Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION 14: No Sedition was hurtful to Rome, till through their Prosperity some men gained a Power above the Laws. - Discourses Concerning Government
SECTION 14: No Sedition was hurtful to Rome, till through their Prosperity some men gained a Power above the Laws. - Algernon Sidney, Discourses Concerning Government 
Discourses Concerning Government, ed. Thomas G. West (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1996).
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- The Argument of Sidney’s Discourses
- Filmer’s Position On Political Power
- Sidney’s Response
- Sidney and Locke
- Sidney’s Legacy
- Sidney’s Life
- Editor’s Note
- Reading the Discourses
- The Text
- Modernization of the Text
- Discourses Concerning Government
- Chapter One
- Section 1: Introduction.
- Section 2: The Common Notions of Liberty Are Not From School Divines, But From Nature.
- Section 3: Implicit Faith Belongs to Fools, and Truth Is Comprehended By Examining Principles.
- Section 4: The Rights of Particular Nations Cannot Subsist, If General Principles Contrary to Them Are Received As True.
- Section 5: To Depend Upon the Will of a Man Is Slavery.
- Section 6: God Leaves to Man the Choice of Forms In Government; and Those Who Constitute One Form, May Abrogate It.
- Section 7: Abraham and the Patriarchs Were Not Kings.
- Section 8: Nimrod Was the First King, During the Life of Cush, Ham, Shem, and Noah.
- Section 9: The Power of a Father Belongs Only to a Father.
- Section 10: Such As Enter Into Society, Must In Some Degree Diminish Their Liberty.
- Section 11: No Man Comes to Command Many, Unless By Consent Or By Force.
- Section 12: The Pretended Paternal Right Is Divisible Or Indivisible: If Divisible, ’tis Extinguished; If Indivisible, Universal.
- Section 13: There Was No Shadow of a Paternal Kingdom Amongst the Hebrews, Nor Precept For It.
- Section 14: If the Paternal Right Had Included Dominion, and Was to Be Transferred to a Single Heir, It Must Perish If He Were Not Known; and Could Be Applied to No Other Person.
- [section 15] 1
- Section 16: The Ancients Chose Those to Be Kings, Who Excelled In the Virtues That Are Most Beneficial to Civil Societies.
- Section 17: God Having Given the Government of the World to No One Man, Nor Declared How It Should Be Divided, Left It to the Will of Man.
- 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.
- Section 19: Kings Cannot Confer the Right of Father Upon Princes, Nor Princes Upon Kings.
- Section 20: All Just Magistratical Power Is From the People.
- Chapter Two
- 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.
- Section 2: Every Man That Hath Children, Hath the Right of a Father, and Is Capable of Preferment In a Society Composed of Many.
- 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.
- Section 4: The Paternal Right Devolves To, and Is Inherited By All the Children.
- Section 5: Freemen Join Together and Frame Greater Or Lesser Societies, and Give Such Forms to Them As Best Please Themselves.
- Section 6: They Who Have a Right of Chusing a King, Have the Right of Making a King.
- Section 7: The Laws of Every Nation Are the Measure of Magistratical Power.
- Section 8: There Is No Natural Propensity In Man Or Beast to Monarchy.
- Section 9: The Government Instituted By God Over the Israelites Was Aristocratical.
- Section 10: Aristotle Was Not Simply For Monarchy Or Against Popular Government; But Approved Or Disapproved of Either According to Circumstances.
- Section 11: Liberty Produceth Virtue, Order and Stability: Slavery Is Accompanied With Vice, Weakness and Misery.
- Section 12: The Glory, Virtue, and Power of the Romans Began and Ended With Their Liberty.
- Section 13: There Is No Disorder Or Prejudice In Changing the Name Or Number of Magistrates, Whilst the Root and Principle of Their Power Continues Entire.
- Section 14: No Sedition Was Hurtful to Rome, Till Through Their Prosperity Some Men Gained a Power Above the Laws.
- Section 15: The Empire of Rome Perpetually Decay’d When It Fell Into the Hands of One Man.
- Section 16: The Best Governments of the World Have Been Composed of Monarchy, Aristocracy, and Democracy.
- Section 17: Good Governments Admit of Changes In the Superstructures, Whilst the Foundations Remain Unchangeable.
- Section 18: Xenophon In Blaming the Disorders of Democracies, Favours Aristocracies, Not Monarchies.
- Section 19: That Corruption and Venality Which Is Natural to Courts, Is Seldom Found In Popular Governments.
- Section 20: Man’s Natural Love to Liberty Is Temper’d By Reason, Which Originally Is His Nature.
- Section 21: Mixed and Popular Governments Preserve Peace, and Manage Wars, Better Than Absolute Monarchies.
- Section 22: Commonwealths Seek Peace Or War According to the Variety of Their Constitutions.
- Section 23: That Is the Best Government, Which Best Provides For War.
- Section 24: Popular Governments Are Less Subject to Civil Disorders Than Monarchies; Manage Them More Ably, and More Easily Recover Out of Them.
- Section 25: Courts Are More Subject to Venality and Corruption Than Popular Governments.
- Section 26: Civil Tumults and Wars Are Not the Greatest Evils That Befall Nations.
- Section 27: The Mischiefs and Cruelties Proceeding From Tyranny Are Greater Than Any That Can Come From Popular Or Mixed Governments.
- Section 28: Men Living Under Popular Or Mix’d Governments, Are More Careful of the Publick Good, Than In Absolute Monarchies.
- Section 29: There Is No Assurance That the Distempers of a State Shall Be Cured By the Wisdom of a Prince.
- Section 30: A Monarchy Cannot Be Well Regulated, Unless the Powers of the Monarch Are Limited By Law.
- Section 31: The Liberties of Nations Are From God and Nature, Not From Kings.
- Section 32: The Contracts Made Between Magistrates, and the Nations That Created Them, Were Real, Solemn, and Obligatory.
- Chapter Three
- Section 1: Kings Not Being Fathers of Their People, Nor Excelling All Others In Virtue, Can Have No Other Just Power Than What the Laws Give; Nor Any Title to the Privileges of the Lord’s Anointed.
- Section 2: The Kings of Israel and Judah Were Under a Law Not Safely to Be Transgress’d.
- Section 3: Samuel Did Not Describe to the Israelites the Glory of a Free Monarchy; But the Evils the People Should Suffer, That He Might Divert Them From Desiring a King.
- Section 4: No People Can Be Obliged to Suffer From Their Kings What They Have Not a Right to Do.
- Section 5: The Mischiefs Suffer’d From Wicked Kings Are Such As Render It Both Reasonable and Just For All Nations That Have Virtue and Power to Exert Both In Repelling Them.
- Section 6: ’tis Not Good For Such Nations As Will Have Kings, to Suffer Them to Be Glorious, Powerful, Or Abounding In Riches.
- Section 7: When the Israelites Asked For Such a King As the Nations About Them Had, They Asked For a Tyrant, Tho They Did Not Call Him So.
- Section 8: Under the Name of Tribute No More Is Understood Than What the Law of Each Nation Gives to the Supreme Magistrate For the Defraying of Publick Charges; to Which the Customs of the Romans, Or Sufferings of the Jews Have No Relation.
- Section 9: Our Own Laws Confirm to Us the Enjoyment of Our Native Rights.
- Section 10: The Words of St. Paul Enjoining Obedience to Higher Powers, Favour All Sorts of Governments No Less Than Monarchy.
- Section 11: That Which Is Not Just, Is Not Law; and That Which Is Not Law, Ought Not to Be Obeyed.
- Section 12: The Right and Power of a Magistrate Depends Upon His Institution, Not Upon His Name.
- Section 13: Laws Were Made to Direct and Instruct Magistrates, And, If They Will Not Be Directed, to Restrain Them.
- Section 14: Laws Are Not Made By Kings, Not Because They Are Busied In Greater Matters Than Doing Justice, But Because Nations Will Be Governed By Rule, and Not Arbitrarily.
- Section 15: A General Presumption That Kings Will Govern Well, Is Not a Sufficient Security to the People.
- Section 16: The Observation of the Laws of Nature Is Absurdly Expected From Tyrants, Who Set Themselves Up Against All Laws: and He That Subjects Kings to No Other Law Than What Is Common to Tyrants, Destroys Their Being.
- Section 17: Kings Cannot Be the Interpreters of the Oaths They Take.
- Section 18: The Next In Blood to Deceased Kings Cannot Generally Be Said to Be Kings Till They Are Crowned.
- Section 19: The Greatest Enemy of a Just Magistrate Is He Who Endeavours to Invalidate the Contract Between Him and the People, Or to Corrupt Their Manners.
- Section 20: Unjust Commands Are Not to Be Obey’d; and No Man Is Obliged to Suffer For Not Obeying Such As Are Against Law.
- Section 21: It Cannot Be For the Good of the People That the Magistrate Have a Power Above the Law: and He Is Not a Magistrate Who Has Not His Power By Law.
- Section 22: The Rigour of the Law Is to Be Temper’d By Men of Known Integrity and Judgment, and Not By the Prince Who May Be Ignorant Or Vicious.
- Section 23: Aristotle Proves, That No Man Is to Be Entrusted With an Absolute Power, By Shewing That No One Knows How to Execute It, But Such a Man As Is Not to Be Found.
- Section 24: The Power of Augustus Caesar Was Not Given, But Usurped.
- Section 25: The Regal Power Was Not the First In This Nation; Nor Necessarily to Be Continued, Tho It Had Been the First.
- Section 26: Tho the King May Be Entrusted With the Power of Chusing Judges, Yet That By Which They Act Is From the Law.
- Section 27: Magna Charta Was Not the Original, But a Declaration of the English Liberties. the King’s Power Is Not Restrained, But Created By That and Other Laws; and the Nation That Made Them Can Only Correct the Defects of Them.
- Section 28: The English Nation Has Always Been Governed By Itself Or Its Representatives.
- Section 29: The King Was Never Master of the Soil.
- Section 30: Henry the First Was King of England By As Good a Title As Any of His Predecessors Or Successors.
- Section 31: Free Nations Have a Right of Meeting, When and Where They Please, Unless They Deprive Themselves of It.
- Section 32: The Powers of Kings Are So Various According to the Constitutions of Several States, That No Consequence Can Be Drawn to the Prejudice Or Advantage of Any One, Merely From the Name.
- Section 33: The Liberty of a People Is the Gift of God and Nature.
- Section 34: No Veneration Paid, Or Honor Conferr’d Upon a Just and Lawful Magistrate, Can Diminish the Liberty of a Nation.
- Section 35: The Authority Given By Our Law to the Acts Performed By a King De Facto, Detract Nothing From the People’s Right of Creating Whom They Please.
- Section 36: The General Revolt of a Nation Cannot Be Called a Rebellion.
- Section 37: The English Government Was Not Ill Constituted, the Defects More Lately Observed Proceeding From the Change of Manners, and Corruption of the Times.
- Section 38: The Power of Calling and Dissolving Parliaments Is Not Simply In the King. the Variety of Customs In Chusing Parliament Men, and the Errors a People May Commit, Neither Prove That Kings Are Or Ought to Be Absolute.
- Section 39: Those Kings Only Are Heads of the People, Who Are Good, Wise, and Seek to Advance No Interest But That of the Publick.
- Section 40: Good Laws Prescribe Easy and Safe Remedies Against the Evils Proceeding From the Vices Or Infirmities of the Magistrate; and When They Fail, They Must Be Supplied.
- Section 41: The People For Whom and By Whom the Magistrate Is Created, Can Only Judge Whether Be Rightly Perform His Office Or Not.
- Section 42: The Person That Wears the Crown Cannot Determine the Affairs Which the Law Refers to the King.
- Section 43: Proclamations Are Not Laws.
- Section 44: No People That Is Not Free Can Substitute Delegates.
- Section 45: The Legislative Power Is Always Arbitrary, and Not to Be Trusted In the Hands of Any Who Are Not Bound to Obey the Laws They Make.
- Section 46: The Coercive Power of the Law Proceeds From the Authority of Parliament.
No Sedition was hurtful to Rome, till through their Prosperity some men gained a Power above the Laws.
Little pains is required to confute our author, who imputes much bloodshed to the popular government of Rome; for he cannot prove that one man was unjustly put to death, or slain in any sedition before Publius Gracchus: The foundations of the commonwealth were then so shaken, that the laws could not be executed; and whatsoever did then fall out ought to be attributed to the monarchy for which the great men began to contend. Whilst they had no other wars than with neighbouring nations, they had a strict eye upon their commanders, and could preserve discipline among the soldiers: but when by the excellence of their valour and conduct the greatest powers of the world were subdued, and for the better carrying on of foreign wars, armies were suffered to continue in the same hands longer than the law did direct, soldiery came to be accounted a trade, and those who had the worst designs against the commonwealth, began to favour all manner of licentiousness and rapine, that they might gain the favour of the legions, who by that means became unruly and seditious; ’twas hard, if not impossible, to preserve a civil equality, when the spoils of the greatest kingdoms were brought to adorn the houses of private men; and they who had the greatest cities and nations to be their dependents and clients, were apt to scorn the power of the law. This was a most dangerous disease, like those to which human bodies are subject when they are arrived to that which physicians call the athletick habit, proceeding from the highest perfection of health, activity and strength, that the best constitution by diet and exercise can attain. Whosoever falls into them shews that he had attain’d that perfection; and he who blames that which brings a state into the like condition, condemns that which is most perfect among men. Whilst the Romans were in the way to this, no sedition did them any hurt: they were composed without blood; and those that seemed to be the most dangerous, produced the best laws. But when they were arrived to that condition, no order could do them good; the fatal period set to human things was come, they could go no higher,
- Summisque negatum
- Stare diu;
and all that our author blames, is not to be imputed to their constitution, but their departing from it. All men were ever subject to error, and it may be said that the mistaken people in the space of about three hundred years did unjustly fine or banish five or six men; but those mistakes were so frankly acknowledged, and carefully repair’d by honours bestow’d upon the injured persons, as appears by the examples of Camillus, Livius Salinator, Aemilius Paulus, and others, that they deserve more praise than if they had not failed.
If for the above-mentioned time seditions were harmless or profitable, they were also absolutely exempted from civil wars. Those of Apulia and Greece were revolts of conquer’d nations, and can no way fall under that name: But ’tis most absurdly applied to the servile and gladiatorian wars; for the gladiators were slaves also, and civil wars can be made only by those who are members of the civil society, which slaves are not. Those that made the bellum sociale, were freemen, but not citizens; and the war they made could not be called civil. The Romans had three ways of dealing with conquered nations.
- 1. Some were received into the body of the city, civitate donati, as the Latins by Romulus; the Albans by Hostilius; the Privernates when their ambassador declared, that no peace could be durable unless it were just and easy; and the Senate said, se viri & liberi vocem audivisse, talesque dignos esse ut Romani fiant; and the like favour was shewn to many others.
- 2. By making leagues with them, as Livy says, populum Romanum devictos bello populos, malle societate & amicitia habere conjunctos, quam tristi subjectos servitio: Of which sort were the Samnites, who not liking their condition, joined with Hannibal; and afterwards, under the conduct of the brave Telesinus, with other nations that lived under the condition of socii, made an unprosperous attempt to deliver themselves.
- 3. Those who after many rebellions were in provinciam redacti, as the Capuans, when their city was taken by Appius Claudius, and Q. Fulvius Flaccus.
We often hear of wars made by those of the two latter sorts; but of none that can be called civil, till the times of Marius, Sulla, and Catiline: and as they are to be esteemed the last strugglings of expiring liberty, when the laws, by which it had subsisted, were enervated: so those that happened between Caesar and Pompey, Octavius and Antonius, with the proscriptions, triumvirate, and all the mischiefs that accompanied them, are to be imputed wholly to the monarchy for which they contended, as well as those between Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian, that hardly ever ceased till the empire was abolished; for the name of a commonwealth continued to the end; and I know not why Tiberius or Nero might not use it as well as Sulla or Marius.
Yet if our author be resolved to impute to popular government all that passed before Caesar made himself perpetual dictator, he will find no more than is seen in all places. We have known few small states, and no great one free from revolts of subjects or allies; and the greatest empire of the East was overthrown by the rebellion of the Mamelukes their slaves. If there is any difference to be observed between what happened at Rome, ’tis chiefly, that whilst there was any shadow of liberty, the slaves, gladiators, subjects or allies, were always beaten and suppressed; whereas in the time of the emperors, the revolt of a province was sufficient to give a new master to the best part of mankind; and he having no more power than was required for a present mischief, was for the most part, in a short time, destroy’d by another. But to please our author, I will acknowledge a second defect, even that wantonness to which he ascribes all their disorders; tho I must withal desire him to consider from whence wantonness doth proceed. If the people of Turkey or France did rebel, I should think they were driven to it by misery, beggary, or despair; and could lay wantonness only to the charge of those who enjoy’d much prosperity. Nations that are oppress’d and made miserable, may fall into rage, but can never grow wanton. In the time of the Roman emperors, the praetorian cohorts, or the armies that had the liberty of ravaging the richest provinces, might be proud of their strength, or grow wanton through the abundance of their enjoyments: The Janizaries in later ages may, for the same reasons, have fallen into the like excesses; but such as have lost their liberty are in no danger of them. When all the nobility of Rome was destroyed, and those who excelled in reputation or virtue, were fallen in the wars, or by the proscriptions; when two thirds of the people were slain, the best cities and colonies burnt, the provinces exhausted, and the small remains left in them oppressed with a most miserable slavery, they may have revolted, and sometimes did, as the Britains, Batavians, and others mentioned in the Roman history: But they were driven to those revolts by fury and necessity, arising from the miseries and indignities they suffer’d under an insupportable tyranny; and wantonness had no part in them. The people of Rome, when they were a little freed from the terror of the soldiers, did sometimes for the same reasons conspire against the emperors; and when they could do no more, expressed their hatred by breaking their statues: But after the battles of Pharsalia, Philippi, and the proscriptions, they never committed any folly through wantonness. In the like manner Naples and Sicily have revolted within these few years; and some who are well acquainted with the state of those kingdoms, think them ready again to do the like; but if it should so happen, no man of understanding would impute it to wantonness. The pressures under which they groan, have cured them of all such diseases: and the Romans since the loss of their liberty could never fall into them. They may have grown wanton when their authority was reverenced, their virtue admired, their power irresistible, and the riches of the world were flowing in upon them, as it were, to corrupt their manners, by enticing them to pleasure: But when all that was lost, and they found their persons expos’d to all manner of violence from the basest of men; their riches exhausted by tributes and rapine, whilst the treasures of the empire were not sufficient to supply the luxury of their masters; the misery they suffer’d, and the shame of suffering it, with the contemptible weakness to which they were reduc’d, did too strongly admonish them, that the vices of wantonness belonged only to those who enjoy’d a condition far different from theirs; and the memory of what they had lost, sharpened the sense of what they felt. This is the state of things which pleases our author; and, by praising that government, which depriv’d those who were under it of all that is most desirable in the world, and introduc’d all that ought to be detested, he sufficiently shews, that he delights only in that which is most abominable, and would introduce his admir’d absolute monarchy, only as an instrument of bringing vice, misery, devastation and infamy upon mankind.