Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION 24: Popular Governments are less subject to Civil Disorders than Monarchies; manage them more ably, and more easily recover out of them. - Discourses Concerning Government
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
SECTION 24: Popular Governments are less subject to Civil Disorders than Monarchies; manage them more ably, and more easily recover out of them. - Algernon Sidney, Discourses Concerning Government 
Discourses Concerning Government, ed. Thomas G. West (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1996).
About Liberty Fund:
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
Popular Governments are less subject to Civil Disorders than Monarchies; manage them more ably, and more easily recover out of them.
’Tis in vain to seek a government in all points free from a possibility of civil wars, tumults, and seditions: that is a blessing denied to this life, and reserved to compleat the felicity of the next. But if these are to be accounted the greatest evils that can fall upon a people, the rectitude or defects of governments will best appear if we examine which species is more or less exposed to, or exempted from them.
This may be done two ways.
To the first: Seditions, tumults, and wars do arise from mistake, or from malice; from just occasions, or unjust: from mistake, when a people thinks an evil to be done or intended, which is not done nor intended, or takes that to be evil which is done, tho in truth it be not so. Well regulated cities may fall into these errors. The Romans being jealous of their newly recover’d liberty, thought that Valerius Publicola designed to make himself king, when he built a house in a place that seemed too strong and eminent for a private man. The Spartans were not less suspicious of Lycurgus; and a lewd young fellow in a sedition put out one of his eyes: but no people ever continued in a more constant affection to their best deserving citizens, than both the Romans and Spartans afterwards manifested to those virtuous and wrongfully suspected men.
Sometimes the fact is true, but otherwise understood than was intended. When the Tarquins were expelled from Rome, the patricians retained to themselves the principal magistracies; but never thought of bringing back kings, or of setting up a corrupt oligarchy among themselves, as the plebeians imagin’d: And this mistake being discover’d, the fury they had conceived, vanished; and they who seemed to intend nothing less than the extirpation of all the patrician families, grew quiet. Menenius Agrippa appeased one of the most violent seditions that ever happened amongst them (till civil interests were pursued by armed troops) with a fable of the several parts of the body that murmur’d against the belly: and the most dangerous of all was composed by creating tribunes to protect them. Some of the patrician young men had favour’d the decemviri, and others being unwilling to appear against them, the people believed they had all conspired with those new tyrants: but Valerius and Horatius putting themselves at the head of those who sought their destruction, they perceived their error, and looked upon the patricians as the best defenders of their liberties: Et inde, says Livy, auram libertatis captare, unde servitutem timuissent.1 Democratical governments are most liable to these mistakes: In aristocracies they are seldom seen, and we hear of none in Sparta after the establishment of the laws by Lycurgus; but absolute monarchies seem to be totally exempted from them. The mischiefs design’d are often dissembled or denied, till they are past all possibility of being cured by any other way than force: and such as are by necessity driven to use that remedy, know they must perfect their work or perish. He that draws his sword against the prince, say the French, ought to throw away the scabbard; for tho the design be never so just, yet the authors are sure to be ruin’d if it miscarry. Peace is seldom made, and never kept, unless the subject retain such a power in his hands, as may oblige the prince to stand to what is agreed; and in time some trick is found to deprive them of that benefit.
Seditions proceeding from malice, are seldom or never seen in popular governments; for they are hurtful to the people, and none have ever willingly and knowingly hurt themselves. There may be, and often is malice in those who excite them; but the people is ever deceiv’d, and whatsoever is thereupon done, ought to be imputed to error, as I said before. If this be discovered in time, it usually turns to the destruction of the contriver; as in the cases of Manlius Capitolinus, Spurius Maelius, and Sp. Cassius: if not, for the most part it produces a tyranny, as in those of Agathocles, Dionysius, Pisistratus, and Caesar. But in absolute monarchies, almost all the troubles that arise, proceed from malice; they cannot be reformed, the extinction of them is exceeding difficult, if they have continued long enough to corrupt the people; and those who appear against them, seek only to set up themselves, or their friends. Thus we see that in the civil wars of the East, the question was, whether Artaxerxes or Cyrus, Phraates or Bardanes, should reign over the Persians and Parthians: The people suffer’d equally from both whilst the contests lasted; and the decision left them under the power of a proud and cruel master. The like is seen in all places. After the death of Brutus and Cassius, no war was ever undertaken in the Roman empire upon a better account than one man’s private concernments: The provinces suffer’d under all; and he, whom they had assisted to overthrow one wicked tyrant, very often proved worse than his predecessor. And the only ground of all the dissensions with which France was vexed under the princes of Meroveus’s and Pepin’s races, were, which of them should reign, the people remaining miserable under them all.
The case is not much different in mixed monarchies: Some wars may be undertaken upon a just and publick account, but the pretences are commonly false: a lasting reformation is hardly introduced, an entire change often disliked. And tho such kingdoms are frequently and terribly distracted, as appears by the beforemention’d examples of England, Spain, &c. the quarrels are for the most part begun upon personal titles, as between Henry the First and Robert; Stephen and Maude; or the houses of Lancaster and York: and the people who get nothing by the victory which way soever it fall, and might therefore prudently leave the competitors to decide their own quarrels, like Theorestes and Polynices,2 with their own swords, become cruelly engaged in them.
It may seem strange to some that I mention seditions, tumults, and wars, upon just occasions; but I can find no reason to retract the term. God intending that men should live justly with one another, does certainly intend that he or they who do no wrong, should suffer none; and the law that forbids injuries, were of no use, if no penalty might be inflicted on those that will not obey it. If injustice therefore be evil, and injuries forbidden, they are also to be punished; and the law instituted for their prevention, must necessarily intend the avenging of such as cannot be prevented. The work of the magistracy is to execute this law; the sword of justice is put into their hands to restrain the fury of those within the society who will not be a law to themselves, and the sword of war to protect the people against the violence of foreigners. This is without exception, and would be in vain if it were not. But the magistrate who is to protect the people from injury, may, and is often known not to have done it: he sometimes renders his office useless by neglecting to do justice; sometimes mischievous by overthrowing it. This strikes at the root of God’s general ordinance, that there should be laws; and the particular ordinances of all societies that appoint such as seem best to them. The magistrate therefore is comprehended under both, and subject to both, as well as private men.
The ways of preventing or punishing injuries, are judicial or extrajudicial. Judicial proceedings are of force against those who submit or may be brought to trial, but are of no effect against those who resist, and are of such power that they cannot be constrained. It were absurd to cite a man to appear before a tribunal who can awe the judges, or has armies to defend him; and impious to think that he who has added treachery to his other crimes, and usurped a power above the law, should be protected by the enormity of his wickedness. Legal proceedings therefore are to be used when the delinquent submits to the law; and all are just, when he will not be kept in order by the legal.
The word sedition is generally applied to all numerous assemblies, without or against the authority of the magistrate, or of those who assume that power. Athaliah and Jezebel3 were more ready to cry out treason than David; and examples of that sort are so frequent, that I need not allege them.
Tumult is from the disorderly manner of those assemblies, where things can seldom be done regularly; and war is that decertatio per vim, or trial by force, to which men come when other ways are ineffectual.
If the laws of God and men are therefore of no effect, when the magistracy is left at liberty to break them; and if the lusts of those who are too strong for the tribunals of justice, cannot be otherwise restrained than by sedition, tumults and war, those seditions, tumults, and wars, are justified by the laws of God and man.
I will not take upon me to enumerate all the cases in which this may be done, but content myself with three, which have most frequently given occasion for proceedings of this kind.
The first is, when one or more men take upon them the power and name of a magistracy, to which they are not justly called.
The second, when one or more being justly called, continue in their magistracy longer than the laws by which they are called do prescribe.
And the third, when he or they who are rightly called, do assume a power, tho within the time prescribed, that the law does not give; or turn that which the law does give, to an end different and contrary to that which is intended by it.
For the first; Filmer forbids us to examine titles: he tells us, we must submit to the power, whether acquired by usurpation or otherwise, not observing the mischievous absurdity of rewarding the most detestable villainies with the highest honours, and rendering the veneration due to the supreme magistrate as father of the people, to one who has no other advantage above his brethren, than what he has gained by injuriously dispossessing or murdering him that was so. Hobbes fearing the advantages that may be taken from such desperate nonsense, or not thinking it necessary to his end to carry the matter so far, has no regard at all to him who comes in without title or consent; and denying him to be either king or tyrant, gives him no other name than hostis & latro,4 and allows all things to be lawful against him, that may be done to a publick enemy or pirate: which is as much as to say, any man may destroy him how he can. Whatever he may be guilty of in other respects, he does in this follow the voice of mankind, and the dictates of common sense: for no man can make himself a magistrate for himself, and no man can have the right of a magistrate, who is not a magistrate.5 If he be justly accounted an enemy to all, who injures all; he above all must be the publick enemy of a nation, who by usurping a power over them, does the greatest and most publick injury that a people can suffer: For which reason, by an established law among the most virtuous nations, every man might kill a tyrant; and no names are recorded in history with more honour, than of those who did it.
These are by other authors called tyranni sine titulo,6 and that name is given to all those who obtain the supreme power by illegal and unjust means. The laws which they overthrow can give them no protection; and every man is a soldier against him who is a publick enemy.
The same rule holds tho they are more in number, as the magi who usurped the dominion of Persia after the death of Cambyses; the thirty tyrants at Athens overthrown by Thrasybulus; those of Thebes slain by Pelopidas; the decemviri of Rome, and others: for tho the multitude of offenders may sometimes procure impunity, yet that act which is wicked in one, must be so in ten or twenty; and whatsoever is lawful against one usurper, is so against them all.
2. If those who were rightly created, continue beyond the time limited by the law, ’tis the same thing. That which is expir’d, is as if it had never been. He that was created consul for a year, or dictator for six months, was after that a private man; and if he had continued in the exercise of his magistracy, had been subject to the same punishment as if he had usurped it at the first. This was known to Epaminondas, who finding that his enterprize against Sparta could not be accomplished within the time for which he was made boeotarch, rather chose to trust his countrymen with his life than to desist, and was saved merely through an admiration of his virtue, assurance of his good intentions, and the glory of the action.
The Roman decemviri, tho duly elected, were proceeded against as private men usurping the magistracy, when they continued beyond their time. Other magistrates had ceased; there was none that could regularly call the senate or people to an assembly: but when their ambition was manifest, and the people exasperated by the death of Virginia, they laid aside all ceremonies. The senate and people met, and exercising their authority in the same manner as if they had been regularly called by the magistrate appointed to that end, they abrogated the power of the decemviri, proceeded against them as enemies and tyrants, and by that means preserved themselves from utter ruin.
3. The same course is justly used against a legal magistrate, who takes upon him (tho within the time prescribed by the law) to exercise a power which the law does not give; for in that respect he is a private man, Quia, as Grotius says, eatenus non habet imperium;7 and may be restrain’d as well as any other, because he is not set up to do what he lists, but what the law appoints for the good of the people; and as he has no other power than what the law allows, so the same law limits and directs the exercise of that which he has. This right naturally belonging to nations, is no way impair’d by the name of supreme given to their magistrates; for it signifies no more, than that they do act sovereignly in the matters committed to their charge. Thus are the parliaments of France called cours souveraines; for they judge of life and death, determine controversies concerning estates; and there is no appeal from their decrees: but no man ever thought, that it was therefore lawful for them to do what they pleased; or that they might not be opposed, if they should attempt to do that which they ought not. And tho the Roman dictators and consuls were supreme magistrates, they were subject to the people, and might be punished as well as others if they transgressed the law. Thuanus carries the word so far, that when Barlotta, Giustiniano, and others who were but colonels, were sent as commanders in chief of three or four thousand men upon an enterprize, he always says, summum imperium ei delatum.8 Grotius explains this point, by distinguishing those who have the summum imperium summo modo, from those who have it modo non summo.9 I know not where to find an example of this sovereign power, enjoy’d without restriction, under a better title than occupation; which relates not to our purpose, who seek only that which is legal and just. Therefore laying aside that point for the present, we may follow Grotius in examining the right of those who are certainly limited: Ubi partem imperii habet rex, partem senatus sive populus; in which case he says, regi in partem non suam involanti, vis justa opponi potest, in as much as they who have a part, cannot but have a right of defending that part. Quia data facultate, datur jus facultatem tuendi, without which it could be of no effect.10
The particular limits of the rights belonging to each, can only be judged by the precise letter, or general intention of the law. The dukes of Venice have certainly a part in the government, and could not be called magistrates if they had not. They are said to be supreme; all laws and publick acts bear their names. The ambassador of that state speaking to Pope Paul the 5th, denied that he acknowledged any other superior than God.11 But they are so well known to be under the power of the law, that divers of them have been put to death for transgressing it; and a marble gallows is seen at the foot of the stairs in St. Mark’s palace, upon which some of them, and no others, have been executed. But if they may be duly opposed, when they commit undue acts, no man of judgment will deny, that if one of them by an outrageous violence should endeavour to overthrow the law, he might by violence be suppressed and chastised.
Again, some magistrates are entrusted with a power of providing ships, arms, ammunition, and victuals for war; raising and disciplining soldiers, appointing officers to command in forts and garrisons, and making leagues with foreign princes and states. But if one of these should embezzle, sell, or give to an enemy those ships, arms, ammunition or provisions; betray the forts; employ only or principally, such men as will serve him in those wicked actions; and, contrary to the trust reposed in him, make such leagues with foreigners, as tend to the advancement of his personal interests, and to the detriment of the publick, he abrogates his own magistracy; and the right he had, perishes (as the lawyers say) frustratione finis.12 He cannot be protected by the law which he has overthrown, nor obtain impunity for his crimes from the authority that was conferred upon him, only that he might do good with it. He was singulis major on account of the excellence of his office; but universis minor,13 from the nature and end of his institution. The surest way of extinguishing his prerogative, was by turning it to the hurt of those who gave it. When matters are brought to this posture, the author of the mischief, or the nation must perish. A flock cannot subsist under a shepherd that seeks its ruin, nor a people under an unfaithful magistrate. Honour and riches are justly heaped upon the heads of those who rightly perform their duty, because the difficulty as well as the excellency of the work is great. It requires courage, experience, industry, fidelity and wisdom. The good shepherd, says our Saviour, lays down his life for his sheep: The hireling who flies in time of danger, is represented under an ill character; but he that sets himself to destroy his flock, is a wolf. His authority is incompatible with their subsistence; and whoever disapproves tumults, seditions or war, by which he may be removed from it, if gentler means are ineffectual, subverts the foundation of all law, exalts the fury of one man to the destruction of a nation; and giving an irresistible power to the most abominable iniquity, exposes all that are good to be destroy’d, and virtue to be utterly extinguished.
Few will allow such a preeminence to the dukes of Venice or Genoa the avoyers of Switzerland, or the burgomasters of Amsterdam. Many will say these are rascals if they prove false, and ought rather to be hang’d, than suffer’d to accomplish the villainies they design. But if this be confess’d in relation to the highest magistrates that are among those nations, why should not the same be in all others, by what name soever they are called? When did God confer upon those nations the extraordinary privilege of providing better for their own safety than others? Or was the gift universal, tho the benefit accrue only to those who have banished great titles from among them? If this be so, ’tis not their felicity, but their wisdom that we ought to admire and imitate. But why should any think their ancestors had not the same care? Have not they, who retain’d in themselves a power over a magistrate of one name, the like over another? Is there a charm in words, or any name of such efficacy, that he who receives it should immediately become master of those that created him, whereas all others do remain forever subject to them? Would the Venetian government change its nature, if they should give the name of king to their prince? Are the Polanders less free since the title of king is conferr’d upon their dukes; or are the Muscovites less slaves, because their chief magistrate has no other than that of duke? If we examine things but a little, ’twill appear that magistrates have enjoy’d large powers, who never had the name of kings; and none were ever more restrained by laws than those of Sparta, Aragon, the Goths in Spain, Hungary, Bohemia, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, and others, who had that title. There is therefore no such thing as a right universally belonging to a name; but everyone enjoys that which the laws, by which he is, confer upon him. The law that gives the power, regulates it; and they who give no more than what they please, cannot be obliged to suffer him to whom they give it, to take more than they thought fit to give, or to go unpunished if he do. The agreements made are always confirmed by oath, and the treachery of violating them is consequently aggravated by perjury. They are good philosophers and able divines, who think this can create a right to those who had none; or that the laws can be a protection to such as overthrow them, and give opportunity of doing the mischiefs they design. If it do not, then he that was a magistrate, by such actions returns into the condition of a private man; and whatever is lawful against a thief who submits to no law, is lawful against him.
Men who delight in cavils may ask, who shall be the judge of these occasions? and whether I intend to give to the people the decision of their own cause? To which I answer, that when the contest is between the magistrate and the people, the party to which the determination is referred, must be the judge of his own case; and the question is only, whether the magistrate should depend upon the judgment of the people, or the people on that of the magistrate; and which is most to be suspected of injustice: That is, whether the people of Rome should judge Tarquin, or Tarquin judge the people. He that knew all good men abhorred him for the murder of his wife, brother, father-in-law, and the best of the senate, would certainly strike off the heads of the most eminent remaining poppies; and having incurr’d the general hatred of the people by the wickedness of his government, he feared revenge; and endeavouring to destroy those he feared (that is the city) he might easily have accomplish’d his work, if the judgment had been referred to him. If the people judge Tarquin, ’tis hard to imagine how they should be brought to give an unjust sentence: They loved their former kings, and hated him only for his villainies: They did not fancy, but know his cruelty. When the best were slain, no man that any way resembled them could think himself secure. Brutus did not pretend to be a fool, till by the murder of his brother he found how dangerous a thing it was to be thought wise. If the people, as our author says, be always lewd, foolish, mad, wicked, and desirous to put the power into the hands of such as are most like to themselves, he and his sons were such men as they sought, and he was sure to find favourable judges: If virtuous and good, no injustice was to be feared from them, and he could have no other reason to decline their judgment, than what was suggested by his own wickedness. Caligula, Nero, Domitian, and the like, had probably the same considerations: But no man of common sense ever thought that the senate and people of Rome did not better deserve to judge, whether such monsters should reign over the best part of mankind to their destruction, than they to determine whether their crimes should be punished or not.
If I mention some of these known cases, every man’s experience will suggest others of the like nature; and whosoever condemns all seditions, tumults and wars raised against such princes, must say, that none are wicked, or seek the ruin of their people, which is absurd; for Caligula wish’d the people had but one neck, that he might cut it off at a blow: Nero set the city on fire, and we have known such as have been worse than either of them: They must either be suffer’d to continue in the free exercise of their rage, that is, to do all the mischief they design; or must be restrain’d by a legal, judicial, or extrajudicial way; and they who disallow the extrajudicial, do as little like the judicial. They will not hear of bringing a supreme magistrate before a tribunal, when it may be done. They will, says our author, depose their kings.14 Why should they not be deposed, if they become enemies to their people, and set up an interest in their own persons inconsistent with the publick good, for the promoting of which they were erected? If they were created by the publick consent, for the publick good, shall they not be removed when they prove to be of publick damage? If they set up themselves, may they not be thrown down? Shall it be lawful for them to usurp a power over the liberty of others, and shall it not be lawful for an injur’d people to resume their own? If injustice exalt itself, must it be forever established? Shall great persons be rendered sacred by rapine, perjury and murder? Shall the crimes for which private men do justly suffer the most grievous punishments, exempt them from all, who commit them in the highest excess, with most power, and most to the prejudice of mankind? Shall the laws that solely aim at the prevention of crimes be made to patronize them, and become snares to the innocent whom they ought to protect? Has every man given up into the common store his right of avenging the injuries he may receive, that the publick power which ought to protect or avenge him, should be turned to the destruction of himself, his posterity, and the society into which they enter, without any possibility of redress? Shall the ordinance of God be rendered of no effect; or the powers he hath appointed to be set up for the distribution of justice, be made subservient to the lusts of one or a few men, and by impunity encourage them to commit all manner of crimes? Is the corruption of man’s nature so little known, that such as have common sense should expect justice from those, who fear no punishment if they do injustice; or that the modesty, integrity, and innocence, which is seldom found in one man, tho never so cautiously chosen, should be constantly found in all those who by any means attain to greatness, and continue forever in their successors; or that there can be any security under their government, if they have them not? Surely if this were the condition of men living under government, forests would be more safe than cities; and ’twere better for every man to stand in his own defence, than to enter into societies. He that lives alone might encounter such as should assault him upon equal terms, and stand or fall according to the measure of his courage and strength; but no valour can defend him, if the malice of his enemy be upheld by a publick power. There must therefore be a right of proceeding judicially or extrajudicially against all persons who transgress the laws; or else those laws, and the societies that should subsist by them, cannot stand; and the ends for which governments are constituted, together with the governments themselves, must be overthrown. Extrajudicial proceedings by sedition, tumult, or war, must take place, when the persons concern’d are of such power, that they cannot be brought under the judicial. They who deny this, deny all help against an usurping tyrant, or the perfidiousness of a lawfully created magistrate, who adds the crimes of ingratitude and treachery to usurpation. These of all men are the most dangerous enemies to supreme magistrates: for as no man desires indemnity for such crimes as are never committed, he that would exempt all from punishment, supposes they will be guilty of the worst; and by concluding that the people will depose them if they have the power, acknowledge that they pursue an interest annexed to their persons, contrary to that of their people, which they would not bear if they could deliver themselves from it. This shewing all those governments to be tyrannical, lays such a burden upon those who administer them, as must necessarily weigh them down to destruction.
If it be said that the word sedition implies that which is evil; I answer, that it ought not then to be applied to those who seek nothing but that which is just; and tho the ways of delivering an oppressed people from the violence of a wicked magistrate, who having armed a crew of lewd villains, and fatted them with the blood and confiscations of such as were most ready to oppose him, be extraordinary, the inward righteousness of the act doth fully justify the authors. He that has virtue and power to save a people, can never want a right of doing it. Valerius Asiaticus had no hand in the death of Caligula; but when the furious guards began tumultuously to enquire who had kill’d him, he appeased them with wishing he had been the man.15 No wise man ever asked by what authority Thrasybulus, Harmodius, Aristogiton, Pelopidas, Epaminondas, Dion, Timoleon, Lucius Brutus, Publicola, Horatius, Valerius, Marcus Brutus, C. Cassius, and the like, delivered their countries from tyrants. Their actions carried in themselves their own justification, and their virtues will never be forgotten whilst the names of Greece and Rome are remembered in the world.
If this be not enough to declare the justice inherent in, and the glory that ought to accompany these works, the examples of Moses, Aaron, Othniel, Ehud, Barak, Gideon, Samuel, Jephthah, David, Jehu, Jehoiada, the Maccabees, and other holy men raised up by God for the deliverance of his people from their oppressors, decide the question. They are perpetually renowned for having led the people by extraordinary ways (which such as our author express under the names of sedition, tumult, and war) to recover their liberties, and avenge the injuries received from foreign or domestick tyrants. The work of the apostles was not in their time to set up or pull down any civil state; but they so behaved themselves in relation to all the powers of the earth, that they gained the name of pestilent, seditious fellows, disturbers of the people; and left it as an inheritance to those, who in succeeding ages by following their steps should deserve to be called their successors; whereby they were exposed to the hatred of corrupt magistrates, and brought under the necessity of perishing by them, or defending themselves against them: and he that denies them that right, does at once condemn the most glorious actions of the wisest, best, and holiest men that have been in the world, together with the laws of God and man, upon which they were founded.
Nevertheless, there is a sort of sedition, tumult, and war proceeding from malice, which is always detestable, aiming only at the satisfaction of private lust, without regard to the publick good. This cannot happen in a popular government, unless it be amongst the rabble; or when the body of the people is so corrupted, that it cannot stand; but is most frequent in, and natural to absolute monarchies. When Abimelech desir’d to make himself king, he raised a tumult among the basest of the people: He hired light and vain persons, some translations call them lewd vagabonds, kill’d his brethren, but perished in his design; the corrupt party that favour’d him not having strength enough to subdue the other, who were more sincere.16 Sp. Maelius, Sp. Cassius, and Manlius attempted the like in Rome: they acted maliciously, their pretences to procure the publick good were false. ’Tis probable that some in the city were as bad as they, and knew that mischief was intended; but the body of the people not being corrupted, they were suppressed. It appear’d, says Livy, nihil esse minus populare quam regnum: they who had favour’d Manlius, condemned him to death when it was proved, that egregias alioqui virtutes foeda regni cupidine maculasset.17 But when the people is generally corrupted, such designs seldom miscarry, and the success is always the erection of a tyranny. Nothing else can please vain and profligate persons, and no tyranny was ever set up by such as were better qualified. The ways of attaining it have always been by corrupting the manners of the people, bribing soldiers, entertaining mercenary strangers, opening prisons, giving liberty to slaves, alluring indigent persons with hopes of abolishing debts, coming to a new division of lands, and the like. Seditions raised by such men always tend to the ruin of popular governments; but when they happen under absolute monarchies, the hurt intended is only to the person, who being removed the promoters of them set up another; and he that is set up, subsisting only by the strength of those who made him, is obliged to foment the vices that drew them to serve him; tho another may perhaps make use of the same against him.
The consequence of this is, that those who uphold popular governments, look upon vice and indigence as mischiefs that naturally increase each other, and equally tend to the ruin of the state. When men are by vice brought into want, they are ready for mischief: there is no villainy that men of profligate lives, lost reputation, and desperate fortunes will not undertake. Popular equality is an enemy to these; and they who would preserve it must preserve integrity of manners, sobriety, and an honest contentedness with what the law allows. On the other side, the absolute monarch who will have no other law than his own will, desires to increase the number of those who through lewdness and beggary may incline to depend upon him; tho the same temper of mind, and condition of fortune prepare them also for such seditions as may bring him into danger; and the same corruption which led them to set him up, may invite them to sell him to another that will give them better wages.
I do not by this conclude that all monarchs are vicious men; but that whoever will set up an absolute power, must do it by these means; and that if such a power be already established, and should fall into the hands of a person, who by his virtue and the gentleness of his nature should endeavour to render the yoke so easy, that a better disciplin’d people might be contented to bear it; yet this method could last no longer than his life, and probably would be a means to shorten it; that which was at first established by evil arts always returning to the same: That which was vicious in the principle, can never be long upheld by virtue; and we see that the worst of the Roman emperors were not in greater danger from such good men as remained undestroy’d, than the best from the corrupt party that would not be corrected, and sought such a master as would lay no restriction upon their vices. Those few who escaped the rage of these villains, only gave a little breathing time to the afflicted world, which by their children or successors was again plunged into that extremity of misery, from which they intended to deliver it. An extraordinary virtue was required to keep a prince in a way contrary to the principles of his own government; which being rarely found, and never continuing long in a family or succession of men, the endeavours of the best became ineffectual, and either they themselves perished in them, or after their death all things returned into the old polluted channel.
Tho the power of the Hebrew kings was not unlimited, yet it exceeded the rules set by God, and was sufficient to increase the number of the worst of men, and to give them opportunities of raising perpetual disturbances. On the king’s side there were flatterers and instruments of mischief: On the other side there were indebted and discontented persons. Notwithstanding the justice of David’s cause, the wisdom, valour, and piety of his person, none would follow him, except a few of his own kindred (who knew what God had promised to him) and such as were uneasy in their worldly circumstances. After the death of Saul there was a long and bloody war between Ishbosheth and David. The former being killed, the slightest matters were sufficient to put the whole nation into blood. Absalom with a few fair words was able to raise all Israel against his father: Sheba the son of Bichri with as much ease raised a more dangerous tumult: David by wisdom, valour, and the blessing of God surmounted these difficulties, and prepared a peaceable reign for Solomon; but after his death they broke out into a flame that was never quenched till the nation was so dispersed that no man knew where to find his enemies. Solomon by his magnificence had reduced Israel to such poverty, as inclined them to revolt upon the first offer of an opportunity by Jeroboam. From that time forward Israel was perpetually vexed with civil seditions and conspiracies, or wars with their brethren of Judah. Nine kings with their families were destroyed by the first, and the latter brought such slaughters upon the miserable people as were never suffer’d by any who were not agitated by the like fury; and the course of these mischiefs was never interrupted, till they had brought the nation into captivity, and the country to desolation. Tho God according to his promise did preserve a light in the house of David, yet the tribe of Judah was not the more happy. Joash was slain by a private conspiracy, and Amaziah (as is most probable) by publick authority, for having foolishly brought a terrible slaughter upon Judah. Athaliah destroyed the king’s race, and was killed herself by Jehoiada, who not having learnt from our author to regard the power only, and not the ways by which it was obtained, caused her to be dragg’d out of the Temple, and put to a well-deserved death. The whole story is a tragedy: and if it be pretended that this proceeded rather from the wrath of God against his people for their idolatry, than from such causes as are applicable to other nations; I answer, that this idolatry was the production of the government they had set up, and most suitable to it; and chusing rather to subject themselves to the will of a man, than to the law of God, they deservedly suffer’d the evils that naturally follow the worst counsels. We know of none who, taking the like course, have not suffer’d the like miseries. Notwithstanding the admirable virtue and success of Alexander, his reign was full of conspiracies, and his knowledge of them prompted him to destroy Parmenio, Philotas, Clitus, Callisthenes, Hermolaus, and many more of his best friends. If he escaped the sword, he fell by poison. The murder of his wives, mother, and children, by the rage of his own soldiers; the fury of his captains employed in mutual slaughters, till they were consumed; his paternal kingdom after many revolutions transferred to Cassander his most mortal enemy; the utter extinction of his conquering army, and particularly the famous Argyraspides, who being grown faithless and seditious, after the death of Eumenes were sent to perish in unknown parts of the East, abundantly testify the admirable stability, good order, peace, and quiet that is enjoy’d under absolute monarchy.18 The next government of the like nature that appeared upon the stage of the world was that of Rome, introduced by wars that consumed two thirds of the people; confirmed by proscriptions, in which all that were eminent for nobility, riches, or virtue, perished. The peace they had under Augustus was like that which the Devil allow’d to the child in the Gospel, whom he rent sorely, and left as dead.19 The miserable city was only cast into a swoon: after long and violent vexations by seditions, tumults, and wars, it lay as dead; and finding no helper like to him who cured the child, it was delivered to new devils to be tormented, till it was utterly destroy’d. Tiberius was appointed as a fit instrument for such a purpose. It was thought that those who should feel the effects of his pride, cruelty, and lust, would look upon the death of Augustus as a loss. He performed the work for which he was chosen; his reign was an uninterrupted series of murders, subornations, perjuries, and poisonings, intermixed with the most detestable impurities, the revolts of provinces, and mutinies of armies. The matter was not mended by his successors: Caligula was kill’d by his own guards: Claudius poison’d by his wife: Spain, Gaul, Germany, Pannonia, Moesia, Syria, and Egypt, revolted at once from Nero; the people and senate followed the example of the provinces. This I think was, in our author’s sense, sedition with a witness. Nero being dead by the hand of a slave, or his own to prevent that of the hangman, Galba enter’d the city with blood and slaughter; but when his own soldiers found he would not give the money for which they intended to sell the empire, they killed him: and to shew the stability of absolute monarchy, it may be observed, that this was not done by the advice of the senate, or by a conspiracy of great men; Suscepêre duo manipulares populi Romani imperium transferendum, & transtulerunt.20 Two rascals gave the empire to Otho, and the whole senate was like to be butcher’d for not being so ready to follow their venerable authority as they ought to have been, and hardly escaped the fury of their mad and drunken companions. As a farther testimony that these monarchies are not subject to seditions and tumults, he had at once only two competitors against whom he was to defend the well-acquired empire: His army was defeated at Brescia, he kill’d himself; and his successor Vitellius was soon after thrown into the common shore. The same method still continued: Rome was fill’d with blood and ashes; and to recite all the publick mischiefs would be to transcribe the history: For as Pyrrhus being asked who should succeed him, answered, he who has the sharpest sword;21 that was the only law that governed in the following ages. Whoever could corrupt two or three legions, thought he had a good title to the empire; and unless he happen’d to be kill’d by treachery, or another tumult of his own soldiers, he seldom receded from it without a battle, wherein he that was most successful, had no other security than what the present temper of the soldiers afforded him; and the miserable provinces having neither virtue nor force, were obliged slavishly to follow the fury or fortune of those villains. In this state did Rome dedicate to Constantine the triumphal arch that had been prepared for Maxentius; and those provinces which had set up Albinus and Niger submitted to Septimius Severus. In the vast variety of accidents that in those ages disturbed the world, no emperor had a better title than what he purchased by money or violence; and enjoyed it no longer than those helps continued, which of all things were the most uncertain. By this means most of the princes perished by the sword, Italy was made desolate, and Rome was several times sacked and burnt. The mistress of the world being made a slave, the provinces which had been acquir’d by the blood of her ancient virtuous citizens, became part of an usurper’s patrimony, who without any regard to the publick good, distributed them to his children according to their number, or his passion. These either destroy’d one another, or fell under the sword of a third who had the fortune of their father, the greatest part most commonly falling to the share of the worst. If at any time the contrary happened, the government of the best was but a lucid interval. Well-wishing men grew more extremely to abhor the darkness that follow’d when they were gone. The best of them could do no more than suspend mischief for a while, but could not correct the corrupt principle of their government; and some of them were destroyed as soon as they were thought to intend it: And others who finished their days in peace, left the empire to such persons of their relations as were most unlike to them. Domitian came in as brother to Titus. Commodus and Heliogabalus were recommended by the memory of those virtues that had been found in Antoninus and Aurelius. Honorius and Arcadius, who by their baseness brought utter ruin upon the Western and Eastern empires, were the sons of the brave Theodosius. They who could keep their hands free from blood, and their hearts from malice, covetousness, and pride, could not transmit their virtues to their successors, nor correct the perverseness that lay at the root and foundation of their government. The whole mass of blood was vitiated: the body was but one vast sore, which no hand but that of the Almighty could heal; and he who from an abhorrence of iniquity had declared he would not hear the cries of his own people, when they had chosen the thing that was not good, would not shew mercy to strangers who had done the same thing.
I have insisted upon the Hebrew, Macedonian and Roman histories, because they are the most eminent and best known to us: We are in the dark concerning the Babylonian, Assyrian, Chaldean, Bactrian, and Egyptian monarchies: We know little more of them than the Scripture occasionally relates concerning their barbarous cruelty, bestial pride, and extravagant folly. Others have been like to them, and I know not where to find a peaceable monarchy unless it be in Peru, where the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega says, that a man and a woman, children of the sun and the moon, appearing amongst a barbarous people living without any religion or law, established a government amongst them, which continued in much peace and justice for twelve generations:22 But this seeming to be as fabulous as their birth, we may pass it over, and fix upon those that are better known; of which there is not one that has not suffer’d more dangerous and mischievous seditions, than all the popular governments that have been in the world: And the condition of those kingdoms which are not absolute, and yet give a preference to birth, without consideration of merit or virtue, is not much better.
This is proved by the reasons of those seditions and tumults, as well as from the fact itself.
The reasons do arise from the violence of the passions that incite men to them, and the intricacy of the questions concerning succession.
Every man has passions; few know how to moderate, and no one can wholly extinguish them. As they are various in their nature, so they are governed by various objects; and men usually follow that which is predominant in them, whether it proceed from anger or desire, and whether it terminate in ambition, covetousness, lust, or any other more or less blamable appetite. Every manner of life furnishes something, that in some measure may foment these; but a crown comprehends all that can be grateful to the most violent and vicious. He who is covetous, has vast revenues, besides what he may get by fraud and rapine, to satisfy his appetite. If he be given to sensuality, the variety of pleasures, and the facility of accomplishing whatever he desires, tends farther to inflame that passion. Such as are ambitious, are incited by the greatness of their power to attempt great matters; and the most sottish or lazy may discharge themselves of cares, and hope that others will be easily hired to take the burden of business upon them whilst they lie at ease. They who naturally incline to pride and cruelty, are more violently tempted to usurp dominion; and the wicked advices of flatterers, always concurring with their passions, incite them to exercise the power they have gotten with the utmost rigor, to satiate their own rage, and to secure themselves against the effects of the publick hatred, which they know they have deserved. If there be, as our author says, no other rule than force and success, and that he must be taken for the father of a people who is in possession of a power over them; whoever has the one, may put the other to a trial. Nay, even those who have regard to justice, will seldom want reasons to persuade them that it is on their side. Something may be amiss in the state; injuries may be done to themselves and their friends. Such honours may be denied as they think they deserve; or others of less merit, as they suppose, may be preferred before them. Men do so rarely make a right estimate of their own merits, that those who mean well may be often deceived: and if nothing but success be requir’d to make a monarch, they may think it just to attempt whatever they can hope to accomplish. This was the case of Julius Caesar; he thought all things lawful, when the consulate, which he supposed he had deserved, was denied.
These enterprizes seem to belong to men of great spirits; but there are none so base not to be capable of undertaking, and (as things may stand) of bringing them to perfection. History represents no man under a more contemptible character of sottish laziness, cowardice, and drunkenness, than Vitellius; no one more impure and sordid than Galba: Otho was advanced for being in his manners like to Nero: Vespasian was scorned for his avarice; till the power fell into such hands as made the world believe none could be unworthy of the empire; and in the following ages the worst men by the worst means most frequently obtained it.
These wounds are not cured by saying, that the law of God and nature prevents this mischief, by annexing the succession of crowns to proximity of blood; for mankind had not been continually afflicted with them if there had been such a law, or that they could have been prevented by it: and tho there were such a law, yet more questions would arise about that proximity, than any wise man would dare to determine. The law can be of no effect, unless there be a power to decide the contests arising upon it: But the fundamental maxim of the great monarchies is, that there can be no interregnum: The heir of the crown is in possession, as soon as he who did enjoy it is dead. Le mort, as the French say, saisit le vif:24 There can be therefore no such law, or it serves for nothing. If there be judges to interpret the law, no man is a king till judgment be given in his favour; and he is not king by his own title, but by the sentence given by them. If there be none, the law is merely imaginary, and every man may in his own case make it what he pleases. He who has a crown in his view, and arms in his hand, wants nothing but success to make him a king; and if he prosper, all men are obliged to obey him.
’Tis a folly to say the matter is clear, and needs no decision; for every man knows that no law concerning private inheritances can be so exactly drawn, but many controversies will arise upon it, that must be decided by a power to which both parties are subject: and the disputes concerning kingdoms are so much the more difficult, because this law is nowhere to be found; and the more dangerous, because the competitors are for the most part more powerful.
Again, this law must either be general to all mankind, or particular to each nation. If particular, a matter of such importance requires good proof, when, where, how, and by whom it was given to everyone. But the Scriptures testifying to the contrary, that God gave laws to the Jews only, and that no such thing as hereditary monarchy, according to proximity of blood, was prescribed by them, we may safely say, that God did never give any such law to every particular, nor to any nation. If he did not give it to any one, he did not give it to all, for every one is comprehended in all; and if no one has it, ’tis impossible that all can have it; or that it should be obligatory to all, when no man knows or can tell, when, where, and by what hand it was given, nor what is the sense of it: all which is evident by the various laws and customs of nations in the disposal of hereditary successions: And no one of them, that we know, has to this day been able to shew that the method follow’d by them, is more according to nature than that of others.
If our author pretend to be God’s interpreter, and to give the solution of these doubts, I may ask which of the five following ways are appointed by God, and then we may examine cases resulting from them.
1. In France, Turkey, and other places, the succession comes to the next male, in the straight eldest line, according to which the son is preferr’d before the brother of him who last enjoy’d the crown (as the present king of France before his uncle the duke of Orleans), and the son of the eldest before the brothers of the eldest; as in the case of Richard the second of England, who was advanced preferably to all the brothers of the Black Prince his father.
2. Others keep to the males of the reigning family, yet have more regard to the eldest man than to the eldest line: and representation taking no place among them, the eldest man is thought to be nearest to the first king; and a second son of the person that last reigned, to be nearer to him than his grandchild by the eldest son: according to which rule, any one of the sons of Edward the third remaining after his death, should have been preferr’d before Richard the second who was his grandchild.
3. In the two cases beforementioned, no manner of regard is had to females, who being thought naturally incapable of commanding men, or performing the functions of a magistrate, are, together with their descendants, utterly excluded from the supreme as well as from the inferior magistracies; and in Turkey, France, and other great kingdoms, have no pretence to any title: But in some places, and particularly in England, the advantages of proximity belong to them as well as to males; by which means our crown has been transported to several families and nations.
4. As in some places they are utterly rejected, and in others received simply without any condition; so those are not wanting, where that of not marrying out of the country, or without the consent of the estates, is imposed, of which Sweden is an example.
5. In some places proximity of blood is only regarded, whether the issue be legitimate or illegitimate; in others bastards are wholly excluded.
By this variety of judgments made by several nations upon this point, it may appear, that tho it were agreed by all that the next in blood ought to succeed, yet such contests would arise upon the interpretation and application of the general rule, as must necessarily be a perpetual spring of irreconcilable and mortal quarrels.
If any man say, the rule observed in England is that which God gave to mankind; I leave him first to dispute that point with the kings of France, and many others, who can have no right to the crowns they wear, if it be admitted; and in the next place to prove that our ancestors had a more immediate communication with God, and a more certain knowledge of his will than others, who for anything we know, may be of authority equal to them: but in the meantime we may rationally conclude, that if there be such a rule, we have had no king in England for the space of almost a thousand years, having not had one who did not come to the crown by a most manifest violation of it; as appears by the forecited examples of William the first and second; Henry the first, Henry the second and his children; John, Edward the third, Henry the fourth, Edward the fourth and his children; Henry the seventh, and all that claim under any of them. And if possession or success can give a right, it will I think follow, that Jack Straw, Wat Tyler, Perkin Warbeck,25 or any other rascal, might have had it if he had been as happy as bold in his enterprize. This is no less than to expose crowns to the first that can seize them, to destroy all law and rule, and to render right a slave to fortune. If this be so, a late earl of Pembroke, whose understanding was not thought great, judged rightly when he said his grandfather was a wise man tho he could neither write nor read, in as much as he resolved to follow the crown, tho it were upon a coalstaff. But if this be sufficient to make a wise man, ’tis pity the secret was no sooner discovered, since many, who for want of it liv’d and died in all the infamy that justly accompanies knavery, cowardice and folly, might have gained the reputation of the most excellent men in their several ages. The bloody factions with which all nations subject to this sort of monarchy have been perpetually vexed, might have been prevented by throwing up cross or pile, or by battle between the competitors body to body, as was done by Corbis and Orsua, Cleorestes and Polynices, Ironside and Canute; it being most unreasonable, or rather impiously absurd for any to venture their lives and fortunes, when their consciences are not concern’d in the contest, and that they are to gain nothing by the victory.
If reason teaches, that till this expeditious way of ending controversies be received, the ambition of men will be apt to embroil nations in their quarrels, and others judging variously of those matters, which can be reduced to no certain rule, will think themselves in conscience obliged to follow the party that seems to them to be most just; experience manifests the same, and that ambition has produced more violent mischiefs than all the other desires and passions that have ever possessed the hearts of men. That this may appear, it will not be amiss to divide them into such as proceed from him who is in possession of the power, through jealousy of state, as they call it, to prevent the enterprizes of those who would dispossess him, and such as arise between competitors contending for it.
Tarquin’s counsel concerning the poppies, and Periander’s heads of corn, is of the first sort.26 The most eminent are always most feared as the readiest to undertake, and most able to accomplish great designs. This eminence proceeds from birth, riches, virtue, or reputation, and is sometimes wrought up to the greatest height by a conjunction of all these. But I know not where to find an example of such a man, who could long subsist under absolute monarchy. If he be of high birth, he must, like Brutus, conceal his virtue, and gain no reputation, or resolve to perish, if he do not prevent his own death by that of the tyrant: All other ways are ineffectual; the suspicions, fears, and hatred thereupon arising, are not to be removed: Personal respects are forgotten, and such services as cannot be sufficiently valued, must be blotted out by the death of those who did them. Various ways may be taken, and pretences used according to the temper of times and nations; but the thing must be done; and whether it be colour’d by a trick of law, or performed by a mute with a bowstring, imports little. Henry the fourth was made king by the Earl of Northumberland, and his brave son Hotspur; Edward the fourth by the valiant Earl of Warwick; Henry the seventh by Stanley: but neither of them could think himself safe, till his benefactor was dead. No continued fidelity, no testimonies of modesty and humility can prevent this. The modesty of Germanicus in rejecting the honours that were offer’d to him, and his industry in quieting the mutinied legions, accelerated his ruin: When ’twas evident he might be emperor if he pleased, he must be so, or die: There was no middle station between the throne and the grave. ’Tis probable that Caligula, Nero, and other beasts like to them, might hate virtue for the good which is in it; but I cannot think that either they, their predecessors or successors, would have put themselves upon the desperate design of extirpating it, if they had not found it to be inconsistent with their government; and that being once concluded, they spared none of their nearest relations. Artaxerxes killed his son Darius: Herod murder’d the best of his wives, and all his sons except the worst. Tiberius destroy’d Agrippa Posthumus, and Germanicus with his wife and two sons. How highly soever Constantine the Great be commended, he was polluted with the blood of his father-in-law, wife, and son. Philip the second of Spain did in the like manner deliver himself from his fears of Don Carlos; and ’tis not doubted that Philip the fourth, for the same reasons, dispatched his brother Don Carlos, and his son Balthasar. The like cases were so common in England, that all the Plantagenets, and the noble families allied to them being extinguish’d, our ancestors were sent to seek a king in one of the meanest in Wales.27
This method being known, those who are unwilling to die so tamely, endeavour to find out ways of defending themselves; and there being no other than the death of the person who is in the throne, they usually seek to compass it by secret conspiracy, or open violence; and the number of princes that have been destroy’d, and countries disturb’d by those who through fear have been driven to extremities, is not much less than of those who have suffer’d the like from men following the impulse of their own ambition.
The disorders arising from contests between several competitors, before any one could be settled in the possession of kingdoms, have been no less frequent and bloody than those above-mention’d, and the miseries suffer’d by them, together with the ruin brought upon the empires of Macedon and Rome, may be sufficient to prove it; however to make the matter more clear, I shall allege others. But because it may be presumption in me to think I know all the histories of the world, or tedious to relate all those I know, I shall content myself with some of the most eminent and remarkable: And if it appear that they have all suffer’d the same mischiefs, we may believe they proceed not from accidents, but from the power of a permanent cause that always produces the same or the like effects.
To begin with France. The succession not being well settled in the time of Meroveus, who dispossess’d the grandchildren of Pharamond, he was no sooner dead than Gillon set up himself, and with much slaughter drove Chilperic his son out of the kingdom; and he after a little time returning with like fury, is said to have seen a vision, first of lions and leopards, then of bears and wolves, and lastly of dogs and cats, all tearing one another to pieces. This has been always accounted by the French to be a representation of the nature and fortune of the three races that were to command them, and has been too much verified by experience.28 Clovis their first Christian and most renowned king, having by good means or evil exceedingly enlarged his territories, but chiefly by the murders of Alaric and Ragnacaire, with his children, and suborning Sigismond of Metz to kill his father Sigebert, left his kingdom to be torn in pieces by the rage of his four sons, each of them endeavouring to make himself master of the whole; and when, according to the usual fate of such contests, success had crown’d Clothaire, who was the worst of them all, by the slaughter of his brothers and nephews, with all the flower of the French and Gaulish nobility, the advantages of his fortune only resulted to his own person.29 For after his death the miserable nations suffer’d as much from the madness of his sons, as they had done by himself and his brothers. They had learnt from their predecessors not to be slow in doing mischief, but were farther incited by the rage of two infamous strumpets, Fredegonde and Brunehaud, which is a sort of vermin that, I am inclin’d to think, has not usually govern’d senates or popular assemblies. Chilperic the second, who by the slaughter of many persons of the royal blood, with infinite numbers of the nobility and people, came to be master of so much of the country, as procured him the name of king of France, killed his eldest son on suspicion that he was excited against him by Brunehaud, and his second, lest he should revenge the death of his brother: he married Fredegonde, and was soon after kill’d by her adulterer Landry. The kingdom continued in the same misery through the rage of the surviving princes, and found no relief, tho most of them fell by the sword; and that Brunehaud who had been a principal cause of those tragedies, was tied to the tails of four wild horses, and suffer’d a death as foul as her life. These were lions and leopards. They involved the kingdom in desperate troubles; but being men of valour and industry, they kept up in some measure the reputation and power of the nation, and he who attain’d to the crown defended it. But they being fallen by the hands of each other, the poisonous root put forth another plague more mortal than their fury. The vigour was spent, and the succession becoming more settled, ten base and slothful kings, by the French called les roys faineants, succeeded. Some may say, They who do nothing, do no hurt; but the rule is false in relation to kings. He that takes upon him the government of a people, can do no greater evil than by doing nothing, nor be guilty of a more unpardonable crime, than by negligence, cowardice, voluptuousness, and sloth, to desert his charge. Virtue and manhood perish under him; good discipline is forgotten; justice slighted; the laws perverted or rendered useless; the people corrupted; the publick treasures exhausted; and the power of the government always falling into the hands of flatterers, whores, favorites, bawds, and such base wretches as render it contemptible, a way is laid open for all manner of disorders. The greatest cruelty that has been known in the world, if accompanied with wit and courage, never did so much hurt as this slothful bestiality; or rather these slothful beasts have ever been most cruel. The reigns of Septimius Severus, Mahomet the second, or Selim the second, were cruel and bloody; but their fury was turned against foreigners, and some of their near relations, or against such as fell under the suspicion of making attempts against them: The condition of the people was tolerable; those who would be quiet might be safe; the laws kept their right course; the reputation of the empire was maintained, the limits defended, and the publick peace preserved. But when the sword passed into the hands of lewd, slothful, foolish, and cowardly princes, it was of no power against foreign enemies, or the disturbers of domestic peace, tho always sharp against the best of their own subjects. No man knew how to secure himself against them, unless by raising civil wars; which will always be frequent, when a crown defended by a weak hand is proposed as a prize to any that dare invade it. This is a perpetual spring of disorders; and no nation was ever quiet, when the most eminent men found less danger in the most violent attempts, than in submitting patiently to the will of a prince, that suffers his power to be managed by vile persons, who get credit by flattering him in his vices. But this is not all; such princes naturally hate and fear those who excel them in virtue and reputation, as much as they are inferior to them in fortune; and think their persons cannot be secured, nor their authority enlarged, except by their destruction. ’Tis ordinary for them, inter scorta & ganeas principibus viris perniciem machinare,30 and to make cruelty a cover to ignorance and cowardice. Besides the mischiefs brought upon the publick by the loss of eminent men, who are the pillars of every state, such reigns are always accompanied with tumults and civil wars, the great men striving with no less violence who shall get the weak prince into his power, when such regard is had to succession, that they think it not fit to divest him of the title, than when with less respect they contend for the sovereignty itself. And whilst this sort of princes reigned, France was not less afflicted with the contests between Grimbauld, Ebroin, Grimoald, and others, for the mayoralty of the palace, than they had been before by the rage of those princes who had contested for the crown. The issue also was the same: After many revolutions, Charles Martel gained the power of the kingdom, which he had so bravely defended against the Saracens; and having transmitted it to his son Pepin, the general assembly of estates, with the approbation of mankind, conferred the title also upon him. This gave the nation ease for the present; but the deep-rooted evil could not be so cured; and the kingdom, that by the wisdom, valour, and reputation of Pepin, had been preserved from civil troubles during his life, fell as deeply as ever into them so soon as he was dead. His sons, Carloman and Charles, divided the dominions, but in a little time each of them would have all. Carloman fill’d the kingdom with tumult; raised the Lombards, and marched with a great army against his brother, till his course was interrupted by death, caused, as is supposed, by such helps as princes liberally afford to their aspiring relations. Charles31 deprived his two sons of their inheritance, put them in prison, and we hear no more of them. His third brother Griffon was not more quiet, nor more successful; and there could be no peace in Gascony, Italy or Germany, till he was kill’d. But all the advantages which Charles, by an extraordinary virtue and fortune, had purchased for his country, ended with his life. He left his son Lewis the Gentle in possession of the empire, and kingdom of France, and his grandson Bernard king of Italy: But these two could not agree, and Bernard falling into the hands of Lewis, was deprived of his eyes, and some time after kill’d. This was not enough to preserve the peace: Lothair, Lewis and Pepin, all three sons to Lewis, rebelled against him; called a council at Lyons, deposed him, and divided the empire amongst themselves. After five years he escaped from the monastery where he had been kept, renew’d the war, and was again taken prisoner by Lothair. When he was dead, the war broke out more fiercely than ever between his children: Lothair the emperor assaulted Lewis king of Bavaria and Charles king of Rhaetia; was defeated by them, and confined to a monastery, where he died. New quarrels arose between the two brothers, upon the division of the countries taken from him, and Lorraine only was left to his son. Lewis died soon after, and Charles getting possession of the empire and kingdom, ended an inglorious reign in an unprosperous attempt to deprive Hermingrade, daughter to his brother Lewis, of the kingdom of Arles, and other places left to her by her father. Lewis his son, call’d the Stutterer, reigned two years in much trouble; and his only legitimate son, Charles the Simple, came not to the crown till after the death of his two bastards Lewis and Carloman, Charles le Gros, and Eudes duke of Anjou. Charles le Gros was deposed from the empire and kingdom, stripp’d of his goods, and left to perish through poverty in an obscure village. Charles the Simple, and the nations under him, thrived no better: Robert duke of Anjou raised war against him, and was crown’d at Rheims; but was himself slain soon after in a bloody battle near Soissons. His son-in-law, Hebert earl of Vermandois, gathered up the remains of his scatter’d party, got Charles into his power, and called a general assembly of estates, who deposed him, and gave the crown to Raoul duke of Burgundy; tho he was no otherwise related to the royal blood than by his mother, which in France is nothing at all. He being dead, Lewis son to the deposed Charles was made king; but his reign was as inglorious to him, as miserable to his subjects. This is the peace which the French enjoy’d for the space of five or six ages under their monarchy; and ’tis hard to determine whether they suffer’d most by the violence of those who possessed, or the ambition of others who aspired to the crown; and whether the fury of active, or the baseness of slothful princes was most pernicious to them: But upon the whole matter, through the defects of those of the latter sort, they lost all that they had gained by sweat and blood under the conduct of the former. Henry and Otto of Saxony, by a virtue like that of Charlemagne, deprived them of the empire, and settled it in Germany, leaving France only to Lewis surnamed Outremer, and his son Lothair. These seemed to be equally composed of treachery, cruelty, ambition, and baseness: They were always mutinous, and always beaten: Their frantick passions put them always upon unjust designs, and were such plagues to their subjects and neighbours, that they became equally detested and despised. These things extinguished the veneration due to the memory of Pepin and Charles; and obliged the whole nation rather to seek relief from a stranger, than to be ruin’d by their worthless descendants. They had tried all ways that were in their power, deposed four crowned kings within the space of a hundred and fifty years; crowned five who had no other title than the people conferred upon them, and restored the descendants of those they had rejected, but all was in vain: Their vices were incorrigible, the mischiefs produc’d by them intolerable; they never ceased from murdering one another in battle, or by treachery, and bringing the nation into civil wars upon their wicked or foolish quarrels, till the whole race was rejected, and the crown placed upon the head of Hugh Capet. These mischiefs raged not in the same extremity under him and his descendants, but the abatement proceeded from a cause no way advantageous to absolute monarchy. The French were by their calamities taught more strictly to limit the regal power; and by turning the dukedoms and earldoms into patrimonies, which had been offices, gave an authority to the chief of the nobility, by which that of kings was curbed; and tho by this means the commonalty was exposed to some pressures, yet they were small in comparison of what they had suffer’d in former times. When many great men had estates of their own that did not depend upon the will of kings, they grew to love their country; and tho they cheerfully served the crown in all cases of publick concernment, they were not easily engaged in the personal quarrels of those who possessed it, or had a mind to gain it. To preserve themselves in this condition, they were obliged to use their vassals gently; and this continuing in some measure till within the last fifty years, the monarchy was less tumultuous, than when the king’s will had been less restrained. Nevertheless they had not much reason to boast; there was a root still remaining, that from time to time produced poisonous fruit: Civil wars were frequent among them, tho not carried on with such desperate madness as formerly; and many of them upon the account of disputes between competitors for the crown. All the wars with England, since Edward II married Isabella daughter, and, as he pretended, heir of Philip Le Bel, were of this nature. The defeats of Crecy, Poitiers, and Agincourt, with the slaughters and devastations suffer’d from Edward III the Black Prince, and Henry V were merely upon contests for the crown, and for want of an interpreter of the law of succession, who might determine the question between the heir male, and the heir general. The factions of Orleans and Burgundy, Orleans and Armagnac, proceeded from the same spring; and the murders that seem to have been the immediate causes of those quarrels, were only the effects of the hatred growing from their competition. The more odious, tho less bloody contests between Lewis the 11th, and his father Charles the 7th, with the jealousy of the former against his son Charles the 8th, arose from the same principle. Charles of Bourbon prepared to fill France with fire and blood upon the like quarrel, when his designs were overthrown by his death in the assault of Rome. If the dukes of Guise had been more fortunate, they had soon turned the cause of religion into a claim to the crown, and repair’d the injury done, as they pretended, to Pepin’s race, by destroying that of Capet: And Henry the third thinking to prevent this by the slaughter of Henry le Balafré, and his brother the cardinal de Guise, brought ruin upon himself, and cast the kingdom into a most horrid confusion. Our own age furnishes us with more than one attempt of the same kind attended with the like success. The duke of Orleans was several times in arms against Lewis the 13th his brother; the Queen-Mother drew the Spaniards to favour him; Montmorency perished in his quarrel; Fontrailles reviv’d it by a treaty with Spain, which struck at the king’s head as well as the cardinal’s, and was suppress’d by the death of Cinq Mars and de Thou. Those who understand the affairs of that kingdom, make no doubt that the count de Soissons would have set up for himself, and been follow’d by the best part of France, if he had not been kill’d in the pursuit of his victory at the battle of Sedan. Since that time the kingdom has suffer’d such disturbances as show, that more was intended than the removal of Mazarin: And the marechal de Turenne was often told, that the check he gave to the prince of Condé at Gien, after he had defeated Hocquincourt, had preserved the crown upon the king’s head. And to testify the stability, good order, and domestick peace that accompanies absolute monarchy, we have in our own days seen the house of Bourbon often divided within itself; the duke of Orleans, the count de Soissons, the princes of Condé and Conti in war against the king; the dukes of Angoulême, Vendôme, Longueville, the count de Moret, and other bastards of the royal family following their example; the houses of Guise, D’Elbeuf, Bouillon, Nemours, Rochefoucault, and almost all the most eminent in France, with the parliaments of Paris, Bourdeaux, and some others, joining with them. I might allege many more examples, to shew that this monarchy, as well as all others, has from the first establishment been full of blood and slaughter, through the violence of those who possessed the crown, and the ambition of such as aspired to it; and that the end of one civil war has been the beginning of another: but I presume upon the whole these will be thought sufficient to prove, that it never enjoyed any permanent domestick quiet.
The kingdoms of Spain have been no less disturbed by the same means; but especially that of Castile, where the kings had more power than in other places. To cite all the examples, were to transcribe their histories; but whoever has leisure to examine them will find, that after many troubles, Alfonso the II, notwithstanding his glorious surname of Wise, was deposed by means of his ambitious son: Don Alfonso, surnamed El Desheredado, supplanted by his uncle Don Sancho el bravo: Peter the Cruel cast from the throne, and killed by his bastard brother the conde de Trastamara. From the time of the above-named Alfonso to that of Ferdinand and Isabella, containing about two hundred years, so few of them passed without civil wars, that I hardly remember two together that were free from them: And whosoever pretends that of late years that monarchy has been more quiet, must, if he be ingenuous, confess their peace is rather to be imputed to the dexterity of removing such persons as have been most likely to raise disturbances (of which number were Don John of Austria, Don Carlos son to Philip the second, another of the same name son to Philip the third, and Don Balthazar son to Philip the fourth) than to the rectitude of their constitutions.
He that is not convinced of these truths by what has been said, may come nearer home, and see what mischiefs were brought upon Scotland by the contests between Baliol and Bruce, with their consequences, till the crown came to the Stuart family; the quiet reigns and happy deaths of the five Jameses, together with the admirable stability and peace of the government under Queen Mary, and the perfect union in which she lived with her husband, son and people, as well as the happiness of the nation whilst it lasted. 32
But the miseries of England, upon the like occasions, surpass all. William the Norman was no sooner dead, but the nation was rent in pieces by his son Robert, contesting with his sons William and Henry for the crown. They being all dead and their sons, the like happen’d between Stephen and Maud: Henry the second was made king to terminate all disputes, but it proved a fruitless expedient. Such as were more scandalous, and not less dangerous, did soon arise between him and his sons; who besides the evils brought upon the nation, vexed him to death by their rebellion. The reigns of John and Henry the third were yet more tempestuous. Edward the second’s lewd, foolish, infamous and detestable government ended in his deposition and death, to which he was brought by his wife and son. Edward the third employ’d his own and his subjects’ valour against the French and Scots; but whilst the foundations were out of order, the nation could never receive any advantage by their victories: All was calculated for the glory, and turned to the advantage of one man. He being dead, all that the English held in Scotland and in France was lost through the baseness of his successor, with more blood than it had been gained; and the civil wars raised by his wickedness and madness, ended as those of Edward the second had done. The peace of Henry the fourth’s reign was interrupted by dangerous civil wars, and the victory obtained at Shrewsbury had not perhaps secured him in the throne, if his death had not prevented new troubles. Henry the fifth acquired such reputation by his virtue and victories, that none dared to invade the crown during his life; but immediately after his death the storms prepared against his family, broke out with the utmost violence. His son’s weakness encouraged Richard duke of York to set up a new title, which produced such mischiefs as hardly any people has suffer’d, unless upon the like occasion: For besides the slaughter of many thousands of the people, and especially of those who had been accustom’d to arms, the devastation of the best parts of the kingdom, and the loss of all that our kings had inherited in France, or gained by the blood of their subjects, fourscore princes of the blood, as Philippe de Comines calls them, died in battle, or under the hand of the hangman.33 Many of the most noble families were extinguished; others lost their most eminent men. Three kings and two presumptive heirs of the crown were murder’d, and the nation brought to that shameful exigence, to set up a young man to reign over them, who had no better cover for his sordid extraction than a Welsh pedigree, that might shew how a tailor was descended from Prince Arthur, Cadwallader and Brutus.34 But the wounds of the nation were not to be healed with such a plaster. He could not rely upon a title made up of such stuff, and patch’d with a marriage to a princess of a very questionable birth. His own meanness inclin’d him to hate the nobility; and thinking it to be as easy for them to take the crown from him, as to give it to him, he industriously applied himself to glean up the remainders of the house of York, from whence a competitor might arise, and by all means to crush those who were most able to oppose him. This exceedingly weakened the nobility, who held the balance between him and the commons, and was the first step towards the dissolution of our ancient government: but he was so far from settling the kingdom in peace, that such rascals as Perkin Warbeck and Simnel were able to disturb it. The reign of Henry the eighth was turbulent and bloody; that of Mary furious, and such as had brought us into subjection to the most powerful, proud and cruel nation at that time in the world, if God had not wonderfully protected us. Nay, Edward the sixth, and Queen Elizabeth, notwithstanding the natural excellency of their dispositions, and their knowledge of the truth in matters of religion, were forced by that which men call jealousy of state, to foul their hands so often with illustrious blood, that if their reigns deserve to be accounted amongst the most gentle of monarchies, they were more heavy than the government of any commonwealth in time of peace; and yet their lives were never secure against such as conspired against them upon the account of title.
Having in some measure shew’d what miseries have been usually, if not perpetually brought upon nations subject to monarchies by the violence of some princes, and the baseness, folly, and cowardice of others, together with what they have suffer’d in contests for the several crowns, whilst men divided into divers factions, strive with as much vehemency to advance the person they favour, as if they or their country were interested in the quarrel, and fight as fiercely for a master as they might reasonably do to have none, I am not able to determine which of the two evils is the most mortal. ’Tis evident the vices of princes result to the damage of the people; but whether pride and cruelty, or stupidity and sloth be the worst, I cannot tell. All monarchies are subject to be afflicted with civil wars; but whether the most frequent and bloody do arise from the quarrels of divers competitors for crowns before any one gain the possession of them, or afterwards through the fears of him that would keep what he has gained, or the rage of those who would wrest it from him, is not so easily decided. But commonwealths are less troubled with those distempers. Women, children, or such as are notoriously foolish or mad, are never advanced to the supreme power. Whilst the laws, and that discipline which nourishes virtue is in force, men of wisdom and valor are never wanting; and every man desires to give testimony of his virtue, when he knows ’twill be rewarded with honour and power. If unworthy persons creep into magistracies, or are by mistake any way preferr’d, their vices for the most part turn to their own hurt; and the state cannot easily receive any great damage by the incapacity of one who is not to continue in office above a year; and is usually encompassed with those who having born, or are aspiring to the same, are by their virtue able to supply his defects; cannot hope for a reward from one unable to corrupt them, and are sure of the favour of the senate and people to support them in the defence of the publick interest. As long as this good order continues, private quarrels are suppress’d by the authority of the magistrate, or prove to be of little effect. Such as arise between the nobles and commons frequently produce good laws for the maintenance of liberty, as they did in Rome for above three hundred years after the expulsion of Tarquin; and almost ever terminated with little or no blood. Sometimes the errors of one or both parties are discovered by the discourse of a wise and good man; and those who have most violently opposed one another become the best friends, everyone joining to remove the evil that causes the division. When the senate and people of Rome seemed to be most furiously incensed against each other, the creation of tribunes, communications of honours and marriages between the patrician and plebeian families, or the mitigation of usury composed all; and these were not only harmless things, but such as gave opportunities of correcting the defects that had been in the first constitution of the government, without which they could never have attained to the greatness, glory, and happiness they afterwards enjoy’d. Such as had seen that people meeting in tumult, running through the city, crying out against the kings, consuls, senate, or decemviri, might have thought they would have filled all with blood and slaughter; but no such thing happened. They desired no more than to take away the kingdom which Tarquin had wickedly usurped; and never went about so much as to punish one minister of the mischiefs he had done, or to take away his goods, till upon pretence of treating his ambassadors by a new treachery had cast the city into greater danger than ever. Tho the decemviri had by the like villainies equally provoked the people, they were used with the like gentleness: Appius Claudius and Oppius having by voluntary death substracted themselves from publick punishment, their colleagues were only banished, and the magistracies of the city reduced to the former order without the effusion of more blood.35 They who contended for their just rights, were satisfied with the recovery of them; whereas such as follow the impulse of an unruly ambition never think themselves safe, till they have destroyed all that seem able to disturb them, and satiated their rage with the blood of their adversaries. This makes, as well as shews the difference between the tumults of Rome, or the secession of the common people to Mount Aventine, and the battles of Towton, Tewkesbury, Eveshal, Lewes, Hexham, Barnet, St. Albans, and Bosworth.36 ’Tis in vain to say these ought rather to be compared to those of Pharsalia, Actium, or Philippi; for when the laws of a commonwealth are abolish’d, the name also ceases. Whatever is done by force or fraud to set up the interests and lusts of one man in opposition to the laws of his country, is purely and absolutely monarchical. Whatsoever passed between Marius, Sulla, Cinna, Catiline, Caesar, Pompey, Crassus, Augustus, Antonius, and Lepidus, is to be imputed to the contests that arise between competitors for monarchy, as well as those that in the next age happened between Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian: Or, which is worse, whereas those in commonwealths fight for themselves when there is occasion, and if they succeed, enjoy the fruits of their victory, so as even those who remain of the vanquished party, partake of the liberty thereby established, or the good laws thereupon made; such as follow’d the ensigns of these men who sought to set up themselves, did, rather like beasts than men, hazard and suffer many unspeakable evils to purchase misery to themselves and their posterity, and to make him their master, who increasing in pride, avarice, and cruelty, was to be thrown down again with as much blood as he had been set up.
These things, if I mistake not, being in the last degree evident, I may leave to our author all the advantages he can gain by his rhetorical description of the tumults of Rome, when blood was in the marketplace sucked up with sponges, and the jakes stuffed with carcasses;37 to which he may add the crimes of Sulla’s life, and the miseries of his death: but withal I desire to know what number of sponges were sufficient to suck up the blood of five hundred thousand men slain in one day, when the houses of David and Jeroboam contended for the crown of Israel, or of four hundred thousand who fell in one battle between Joash and Amaziah on the same occasion; what jakes were capacious enough to contain the carcasses of those that perished in the quarrels between the successors of Alexander, the several competitors for the Roman empire; or those which have happened in France, Spain, England, and other places upon the like occasions. If Sulla for some time acted as an absolute monarch, ’tis no wonder that he died like one, or that God punished him as Herod, Philip the second of Spain, and some others, because the hand of his fellow-citizens had unjustly spar’d him. If when he was become detestable to God and man, he became also miserable, his example ought to deter others from the crimes that are avenged by a power which none can escape, and to encourage those who defend, or endeavour to recover their violated liberties, to act vigorously in a cause that God does evidently patronize.
[“And to catch the breath of freedom from where they had feared servitude.” Livy, History of Rome, bk. 3, ch. 37.]
[Sidney seems to refer to Eteocles and Polynices, the sons of Oedipus who killed each other over the rule of Thebes.]
[2 Kings 9, 11.]
[Enemy and pirate.]
De Civ. l. 2. [Hobbes, On the Citizen, ch. 7, sec. 3.]
[Tyrants without title.]
[“Since he does not so far have command.” Grotius, De jure, bk. 1, ch. 4, sec. 13.]
[“Highest command is conferred on him.” De Thou, History of His Time.]
[“The supreme power in the supreme manner” … “not in the supreme manner.” Grotius, De jure, bk. 1, ch. 3, sec. 14.]
Grot. de jur. bel. et pac. l. 2. [“When the king holds part of the supreme power, and the senate or the people holds part” … “just force can be used against a king who encroaches upon the part which is not his own” … “since when power is given the right of protecting that power is given.” Ibid., bk. 1, ch. 4, sec. 13.]
Thuan. l. 137. [De Thou, History of His Time, bk. 137.]
[Because the end (of his office) is frustrated.]
[Greater than the individual (citizens) … less than the whole people.]
[Patriarcha, ch. 20, p. 94.]
Utinam fecissem. Tacit. [“Would that I had done it.” This reply is actually in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, bk. 19, ch. 1, sec. 20.]
[“Nothing was less popular than a kingdom” … “he had stained otherwise outstanding virtues with the vile desire for a kingdom.” Livy, History of Rome, bk. 6, ch. 19–20.]
[Plutarch, Life of Alexander, ch. 48–55.]
C. Tacit. Hist. l. 1. [“Two soldiers undertook to transfer the empire of the Roman people, and they transferred it.” Tacitus, Histories, bk. 1, ch. 25.]
[Plutarch, Life of Pyrrhus, ch. 9.]
[Garcilaso de la Vega, El Inca, Royal Commentaries of the Incas, 2 vols. (written c. 1600; Austin: University of Texas Press, 1966), vol. 1, part 1, bk. 1.]
[“The strength which we have achieved must be used: he who refuses to give justice to the one who holds arms grants him everything.” Lucan, Pharsalia, bk. 1, li. 348.]
[“The dead man seizes the living.” A legal expression meaning that the inheritor has possession of all the goods and rights due to him immediately upon the death of the original possessor.]
[Wat Tyler and Jack Straw led a minor revolt of the peasants of Kent and Essex against Richard II in 1381. Tyler was killed. Perkin Warbeck, son of a Flemish merchant, claimed to be a son of Edward IV. Taking advantage of Henry VII’s weak claim, he made several attempts as “Richard IV” to seize the throne. He was eventually captured and executed.]
[Tarquin’s son asked for advice through a messenger. Without speaking Tarquin went to his garden and knocked off the heads of the tallest poppies with his stick. Livy, History of Rome, bk. 1, ch. 54; Periander’s advice was similar: Herodotus, Histories, bk. 5, ch. 92.]
[The Plantagenets ruled England from Henry II in 1154 to Richard III in 1485, when the throne was given to Henry VII, son of the Welshman Owen Tudor. Henry did have some Plantagenet blood on his mother’s side.]
Hist. de France en la Vie de Chilperic 1. [Fredegarius, Historiae Francorum (Basil, 1558).]
Mezeray and de Serres. [François Eudes de Mézeray, Abregé chronologique de l’histoire de France (1643–1651), trans. A General Chronological History of France (London: Bassett et al., 1683); Jean de Serres, General History of France, to 1598 (1611).]
C. Tacit. [“To plot the destruction of the leading men among whores and in cheap taverns.” Tacitus, Annals, bk. 6, ch. 4.]
Buchan. de reb. Scot. Drummond. Melvil. [George Buchanan, Rerum Scoticarum historia (1582), trans. The History of Scotland (London: E. Jones, 1690); William Drummond, The History of Scotland from the Year 1423 until the Year 1542 (London: Henry Hills, 1655); The Memoires of Sir James Melville of Hal-Hill (London: Robert Boulter, 1683).]
[Philippe de Comines, Memoirs, bk. 1, ch. 7.]
[The Wars of the Roses (1455–1485) between the houses of Lancaster and York over the English throne ended in the establishment of the Tudor dynasty with Henry VII.]
T. Liv. 1. 3. [Livy, History of Rome, bk. 3, ch. 58.]
[Battles of the Wars of the Roses; those in the next sentence were battles of the Roman civil wars.]
[Patriarcha, ch. 18, p. 89.]