Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION 30: A Monarchy cannot be well regulated, unless the Powers of the Monarch are limited by Law. - Discourses Concerning Government
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SECTION 30: A Monarchy cannot be well regulated, unless the Powers of the Monarch are limited by Law. - Algernon Sidney, Discourses Concerning Government 
Discourses Concerning Government, ed. Thomas G. West (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1996).
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A Monarchy cannot be well regulated, unless the Powers of the Monarch are limited by Law.
Our author’s next step is not only to reject popular governments, but all such monarchies as are not absolute:for if the king, says he, admits the people to be his companions, he leaves to be a king.1 This is the language of French lackeys, valet de chambres, tailors, and others like them in wisdom, learning and policy, who when they fly to England for fear of a well-deserved galley, gibbet, or wheel, are ready to say, Il faut que le roy soit absolu, autrement il n’est point roy.2 And finding no better men to agree with Filmer in this sublime philosophy, I may be pardoned if I do not follow them, till I am convinced in these ensuing points.
1. It seems absurd to speak of kings admitting the nobility or people to part of the government: for tho there may be, and are nations without kings, yet no man can conceive a king without a people. These must necessarily have all the power originally in themselves; and tho kings may and often have a power of granting honors, immunities, and privileges to private men or corporations, he does it only out of the publick stock, which he is entrusted to distribute; but can give nothing to the people, who give to him all that he can rightly have.
2. ’Tis strange that he who frequently cites Aristotle and Plato, should unluckily acknowledge such only to be kings as they call tyrants, and deny the name of king to those, who in their opinion are the only kings.
3. I cannot understand why the Scripture should call those kings whose powers were limited, if they only are kings who are absolute; or why Moses did appoint that the power of kings in Israel should be limited (if they resolved to have them) if that limitation destroy’d the being of a king.3
4. And lastly, how he knows that in the kingdoms which have a shew of popularity, the power is wholly in the king.
The first point was proved when we examined the beginning of monarchies, and found it impossible that there could be anything of justice in them, unless they were established by the common consent of those who were to live under them; or that they could make any such establishment, unless the right and power were in them.
Secondly, neither Plato nor Aristotle acknowledge either reason or justice in the power of a monarch, unless he has more of the virtues conducing to the good of the civil society than all those who compose it; and employ them for the publick advantage, and not to his own pleasure and profit, as being set up by those who seek their own good, for no other reason than that he should procure it. To this end a law is set as a rule to him, and the best men, that is such as are most like to himself, made to be his assistants, because, say they, Lex est mens sine affectu, & quasi Deus;4 whereas the best of men have their affections and passions and are subject to be misled by them: Which shews, that as the monarch is not for himself nor by himself, he does not give, but receive power, nor admit others to the participation of it, but is by them admitted to what he has. Whereupon they conclude, that to prefer the absolute power of a man, as in those governments which they call barbarorum regna,5 before the regular government of kings justly exercising a power instituted by law, and directed to the publick good, is to chuse rather to be subject to the lust of a beast than to be governed by a god. And because such a choice can only be made by a beast, I leave our author to find a description of himself in their books which he so often cites.
But if Aristotle deserve credit, the princes who reign for themselves and not for the people, preferring their own pleasure or profit before the publick, become tyrants; which in his language is enemies to God and man. On this account Boccalini introduces the princes of Europe raising a mutiny against him in Parnassus, for giving such definitions of tyrants as they said comprehended them all; and forcing the poor philosopher to declare by a new definition, that Tyrants were certain men of ancient times whose race is now extinguished.6 But with all his wit and learning he could not give a reason why those who do the same things that rendered the ancient tyrants detestable, should not be so also in our days.
In the third place, the Scriptures declare the necessity of setting bounds to those who are placed in the highest dignities. Moses seems to have had as great abilities as any man that ever lived in the world; but he alone was not able to bear the weight of the government, and therefore God appointed seventy chosen men to be his assistants. This was a perpetual law to Israel; and as no king was to have more power than Moses, or more abilities to perform the duties of his office, none could be exempted from the necessity of wanting the like helps. Our author therefore must confess that they are kings who have them, or that kingly government is contrary to the Scriptures. When God by Moses gave liberty to his people to make a king, he did it under these conditions. He must be one of their brethren: They must chuse him: he must not multiply gold, silver, wives, or horses: he must not lift up his heart above his brethren.7 And Josephus paraphrasing upon the place, says, He shall do nothing without the advice of the Sanhedrin; or if he do, they shall oppose him.8 This agrees with the confession of Zedekiah to the princes (which was the Sanhedrin) The king can do nothing without you;9 and seems to have been in pursuance of the law of the kingdom, which was written in a book, and laid up before the Lord; and could not but agree with that of Moses, unless they spake by different spirits, or that the spirit by which they did speak was subject to error or change: and the whole series of God’s law shews, that the pride, magnificence, pomp and glory usurped by their kings was utterly contrary to the will of God. They did lift up their hearts above their brethren, which was forbidden by the law. All the kings of Israel, and most of the kings of Judah utterly rejected it, and every one of them did very much depart from the observation of it. I will not deny that the people in their institution of a king intended they should do so: they had done it themselves, and would have a king that might uphold them in their disobedience; they were addicted to the idolatry of their accursed neighbours, and desired that government by which it was maintained amongst them. In doing this they did not reject Samuel; but they rejected God that he should not reign over them. They might perhaps believe that unless their king were such as the law did not permit, he would not perform what they intended; or that the name of king did not belong to him, unless he had a power that the law denied. But since God and his prophets give the name of king to the chief magistrate, endow’d with a power that was restrain’d within very narrow limits, whom they might without offence set up, we also may safely give the same to those of the same nature, whether it please Filmer or not.
4. The practice of most nations, and (I may truly say) of all that deserve imitation, has been as directly contrary to the absolute power of one man as their constitutions: or if the original of many governments lie hid in the impenetrable darkness of antiquity, their progress may serve to shew the intention of the founders. Aristotle seems to think that the first monarchs having been chosen for their virtue, were little restrain’d in the exercise of their power; but that they or their children falling into corruption and pride, grew odious; and that nations did on that account either abolish their authority, or create senates and other magistrates, who having part of the power might keep them in order.10 The Spartan kings were certainly of this nature; and the Persian, till they conquer’d Babylon. Nay, I may safely say, that neither the kings which the frantick people set up in opposition to the law of God, nor those of the bordering nations, whose example they chose to follow, had that absolute power which our author attributes to all kings as inseparable from the name. Achish the Philistine lov’d and admir’d David; he look’d upon him as an angel of God, and promised that he should be the keeper of his head forever; but when the princes suspected him, and said he shall not go down with us to battle, he was obliged to dismiss him.11 This was not the language of slaves, but of those who had a great part in the government; and the king’s submission to their will, shows that he was more like to the kings of Sparta, than to an absolute monarch who does whatever pleases him. I know not whether the Spartans were descended from the Hebrews, as some think; but their kings were under a regulation much like that of the 17 of Deut. tho they had two: Their senate of twenty eight, and the ephori, had a power like to that of the Sanhedrin; and by them kings were condemned to fines, imprisonment, banishment, and death, as appears by the examples of Pausanias, Cleonymus, Leonidas, Agis, and others. The Hebrew discipline was the same; Reges Davidicae stirpis, says Maimonides, judicabant & judicabantur.12 They gave testimony in judgment when they were called, and testimony was given against them: Whereas the kings of Israel, as the same author says, were superbi, corde elati, & spretores legis, nec judicabant, nec judicabantur;13 proud, insolent, and contemners of the law, who would neither judge, nor submit to judgment as the law commanded. The fruits they gathered were suitable to the seed they had sown: their crimes were not left unpunish’d: they who despised the law were destroy’d without law; and when no ordinary course could be taken against them for their excesses, they were overthrown by force, and the crown within the space of few years transported into nine several families, with the utter extirpation of those that had possess’d it. On the other hand, there never was any sedition against the Spartan kings; and after the moderate discipline according to which they liv’d, was established, none of them died by the hands of their subjects, except only two, who were put to death in a way of justice: the kingdom continued in the same races, till Cleomenes was defeated by Antigonus, and the government overthrown by the insolence of the Macedonians. This gave occasion to those bestial tyrants Nabis and Machanidas to set up such a government as our author recommends to the world, which immediately brought destruction upon themselves, and the whole city. The Germans who pretended to be descended from the Spartans, had the like government. Their princes according to their merit had the credit of persuading, not the power of commanding; and the question was not what part of the government their kings would allow to the nobility and people, but what they would give to their kings;14 and ’tis not much material to our present dispute, whether they learnt this from some obscure knowledge of the law which God gave to his people, or whether led by the light of reason which is also from God, they discovered what was altogether conformable to that law. Whoever understands the affairs of Germany, knows that the present emperors, notwithstanding their haughty title, have a power limited as in the days of Tacitus. If they are good and wise, they may persuade; but they can command no farther than the law allows. They do not admit the princes, noblemen, and cities to the power which they all exercise in their general diets, and each of them within their own precincts; but they exercise that which has been by publick consent bestow’d upon them. All the kingdoms peopled from the north observed the same rules. In all of them the powers were divided between the kings, the nobility, clergy, and commons; and by the decrees of councils, diets, parliaments, cortes, and assemblies of estates, authority and liberty were so balanced, that such princes as assumed to themselves more than the law did permit, were severely punished; and those who did by force or fraud invade thrones, were by force thrown down from them.
This was equally beneficial to kings and people. The powers, as Theopompus king of Sparta said, were most safe when they were least envied and hated.15 Lewis the 11th of France was one of the first that broke this golden chain; and by more subtle arts than had been formerly known, subverted the laws, by which the fury of those kings had been restrain’d, and taught others to do the like; tho all of them have not so well saved themselves from punishment. James the third of Scotland was one of his most apt scholars; and Buchanan in his life says, That he was precipitated into all manner of infamy by men of the most abject condition; that the corruption of those times, and the ill example of neighbouring princes, were considerable motives to pervert him: for Edward the fourth of England, Charles of Burgundy, Lewis the 11th of France, and John the second of Portugal, had already laid the foundations of tyranny in those countries; and Richard the third was then most cruelly exercising the same in the kingdom of England.16
This could not have been, if all the power had always been in kings, and neither the people nor the nobility had ever had any: For no man can be said to gain that which he and his predecessors always possessed, or to take from others that which they never had; nor to set up any sort of government, if it had been always the same. But the foresaid Lewis the 11th did assume to himself a power above that of his predecessors; and Philippe de Comines shews the ways by which he acquir’d it, with the miserable effects of his acquisition both to himself and to his people: Modern authors observe that the change was made by him, and for that reason he is said by Mezeray, and others, to have brought those kings out of guardianship:17 they were not therefore so till he did emancipate them. Nevertheless this emancipation had no resemblance to the unlimited power of which our author dreams. The general assemblies of estates were often held long after his death, and continued in the exercise of the sovereign power of the nation. Davila, speaking of the general assembly held at Orleans in the time of Francis the second, asserts the whole power of the nation to have been in them.18 Monsieur de Thou says the same thing, and adds, that the king dying suddenly, the assembly continued, even at the desire of the council, in the exercise of that power, till they had settled the regency, and other affairs of the highest importance, according to their own judgment.19 Hotman a lawyer of that time and nation, famous for his learning, judgment and integrity, having diligently examin’d the ancient laws and histories of that kingdom, distinctly proves that the French nation never had any kings but of their own chusing; that their kings had no power except what was conferr’d upon them; and that they had been removed, when they excessively abused, or rendered themselves unworthy of that trust.20 This is sufficiently clear by the forecited examples of Pharamond’s grandchildren, and the degenerated races of Meroveus and Pepin; of which many were deposed, some of the nearest in blood excluded; and when their vices seemed to be incorrigible, they were wholly rejected. All this was done by virtue of that rule which they call the Salic Law: And tho some of our princes pretending to the inheritance of that crown by marrying the heirs general, denied that there was any such thing, no man can say that for the space of above twelve hundred years, females, or their descendants, who are by that law excluded, have ever been thought to have any right to the crown: And no law, unless it be explicitly given by God, can be of greater authority than one which has been in force for so many ages. What the beginning of it was is not known: But Charles the sixth receding from this law, and thinking to dispose of the succession otherwise than was ordained by it, was esteemed mad, and all his acts rescinded. And tho the reputation, strength and valour of the English, commanded by Henry the fifth, one of the bravest princes that have ever been in the world, was terrible to the French nation; yet they opposed him to the utmost of their power, rather than suffer that law to be broken. And tho our success under his conduct was great and admirable; yet soon after his death, with the expence of much blood and treasure, we lost all that we had on that side, and suffer’d the penalty of having unadvisedly entered into that quarrel.21 By virtue of the same law, the agreement made by King John when he was prisoner at London, by which he had alienated part of that dominion, as well as that of Francis the first, concluded when he was under the same circumstances at Madrid, were reputed null; and upon all occasions that nation has given sufficient testimony, that the laws by which they live are their own, made by themselves, and not imposed upon them. And ’tis as impossible for them who made and deposed kings, exalted or depressed reigning families, and prescribed rules to the succession, to have received from their own creatures the power, or part of the government they had, as for a man to be begotten by his own son. Nay, tho their constitutions were much changed by Lewis the 11th, yet they retained so much of their ancient liberty, that in the last age, when the house of Valois was as much depraved as those of Meroveus and Pepin had been, and Henry the third by his own lewdness, hypocrisy, cruelty and impurity, together with the baseness of his minions and favorites, had rendered himself odious and contemptible to the nobility and people; the great cities, parliaments, the greater and (in political matters) the sounder part of the nation declared him to be fallen from the crown, and pursued him to the death, tho the blow was given by the hand of a base and half-distracted monk.
Henry of Bourbon was without controversy the next heir; but neither the nobility nor the people, who thought themselves in the government, would admit him to the crown, till he had given them satisfaction that he would govern according to their laws, by abjuring his religion which they judged inconsistent with them.22
The later commotions in Paris, Bordeaux, and other places, together with the wars for religion, shew, that tho the French do not complain of every grievance, and cannot always agree in the defence and vindication of their violated liberties, yet they very well understand their rights; and that, as they do not live by, or for the king, but he reigns by, and for them; so their privileges are not from him, but that his crown is from them; and that, according to the true rule of their government, he can do nothing against their laws, or if he do, they may oppose him.
The institution of a kingdom is the act of a free nation; and whoever denies them to be free, denies that there can be anything of right in what they set up. That which was true in the beginning is so, and must be so forever. This is so far acknowledged by the highest monarchs, that in a treatise published in the year 1667, by authority of the present king of France, to justify his pretensions to some part of the Low-Countries, notwithstanding all the acts of himself, and the king of Spain to extinguish them, it is said, That kings are under the happy inability to do anything against the laws of their country.23 And tho perhaps he may do things contrary to law, yet he grounds his power upon the law; and the most able and most trusted of his ministers declare the same. About the year 1660, the Count d’ Aubijoux, a man of eminent quality in Languedoc, but averse to the court, and hated by Cardinal Mazarin, had been tried by the Parliament of Toulouse for a duel, in which a gentleman was kill’d; and it appearing to the court (then in that city) that he had been acquitted upon forged letters of grace, false witnesses, powerful friends, and other undue means, Mazarin desired to bring him to a new trial: but the chancellor Seguier told the Queen-Mother it could not be; for the law did not permit a man once acquitted to be again question’d for the same fact; and that if the course of the law were interrupted, neither the Salic Law, nor the succession of her children, or anything else could be secure in France.
This is farther proved by the histories of that nation. The kings of Meroveus and Pepin’s races, were suffer’d to divide the kingdom amongst their sons; or, as Hotman says, the estates made the division, and allotted to each such a part as they thought fit.24 But when this way was found to be prejudicial to the publick, an act of state was made in the time of Hugh Capet, by which it was ordain’d, that for the future the kingdom should not be dismembered; which constitution continuing in force to this day, the sons or brothers of their kings receive such an apanage (they call it) as is bestow’d on them, remaining subject to the crown as well as other men. And there has been no king of France since that time (except only Charles the sixth) who has not acknowledged that he cannot alienate any part of their dominion.
Whoever imputes the acknowledgment of this to kingcraft, and says, that they who avow this, when ’tis for their advantage, will deny it on a different occasion, is of all men their most dangerous enemy. In laying such fraud to their charge, he destroys the veneration by which they subsist, and teaches subjects not to keep faith with those, who by the most malicious deceits show, that they are tied by none. Human societies are maintained by mutual contracts, which are of no value if they are not observ’d. Laws are made, and magistrates created to cause them to be performed in publick and private matters, and to punish those who violate them. But none will ever be observed, if he who receives the greatest benefit by them, and is set up to oversee others, give the example to those who of themselves are too much inclin’d to break them. The first step that Pompey made to his own ruin was, by violating the laws he himself had proposed.25 But it would be much worse for kings to break those that are established by the authority of a whole people, and confirmed by the succession of many ages.
I am far from laying any such blemishes on them, or thinking that they deserve them. I must believe the French king speaks sincerely, when he says he can do nothing against the laws of his country: And that our King James did the like, when he acknowledged himself to be the servant of the commonwealth; and the rather, because ’tis true, and that he is placed in the throne to that end. Nothing is more essential and fundamental in the constitutions of kingdoms, than that diets, parliaments, and assemblies of estates should see this perform’d. ’Tis not the king that gives them a right to judge of matters of war or peace, to grant supplies of men and money, or to deny them; and to make or abrogate laws at their pleasure: All the powers rightly belonging to kings, or to them, proceed from the same root. The northern nations seeing what mischiefs were generally brought upon the eastern, by referring too much to the irregular will of a man; and what those who were more generous had suffer’d, when one man by the force of a corrupt mercenary soldiery had overthrown the laws by which they lived, feared they might fall into the same misery; and therefore retained the greater part of the power to be exercised by their general assemblies, or by delegates, when they grew so numerous that they could not meet. These are the kingdoms of which Grotius speaks, where the king has his part, and the senate or people their part of the supreme authority;26 and where the law prescribes such limits, that if the king attempt to seize that part which is not his, he may justly be opposed:27 Which is as much as to say, that the law upholds the power it gives, and turns against those who abuse it.
This doctrine may be displeasing to court-parasites; but no less profitable to such kings as follow better counsels, than to the nations that live under them: the wisdom and virtue of the best is always fortified by the concurrence of those who are placed in part of the power; they always do what they will, when they will nothing but that which is good; and ’tis a happy impotence in those, who through ignorance or malice desire to do evil, not to be able to effect it. The weakness of such as by defects of nature, sex, age or education, are not able of themselves to bear the weight of a kingdom, is thereby supported, and they together with the people under them preserved from ruin; the furious rashness of the insolent is restrained; the extravagance of those who are naturally lewd, is aw’d; and the bestial madness of the most violently wicked and outrageous, suppress’d. When the law provides for these matters, and prescribes ways by which they may be accomplished, every man who receives or fears an injury, seeks a remedy in a legal way, and vents his passions in such a manner as brings no prejudice to the commonwealth: If his complaints against a king may be heard, and redressed by courts of justice, parliaments, and diets, as well as against private men, he is satisfied, and looks no farther for a remedy. But if kings, like those of Israel, will neither judge nor be judged, and there be no power orderly to redress private or publick injuries, every man has recourse to force, as if he liv’d in a wood where there is no law; and that force is always mortal to those who provoke it: No guards can preserve a hated prince from the vengeance of one resolute hand; and they as often fall by the swords of their own guards as of others: Wrongs will be done, and when they that do them cannot or will not be judged publickly, the injur’d persons become judges in their own case, and executioners of their own sentence. If this be dangerous in matters of private concernment, ’tis much more so in those relating to the publick. The lewd extravagancies of Edward and Richard the second, whilst they acknowledged the power of the law, were gently reproved and restrained with the removal of some profligate favourites; but when they would admit of no other law than their own will, no relief could be had but by their deposition. The lawful Spartan kings, who were obedient to the laws of their country, liv’d in safety, and died with glory; whereas ’twas a strange thing to see a lawless tyrant die without such infamy and misery, as held a just proportion with the wickedness of his life: They did, as Plutarch says of Dionysius, many mischiefs, and suffer’d more.28 This is confirmed by the examples of the kingdom of Israel, and of the empires of Rome and Greece; they who would submit to no law, were destroy’d without any. I know not whether they thought themselves to be gods, as our author says they were; but I am sure the most part of them died like dogs, and had the burial of asses rather than of men.
This is the happiness to which our author would promote them all. If a king admit a people to be his companions, he ceaseth to be a king, and the state becomes a democracy. And a little farther, If in such assemblies, the king, nobility, and people, have equal shares in the sovereignty, then the king hath but one voice, the nobility likewise one, and the people one; and then any two of these voices should have power to overrule the third: Thus the nobility and commons should have a power to make a law to bridle the king, which was never seen in any kingdom.29 We have heard of nations that admitted a man to reign over them (that is, made him kiag) but of no man that made a people. The Hebrews made Saul, David, Jeroboam, and other kings: when they returned from captivity, they conferred the same title upon the Asmonean race, as a reward of their valour and virtue: the Romans chose Romulus, Numa, Hostilius, and others to be their kings; the Spartans instituted two, one of the Heraclidae, the other of the Aeacidae. Other nations set up one, a few, or more magistrates to govern them: and all the world agrees, that qui dat esse, dat modum esse; he that makes him to be, makes him to be what he is: and nothing can be more absurd than to say, that he who has nothing but what is given, can have more than is given to him. If Saul and Romulus had no other title to be kings, than what the people conferred upon them, they could be no otherwise kings than as pleased the people: They therefore did not admit the people to be partakers of the government; but the people who had all in themselves, and could not have made a king if they had not had it, bestow’d upon him what they thought fit, and retained the rest in themselves. If this were not so, then instead of saying to the multitude, Will ye have this man to reign? they ought to say to the man, Wilt thou have this multitude to be a people? And whereas the nobles of Aragon used to say to their new made king, We who are as good as you, make you our king, on condition you keep and maintain our rights and liberties, and if not, not;30 he should have said to them, I who am better than you, make you to be a people, and will govern you as I please. But I doubt whether he would have succeeded, till that kingdom was joined to others of far greater strength, from whence a power might be drawn to force them out of their usual method.
That which has been said of the governments of England, France, and other countries, shows them to be of the same nature; and if they do not deserve the name of kingdoms, and that their princes will by our author’s arguments be persuaded to leave them, those nations perhaps will be so humble to content themselves without that magnificent title, rather than resign their own liberties to purchase it: and if this will not please him, he may seek his glorious sovereign monarchy among the wild Arabs, or in the island of Ceylon; for it will not be found among civiliz’d nations.
However more ignorance cannot be express’d, than by giving the name of democracy to those governments that are composed of the three simple species, as we have proved that all the good ones have ever been: for in a strict sense it can only suit with those, where the people retain to themselves the administration of the supreme power; and more largely, when the popular part, as in Athens, greatly overbalances the other two, and that the denomination is taken from the prevailing part. But our author, if I mistake not, is the first that ever took the ancient governments of Israel, Sparta and Rome, or those of England, France, Germany and Spain, to be democracies, only because every one of them had senates and assemblies of the people, who in their persons, or by their deputies, did join with their chief magistrates in the exercise of the supreme power. That of Israel, to the time of Saul, is called by Josephus an aristocracy.31 The same name is given to that of Sparta by all the Greek authors; and the great contest in the Peloponnesian War was between the two kinds of government; the cities that were governed aristocratically, or desired to be so, following the Lacedaemonians; and such as delighted in democracy taking part with the Athenians. In like manner Rome, England, and France, were said to be under monarchies; not that their kings might do what they pleased, but because one man had a preeminence above any other. Yet if the Romans could take Romulus, the son of a man that was never known, Numa a Sabine, Hostilius and Ancus Marcius private men, and Tarquinius Priscus the son of a banished Corinthian, who had no title to a preference before others till it was bestowed upon them; ’tis ridiculous to think, that they who gave them what they had, could not set what limits they pleased to their own gift.
But, says our author, The nobility will then have one voice, and the people another, and they joining may overrule the third, which was never seen in any kingdom.32 This may perhaps be a way of regulating the monarchical power, but it is not necessary, nor the only one: There may be a senate, tho the people be excluded; that senate may be composed of men chosen for their virtue, as well as for the nobility of their birth: The government may consist of king and people without a senate; or the senate may be composed only of the people’s delegates. But if I should grant his assertion to be true, the reasonableness of such a constitution cannot be destroy’d by the consequences he endeavours to draw from it; for he who would instruct the world in matters of state, must show what is, or ought to be, not what he fancies may thereupon ensue. Besides, it does not follow, that where there are three equal votes, laws should be always made by the plurality; for the consent of all the three is in many places required: and ’tis certain that in England, and other parts, the king and one of the estates cannot make a law without the concurrence of the other. But to please Filmer, I will avow, that where the nobles and commons have an equal vote, they may join and over-rule or limit the power of the king: and I leave any reasonable man to judge, whether it be more safe and fit, that those two estates comprehending the whole body of the nation in their persons, or by representation, should have a right to over-rule or limit the power of that man, woman, or child, who sits in the throne; or that he or she, young or old, wise or foolish, good or bad, should over-rule them, and by their vices, weakness, folly, impertinence, incapacity, or malice, put a stop to their proceedings; and whether the chief concernments of a nation may more safely and prudently be made to depend upon the votes of so many eminent persons, amongst whom many wise and good men will always be found if there be any in the nation, and who in all respects have the same interest with them, or upon the will of one, who may be, and often is as vile, ignorant, and wretched as the meanest slave; and either has, or is for the most part made to believe he has an interest so contrary to them, that their suppression is his advancement. Common sense so naturally leads us to the decision of this question, that I should not think it possible for mankind to have mistaken, tho we had no examples of it in history: and ’tis in vain to say, that all princes are not such as I represent; for if a right were annexed to the being of a prince, and that his single judgment should over-balance that of a whole nation, it must belong to him as a prince, and be enjoy’d by the worst and basest, as well as by the wisest and best, which would inevitably draw on the absurdities above-mention’d: But that many are, and have been such, no man can deny, or reasonably hope that they will not often prove to be such, as long as any preference is granted to those who have nothing to recommend them, but the families from whence they derive; a continual succession of those who excel in virtue, wisdom, and experience, being promised to none, nor reasonably to be expected from any. Such a right therefore cannot be claimed by all; and if not by all, then not by any, unless it proceed from a particular grant in consideration of personal virtue, ability, and integrity, which must be proved: and when anyone goes about to do it, I will either acknowledge him to be in the right, or give the reasons of my denial.
However this is nothing to the general proposition: nay, if a man were to be found, who had more of the qualities requir’d for making a right judgment in matters of the greatest importance, than a whole nation, or an assembly of the best men chosen out of it (which I have never heard to have been, unless in the persons of Moses, Joshua, or Samuel, who had the spirit of God for their guide) it would be nothing to our purpose; for even he might be biased by his personal interests, which governments are not established principally to promote.
I may go a step farther, and truly say, that as such vast powers cannot be generally granted to all who happen to succeed in any families, without evident danger of utter destruction, when they come to be executed by children, women, fools, vicious, incapable or wicked persons, they can be reasonably granted to none, because no man knows what anyone will prove till he be tried; and the importance of the affair requires such a trial as can be made of no man till he be dead. He that resists one temptation may fall under the power of another; and nothing is more common in the world, than to see those men fail grossly in the last actions of their lives, who had passed their former days without reproach: Wise and good men will with Moses say of themselves, I cannot bear the burden: and every man who is concern’d for the publick good, ought to let fools know they are not fit to undergo it, and by law to restrain the fury of such as will not be guided by reason. This could not be denied, tho governments were constituted for the good of the governor. ’Tis good for him that the law appoints helps for his infirmities, and restrains his vices: but all nations ought to do it tho it were not so, in as much as kingdoms are not established for the good of one man, but of the people; and that king who seeks his own good before that of the people, departs from the end of his institution.
This is so plain, that all nations who have acted freely, have some way or other endeavoured to supply the defects, or restrain the vices of their supreme magistrates; and those among them deserve most praise, who by appointing means adequate to so great a work, have taken care that it might be easily and safely accomplished: Such nations have always flourished in virtue, power, glory, and happiness, whilst those who wanted their wisdom, have suffer’d all manner of calamities by the weakness and injustice of their princes, or have had their hands perpetually in blood to preserve themselves from their fury. We need no better example of the first, than that of the Spartans, who by appointing such limits to the power of their kings as could hardly be transgress’d, continued many ages in great union with them, and were never troubled with civil tumults. The like may be said of the Romans from the expulsion of the Tarquins, till they overthrew their own orders, by continuing Marius for five years in the consulate, whereas the laws did not permit a man to hold the same office two years together; and when that rule was broken, their own magistrates grew too strong for them, and subverted the commonwealth. When this was done, and the power came to be in the hands of one man, all manner of evils and calamities broke in like a flood: ’Tis hard to judge, whether the mischiefs he did, or those he suffer’d were the greater: he who set up himself to be lord of the world, was like to a beast crowned for the slaughter, and his greatness was the forerunner of his ruin. By this means some of those who seem not to have been naturally prone to evil, were by their fears put upon such courses to preserve themselves, as being rightly estimated, were worse than the death they apprehended: and the so much celebrated Constantine the Great died no less polluted with the blood of his nearest relations and friends, than Nero himself. But no place can show a more lively picture of this, than the kingdoms of Granada, and others possessed by the Moors in Spain; where there being neither senate nor assemblies of the nobility and people, to restrain the violence and fury of their kings, they had no other way than to kill them when their vices became insupportable; which happening for the most part, they were almost all murder’d; and things were brought to such extremity, that no man would accept a crown, except he who had neither birth nor virtue to deserve it.33
If it be said that kings have now found out more easy ways of doing what they please, and securing themselves; I answer, that they have not proved so to them all, and it is not yet time for such as tread in the same steps to boast of their success: many have fallen when they thought their designs accomplished; and no man, as long as he lives, can reasonably assure himself the like shall not befall him. But if in this corrupted age, the treachery and perjury of princes be more common than formerly; and the number of those who are brought to delight in the rewards of injustice, be so increased, that their parties are stronger than formerly: this rather shows that the balance of power is broken, or hard to be kept up, than that there ought to be none; and ’tis difficult for any man, without the spirit of prophesy, to tell what this will produce. Whilst the ancient constitutions of our Northern kingdoms remain’d entire, such as contested with their princes sought only to reform the governments, and by redressing what was amiss, to reduce them to their first principles; but they may not perhaps be so modest, when they see the very nature of their government chang’d, and the foundations overthrown. I am not sure that they who were well pleased with a moderate monarchy, will submit to one that is absolute; and ’tis not improbable, that when men see there is no medium between tyranny and popularity, they who would have been contented with the reformation of their government, may proceed farther, and have recourse to force, when there is no help in the law. This will be a hard work in those places where virtue is wholly abolished; but the difficulty will lie on the other side, if any sparks of that remain: if vice and corruption prevail, liberty cannot subsist; but if virtue have the advantage, arbitrary power cannot be established. Those who boast of their loyalty, and think they give testimonies of it, when they addict themselves to the will of one man, tho contrary to the law from whence that quality is derived, may consider, that by putting their masters upon illegal courses they certainly make them the worst of men, and bring them into danger of being also the most miserable. Few or no good princes have fallen into disasters, unless through an extremity of corruption introduced by the most wicked; and cannot properly be called unhappy, if they perished in their innocence; since the bitterness of death is assuaged by the tears of a loving people, the assurance of a glorious memory, and the quiet of a well satisfied mind. But of those who have abandoned themselves to all manner of vice, followed the impulse of their own fury, and set themselves to destroy the best men for opposing their pernicious designs, very few have died in peace. Their lives have been miserable, death infamous, and memory detestable.
They therefore who place kings within the power of the law, and the law to be a guide to kings, equally provide for the good of king and people. Whereas they who admit of no participants in power, and acknowledge no rule but their own will, set up an interest in themselves against that of their people, lose their affections, which is their most important treasure, and incur their hatred, from whence results their greatest danger.
[Patriarcha, ch. 20 (“Of a Mixed Government of King and People: The People May Not Correct their King”), p. 93.]
[“The king must be absolute, or he is no king at all.”]
Plat. de Leg. Arist. Polit. [Plato, Laws, bk. 9, 875a. The quotation, “law is mind without passion and is, as it were, God,” is from Aristotle, Politics, bk. 3, 1287a.]
[Kingdoms of barbarians.]
Che i tiranni furono certi huomini del tempo antico de i quali hoggidi si e perduta la razza. Boccal. Rag. de Parn. [Boccalini, Advertisements from Parnassus, cent. 1, rag. 76.]
Jos. Ant. Jud. [Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, bk. 4, ch. 8.]
[Aristotle, Politics, bk. 3, 1286b.]
1 Sam. 29.
More Nevochim. [“Kings of the line of David judged and were judged.” More Nevochim (Guide of the Perplexed), appears incorrect; the reference is to The Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah), Book 14: The Book of Judges (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1949), Treatise One: Sanhedrin, ch. 2, p. 8.]
Ibid. [“The proud, exalted in heart, and despisers of the law, did not judge nor were they judged.”]
Tacit. de morib. Germ. [Tacitus, Germania, ch. 11.]
[Plutarch, Life of Lycurgus, ch. 7.]
Ab hominibus infimae sortis in omnia simul vitia est praeceps datus: tempora etiam corrupta & vicinorum regum exempla non parum ad eum evertendum juverunt: nam & Edvardus in Anglia, Carolus in Burgundia, Ludovicus undecimus in Gallia, Joannes secundus in Lusitania, tyrannidis fundamenta jecerunt: Richardus tertius in Anglia eam immanissime exercuit. Hist. Scot. l. 12. [Buchanan, History of Scotland, bk. 12.]
Davoir mis les roys hors de page. [Mézeray, Life of Louis XI, in General Chronological History of France, p. 481.]
Hist. delle guerre Civ. [Enrico Caterino Davila, Historia delle guerre civili de Francia (1630). Translated as The History of the Civil Wars of France (London, 1647).]
Thuan. Hist. l. 1. [de Thou, History of His Time, bk. 27 (the year 1560).]
Hottom. Franco-Gallia. [François Hotman, Francogallia (Geneva, 1573), ch. 6. Trans. as Franco-Gallia: Or, an Account of the Ancient Free State of France, and Most Other Parts of Europe, before the Loss of their Liberties (London, 1711).]
[The Hundred Years War, 1338–1453.]
[Henry IV was forced to renounce Calvinism before ascending the throne of Catholic France in 1589.]
Que les roys ont cette bienheureuse impuissance de ne pouvoir rien faire contre les loix de leur pays. Traité des droits de la Reyne. [Antoin Bilain(?), Traitté des droits de la reyne très chrestienne sur divers estats de la monarchie d’Espagne (Paris, 1667). Trans. as A Dialogue Concerning the Rights of Her Most Christian Majesty (London: Thomas Newcomb, 1667).]
Hotom. Fran. Gall. [Hotman, Francogallia.]
Suarum legum lator et eversor. Tacit. [“The author and destroyer of his own laws.” Tacitus, Annals, bk. 3, ch. 28.]
De jur. bel. et pac. l. 2. [Grotius, De jure, bk. 1, ch. 4, sec. 13.]
Vit. Timoleon. [Plutarch, Life of Timoleon.]
[Patriarcha, ch. 20, p. 93.]
[See Chapter II, Section 5, n. 6 for this quotation from Relaciones de Antonio Pérez.]
[Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, bk. 6, ch. 5, sec. 4.]
[Patriarcha, ch. 20, p. 93.]
Hist. de Espan. de Mariana. [Mariana, General History of Spain.]