate states the people were the principals in the government; laws were made by their judgment and authority, and by their voice and commands were magistrates created and condemned. The city of Rome could conquer the world; nor could the great Persian monarch, the greatest then upon earth, stand before the face of one Greek city.

But what are Greece and Italy now? Rome has in it a herd of pampered monks, and a few starving lay inhabitants; the Campania of Rome, the finest spot of earth in Europe, is a desert. And for the modern Greeks, they are a few abject contemptible slaves, kept under ignorance, chains, and vileness, by the Turkish monarch, who keeps a great part of the globe intensely miserable, that he may seem great without being so.

Such is the difference between one government and another, and of such important concernment is the nature and administration of government to a people. And to say that private men have nothing to do with government, is to say that private men have nothing to do with their own happiness and misery.

What is the publick, but the collective body of private men, as every private man is a member of the publick? And as the whole ought to be concerned for the preservation of every private individual, it is the duty of every individual to be concerned for the whole, in which himself is included.

One man, or a few men, have often pretended the publick, and meant themselves, and consulted their own personal interest, in instances essential to its well-being; but the whole people, by consulting their own interest, consult the publick, and act for the publick by acting for themselves: This is particularly the spirit of our constitution, in which the whole nation is represented; and our records afford instances, where the House of Commons have declined entering upon a question of importance, till they had gone into the country, and consulted their principals, the people: So far were they from thinking that private men had no right to meddle with government. In truth, our whole worldly happiness and misery (abating for accidents and diseases) are owing to the order or mismanagement of government; and he who says that private men have no concern with government, does wisely and modestly tell us, that men have no concern in that which concerns them most; it is saying that people ought not to concern themselves whether they be naked or clothed, fed or starved, deceived or instructed, and whether they be protected or destroyed: What nonsense and servitude in a free and wise nation!

For myself, who have thought pretty much of these matters, I am of opinion, that a whole nation are like to be as much attached to themselves, as one man or a few men are like to be, who may by many means be detached from the interest of a nation. It is certain that one man, and several men, may be bribed into an interest opposite to that of the publick; but it is as certain that a whole country can never find an equivalent for itself, and consequently a whole country can never be bribed. It is the eternal interest of every nation, that their government should be good; but they who direct it frequently reason a contrary way and find their own account in plunder and oppression; and while the publick voice is pretended to be declared, by one or a few, for vile and private ends, the publick know nothing of what is done, till they feel the terrible effects of it.

By the Bill of Rights, and the Act of Settlement, at the Revolution; a right is asserted to the people applying to the King and to the Parliament, by petition and address, for a redress of publick grievances and mismanagements, when such there are, of which they are left to judge; and the difference between free and enslaved countries lies principally here, that in the former, their magistrates must consult the voice and interest of the people; but in the latter, the private will, interest, and pleasure of the governors, are the sole end and motives of their administration.

Such is the difference between England and Turkey; which difference they who say that private men have no right to concern themselves with government, would absolutely destroy; they would convert magistrates into bashaws, and introduce popery into politicks. The late Revolution stands upon the very opposite maxim; and that any man dares to contradict it since the Revolution, would be amazing, did we not know that there are, in every country, hirelings who would betray it for a sop.

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Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty, the Principles of Government,

and the Justice and Policy of the War with America, Excerpt

 By Richard Price


[Price, Richard. Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty, the Principles of Government, and the Justice and Policy of the War with America. To which is added, an Appendix and Postscript, containing, a State of the National Debt, an Estimate of the Money drawn from the Public by the Taxes, and an Account of the National Income and Expenditure since the last War. The 9th edition. London: Edward and Charles Dilly and Thomas Cadell. 1776. The Online Library of Liberty. Used with permission of the Online Library of Liberty.] 


On the Nature of Liberty in General

Of Civil Liberty and the Principles of Government

Of the Authority of One Country over Another 

Of the Justice of the War with America 



OUR Colonies in North America appear to be now determined to risk and suffer every thing, under the persuasion, that Great Britain is attempting to rob them of that Liberty to which every member of society, and all civil communities, have a natural and unalienable right. The question, therefore, whether this is a reasonable persuasion, is highly interesting, and deserves the most careful attention of every Englishman who values Liberty, and wishes to avoid staining himself with the guilt of invading it. But it is impossible to judge properly of this question without correct ideas of Liberty in general; and of the nature, limits, and principles of Civil Liberty in particular.—The following observations on this subject appear to me important, as well as just; and I cannot make myself easy without offering them to the Public at the present period, big with events of the last consequence to this kingdom. I do this, with reluctance and pain, urged by strong feelings, but at the same time checked by the consciousness that I am likely to deliver sentiments not favourable to the present measures of that government, under which I live, and to which I am a constant and zealous well-wisher. Such, however, are my present sentiments and views, that this is a consideration of inferior moment with me; and, as I hope never to go beyond the bounds of decent discussion and expostulation, I flatter myself, that I shall be able to avoid giving any person just cause of offence.

The observations with which I shall begin, are of a more general and abstracted nature; but being, in my opinion, of particular consequence; and necessary to introduce what I have principally in view, I hope they will be patiently read and considered.



Of the Nature of Liberty in General.

IN order to obtain a more distinct and accurate view of the nature of Liberty as such, it will be useful to consider it under the four following general divisions.

First, Physical Liberty.—Secondly, Moral Liberty.—Thirdly, Religious Liberty.—And Fourthly, Civil Liberty.—These heads comprehend under them all the different kinds of Liberty. And I have placed Civil Liberty last, because I mean to apply to it all I shall say of the other kinds of Liberty.

By Physical Liberty I mean that principle of Spontaneity, or Self-determination, which constitutes us Agents; or which gives us a command over our actions, rendering them properly ours, and not effects of the operation of any foreign cause.—Moral Liberty is the power of following, in all circumstances, our sense of right and wrong; or of acting in conformity to our reflecting and moral principles, without being controuled by any contrary principles.—Religious Liberty signifies the power of exercising, without molestation, that mode of religion which we think best; or of making the decisions of our own consciences, respecting religious truth, the rule of our conduct, and not any of the decisions of others.—In like manner; Civil Liberty is the power of a Civil Society or State to govern itself by its own discretion; or by laws of its own making, without being subject to any foreign discretion, or to the impositions of any extraneous will or power.

It should be observed, that, according to these definitions of the different kinds of liberty, there is one general idea, that runs through them all; I mean, the idea of Self-direction, or Self-government.—Did our volitions originate not with ourselves, but with some cause over which we have no power; or were we under a necessity of always following some will different from our own, we should want Physical Liberty.

In like manner; he whose perceptions of moral obligation are controuled by his passions has lost his Moral Liberty; and the most common language applied to him is, that he wants Self-government.

He likewise who, in religion, cannot govern himself by his convictions of religious duty, but is obliged to receive formularies of faith, and to practise modes of worship imposed upon him by others, wants Religious Liberty.—And the Community also that is governed, not by itself, but by some will independent of it, and over which it has no controul, wants Civil Liberty.

In all these cases there is a force which stands opposed to the agent’s own will; and which, as far as it operates, produces Servitude.—In the first case, this force is incompatible with the very idea of voluntary motion; and the subject of it is a mere passive instrument which never acts, but is always acted upon.—In the second case; this force is the influence of passion getting the better of reason; or the brute overpowering and conquering the will of the man.—In the third case; it is Human Authority in religion requiring conformity to particular modes of faith and worship, and superseding private judgment.—And in the last case, it is any will distinct from that of the Majority of a Community, which claims a power of making laws for it, and disposing of its property.

This it is, I think, that marks the limit, or that lays the line between Liberty and Slavery. As far as, in any instance, the operation of any cause comes in to restrain the power of Self-government, so far Slavery is introduced: Nor do I think that a preciser idea than this of Liberty and Slavery can be formed.

I cannot help wishing I could here fix my reader’s attention, and engage him to consider carefully the dignity of that blessing to which we give the name of Liberty, according to the representation now made of it. There is not a word in the whole compass of language which expresses so much of what is important and excellent. It is, in every view of it, a blessing truly sacred and invaluable.—Without Physical Liberty, man would be a machine acted upon by mechanical springs, having no principle of motion in himself, or command over events; and, therefore, incapable of all merit and demerit.—Without Moral Liberty he is a wicked and detestable being, subject to the tyranny of base lusts, and the sport of every vile appetite.—And without Religious and Civil Liberty he is a poor and abject animal, without rights, without property, and without a conscience, bending his neck to the yoke, and crouching to the will of every silly creature who has the insolence to pretend to authority over him.—Nothing, therefore, can be of so much consequence to us as Liberty. It is the foundation of all honour, and the chief privilege and glory of our natures.

In fixing our ideas on the subject of Liberty, it is of particular use to take such an enlarged view of it as I have now given. But the immediate object of the present enquiry being Civil Liberty, I will confine to it all the subsequent observations.

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Of Civil Liberty and the Principles of Government.

FROM what has been said it is obvious, that all civil government, as far as it can be denominated free, is the creature of the people. It originates with them. It is conducted under their direction; and has in view nothing but their happiness. All its different forms are no more than so many different modes in which they chuse to direct their affairs, and to secure the quiet enjoyment of their rights.—In every free state every man is his own Legislator.—All taxes are free-gifts for public services.—All laws are particular provisions or regulations established by common consent for gaining protection and safety.—And all Magistrates are Trustees or Deputies for carrying these regulations into execution.

Liberty, therefore, is too imperfectly defined when it is said to be “a Government by Laws, and not by Men.” If the laws are made by one man, or a junto of men in a state, and not by common consent, a government by them does not differ from Slavery. In this case it would be a contradiction in terms to say that the state governs itself.

From hence it is obvious that Civil Liberty, in its most perfect degree, can be enjoyed only in small states, where every member is capable of giving his suffrage in person, and of being chosen into public offices. When a state becomes so numerous, or when the different parts of it are removed to such distances from one another, as to render this impracticable, a diminution of Liberty necessarily arises. There are, however, in these circumstances, methods by which such near approaches may be made to perfect Liberty as shall answer all the purposes of government, and at the same time secure every right of human nature.

Tho’ all the members of a state should not be capable of giving their suffrages on public measures, individually and personally, they may do this by the appointment of Substitutes or Representatives. They may entrust the powers of legislation, subject to such restrictions as they shall think necessary, with any number of Delegates; and whatever can be done by such delegates within the limits of their trust, may be considered as done by the united voice and counsel of the Community.—In this method a free government may be established in the largest state; and it is conceivable that by regulations of this kind, any number of states might be subjected to a scheme of government, that would exclude the desolations of war, and produce universal peace and order.

Let us think here of what may be practicable in this way with respect to Europe in particular.—While it continues divided, as it is at present, into a great number of independent kingdoms whose interests are continually clashing, it is impossible but that disputes will often arise which must end in war and carnage. It would be no remedy to this evil to make one of these states supreme over the rest; and to give it an absolute plenitude of power to superintend and controul them. This would be to subject all the states to the arbitrary discretion of one, and to establish an ignominious slavery not possible to be long endured. It would, therefore, be a remedy worse than the disease; nor is it possible it should be approved by any mind that has not lost every idea of Civil Liberty. On the contrary.—Let every state, with respect to all its internal concerns, be continued independent of all the rest; and let a general confederacy be formed by the appointment of a Senate consisting of Representatives from all the different states. Let this Senate possess the power of managing all the common concerns of the united states, and of judging and deciding between them, as a common Arbiter or Umpire, in all disputes; having, at the same time, under its direction, the common force of the states to support its decisions.—In these circumstances, each separate state would be secure against the interference of foreign power in its private concerns, and, therefore, would possess Liberty; and at the same time it would be secure against all oppression and insult from every neighbouring state.—Thus might the scattered force and abilities of a whole continent be gathered into one point; all litigations settled as they rose; universal peace preserved; and nation prevented from any more lifting up a sword against nation.

I have observed, that tho’, in a great state, all the individuals that compose it cannot be admitted to an immediate participation in the powers of legislation and government, yet they may participate in these powers by a delegation of them to a body of representatives.—In this case it is evident that the state will be still free or self-governed; and that it will be more or less so in proportion as it is more or less fairly and adequately represented. If the persons to whom the trust of government is committed hold their places for short terms; if they are chosen by the unbiassed voices of a majority of the state, and subject to their instructions: Liberty will be enjoyed in its highest degree. But if they are chosen for long terms by a part only of the state; and if during that term they are subject to no controul from their constituents; the very idea of Liberty will be lost, and the power of chusing representatives becomes nothing but a power, lodged in a few, to chuse at certain periods, a body of Masters for themselves and for the rest of the Community. And if a state is so sunk that the majority of its representatives are elected by a handful of the meanest[1] persons in it, whose votes are always paid for; and if also, there is a higher will on which even these mock representatives themselves depend, and that directs their voices: In these circumstances, it will be an abuse of language to say that the state possesses Liberty. Private men, indeed, might be allowed the exercise of Liberty; as they might also under the most despotic government; but it would be an indulgence or connivance derived from the spirit of the times, or from an accidental mildness in the administration. And, rather than be governed in such a manner, it would perhaps be better to be governed by the will of one man without any representation: For a representation so degenerated could answer no other end than to mislead and deceive, by disguising slavery, and keeping up a form of Liberty when the reality was lost.

Within the limits now mentioned, Liberty may be enjoyed in every possible degree; from that which is complete and perfect, to that which is merely nominal; according as the people have more or less of a share in government, and of a controuling power over the persons by whom it is administered.

In general, to be free is to be guided by one’s own will; and to be guided by the will of another is the characteristic of Servitude. This is particularly applieable to Political Liberty. That state, I have observed, is free, which is guided by its own will; or, (which comes to the same) by the will of an assembly of representatives appointed by itself and accountable to itself. And every state that is not so governed; or in which a body of men representing the people make not an essential part of the Legislature, is in slavery.—In order to form the most perfect constitution of government, there may be the best reasons for joining to such a body of representatives, an Hereditary Council, consisting of men of the first rank in the state, with a Supreme executive Magistrate at the head of all. This will form useful checks in a legislature; and contribute to give it vigour, union, and dispatch, without infringing liberty: for, as long as that part of a government which represents the people is a fair representation; and also has a negative on all public measures, together with the sole power of imposing taxes and originating supplies; the essentials of Liberty will be preserved.—We make it our boast in this country, that this is our own constitution. I will not say with how much reason.

Of such Liberty as I have now described, it is impossible that there should be an excess. Government is an institution for the benefit of the people governed, which they have power to model as they please; and to say, that they can have too much of this power, is to say, that there ought to be a power in the state superior to that which gives it being, and from which all jurisdiction in it is derived.—Licentiousness, which has been commonly mentioned, as an extreme of liberty, is indeed its opposite. It is government by the will of rapacious individuals, in opposition to the will of the community, made known and declared in the laws. A free state, at the same time that it is free itself, makes all its members free by excluding licentiousness, and guarding their persons and property and good name against insult. It is the end of all just government, at the same time that it secures the liberty of the public against foreign injury, to secure the liberty of the individual against private injury. I do not, therefore, think it strictly just to say, that it belongs to the nature of government to entrench on private liberty. It ought never to do this, except as far as the exercise of private liberty encroaches on the liberties of others. That is; it is licentiousness it restrains, and liberty itself only when used to destroy liberty.

It appears from hence, that licentiousness and despotism are more nearly allied than is commonly imagined. They are both alike inconsistent with liberty, and the true end of government; nor is there any other difference between them, than that the one is the licentiousness of great men, and the other the licentiousness of little men; or that, by the one, the persons and property of a people are subject to outrage and invasion from a King, or a lawless body of Grandees; and that, by the other, they are subject to the like outrage from a lawless mob—In avoiding one of these evils, mankind have often run into the other. But all well-constituted governments guard equally against both. Indeed of the two, the last is, on several accounts, the least to be dreaded, and has done the least mischief. It may be truly said, that if licentiousness has destroyed its thousands, despotism has destroyed its millions. The former, having little power, and no system to support it, necessarily finds its own remedy; and a people soon get out of the tumult and anarchy attending it. But a despotism, wearing the form of government, and being armed with its force, is an evil not to be conquered without dreadful struggles. It goes on from age to age, debasing the human faculties, levelling all distinctions, and preying on the rights and blessings of society.—It deserves to be added, that in a state disturbed by licentiousness, there is an animation which is favourable to the human mind, and which puts it upon exerting its powers. But in a state habituated to a despotism; all is still and torpid. A dark and savage tyranny stifles every effort of genius; and the mind loses all its spirit and dignity.

Before I proceed to what I have farther in view, I will observe, that the account now given of the principles of public Liberty, and the nature of an equal and free government, shews what judgment we should form of that omnipotence, which, it has been said, must belong to every government as such. Great stress has been laid on this, but most unreasonably.—Government, as has been before observed, is, in the very nature of it, a Trust; and all its powers a delegation for gaining particular ends. This trust may be misapplied and abused. It may be employed to deseat the very ends for which it was instituted; and to subvert the very rights which it ought to protect.—A Parliament, for instance, consisting of a body of representatives, chosen for a limited period, to make laws, and to grant money for public services, would forfeit its authority by making itself porpetual, or even prolonging its own duration; by nominating its own members; by accepting bribes; or subjecting itself to any kind of foreign influence. This would convert a Parliament into a conclave or junto of self-created tools; and a state that has lost its regard to its own rights, so far as to submit to such a breach of trust in its rulers, is enslaved.—Nothing, therefore, can be more absurd than the doctrine which some have taught, with respect to the omnipotence of parliaments. They possess no power beyond the limits of the trust for the execution of which they were formed. If they contradict this trust, they betray their constituents, and dissolve themselves. All delegated power must be subordinate and limited.—If omnipotence can, with any sense, be ascribed to a legislature, it must be lodged where all legislative authority originates; that is, in the People. For their sakes government is instituted; and their’s is the only real omnipotence.

I am sensible, that all I have been saying would be very absurd, were the opinions just which some have maintained concerning the origin of government. According to these opinions, government is not the creature of the people, or the result of a convention between them and their rulers: But there are certain men who possess in themselves, independently of the will of the people, a right of governing them, which they derive from the Deity. This doctrine has been abundantly refuted by many[2] excellent writers. It is a doctrine which avowedly subverts Civil Liberty; and which represents mankind as a body of vassals, formed to descend like cattle from one set of owners to another, who have an absolute dominion over them. It is a wonder, that those who view their species in a light so humiliating, should ever be able to think of themselves without regret and shame. The intention of these observations is not to oppose such sentiments; but, taking for granted the reasonableness of Civil Liberty, to shew wherein it consists, and what distinguishes it from its contrary.—And, in considering this subject, as it has been now treated, it is unavoidable to reflect on the excellency of a free government, and its tendency to exalt the nature of man.—Every member of a free state, having his property secure, and knowing himself his own governor, possesses a consciousness of dignity in himself, and feels incitements to emulation and improvement, to which the miserable slaves of arbitrary power must be utter strangers. In such a state all the springs of action have room to operate, and the mind is stimulated to the noblest exertions.[3] —But to be obliged, from our birth, to look up to a creature no better than ourselves as the master of our fortunes; and to receive his will as our law—What can be more humiliating? What elevated ideas can enter a mind in such a situation?—Agreeably to this remark; the subjects of free states have, in all ages, been most distinguished for genius and knowledge. Liberty is the soil where the arts and sciences have flourished; and the more free a state has been, the more have the powers of the human mind been drawn forth into action, and the greater number of brave men has it produced. With what lustre do the antient free states of Greece shine in the annals of the world? How different is that country now, under the Great Turk? The difference between a country inhabited by men, and by brutes, is not greater.

These are reflexions which should be constantly present to every mind in this country.—As Moral Liberty is the prime blessing of man in his private capacity, so is Civil Liberty in his public capacity. There is nothing that requires more to be watched than power. There is nothing that ought to be opposed with a more determined resolution than its encroachments. Sleep in a state, as Montesquieu says, is always followed by slavery.

The people of this kingdom were once warmed by such sentiments as these. Many a sycophant of power have they sacrificed. Often have they fought and bled in the cause of Liberty. But that time seems to be going. The fair inheritance of Liberty left us by our ancestors many of us are not unwilling to resign. An abandoned venality, the inseparable companion of dissipation and extravagance, has poisoned the springs of public virtue among us: And should any events ever arise that should render the same opposition necessary that took place in the times of King Charles the First, and James the Second, I am afraid all that is valuable to us would be lost. The terror of the standing army, the danger of the public funds, and the all-corrupting influence of the treasury, would deaden all zeal, and produce general acquiescence and servility.

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Of the Authority of one Country over another.

FROM the nature and principles of Civil Liberty, as they have been now explained, it is an immediate and necessary inference, that no one community can have any power over the property or legislation of another community, that is not incorporated with it by a just and adequate representation.—Then only, it has been shewn, is a state free, when it is governed by its own will. But a country that is subject to the legislature of another country, in which it has no voice, and over which it has no controul, cannot be said to be governed by its own will. Such a country, therefore, is in a state of slavery. And it deserves to be particularly considered, that such a slavery is worse, on several accounts, than any slavery of private men to one another, or of kingdoms to despots within themselves.—Between one state and another, there is none of that fellow-feeling that takes place between persons in private life. Being detached bodies that never see one another, and residing perhaps in different quarters of the globe, the state that governs cannot be a witness to the sufferings occasioned by its oppressions; or a competent judge of the circumstances and abilities of the people who are governed. They must also have in a great degree separate interests; and the more the one is loaded, the more the other may be eased. The infamy likewise of oppression, being in such circumstances shared among a multitude, is not likely to be much felt or regarded.—On all these accounts there is, in the case of one country subjugated to another, little or nothing to check rapacity; and the most flagrant injustice and cruelty may be practised without remorse or pity.—I will add, that it is particularly difficult to shake off a tyranny of this kind. A single despot, if a people are unanimous and resolute, may be soon subdued. But a despotic state is not easily subdued; and a people subject to it cannot emancipate themselves without entering into a dreadful, and, perhaps, very unequal contest.

I cannot help observing farther, that the slavery of a people to internal despots may be qualified and limited; but I don’t see what can limit the authority of one state over another. The exercise of power in this case can have no other measure than discretion; and, therefore, must be indefinite and absolute.

Once more. It should be considered that the government of one country by another, can only be supported by a military force; and, without such a support, must be destitute of all weight and efficiency.

This will be best explained by putting the following case.—There is, let us suppose, in a province subject to the sovereignty of a distant state, a subordinate legislature consisting of an Assembly chosen by the people; a Council chosen by that Assembly; and a Governor appointed by the Sovereign State, and paid by the Province. There are likewise, judges and other officers, appointed and paid in the same manner, for administering justice agreeably to the laws, by the verdicts of juries fairly and indiscriminately chosen.—This forms a constitution seemingly free, by giving the people a share in their own government, and some check on their rulers. But, while there is a higher legislative power, to the controul of which such a constitution is subject, it does not itself possess Liberty, and therefore, cannot be of any use as a security to Liberty; nor is it possible that it should be of long duration. Laws offensive to the Province will be enacted by the Sovereign State. The legislature of the Province will remonstrate against them. The magistrates will not execute them. Juries will not convict upon them; and consequently, like the Pope’s Bulls which once governed Europe, they will become nothing but forms and empty sounds, to which no regard will be shewn.—In order to remedy this evil, and to give efficiency to its government, the supreme state will naturally be led to withdraw the Governor, the Council, and the Judges[4] from the controul of the Province, by making them entirely dependent on itself for their pay and continuance in office, as well as for their appointment. It will also alter the mode of chusing Juries on purpose to bring them more under its influence: And in some cases, under the pretence of the impossibility of gaining an impartial trial where government is resisted, it will perhaps ordain, that offenders shall be removed from the Province to be tried within its own territories: And it may even go so far in this kind of policy, as to endeavour to prevent the effects of discontents, by forbidding all meetings and associations of the people, except at such times, and for such particular purposes, as shall be permitted them.

Thus will such a Province be exactly in the same state that Britain would be in, were our first executive magistrate, our House of Lords, and our Judges, nothing but the instruments of a foreign democratical power; were our Juries nominated by that power; or were we liable to be transported to a distant country to be tried for offences committed here; and restrained from calling any meetings, consulting about any grievances, or associating for any purposes, except when leave should be given us by a Lord Lieutenant or Viceroy.

It is certain that this is a state of oppression which no country could endure, and to which it would be vain to expect, that any people should submit an hour without an armed force to compel them.

The late transactions in Massachusett’s Bay are a perfect exemplification of what I have now said. The government of Great Britain in that Province has gone on exactly in the train I have described; till at last it became necessary to station troops there, not amenable to the civil power; and all terminated in a government by the Sword. And such, if a people are not sunk below the character of men, will be the issue of all government in similar circumstances.

It may be asked—“Are there not causes by which one state may acquire a rightful authority over another, though not consolidated by an adequate Representation?”—I answer, that there are no such causes.—All the causes to which such an effect can be ascribed are Conquest, Compact, or Obligations conferred.

Much has been said of the right of conquest; and history contains little more than accounts of kingdoms reduced by it under the dominion of other kingdoms, and of the havock it has made among mankind. But the authority derived from hence, being founded on violence, is never rightful. The Roman Republic was nothing but a faction against the general liberties of the world; and had no more right to give law to the Provinces subject to it, than thieves have to the property they seize, or to the houses into which they break.—Even in the case of a just war undertaken by one people to defend itself against the oppressions of another people, conquest gives only a right to an indemnification for the injury which occasioned the war, and a reasonable security against future injury.

Neither can any state require such an authority over other states in virtue of any compacts or cessions. This is a case in which compacts are not binding. Civil Liberty is, in this respect, on the same footing with Religious Liberty. As no people can lawfully surrender their Religious Liberty, by giving up their right of judging for themselves in religion, or by allowing any human beings to prescribe to them what faith they shall embrace, or what mode of worship they shall practise; so neither can any civil societies lawfully surrender their Civil Liberty, by giving up to any extraneous jurisdiction their power of legislating for themselves and disposing their property. Such a cession, being inconsistent with the unalienable rights of human nature, would either not bind at all; or bind only the individuals who made it. This is a blessing which no one generation of men can give up for another; and which, when lost, a people have always a right to resume.—Had our ancestors in this country been so mad as to have subjected themselves to any foreign Community, we could not have been under any obligation to continue in such a state. And all the nations now in the world who, in consequence of the tameness and folly of their predecessors, are subject to arbitrary power, have a right to emancipate themselves as soon as they can.

If neither conquest nor compact can give such an authority, much less can any favours received, or any services performed by one state for another.—Let the favour received be what it will, Liberty is too dear a price for it. A state that has been obliged is not, therefore, bound to be enslaved. It ought, if possible, to make an adequate return for the services done to it; but to suppose that it ought to give up the power of governing itself, and the disposal of its property, would be to suppose, that, in order to shew its gratitude, it ought to part with the power of ever afterwards exercising gratitude.—How much has been done by this kingdom for Hanover? But no one will say that on this account, we have a right to make the laws of Hanover; or even to draw a single penny from it without its own consent.

After what has been said it will, I am afraid, be trifling to apply the preceding arguments to the case of different communities, which are considered as different parts of the same Empire. But there are reasons which render it necessary for me to be explicit in making this application.

What I mean here is just to point out the difference of situation between communities forming an Empire; and particular bodies or classes of men forming different parts of a Kingdom. Different communities forming an Empire have no connexions, which produce a necessary reciprocation of interests between them. They inhabit different districts, and are governed by different legislatures.—On the contrary. The different classes of men within a kingdom are all placed on the same ground. Their concerns and interests are the same; and what is done to one part must affect all.—These are situations totally different; and a constitution of government that may be consistent with Liberty in one of them, may be entirely inconsistent with it in the other. It is, however, certain that, even in the last of these situations, no one part ought to govern the rest. In order to a fair and equal government, there ought to be a fair and equal representation of all that are governed; and as far as this is wanting in any government, it deviates from the principles of Liberty, and becomes unjust and oppressive.—But in the circumstances of different communities, all this holds with unspeakably more force. The government of a part in this case becomes complete tyranny; and subjection to it becomes complete slavery.

But ought there not, it is asked, to exist somewhere in an Empire a supreme legislative authority over the whole; or a power to controul and bind all the different states of which it consists?—This enquiry has been already answered. The truth is, that such a supreme controuling power ought to exist no-where except in such a Senate or body of delegates as that described in page 7; and that the authority or supremacy of even this senate ought to be limited to the common concerns of the Empire.—I think I have proved that the fundamental principles of Liberty necessarily require this.

In a word. An Empire is a collection of states or communities united by some common bond or tye. If these states have each of them free constitutions of government, and, with respect to taxation and internal legislation, are independent of the other states, but united by compacts, or alliances, or subjection to a Great Council, representing the whole, or to one monarch entrusted with the supreme executive power: In these circumstances, the Empire will be an Empire of Freemen.—If, on the contrary, like the different provinces subject to the Grand Seignior, none of the states possess any independent legislative authority; but are all subject to an absolute monarch, whose will is their law, then is the Empire an Empire of Slaves.—If one of the states is free, but governs by its will all the other states; then is the Empire, like that of the Romans in the times of the republic, an Empire consisting of one state free, and the rest in slavery: Nor does it make any more difference in this case, that the governing state is itself free, than it does in the case of a kingdom subject to a despot, that this despot is himself free. I have before observed, that this only makes the slavery worse. There is, in the one case, a chance, that in the quick succession of despots, a good one will sometimes arise. But bodies of men continue the same; and have generally proved the most unrelenting of all tyrants.

A great writer before[5] quoted, observes of the Roman Empire, that while Liberty was at the center, tyranny prevailed in the distant provinces; that such as were free under it were extremely so, while those who were slaves groaned under the extremity of slavery; and that the same events that destroyed the liberty of the former, gave liberty to the latter.

The Liberty of the Romans, therefore, was only an additional calamity to the provinces governed by them; and though it might have been said of the citizens of Rome, that they were the “freest members of any civil society in the known world;” yet of the subjects of Rome, it must have been said, that they were the completest slaves in the known world.—How remarkable is it, that this very people, once the freest of mankind, but at the same time the most proud and tyrannical, should become at last the most contemptible and abject slaves that ever existed?

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IN the foregoing disquisitions, I have, from one leading principle, deduced a number of consequences, that seems to me incapable of being disputed. I have meant that they should be applied to the great question between this kingdom and the Colonies which has occasioned the present war with them.

It is impossible but my readers must have been all along making this application; and if they still think that the claims of this kingdom are reconcilable to the principles of true liberty and legitimate government, I am afraid, that nothing I shall farther say will have any effect on their judgments. I wish, however, they would have the patience and candour to go with me, and grant me a hearing some time longer.

Though clearly decided in my own judgment on this subject, I am inclined to make great allowances for the different judgments of others. We have been so used to speak of the Colonies as our Colonies, and to think of them as in a state of subordination to us, and as holding their existence in America only for our use, that it is no wonder the prejudices of many are alarmed, when they find a different doctrine maintained. The meanest person among us is disposed to look upon himself as having a body of subjects in America; and to be offended at the denial of his right to make laws for them, though perhaps he does not know what colour they are of, or what language they talk—Such are the natural prejudices of this country.—But the time is coming, I hope, when the unreasonableness of them will be seen; and more just sentiments prevail.

Before I proceed, I beg it may be attended to, that I have chosen to try this question by the general principles of Civil Liberty; and not by the practice of former times; or by the Charters granted the colonies.—The arguments for them, drawn from these last topics, appear to me greatly to outweigh the arguments against them. But I wish to have this question brought to a higher test, and surer issue. The question with all liberal enquirers ought to be, not what jurisdiction over them Precedents, Statutes, and Charters give, but what reason and equity, and the rights of humanity give.—This is, in truth, a question which no kingdom has ever before had occasion to agitate. The case of a free country branching itself out in the manner Britain has done, and sending to a distant world colonies which have there, from small beginnings, and under free legislatures of their own, increased, and formed a body of powerful states, likely soon to become superior to the parent state—This is a case which is new in the history of mankind; and it is extremely improper to judge of it by the rules of any narrow and partial policy; or to consider it on any other ground than the general one of reason and justice.—Those who will be candid enough to judge on this ground, and who can divest themselves of national prejudices, will not, I fancy, remain long unsatisfied.—But alas! Matters are gone too far. The dispute probably must be settled another way; and the sword alone, I am afraid, is now to determine what the rights of Britain and America are.—Shocking situation!—Detested be the measures which have brought us into it: And, if we are endeavouring to enforce injustice, cursed will be the war.—A retreat, however, is not yet impracticable. The duty we owe our gracious sovereign obliges us to rely on his disposition to stay the sword, and to promote the happiness of all the different parts of the Empire at the head of which he is placed. With some hopes, therefore, that it may not be too late to reason on this subject, I will, in the following Sections, enquire what the war with America is in the following respects.

  • 1. In respect of Justice.
  • 2. The Principles of the Constitution.
  • 3. In respect of Policy and Humanity.
  • 4. The Honour of the Kingdom.

And lastly, The Probability of succeeding in it.



Of the Justice of the War with America.

THE enquiry, whether the war with the Colonies is a just war, will be best determined by stating the power over them, which it is the end of the war to maintain: And this cannot be better done, than in the words of an act of parliament, made on purpose to define it. That act, it is well known, declares, “That this kingdom has power, and of right ought to have power to make laws and statutes to bind the Colonies, and people of America, in all cases whatever.”—Dreadful power indeed! I defy any one to express slavery in stronger language. It is the same with declaring “that we have a right to do with them what we please.”—I will not waste my time by applying to such a claim any of the preceding arguments. If my reader does not feel more in this case, than words can express, all reasoning must be vain.

But, probably, most persons will be for using milder language; and for saying no more than, that the united legislatures of England and Scotland have of right power to tax the Colonies, and a supremacy of legislation over America.—But this comes to the same. If it means any thing, it means, that the property, and the legislations of the Colonies, are subject to the absolute discretion of Great Britain, and ought of right to be so. The nature of the thing admits of no limitation. The Colonies can never be admitted to be judges, how far the authority over them in these cases shall extend. This would be to destroy it entirely.—If any part of their property is subject to our discretion, the whole must be so. If we have a right to interfere at all in their internal legislations, we have a right to interfere as far as we think proper.—It is self-evident, that this leaves them nothing they can call their own.—And what is it that can give to any people such a supremacy over another people?—I have already examined the principal answers which have been given to this enquiry. But it will not be amiss in this place to go over some of them again.

It has been urged, that such a right must be lodged somewhere, “in order to preserve the Unity of the British Empire.”

Pleas of this sort have, in all ages, been used to justify tyranny.—They have in Religion given rise to numberless oppressive claims, and slavish Hierarchies. And in the Romish Communion particularly, it is well known, that the Pope claims the title and powers of the supreme head on earth of the Christian church, in order to preserve its Unity.—With respect to the British Empire, nothing can be more preposterous than to endeavour to maintain its unity, by setting up such a claim. This is a method of establishing unity, which, like the similar method in religion, can produce nothing but discord and mischief.—The truth is, that a common relation to one supreme executive head; an exchange of kind offices; tyes of interest and affection, and compacts, are sufficient to give the British Empire all the unity that is necessary. But if not—If, in order to preserve its Unity, one half of it must be enslaved to the other half, let it, in the name of God, want Unity.

Much has been said of “the Superiority of the British State.” But what gives us our superiority?—Is it our Wealth?—This never confers real dignity. On the contrary: Its effect is always to debase, intoxicate, and corrupt.—Is it the number of our people? The colonies will soon be equal to us in number.—Is it our Knowledge and Virtue? They are probably equally knowing, and more virtuous. There are names among them that will not stoop to any names among the philosophers and politicians of this island.

“But we are the Parent State.”—These are the magic words which have fascinated and misled us.—The English came from Germany. Does that give the German states a right to tax us?—Children, having no property, and being incapable of guiding themselves, the Author of nature has committed the care of them to their parents, and subjected them to their absolute authority. But there is a period when, having acquired property, and a capacity of judging for themselves, they become independent agents; and when, for this reason, the authority of their parents ceases, and becomes nothing but the respect and influence due to benefactors. Supposing, therefore, that the order of nature in establishing the relation between parents and children, ought to have been the rule of our conduct to the Colonies, we should have been gradually relaxing our authority as they grew up. But, like mad parents, we have done the contrary; and, at the very time when our authority should have been most relaxed, we have carried it to the greatest extent, and exercised it with the greatest rigour. No wonder then, that they have turned upon us; and obliged us to remember, that they are not Children.

“But we have,” it is said, “protected them, and run deeply in debt on their “account.”—The full answer to this has been already given, (page 13.) Will any one say, that all we have done for them has not been more on our own account,[6] than on theirs?—But suppose the contrary. Have they done nothing for us? Have they made no compensation for the protection they have received? Have they not helped us to pay our taxes, to support our poor, and to bear the burthen of our debts, by taking from us, at our own price, all the commodities with which we can supply them?—Have they not, for our advantage, submitted to many restraints in acquiring property? Must they likewise resign to us the disposal of that property?—Has not their exclusive trade with us been for many years one of the chief sources of our national wealth and power?—In all our wars have they not sought by our side, and contributed much to our success? In the last war, particularly, it is well known, that they ran themselves deeply in debt; and that the parliament thought it necessary to grant them considerable sums annually as compensations for going beyond their abilities in assisting us. And in this course would they have continued for many future years; perhaps, for ever.—In short; were an accurate account stated, it is by no means certain which side would appear to be most indebted. When asked as freemen, they have hitherto seldom discovered any reluctance in giving. But, in obedience to a demand, and with the bayonet at their breasts, they will give us nothing but blood.

It is farther said, “that the land on which they settled was ours.”—But how same it to be ours? If sailing along a coast can give a right to a country, then might the people of Japan become, as soon as they please, the proprietors of Britain. Nothing can be more chimerical than property founded on such a reason. If the land on which the Colonies first settled had any proprietors, they were the natives. The greatest part of it they bought of the natives. They have since cleared and cultivated it; and, without any help from us, converted a wilderness into fruitful and pleasant fields. It is, therefore, now on a double account their property; and no power on earth can have any right to disturb them in the possession of it, or to take from them, without their consent, any part of its produce.

But let it be granted that the land was ours. Did they not settle upon it under the faith of charters, which promised them the enjoyment of all the rights of Englishmen; and allowed them to tax themselves, and to be governed by legislatures of their own, similar to ours? These charters were given them by an authority, which at the time was thought competent; and they have been rendered sacred by an acquiescence on our part for more than a century. Can it then be wondered at, that the Colonies should revolt, when they found their charters violated; and an attempt made to force innovations upon them by famine and the sword?—But I lay no stress on charters. They derive their rights from a higher source. It is inconsistent with common sense to imagine, that any people would ever think of settling in a distant country, on any such condition, as that the people from whom they withdrew, should for ever be masters of their property, and have power to subject them to any modes of government they pleased. And had there been express stipulations to this purpose in all the charters of the colonies, they would, in my opinion, be no more bound by them, than if it had been stipulated with them, that they should go naked, or expose themselves to the incursions of wolves and tigers.

The defective state of the representation of this kingdom has been farther pleaded to prove our right to tax America. We submit to a parliament that does not represent us, and therefore they ought.—How strange an argument is this? It is saying we want liberty; and therefore, they ought to want it.—Suppose it true, that they are indeed contending for a better constitution of government, and more liberty than we enjoy: Ought this to make us angry?—Who is there that does not see the danger to which this country is exposed?—Is it generous, because we are in a sink, to endeavour to draw them into it? Ought we not rather to wish earnestly, that there may at least be one free country left upon earth, to which we may fly, when venality, luxury, and vice have completed the ruin of Liberty here?

It is, however, by no means true, that America has no more right to be exempted from taxation by the British parliament, than Britain itself.—Here, all freeholders, and burgesses in boroughs, are represented. There, not one Freeholder, or any other person, is represented.—Here, the aids granted by the represented part of the kingdom must be proportionably paid by themselves; and the laws they make for others, they at the same time make for themselves. There, the aids they would grant would not be paid, but received, by themselves; and the laws they made would be made for others only.—In short. The relation of one country to another country, whose representatives have the power of taxing it (and of appropriating the money raised by the taxes) is much the same with the relation of a country to a single despot, or a body of despots, within itself, invested with the like power. In both cases, the people taxed and those who tax have separate interests; nor can there be any thing to check oppression, besides either the abilities of the people taxed, or the humanity of the taxers.—But indeed I can never hope to convince that person of any thing, who does not see an essential difference[7] between the two cases now mentioned; or between the circumstances of individuals, and classes of men, making parts of a community imperfectly represented in the legislature that governs it; and the circumstances of a whole community, in a distant world, not at all represented.

But enough has been said by others on this point; nor is it possible for me to throw any new light upon it. To finish, therefore, what I meant to offer under this head, I must beg that the following considerations may be particularly attended to.

The question now between us and the Colonies is, Whether, in respect of taxation and internal legislation, they are bound to be subject to the jurisdiction of this kingdom: Or, in other words, Whether the British parliament has or has not of right a power to dispose of their property, and to model as it pleases their governments?—To this supremacy over them, we say, we are entitled; and in order to maintain it, we have begun the present war.—Let me here enquire,

1st. Whether, if we have now this supremacy, we shall not be equally entitled to it in any future time?—They are now but little short of half our number. To this number they have grown, from a small body of original settlers, by a very rapid increase. The probability is, that they will go on to increase; and that, in 50 or 60 years, they will be double our number;[8] and form a mighty Empire, consisting of a variety of states, all equal or superior to ourselves in all the arts and accomplishments, which give dignity and happiness to human life. In that period, will they be still bound to acknowledge that supremacy over them which we now claim? Can there be any person who will assert this; or whose mind does not revolt at the idea of a vast continent, holding all that is valuable to it, at the discretion of a handful of people on the other side the Atlantic?—But if, at that period, this would be unreasonable; what makes it otherwise now?—Draw the line, if you can.—But there is a still greater difficulty.

Britain is now, I will suppose, the seat of Liberty and Virtue; and its legislature consists of a body of able and independent men, who govern with wisdom and justice. The time may come when all will be reversed: When its excellent constitution of Government will be subverted: When, pressed by debts and taxes, it will be greedy to draw to itself an increase of revenue from every distant Province, in order to ease its own burdens: When the influence of the crown, strengthened by luxury and an universal profligacy of manners, will have tainted every heart, broken down every fence of Liberty, and rendered us a nation of tame and contented vassals: When a General Election will be nothing but a General Auction of Boroughs: And when the Parliament, the Grand Council of the nation, and once the faithful guardian of the state, and a terror to evil ministers, will be degenerated into a body of Sycophants, dependent and venal, always ready to confirm any measures; and little more than a public court for registering royal edicts.—Such, it is possible, may, some time or other, be the state of Great Britain.—What will, at that period, be the duty of the Colonies? Will they be still bound to unconditional submission? Must they always continue an appendage to our government; and follow it implicitly through every change that can happen to it?—Wretched condition, indeed, of millions of freemen as good as ourselves!—Will you say that we now govern equitably; and that there is no danger of any such revolution?—Would to God this were true!—But will you not always say the same? Who shall judge whether we govern equitably or not? Can you give the Colonies any security that such a period will never come? Once more.

If we have indeed that power which we claim over the legislations, and internal rights of the Colonies, may we not, whenever we please, subject them to the arbitrary power of the crown?—I do not mean, that this would be a disadvantageous change: For I have before observed, that if a people are to be subject to an external power over which they have no command, it is better that power should be lodged in the hands of one man than of a multitude. But many persons think otherwise; and such ought to consider that, if this would be a calamity, the condition of the Colonies must be deplorable.—“A government by King, Lords, and Commons, (it has been said) is the perfection of government;” and so it is, when the Commons are a just representation of the people; and when also, it is not extended to any distant people, or communities, not represented. But if this is the best, a government by a king only must be the worst; and every claim implying a right to establish such a government among any people must be unjust and cruel.—It is self-evident, that by claiming a right to alter the constitutions of the Colonies, according to our discretion, we claim this power: And it is a power that we have thought fit to exercise in one of our Colonies; and that we have attempted to exercise in another.—Canada, according to the late extension of its limits, is a country almost as large as half Europe; and it may possibly come in time to be filled with British subjects. The Quebec act makes the king of Great Britain a despot over all that country.—In the Province of Massachusett’s Bay the same thing has been attempted and begun.

The act for better regulating their government, passed at the same time with the Quebec act, gives the king the right of appointing, and removing at his pleasure, the members of one part of the legislature; alters the mode of chusing juries, on purpose to bring it more under the influence of the king; and takes away from the province the power of calling any meetings of the people without the king’s consent.[9] —The judges, likewise, have been made dependent on the king, for their nomination and pay, and continuance in office.—If all this is no more than we have a right to do; may we not go on to abolish the house of representatives, to destroy all trials by juries, and to give up the province absolutely and totally to the will of the king?—May we not even establish popery in the province, as has been lately done in Canada, leaving the support of protestantism to the king’s discretion?—Can there be any Englishman who, were it his own case, would not sooner lose his heart’s blood than yield to claims so pregnant with evils, and destructive to every thing that can distinguish a Freeman from a Slave?

I will take this opportunity to add, that what I have now said, suggests a consideration that demonstrates, on how different a footing the Colonies are with respect to our government, from particular bodies of men within the kingdom, who happen not to be represented. Here, it is impossible that the represented part should subject the unrepresented part to arbitrary power, without including themselves. But in the Colonies it is not impossible. We know that it has been done.

[Remainder omitted]

[1] In Great Britain, consisting of near six millions of inhabitants, 5723 persons, most of them the lowest of the people, elect one half of the House of Commens; and 364 votes chuse a ninth part. This may be seen distinctly made out in the Political Disquisitions, Vol. I, Book 2, Chapter 4, a work full of important and useful instruction.

[2] See among others Mr. Locke on Government, and Dr. Priestley’s Essay on the first Principles of Government.

[3] See Dr. Priestley on Government, page 68, 69, &c.

[4] The independency of the Judges we esteem in this country one of our greatest privileges.—Before the revolution they generally, I believe, held their places during pleasure. King William gave them their places during good behaviour. At the accession of the present Royal Family their places were given them during good behaviour, in consequence of the Act of Settlement, 12 and 13 W. III. C. 2. But an opinion having been entertained by some, that though their commissions were made under the Act of Settlement to continue, during good behaviour, yet that they determined on the demise of the Crown; it was enacted by a statute made in the first year of his present Majesty, Chap. 23. “That the commissions of Judges for the time being shall be, continue, and remain in full force, during their good behaviour, notwithstanding the demise of his Majesty, or of any of his Heirs and Successors;” with a proviso, “that it may be lawful for his Majesty, his Heirs and Successors, to remove any Judge upon the address of both Houses of Parliament.” And by the same Statute their salaries are secured to them during the continuance of their commissions: His Majesty, according to the preamble of the Statute, having been pleased to declare from the Throne to both Houses of Parliament, “That he looked upon the independency and uprightness of Judges as essential to the impartial administration of Justice, at one of the best securities to the Rights and Liberties of his loving subjects, and as most conducive to the honour of his Crown.” A worthy friend and able Lawyer has supplied me with this note. It affords, when contrasted with that dependence of the Judges which has been thought reasonable in America, a sad specimen of the different manner in which a kingdom may think proper to govern itself, and the provinces subject to it.

[5] Montesquieu’s Spirit of Laws, Vol. 1, Book 2, Chapter 19.

[6] This is particularly true of the bounties granted on some American commodities (as pitch, tar, indigo, &c.) when imported into Britain; for it is well known, that the end of granting them was, to get those commodities cheaper from the Colonies, and in return for our manufactures, which we used to get from Russia and other foreign countries. And this is expressed in the preambles of the laws which grant these bounties. See the Appeal to the Justice, &c. page 21, third edition. It is, therefore, strange that Doctor Tucker and others, should have insisted so much upon these bounties as favours and indulgences to the Colonies.—But it is still more strange, that the time representation should have been made of the compensations granted them for doing more during the last war in assisting us than could have been reasonably expected; and also of the sums we have spent in maintaining troops among them without their consent; and in opposition to their wishes.—See a pamphlet, intitled “The rights of Great Britain asserted against the claims of America.”

[7] It gives me pleasure to find, that the author of the Remarks on the Principal Acts of the 13th Parliament of Great Britain, &c. acknowledges this difference.—It has, however, been at the same time mortifying to me to find so able a writer adopting such principles of government, as are contained in this work. According to him, a people have no property or rights, except such as their Civil Governers are pleased not to take from them. Taxes, therefore, he asserts, are in no tense the gift, much less the free gifts of the people. See p. 58. and 191.

[8] See Observations on Reversionary Payments, page 207, &c.

[9] See page 12.

Richard Price, A Discourse on the Love of Our Country

Used with the permission of the Online Library of Liberty




Psalm cxxii. 2d, and following verses.

Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem, whither the tribes go up; the tribes of the Lord unto the testimony of Israel. To give thanks to the name of the Lord, for there sit the thrones of judgment; the throne of the House of David. Pray for the peace ofJerusalem.They shall prosper that love thee. Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces. For my brethren and companions sake I will now say peace be within thee. Because of the House of the Lord our God, I will seek thy good.

IN these words the Psalmist expresses, in strong and beautiful language, his love of his country, and the reasons on which he founded it; and my present design is, to take occasion from them to explain the duty we owe to our country, and the nature, foundation, and proper expressions of that love to it which we ought to cultivate.

I reckon this a subject particularly suitable to the services of this day, and to the Anniversary of our deliverance at the Revolution from the dangers of popery and arbitrary power; and should I, on such an occasion, be led to touch more on political subjects than would at any other time be proper in the pulpit, you will, I doubt not, excuse me.

The love of our country has in all times been a subject of warm commendations; and it is certainly a noble passion; but, like all other passions, it requires regulation and direction. There are mistakes and prejudices by which, in this instance, we are in particular danger of being misled.—I will briefly mention some of these to you, and observe,

First, That by our country is meant, in this case, not the soil or the spot of earth on which we happen to have been born; not the forests and fields, but that community of which we are members; or that body of companions and friends and kindred who are associated with us under the same constitution of government, protected by the same laws, and bound together by the same civil polity.

Secondly, It is proper to observe, that even in this sense of our country, that love of it which is our duty, does not imply any conviction of the superior value of it to other countries, or any particular preference of its laws and constitution of government. Were this implied, the love of their country would be the duty of only a very small part of mankind; for there are few countries that enjoy the advantage of laws and governments which deserve to be preferred. To found, therefore, this duty on such a preference, would be to found it on error and delusion. It is, however, a common delusion. There is the same partiality in countries, to themselves, that there is in individuals. All our attachments should be accompanied, as far as possible, with right opinions.—We are too apt to confine wisdom and virtue within the circle of our own acquaintance and party. Our friends, our country, and in short every thing related to us, we are disposed to overvalue. A wise man will guard himself against this delusion. He will study to think of all things as they are, and not suffer any partial affections to blind his understanding. In other families there may be as much worth as in our own. In other circles of friends there may be as much wisdom; and in other countries as much of all that deserves esteem; but, notwithstanding this, our obligation to love our own families, friends, and country, and to seek, in the first place, their good, will remain the same.

Thirdly, It is proper I should desire you particularly to distinguish between the love of our country and that spirit of rivalship and ambition which has been common among nations.—What has the love of their country hitherto been among mankind? What has it been but a love of domination; a desire of conquest, and a thirst for grandeur and glory, by extending territory, and enslaving surrounding countries? What has it been but a blind and narrow principle, producing in every country a contempt of other countries, and forming men into combinations and factions against their common rights and liberties? This is the principle that has been too often cried up as a virtue of the first rank: a principle of the same kind with that which governs clans of Indians or tribes of Arabs, and leads them out to plunder and massacre. As most of the evils which have taken place in private life, and among individuals, have been occasioned by the desire of private interest overcoming the public affections; so most of the evils which have taken place among bodies of men have been occasioned by the desire of their own interest overcoming the principle of universal benevolence: and leading them to attack one another’s territories, to encroach on one another’s rights, and to endeavour to build their own advancement on the degradation of all within the reach of their power—What was the love of their country among the Jews, but a wretched partiality to themselves, and a proud contempt of all other nations? What was the love of their country among the old Romans? We have heard much of it; but I cannot hesitate in saying that, however great it appeared in some of its exertions, it was in general no better than a principle holding together a band of robbers in their attempts to crush all liberty but their own. What is now the love of his country in a Spaniard, a Turk, or a Russian? Can it be considered as any thing better than a passion for slavery, or a blind attachment to a spot where he enjoys no rights, and is disposed of as if he was a beast?

Let us learn by such reflexions to correct and purify this passion, and to make it a just and rational principle of action.

It is very remarkable that the founder of our religion has not once mentioned this duty, or given us any recommendation of it; and this has, by unbelievers, been made an objection to Christianity. What I have said will entirely remove this objection. Certain it is, that, by inculcating on men an attachment to their country, Christianity would, at the time it was propagated, have done unspeakably more harm than good. Among the Jews, it would have been an excitement to war and insurrections; for they were then in eager expectation of becoming soon (as the favourite people of Heaven) the lords and conquerors of the earth, under the triumphant reign of the Messiah. Among the Romans, likewise, this principle had, as I have just observed, exceeded its just bounds, and rendered them enemies to the peace and happiness of mankind. By inculcating it, therefore, Christianity would have confirmed both Jews and Gentiles in one of the most pernicious faults. Our Lord and his Apostles have done better. They have recommended that universal benevolence which is an unspeakably nobler principle than any partial affections. They have laid such stress on loving all men, even our enemies, and made an ardent and extensive charity so essential a part of virtue, that the religion they have preached may, by way of distinction from all other religions, be called the Religion of Benevolence. Nothing can be more friendly to the general rights of mankind; and were it duly regarded and practised, every man would consider every other man as his brother, and all the animosity that now takes place among contending nations would be abolished. If you want any proof of this, think of our Saviour’s parable of the good Samaritan. The Jews and Samaritans were two rival nations that entertained a hatred of one another the most inveterate. The design of this parable was to shew to a Jew, that even a Samaritan, and consequently all men of all nations and religions, were included in the precept, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

But I am digressing from what I had chiefly in view; which was, after noticing that love of our country which is false and spurious, to explain the nature and effects of that which is just and reasonable. With this view I must desire you to recollect that we are so constituted that our affections are more drawn to some among mankind than to others, in proportion to their degrees of nearness to us, and our power of being useful to them. It is obvious that this is a circumstance in the constitution of our natures which proves the wisdom and goodness of our Maker; for had our affections been determined alike to all our fellow-creatures, human life would have been a scene of embarrassment and distraction. Our regards, according to the order of nature, begin with ourselves; and every man is charged primarily with the care of himself. Next come our families, and benefactors, and friends; and after them our country. We can do little for the interest of mankind at large. To this interest, however, all other interests are subordinate. The noblest principle in our nature is the regard to general justice, and that good-will which embraces all the world.—I have already observed this; but it cannot be too often repeated. Though our immediate attention must be employed in promoting our own interest and that of our nearest connexions; yet we must remember, that a narrower interest ought always to give way to a more extensive interest. In pursuing particularly the interest of our country, we ought to carry our views beyond it. We should love it ardently, but not exclusively. We ought to seek its good, by all the means that our different circumstances and abilities will allow; but at the same time we ought to consider ourselves as citizens of the world, and take care to maintain a just regard to the rights of other countries.

The enquiry by what means (subject to this limitation) we may best promote the interest of our country is very important; and all that remains of this discourse shall be employed in answering it, and in exhorting you to manifest your love to your country, by the means I shall mention.

The chief blessings of human nature are the three following:—Truth—Virtue—and Liberty.—These are, therefore, the blessings in the possession of which the interest of our country lies, and to the attainment of which our love of it ought to direct our endeavours. By the diffusion of knowledge it must be distinguished from a country of Barbarians: by the practice of religious virtue, it must be distinguished from a country of gamblers, Atheists, and libertines: and by the possession of liberty, it must be distinguished from a country of slaves.—I will dwell for a few moments on each of these heads:

Our first concern, as lovers of our country, must be to enlighten it.—Why are the nations of the world so patient under despotism?—Why do they crouch to tyrants, and submit to be treated as if they were a herd of cattle? Is it not because they are kept in darkness, and want knowledge? Enlighten them and you will elevate them. Shew them they are men, and they will act like men. Give them just ideas of civil government, and let them know that it is an expedient for gaining protection against injury and defending their rights* , and it will be impossible for them to submit to governments which, like most of those now in the world, are usurpations on the rights of men, and little better than contrivances for enabling the few to oppress the many. Convince them that the Deity is a righteous and benevolent as well as omnipotent being, who regards with equal eye all his creatures, and connects his favour with nothing but an honest desire to know and do his will; and that zeal for mystical doctrines which has led men to hate and harass one another will be exterminated. Set religion before them as a rational service, consisting not in any rites and ceremonies, but in worshipping God with a pure heart and practising righteousness from the fear of his displeasure and the apprehension of a future righteous judgment, and that gloomy and cruel superstition will be abolished which has hitherto gone under the name of religion, and to the support of which civil government has been perverted.—Ignorance is the parent of bigotry, intolerance, persecution and slavery. Inform and instruct mankind; and these evils will be excluded.—Happy is the person who, himself raised above vulgar errors, is conscious of having aimed at giving mankind this instruction. Happy is the Scholar or Philosopher who at the close of life can reflect that he has made this use of his learning and abilities: but happier far must he be, if at the same time he has reason to believe he has been successful, and actually contributed, by his instructions, to disseminate among his fellow-creatures just notions of themselves, of their rights, of religion, and the nature and end of civil government. Such were Milton, Locke, Sidney, Hoadly, &c. in this country; such were Montesquieu, Fenelon, Turgot, &c. in France. They sowed a seed which has since taken root, and is now growing up to a glorious harvest. To the information they conveyed by their writings we owe those revolutions in which every friend to mankind is now exulting.—What an encouragement is this to us all in our endeavours to enlighten the world? Every degree of illumination which we can communicate must do the greatest good. It helps to prepare the minds of men for the recovery of their rights, and hastens the overthrow of priestcraft and tyranny.—In short, we may, in this instance, learn our duty from the conduct of the oppressors of the world. They know that light is hostile to them, and therefore they labour to keep men in the dark. With this intention they have appointed licensers of the press; and, in Popish countries, prohibited the reading of the Bible. Remove the darkness in which they envelope the world, and their usurpations will be exposed, their power will be subverted, and the world emancipated.

The next great blessing of human nature which I have mentioned is virtue. This ought to follow knowledge, and to be directed by it. Virtue without knowledge makes enthusiasts; and knowledge without virtue makes devils; but both united elevates to the top of human dignity and perfection.—We must, therefore, if we would serve our country, make both these the objects of our zeal. We must discourage vice in all its forms; and our endeavours to enlighten must have ultimately in view a reformation of manners and virtuous practice.

I must add here, that in the practice of virtue I include the discharge of the public duties of religion. By neglecting these we may injure our country essentially. But it is melancholy to observe that it is a common neglect among us; and in a great measure owing to a cause which is not likely to be soon removed: I mean, the defects (may I not say, the absurdities?) in our established codes of faith and worship. In foreign countries, the higher ranks of men, not distinguishing between the religion they see established and the Christian religion, are generally driven to irreligion and infidelity. The like evil is produced by the like cause in this country; and if no reformation of our established formularies can be brought about, it must be expected that religion will go on to lose its credit, and that little of it will be left except among the lower orders of people, many of whom, while their superiors give up all religion, are sinking into a barbarism in religion lately revived by Methodism, and mistaking, as the world has generally done, the service acceptable to God for a system of faith souring the temper, and a service of forms supplanting morality.

I hope you will not mistake what I am now saying, or consider it as the effect of my prejudices as a Dissenter from the established church. The complaint I am making, is the complaint of many of the wisest and best men in the established church itself, who have been long urging the necessity of a revisal of its Liturgy and Articles* . These were framed above two centuries ago, when Christendom was just emerging from the ignorance and barbarity of the dark ages. They remain now much the same they were then; and, therefore, cannot be properly adapted to the good sense and liberality of the present times.—This imperfection, however, in our public forms of worship, affords no excuse to any person for neglecting public worship. All communities will have some religion; and it is of infinite consequence that they should be led to that which, by enforcing the obligations of virtue and putting men upon loving instead of damning one another, is most favourable to the interest of society.

If there is a Governor of the world, who directs all events, he ought to be invoked and worshipped; and those who dislike that mode of worship which is prescribed by public authority, ought (if they can find no worship out of the church which they approve) to set up a separate worship for themselves; and by doing this, and giving an example of a rational and manly worship, men of weight, from their rank or literature, may do the greatest service to society and the world. They may bear a testimony against that application of civil power to the support of particular modes of faith, which obstructs human improvement, and perpetuates error; and they may hold out an instruction which will discountenance superstition, and at the same time recommend religion, by making it appear to be (what it certainly is when rightly understood) the strongest incentive to all that is generous and worthy, and consequently the best friend to public order and happiness.

Liberty is the next great blessing which I have mentioned as the object of patriotic zeal. It is inseparable from knowledge and virtue, and together with them completes the glory of a community. An enlightened and virtuous country must be a free country. It cannot suffer invasions of its rights, or bend to tyrants.—I need not, on this occasion, take any pains to shew you how great a blessing liberty is. The smallest attention to the history of past ages, and the present state of mankind, will make you sensible of its importance. Look round the world, and you will find almost every country, respectable or contemptible, happy or miserable, a fruitful field or a frightful waste, according as it possesses or wants this blessing. Think of Greece, formerly the seat of arts and science, and the most distinguished spot under heaven; but now, having lost liberty, a vile and wretched spot, a region of darkness, poverty, and barbarity.—Such reflexions must convince you that, if you love your country, you cannot be zealous enough in promoting the cause of liberty in it. But it will come in my way to say more to this purpose presently.

The observations I have made include our whole duty to our country; for by endeavouring to liberalize and enlighten it, to discourage vice and to promote virtue in it, and to assert and support its liberties, we shall endeavour to do all that is necessary to make it great and happy.—But it is proper that, on this occasion, I should be more explicit, and exemplify our duty to our country by observing farther, that it requires us to obey its laws, and to respect its magistrates.

Civil government (as I have before observed) is an institution of human prudence for guarding our persons, our property, and our good name, against invasion; and for securing to the members of a community that liberty to which all have an equal right, as far as they do not, by any overt act, use it to injure the liberty of others. Civil laws are regulations agreed upon by the community for gaining these ends* ; and civil magistrates are officers appointed by the community for executing these laws. Obedience, therefore, to the laws and to magistrates, are necessary expressions of our regard to the community; and without this obedience the ends of government cannot be obtained, or a community avoid falling into a state of anarchy that will destroy those rights and subvert that liberty, which government is instituted to protect.

I wish it was in my power to give you a just account of the importance of this observation. It shews the ground on which the duty of obeying civil governors stands, and that there are two extremes in this case which ought to be avoided.—These extremes are adulation and servility on one hand; and a and licentious contempt on the other. The former is the extreme to which mankind in general have been most prone; for it has oftener happened that men have been too passive than too unruly; and the rebellion of Kings against their people has been more common, and done more mischief, than the rebellion of people against their Kings.

Adulation is always odious, and when offered to men in power it corrupts them, by giving them improper ideas of their situation; and it debases those who offer it, by manifesting an abjectness founded on improper ideas of themselves. I have lately observed in this kingdom too near approaches to this abjectness. In our late addresses to the King, on his recovery from the severe illness with which God has been pleased to afflict him, we have appeared more like a herd crawling at the feet of a master, than like enlightened and manly citizens rejoicing with a beloved sovereign, but at the same time conscious that he derives all his consequence from themselves. But, perhaps, these servilities in the language of our late addresses should be pardoned, as only forms of civility and expressions of an overflow of good-nature. They have, however, a dangerous tendency. The potentates of this world are sufficiently apt to consider themselves as possessed of an inherent superiority, which gives them a right to govern, and makes mankind their own; and this infatuation is almost every where fostered in them by the creeping sycophants about them, and the language of flattery which they are continually hearing.

Civil governors are properly the servants of the public; and a King is no more than the first servant of the public, created by it, maintained by it, and responsible to it: and all the homage paid him, is due to him on no other account than his relation to the public. His sacredness is the sacredness of the community. His authority is the authority of the community; and the term Majesty, which it is usual to apply to him, is by no means his own majesty, but the majesty of the people. For this reason, whatever he may be in his private capacity; and though, in respect of personal qualities, not equal to, or even far below many among ourselves—For this reason, I say, (that is, as representing the community and its first magistrate), he is entitled to our reverence and obedience. The words most excellent majesty are rightly applied to him; and there is a respect which it would be criminal to withhold from him.

You cannot be too attentive to this observation. The improvement of the world depends on the attention to it: nor will mankind be ever as virtuous and happy as they are capable of being, till the attention to it becomes universal and efficacious. If we forget it, we shall be in danger of an idolatry as gross and stupid as that of the ancient heathens, who, after fabricating blocks of wood or stone, fell down and worshipped them.—The disposition in mankind to this kind of idolatry is indeed a very mortifying subject of reflexion.—In Turkey, millions of human beings adore a silly mortal, and are ready to throw themselves at his feet, and to submit their lives to his discretion.—In Russia, the common people are only a stock on the lands of grandees, or appendages to their estates, which, like the fixtures in a house, are bought and sold with the estates. In Spain, in Germany, and under most of the governments of the world, mankind are in a similar state of humiliation. Who, that has a just sense of the dignity of his nature, can avoid execrating such a debasement of it?

Had I been to address the King on a late occasion, I should have been inclined to do it in a style very different from that of most of the addressers, and to use some such language as the following:—“I rejoice, Sir, in your recovery. I thank God for his goodness to you. I honour you not only as my King, but as almost the only lawful King in the world, because the only one who owes his crown to the choice of his people. May you enjoy all possible happiness. May God shew you the folly of those effusions of adulation which you are now receiving, and guard you against their effects. May you be led to such a just sense of the nature of your situation, and endowed with such wisdom, as shall render your restoration to the government of these kingdoms a blessing to it, and engage you to consider yourself as more properly the Servant than the Sovereign of your people.”

But I must not forget the opposite extreme to that now taken notice of; that is, a disdainful pride, derived from a consciousness of equality, or, perhaps, superiority, in respect of all that gives true dignity to men in power, and producing a contempt of them, and a disposition to treat them with rudeness and insult. It is a trite observation, that extremes generally beget one another. This is particularly true in the present case. Persons justly informed on the subject of government, when they see men dazzled by looking up to high stations, and observe loyalty carried to a length that implies ignorance and servility: such persons, in such circumstances, are in danger of spurning at all public authority, and throwing off that respectful demeanor to persons invested with it which the order of society requires. There is undoubtedly a particular deference and homage due to civil magistrates, on account of their stations and offices; nor can that man be either truly wise or truly virtuous, who despises governments, and wantonly speaks evil of his rulers; or who does not, by all the means in his power, endeavour to strengthen their hands, and to give weight to their exertions in the discharge of their duty.—Fear God, says St. Peter. Love the brotherhood. Honour all men. Honour the King.—You must needs, says St. Paul, be subject to rulers, not only for wrath (that is, from the fear of suffering the penalties annexed to the breach of the laws), but for conscience sake. For rulers are ministers of God, and revengersfor executing wrath on all that do evil.

Another expression of our love to our country is defending it against enemies. These enemies are of two sorts, internal and external; or domestic and foreign. The former are the most dangerous, and they have generally been the most successful. I have just observed, that there is a submission due to the executive officers of government, which is our duty; but you must not forget what I have also observed, that it must not be a blind and slavish submission. Men in power (unless better disposed than is common) are always endeavouring to extend their power. They hate the doctrine, that it is a trust derived from the people, and not a right vested in themselves. For this reason, the tendency of every government is to despotism; and in this the best constituted governments must end, if the people are not vigilant, ready to take alarms, and determined to resist abuses as soon as they begin. This vigilance, therefore, it is our duty to maintain. Whenever it is withdrawn, and a people cease to reason about their rights and to be awake to encroachments, they are in danger of being enslaved, and their servants will soon become their masters.

I need not say how much it is our duty to defend our country against foreign enemies. When a country is attacked in any of its rights by another country, or when any attempts are made by ambitious foreign powers to injure it, a war in its defence becomes necessary: and, in such circumstances, to die for our country is meritorious and noble. These defensive wars are, in my opinion, the only just wars. Offensive wars are always unlawful; and to seek the aggrandizement of our country by them, that is, by attacking other countries, in order to extend dominion, or to gratify avarice, is wicked and detestable. Such, however, have been most of the wars which have taken place in the world; but the time is, I hope, coming, when a conviction will prevail, of the folly* as well as the iniquity of wars; and when the nations of the earth, happy under just governments, and no longer in danger from the passions of Kings, will find out better ways of settling their disputes; and beat (as Isaiah prophecies) their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks.

Among the particulars included in that duty to our country, by discharging which we should shew our love to it, I will only further mention praying for it, and offering up thanksgivings to God for every event favourable to it. At the present season we are called upon to express, in this way, our love to our country. It is the business of this day, and of the present service; and, therefore, it is necessary that I should now direct your attention to it particularly.

We are met to thank God for that event in this country to which the name of The Revolution has been given; and which, for more than a century, it has been usual for the friends of freedom, and more especially Protestant Dissenters, under the title of the Revolution Society, to celebrate with expressions of joy and exultation.—My highly valued and excellent friend* , who addressed you on this occasion last year, has given you an interesting account of the principal circumstances that attended this event, and of the reasons we have for rejoicing in it. By a bloodless victory, the fetters which despotism had been long preparing for us were broken; the rights of the people were asserted, a tyrant expelled, and a Sovereign of our own choice appointed in his room. Security was given to our property, and our consciences were emancipated. The bounds of free enquiry were enlarged; the volume in which are the words of eternal life, was laid more open to our examination; and that æra of light and liberty was introduced among us, by which we have been made an example to other kingdoms, and became the instructors of the world. Had it not been for this deliverance, the probability is, that, instead of being thus distinguished, we should now have been a base people, groaning under the infamy and misery of popery and slavery. Let us, therefore, offer thanksgivings to God, the author of all our blessings. Had he not been on our side, we should have been swallowed up quick, and the proud waters would have gone over our souls. But our souls are escaped, and the snare has been broken. Blessed then be the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth. cxxivth Psalm.

It is well known that King James was not far from gaining his purpose; and that probably he would have succeeded, had he been less in a hurry. But he was a fool as well as a bigot. He wanted courage as well as prudence; and, therefore, fled, and left us to settle quietly for ourselves that constitution of government which is now our boast. We have particular reason, as Protestant Dissenters, to rejoice on this occasion. It was at this time we were rescued from persecution, and obtained the liberty of worshipping God in the manner we think most acceptable to him. It was then our meeting-houses were opened, our worship was taken under the protection of the law, and the principles of toleration gained a triumph. We have, therefore, on this occasion, peculiar reasons for thanksgiving—But let us remember that we ought not to satisfy ourselves with thanksgivings. Our gratitude, if genuine, will be accompanied with endeavours to give stability to the deliverance our country has obtained, and to extend and improve the happiness with which the Revolution has blest us—Let us, in particular, take care not to forget the principles of the Revolution. This Society has, very properly, in its Reports, held out these principles, as an instruction to the public. I will only take notice of the three following:

First; The right to liberty of conscience in religious matters.

Secondly; The right to resist power when abused. And,

Thirdly; The right to chuse our own governors; to cashier them for misconduct; and to frame a government for ourselves.

On these three principles, and more especially the last, was the Revolution founded. Were it not true that liberty of conscience is a sacred right; that power abused justifies resistance; and that civil authority is a delegation from the people—Were not, I say, all this true; the Revolution would have been not an assertion, but an invasion of rights; not a Revolution, but a Rebellion. Cherish in your breasts this conviction, and act under its influence; detesting the odious doctrines of passive obedience, nonresistance, and the divine right of kings—doctrines which, had they been acted upon in this country, would have left us at this time wretched slaves—doctrines which imply, that God made mankind to be oppressed and plundered; and which are no less a blasphemy against him, than an insult on common sense.

I would farther direct you to remember, that though the Revolution was a great work, it was by no means a perfect work; and that all was not then gained which was necessary to put the kingdom in the secure and complete possession of the blessings of liberty.—In particular, you should recollect, that the toleration then obtained was imperfect. It included only those who could declare their faith in the doctrinal articles of the church of England. It has, indeed, been since extended, but not sufficiently; for there still exist penal laws on account of religious opinions, which (were they carried into execution) would shut up many of our places of worship, and silence and imprison some of our ablest and best men.—The test laws are also still in force; and deprive of eligibility to civil and military offices, all who cannot conform to the established worship. It is with great pleasure I find that the body of Protestant Dissenters, though defeated in two late attempts to deliver their country from this disgrace to it, have determined to persevere. Should they at last succeed, they will have the satisfaction, not only of removing from themselves a proscription they do not deserve, but of contributing to lessen the number of our public iniquities. For I cannot call by a gentler name, laws which convert an ordinance appointed by our Saviour to commemorate his death, into an instrument of oppressive policy, and a qualification of rakes and atheists for civil posts.—I have said, should they succeed—but perhaps I ought not to suggest a doubt about their success* . And, indeed, when I consider that in Scotland the established church is defended by no such test—that in Ireland it has been abolished—that in a great neighbouring country it has been declared to be an indefeasible right of all citizens to be equally eligible to public offices—that in the same kingdom a professed Dissenter from the established church holds the first office in the state—that in the Emperor’s dominions Jews have been lately admitted to the enjoyment of equal privileges with other citizens—and that in this very country, a Dissenter, though excluded from the power of executing the laws, yet is allowed to be employed in making them.—When, I say, I consider such facts as these, I am disposed to think it impossible that the enemies of the repeal of the Test Laws should not soon become ashamed, and give up their opposition.

But the most important instance of the imperfect state in which the Revolution left our constitution, is the inequality of our representation. I think, indeed, this defect in our constitution so gross and so palpable, as to make it excellent chiefly in form and theory. You should remember that a representation in the legislature of a kingdom is the basis of constitutional liberty in it, and of all legitimate government; and that without it a government is nothing but an usurpation* . When the representation is fair and equal, and at the same time vested with such powers as our House of Commons possesses, a kingdom may be said to govern itself, and consequently to possess true liberty. When the representation is partial, a kingdom possesses liberty only partially; and if extremely partial, it only gives a semblance of liberty; but if not only extremely partial, but corruptly chosen, and under corrupt influence after being chosen, it becomes a nuisance, and produces the worst of all forms of government—a government by corruption—a government carried on and supported by spreading venality and profligacy through a kingdom. May heaven preserve this kingdom from a calamity so dreadful! It is the point of depravity to which abuses under such a government as ours naturally tend, and the last stage of national unhappiness. We are, at present, I hope, at a great distance from it. But it cannot be pretended that there are no advances towards it, or that there is no reason for apprehension and alarm.

The inadequateness of our representation has been long a subject of complaint. This is, in truth, our fundamental grievance; and I do not think that any thing is much more our duty, as men who love their country, and are grateful for the Revolution, than to unite our zeal in endeavouring to get it redressed. At the time of the American war, associations were formed for this purpose in London, and other parts of the kingdom; and our present Minister himself has, since that war, directed to it an effort which made him a favourite with many of us. But all attention to it seems now lost, and the probability is, that this inattention will continue, and that nothing will be done towards gaining for us this essential blessing, till some great calamity again alarms our fears, or till some great abuse of power again provokes our resentment; or, perhaps, till the acquisition of a pure and equal representation by other countries (while we are mocked with the shadow* ) kindles our shame.

Such is the conduct by which we ought to express our gratitude for the Revolution.—We should always bear in mind the principles that justify it. We should contribute all we can towards supplying what it left deficient; and shew ourselves anxious about transmitting the blessings obtained by it to our posterity, unimpaired and improved.—But, brethren, while we thus shew our patriotic zeal, let us take care not to disgrace the cause of patriotism, by any licentious, or immoral conduct.—Oh! how earnestly do I wish that all who profess zeal in this cause, were as distinguished by the purity of their morals, as some of them are by their abilities; and that I could make them sensible of the advantages they would derive from a virtuous character, and of the suspicions they incur and the loss of consequence they suffer by wanting it.—Oh! that I could see in men who oppose tyranny in the state, a disdain of the tyranny of low passions in themselves; or, at least, such a sense of shame, and regard to public order and decency as would induce them to hide their irregularities, and to avoid insulting the virtuous part of the community by an open exhibition of vice!—I cannot reconcile myself to the idea of an immoral patriot, or to that separation of private from public virtue, which some think to be possible. Is it to be expected that— But I must forbear. I am afraid of applications, which many are too ready to make, and for which I should be sorry to give any just occasion.

I have been explaining to you the nature and expressions of a just regard to our country. Give me leave to exhort you to examine your conduct by what I have been saying. You love your country, and desire its happiness; and, without doubt, you have the greatest reason for loving it. It has been long a very distinguished and favoured country. Often has God appeared for it and delivered it. Let us study to shew ourselves worthy of the favour shewn us.—Do you practise virtue yourselves, and study to promote it in others? Do you obey the laws of your country, and aim at doing your part towards maintaining and perpetuating its privileges? Do you always give your vote on the side of public liberty; and are you ready to pour out your blood in its defence? Do you look up to God for the continuance of his favour to your country, and pray for its prosperity; preserving, at the same time, a strict regard to the rights of other countries, and always considering yourselves more as citizens of the world than as members of any particular community?—If this is your temper and conduct you are blessings to your country, and were all like you, this world would soon be a heaven.

I am addressing myself to Christians. Let me, therefore, mention to you the example of our blessed Saviour. I have observed, at the beginning of this discourse, that he did not inculcate upon his hearers the love of their country, or take any notice of it as a part of our duty. Instead of doing this, I observed that he taught the obligation to love all mankind, and recommended universal benevolence, as (next to the love of God) our first duty; and, I think, I also proved to you, that this, in the circumstances of the world at that time, was an instance of incomparable wisdom and goodness in his instructions. But we must not infer from hence, that he did not include the love of our country in the number of our duties. He has shewn the contrary by his example. It appears that he possessed a particular affection for his country, though a very wicked country. We read in Luke x. 42, that when, upon approaching Jerusalem, in one of his last journies to it, he beheld it, he wept over it, and said; Oh! that thou hadst known (even thou, at least in this thy day) the things that belong to thy peace.—What a tender solicitude about his country does the lamentation over Jerusalem imply, which is recorded in the same gospel, chap. xiii. and 34. Oh! Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them who are sent to thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathereth her brood under her wings, but ye would not.

It may not be improper farther to mention the love St. Paul expressed for his country, when he declared, that, for the sake of his brethren and kinsmen, he could even wish himself accursed from Christ. (Rom. ix. 3.) The original words are an Anathemafrom Christ; and his meaning is, that he could have been contented to suffer himself the calamities which were coming on the Jewish people, were it possible for him, by such a sacrifice of himself, to save them.

It is too evident that the state of this country is such as renders it an object of concern and anxiety. It wants (I have shewn you) the grand security of public liberty. Increasing luxury has multiplied abuses in it. A monstrous weight of debt is crippling it. Vice and venality are bringing down upon it God’s displeasure. That spirit to which it owes its distinctions is declining* ; and some late events seem to prove that it is becoming every day more reconcileable to encroachments on the securities of its liberties .—It wants, therefore, your patriotic services; and, for the sake of the distinctions it has so long enjoyed; for the sake of our brethren and companions, and all that should be dear to a free people, we ought to do our utmost to save it from the dangers that threaten it; remembering, that by acting thus, we shall promote, in the best manner, our own private interest, as well as the interest of our country; for when the community prospers, the individuals that compose it must prosper with it.—But, should that not happen, or should we even suffer in our secular interest by our endeavours to promote the interest of our country, we shall feel a satisfaction in our own breasts which is preferable to all this world can give; and we shall enjoy the transporting hope of soon becoming members of a perfect community in the heavens, and having an entrance ministered to us, abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

You may reasonably expect that I should now close this address to you. But I cannot yet dismiss you. I must not conclude without recalling, particularly, to your recollection, a consideration to which I have more than once alluded, and which, probably, your thoughts have been all along anticipating: A consideration with which my mind is impressed more than I can express. I mean, the consideration of the favourableness of the present times to all exertions in the cause of public liberty.

What an eventful period is this! I am thankful that I have lived to it; and I could almost say, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation. I have lived to see a diffusion of knowledge, which has undermined superstition and error—I have lived to see the rights of men better understood than ever; and nations panting for liberty, which seemed to have lost the idea of it.—I have lived to see Thirty Millions of people, indignant and resolute, spurning at slavery, and demanding liberty with an irresistible voice; their king led in triumph, and an arbitrary monarch surrendering himself to his subjects.—After sharing in the benefits of one Revolution, I have been spared to be a witness to two other Revolutions, both glorious.—And now, methinks, I see the ardor for liberty catching and spreading; a general amendment beginning in human affairs; the dominion of kings changed for the dominion of laws, and the dominion of priests giving way to the dominion of reason and conscience.

Be encouraged, all ye friends of freedom, and writers in its defence! The times are auspicious. Your labours have not been in vain. Behold kingdoms, admonished by you, starting from sleep, breaking their fetters, and claiming justice from their oppressors! Behold, the light you have struck out, after setting America free, reflected to France, and there kindled into a blaze that lays despotism in ashes, and warms and illuminates Europe!

Tremble all ye oppressors of the world! Take warning all ye supporters of slavish governments, and slavish hierarchies! Call no more (absurdly and wickedly) Reformation, innovation. You cannot now hold the world in darkness. Struggle no longer against increasing light and liberality. Restore to mankind their rights; and consent to the correction of abuses, before they and you are destroyed together.