Front Page Titles (by Subject) A LETTER TO A FRIEND CONCERNING THE RUPTURES OF THE COMMONWEALTH. - The Prose Works of John Milton, vol. 2
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A LETTER TO A FRIEND CONCERNING THE RUPTURES OF THE COMMONWEALTH. - John Milton, The Prose Works of John Milton, vol. 2 
The Prose Works of John Milton, With a Biographical Introduction by Rufus Wilmot Griswold. In Two Volumes (Philadelphia: John W. Moore, 1847). Vol. 2.
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A LETTER TO A FRIEND CONCERNING THE RUPTURES OF THE COMMONWEALTH.
published from the manuscript.
Sir,—Upon the sad and serious discourse which we fell into last night, concerning these dangerous ruptures of the Commonwealth, scarce yet in her infancy, which cannot be without some inward flaw in her bowels; I began to consider more intensely thereon than hitherto I have been wont, resigning myself to the wisdom and care of those who had the government; and not finding that either God or the public required more of me, than my prayers for them that govern. And since you have not only stirred up my thoughts, by acquainting me with the state of affairs, more inwardly than I knew before; but also have desired me to set down my opinion thereof, trusting to your ingenuity, I shall give you freely my apprehension, both of our present evils, and what expedients, if God in mercy regard us, may remove them. I will begin with telling you how I was overjoyed, when I heard that the army, under the working of God’s Holy Spirit, as I thought, and still hope well, had been so far wrought to Christian humility, and self-denial, as to confess in public their backsliding from the good old cause, and to show the fruits of their repentance, in the righteousness of their restoring the old famous parliament, which they had without just authority dissolved: I call it the famous parliament, though not the harmless, since none well-affected, but will confess, they have deserved much more of these nations, than they have undeserved. And I persuade me, that God was pleased with their restitution, signing it, as he did, with such a signal victory, when so great a part of the nation were desperately conspired to call back again their Ægyptian bondage. So much the more it now amazes me, that they, whose lips were yet scarce closed from giving thanks for that great deliverance, should be now relapsing, and so soon again backsliding into the same fault, which they confessed so lately and so solemnly to God and the world, and more lately punished in those Cheshire rebels; that they should now dissolve that parliament, which they themselves re-established, and acknowledged for their supreme power in their other day’s humble representation: and all this, for no apparent cause of public concernment to the church or commonwealth, but only for discommissioning nine great officers in the army; which had not been done, as is reported, but upon notice of their intentions against the parliament. I presume not to give my censure on this action, not knowing, as yet I do not, the bottom of it. I speak only what it appears to us without doors, till better cause be declared, and I am sure to all other nations most illegal and scandalous, I fear me barbarous, or rather scarce to be exampled among any barbarians, that a paid army should, for no other cause, thus subdue the supreme power that set them up. This, I say, other nations will judge to the sad dishonour of that army, lately so renowned for the civilest and best ordered in the world, and by us here at home, for the most conscientious. Certainly, if the great officers and soldiers of the Holland, French, or Venetian forces, should thus sit in council, and write from garrison to garrison against their superiors, they might as easily reduce the king of France, or duke of Venice, and put the United Provinces in like disorder and confusion. Why do they not, being most of them held ignorant of true religion? because the light of nature, the laws of human society, the reverence of their magistrates, covenants, engagements, loyalty, allegiance, keeps them in awe. How grievous will it then be! how infamous to the true religion which we profess! how dishonourable to the name of God, that his fear and the power of his knowledge in an army professing to be his, should not work that obedience, that fidelity to their supreme magistrates, that levied them and paid them; when the light of nature, the laws of human society, covenants and contracts, yea common shame, works in other armies, among the worst of them! Which will undoubtedly pull down the heavy judgment of God among us, who cannot but avenge these hypocrisies, violations of truth and holiness; if they be indeed so as they yet seem. For neither do I speak this in reproach to the army, but as jealous of their honour, inciting them to manifest and publish with all speed, some better cause of these their late actions, than hath hitherto appeared, and to find out the Achan amongst them, whose close ambition in all likelihood abuses their honest natures against their meaning to these disorders; their readiest way to bring in again the common enemy, and with him the destruction of true religion, and civil liberty.
But, because our evils are now grown more dangerous and extreme, than to be remedied by complaints, it concerns us now to find out what remedies may be likeliest to save us from approaching ruin. Being now in anarchy, without a counselling and governing power; and the army, I suppose, finding themselves insufficient to discharge at once both military and civil affairs, the first thing to be found out with all speed, without which no commonwealth can subsist, must be a senate or general council of state, in whom must be the power, first, to preserve the public peace; next, the commerce with foreign nations; and lastly, to raise moneys for the management of these affairs: this must either be the parliament re-admitted to sit, or a council of state allowed of by the army, since they only now have the power. The terms to be stood on are, liberty of conscience to all professing Scripture to be the rule of their faith and worship; and the abjuration of a single person. If the parliament be again thought on, to salve honour on both sides, the well-affected part of the city, and the congregated churches, may be induced to mediate by public addresses, and brotherly beseechings; which, if there be that saintship among us which is talked of, ought to be of highest and undeniable persuasion to reconcilement. If the parliament be thought well dissolved, as not complying fully to grant liberty of conscience, and the necessary consequence thereof, the removal of a forced maintenance from ministers, then must the army forthwith choose a council of state, whereof as many to be of the parliament, as are undoubtedly affected to these two conditions proposed. That which I conceive only able to cement, and unite for ever the army, either to the parliament recalled, or this chosen council, must be a mutual league and oath, private or public, not to desert one another till death: that is to say, that the army be kept up, and all these officers in their places during life, and so likewise the parliament or counsellors of state; which will be no way unjust, considering their known merits on either side, in council or in field, unless any be found false to any of these two principles, or otherwise personally criminous in the judgment of both parties. If such a union as this be not accepted on the army’s part, be confident there is a single person underneath. That the army be upheld, the necessity of our affairs and factions will constrain long enough perhaps, to content the longest liver in the army. And whether the civil government be an annual democracy, or a perpetual aristocracy, is not to me a consideration for the extremities wherein we are, and the hazard of our safety from our common enemy, gaping at present to devour us. That it be not an oligarchy, or the faction of a few, may be easily prevented by the numbers of their own choosing, who may be found infallibly constant to those conditions fore-named, full liberty of conscience, and the abjuration of monarchy proposed: and the well-ordered committees of their faithfullest adherents in every county, may give this government the resemblance and effects of a perfect democracy. As for the reformation of laws, and the places of judicature, whether to be here, as at present, or in every county, as hath been long aimed at, and many such proposals, tending no doubt to public good, they may be considered in due time, when we are past these pernicious pangs, in a hopeful way of health, and firm constitution. But unless these things, which I have above proposed, one way or other, be once settled, in my fear, which God avert, we instantly ruin; or at best become the servants of one or other single person, the secret author and fomenter of these disturbances. You have the sum of my present thoughts, as much as I understand of these affairs, freely imparted; at your request, and the persuasion you wrought in me, that I might chance hereby to be some way serviceable to the Commonwealth, in a time when all ought to be endeavouring what good they can, whether much or but little.
With this you may do what you please, put out, put in, communicate, or suppress: you offend not me, who only have obeyed your opinion, that in doing what I have done, I might happen to offer something which might be of some use in this great time of need. However, I have not been wanting to the opportunity which you presented before me, of showing the readiness which I have in the midst of my unfitness, to whatever may be required of me, as a public duty.
October 20, 1659.