Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION 1: Kings not being fathers of their People, nor excelling all others in Virtue, can have no other just Power than what the Laws give; nor any title to the privileges of the Lord's Anointed. - Discourses Concerning Government
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
SECTION 1: Kings not being fathers of their People, nor excelling all others in Virtue, can have no other just Power than what the Laws give; nor any title to the privileges of the Lord’s Anointed. - Algernon Sidney, Discourses Concerning Government 
Discourses Concerning Government, ed. Thomas G. West (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1996).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Kings not being fathers of their People, nor excelling all others in Virtue, can have no other just Power than what the Laws give; nor any title to the privileges of the Lord’s Anointed.
Having proved that the right of fathers is from nature, and incommunicable, it must follow, that every man doth perpetually owe all love, respect, service, and obedience to him that did beget, nourish, and educate him, and to no other under that name. No man therefore can claim the right of a father over any, except one that is so; no man can serve two masters; the extent and perpetuity of the duty which every man owes to his father, renders it impossible for him to owe the same to any other: This right of father cannot be devolved to the heir of the father, otherwise than as every son by the law of nature is heir to his father, and has the same right of commanding his children, as his father had of commanding him when he was a child: no man can owe to his brother that which he owed to his father, because he cannot receive that from him which he had from his father; but the utmost of all absurdities that can enter into the heart of man is, for one to exact the rights due to a father, who has no other title than force and usurpation, it being no less than to say, that I owe as much to one who has done me the greatest of all injuries, as to him who has conferred upon me the greatest benefits: or, which is yet worse, if possible, that as these usurpations cannot be made but by robbing, spoiling, imprisoning, or killing the person in possession; that duty, which by the eternal law of nature I owe to my father, should oblige me to pay the same veneration, obedience, and service to the man that has spoiled, imprison’d, or kill’d my father, as I owed to him; or that the same law, which obliged me to obey and defend my father, because he was so, should oblige me to obey and defend his enemy, because he has imprison’d or kill’d him; and not only to pass over the law of God, which makes me the avenger of my father’s blood, but to reward his murderer with the rights that comprehend all that is most tender and sacred in nature, and to look upon one that has done me the greatest of all injustices and injuries, as upon him to whom I owe my birth and education. This being evident to all those who have any measure of common sense, I suppose it may be safely concluded, that what right soever a father may have over his family, it cannot relate to that which a king has over his people; unless he, like the man in the Island of Pines, mention’d before, be also the father of them all. That which is absolutely unlike in manner and substance, institution and exercise, must be unlike in all respects: and the conclusions, which have their strength from similitude and parity, can have none when there is not the least similitude of either. And tho it were true, that fathers are held by no contracts (which generally ’tis not; for when the son is of age, and does something for the father to which he is not obliged, or gives him that which he is not bound to give, suppose an inheritance received from a friend, goods of his own acquisition, or that he be emancipated, all good laws look upon those things as a valuable consideration, and give the same force to contracts thereupon made, as to those that pass between strangers), it could have no relation to our question concerning kings. One principal reason that renders it very little necessary by the laws of nations, to restrain the power of parents over their children is, because ’tis presumed they cannot abuse it: they are thought to have a law in their bowels, obliging them more strictly to seek their good, than all those that can be laid upon them by another power; and yet if they depart from it, so as inhumanly to abuse or kill their children, they are punished with as much rigour, and accounted more unpardonable than other men. Ignorance or wilful malice persuading our author to pass over all this, he boldly affirms, That the father of a family governs it by no other law than his own will; and from thence infers, that the condition of kings is the same. He would seem to soften the harshness of this proposition by saying, That a king is always tied by the same law of nature to keep this general ground, that the safety of the kingdom is his chief law.1 But he spoils it in the next page, by asserting, That it is not right for kings to do injury, but it is right that they go unpunished by the people if they do; so that in this point it is all one, whether Samuel describe a king or a tyrant, for patient obedience is due unto both; no remedy in the text against tyrants, but crying and praying unto God in that day.2 In this our author, according to the custom of theaters, runs round in a circle, pretends to grant that which is true, and then by a lie endeavours to destroy all again. Kings by the law of nature are obliged to seek chiefly the good of the kingdom; but there is no remedy if they do it not; which is no less than to put all upon the conscience of those who manifestly have none. But if God has appointed that all other transgressions of the laws of nature, by which a private man receives damage, should be punished in this world, notwithstanding the right reserved to himself of a future punishment; I desire to know, why this alone, by which whole nations may be, and often are destroy’d, should escape the hands of justice? If he presume no law to be necessary in this case, because it cannot be thought that kings will transgress, as there was no law in Sparta against adultery, because it was not thought possible for men educated under that discipline to be guilty of such a crime; and as divers nations left a liberty to fathers to dispose of their children as they thought fit, because it could not be imagined that anyone would abuse that power, he ought to remember that the Spartans were mistaken, and for want of that law which they esteemed useless, adulteries became as common there as in any part of the world: and the other error being almost everywhere discovered, the laws of all civilized nations make it capital for a man to kill his children; and give redress to children if they suffer any other extreme injuries from their parents, as well as other persons. But tho this were not so, it would be nothing to our question, unless it could be supposed, that whoever gets the power of a nation into his hands, must be immediately filled with the same tenderness of affection to the people under him, as a father naturally has towards the children he hath begotten. He that is of this opinion, may examine the lives of Herod, Tiberius, Caligula, and some later princes of like inclinations, and conclude it to be true, if he find that the whole course of their actions, in relation to the people under them, do well suit with the tender and sacred name of father; and altogether false, if he find the contrary. But as every man that considers what has been, or sees what is every day done in the world, must confess, that princes, or those who govern them, do most frequently so utterly reject all thoughts of tenderness and piety towards the nations under them, as rather to seek what can be drawn from them, than what should be done for them, and sometimes become their most bitter and publick enemies; ’tis ridiculous to make the safety of nations to depend upon a supposition, which by daily experience we find to be false; and impious, to prefer the lusts of a man who violates the most sacred laws of nature, by destroying those he is obliged to preserve, before the welfare of that people for whose good he is made to be what he is, if there be anything of justice in the power he exercises.
Our author foolishly thinks to cover the enormity of this nonsense, by turning salutem populi into salutem regni:3 for tho regnum may be taken for the power of commanding, in which sense the preservation of it is the usual object of the care of princes; yet it does more rightly signify the body of that nation which is governed by a king. And therefore if the maxim be true, as he acknowledges it to be, then salus populi est lex suprema; and the first thing we are to inquire is, whether the government of this or that man do conduce to the accomplishment of that supreme law, or not; for otherwise it ought to have been said, salus regis est lex suprema,4 which certainly never entered into the head of a wiser or better man than Filmer.
His reasons are as good as his doctrine: No law, says he, can be imposed on kings, because there were kings before any laws were made.5 This would not follow, tho the proposition were true; for they, who imposed no laws upon the kings they at first made, from an opinion of their virtue, as in those called by the ancients heroum regna, might lay restrictions upon them, when they were found not to answer the expectation conceived of them, or that their successors degenerated from their virtue. Other nations also being instructed by the ill effects of an unlimited power given to some kings (if there was any such) might wisely avoid the rock upon which their neighbours had split, and justly moderate that power which had been pernicious to others. However a proposition of so great importance ought to be proved; but that being hard, and perhaps impossible, because the original of nations is almost wholly unknown to us, and their practice seems to have been so various, that what is true in one, is not so in another; he is pleased only to affirm it, without giving the least shadow of a reason to persuade us to believe him. This might justify me, if I should reject his assertion as a thing said gratis: but I may safely go a step farther, and affirm, that men lived under laws before there were any kings; which cannot be denied, if such a power necessarily belongs to kings as he ascribes to them. For Nimrod, who established his kingdom in Babel, is the first who by the Scripture is said to have been a mighty one in the earth. He was therefore the first king, or kings were not mighty; and he being the first king, mankind must have lived till his time without laws, or else laws were made before kings. To say that there was then no law, is in many respects most absurd; for the nature of man cannot be without it, and the violences committed by ill men before the Flood, could not have been blamed if there had been no law; for that which is not, cannot be transgressed. Cain could not have feared that every man who met him would slay him, if there had not been a law to slay him that had slain another. But in this case the Scripture is clear, at least from the time that Noah went out of the Ark, for God then gave him a law sufficient for the state of things at that time, if all violence was prohibited under the name of shedding blood, tho not under the same penalty as murder. But penal laws being in vain, if there be none to execute them, such as know God does nothing in vain, may conclude that he who gave this law, did appoint some way for its execution, tho unknown to us. There is therefore a law not given by kings, but laid upon such as should be kings, as well as on any other persons, by one who is above them; and perhaps I may say, that this law presseth most upon them, because they who have most power, do most frequently break out into acts of violence, and most of all disdain to have their will restrained: and he that will exempt kings from this law, must either find that they are excepted in the text, or that God who gave it has not a power over them.
Moreover, it has been proved at the beginning of this treatise, that the first kings were of the accursed race, and reigned over the accursed nations, whilst the holy seed had none. If therefore there was no law where there was no king, the accursed posterity of Ham had laws, when the blessed descendants of Shem had none, which is most absurd; the word outlaw, or lawless, being often given to the wicked, but never to the just and righteous.
The impious folly of such assertions goes farther than our author perhaps suspected: for if there be no law where there is no king, the Israelites had no law till Saul was made king, and then the law they had was from him. They had no king before, for they asked one. They could not have asked one of Samuel, if he had been a king. He had not been offended, and God had not imputed to them the sin of rejecting him, if they had asked that only which he had set over them. If Samuel were not king, Moses, Joshua, and the other judges were not kings; for they were no more than he. They had therefore no king, and consequently, if our author say true, no law. If they had no law till Saul was king, they never had any; for he gave them none; and the prophets were to blame for denouncing judgments against them for receding from, or breaking their law, if they had none. He cannot say that Samuel gave them a law; for that which he wrote in a book, and laid up before the Lord, was not a law to the people, but to the king.6 If it had been a law to the people, it must have been made publick; but as it was only to the king, he laid it up before God, to testify against him if he should adventure to break it. Or if it was a law to the people, the matter is not mended; for it was given in the time of a king by one who was not king. But in truth it was the law of the kingdom by which he was king, and had been wholly impertinent, if it was not to bind him; for it was given to no other person, and to no other end.
Our author’s assertion upon which all his doctrine is grounded, That there is no nation that allows children any action or remedy for being unjustly governed,7 is as impudently false as any other proposed by him: for tho a child will not be heard that complains of the rod; yet our own law gives relief to children against their fathers, as well as against other persons that do them injuries, upon which we see many ill effects, and I do rather relate than commend the practice. In other places the law gives relief against the extravagancies of which fathers may be guilty in relation to their children, tho not to that excess as to bring them so near to an equality as in England: They cannot imprison, sell, or kill their children, without exposing themselves to the same punishments with other men; and if they take their estates from them, the law is open and gives relief against them: but on the other side, children are punished with death, if they strike or outrageously abuse their parents; which is not so with us.
Now, if the laws of nations take such care to preserve private men from being too hardly used by their true and natural fathers, who have such a love and tenderness for them in their own blood, that the most wicked and barbarous do much more frequently commit crimes for them than against them; how much more necessary is it to restrain the fury that kings, who at the best are but phantastical fathers, may exercise to the destruction of the whole people? ’Tis a folly to say that David and some other kings have had, or that all should have a tenderness of affection towards their people as towards their children; for besides that even the first proposition is not acknowledged, and will be hardly verified in any one instance, there is a vast distance between what men ought to be, and what they are. Every man ought to be just, true, and charitable; and if they were so, laws would be of no use: but it were a madness to abolish them upon a supposition that they are so; or to leave them to a future punishment, which many do not believe, or not regard. I am not obliged to believe that David loved every Israelite as well as his son Absalom; but tho he had, I could not from thence infer that all kings do so, unless I were sure that all of them were as wise and virtuous as he.
But to come more close to the matter: Do we not know of many kings who have come to their power by the most wicked means that can enter into the heart of man, even by the most outrageous injuries done to the people, sometimes by a foreign aid? as kings were by the power of the Romans imposed upon the Britains, that they might waste the forces, and break the spirits of that fierce people. This Tacitus acknowledges, and says, That amongst other instruments of enslaving nations, they imposed kings upon them.8 The Medicis were made masters of Florence by the force of Charles the Fifth’s army. Sometimes by a corrupt party in their own country they have destroy’d the best men, and subdued the rest; as Agathocles, Dionysius, and Caesar did at Rome and Syracuse. Others taking upon them to defend a people, have turned the arms with which they were entrusted against their own masters; as Francesco Sforza, who being chosen by those of Milan to be their general against the Venetians, made peace with them, and by their assistance made himself prince, or, in our author’s phrase, father of that great city. If these be acts of tenderness, love, justice, and charity, those who commit them may well think they have gained the affections of their people, and grow to love those from whom they fear nothing, and by whom they think they are loved. But if on the other hand they know they have attained to their greatness by the worst of all villainies, and that they are on that account become the object of the publick hatred, they can do no less than hate and fear those by whom they know themselves to be hated. The Italians ordinarily say that he who does an injury never pardons, because he thinks he is never pardoned:9 But he that enslaves and oppresses a people does an injury which can never be pardoned, and therefore fears it will be revenged.
Other princes who come to their thrones by better ways, and are not contented with the power that the law allows, draw the same hatred upon themselves when they endeavour by force or fraud to enlarge it; and must necessarily fear and hate their own people as much as he who by the ways beforemention’d has betray’d or subdued them. Our author makes nothing of this; but taking it for granted that it was all one whether Samuel spoke of a king or a tyrant, declares that the same patient obedience is due to both; but not being pleased to give any reason why we should believe him, I intend to offer some why we should not.
First, there is nothing in the nature or institution of monarchy that obliges nations to bear the exorbitances of it when it degenerates into tyranny.
In the second place, we have no precept for it.
Thirdly, we have many approved examples, and occasional particular commands to the contrary.
1. To the first: The point of paternity being explain’d; the duty of children to parents proved to proceed from the benefits received from them, and that the power over them, which at the first seems to have been left at large, because it was thought they would never abuse it, has long since been much restrain’d in all civilized nations, and particularly in our own; We may conclude that men are all made of the same paste, and that one owes no more to another than another to him, unless for some benefit received, or by virtue of some promise made. The duty arising from a benefit received must be proportionable to it: that which grows from a promise is determined by the promise or contract made, according to the true sense and meaning of it. He therefore that would know what the Babylonians, Hebrews, Athenians, or Romans did owe to Nimrod, Saul, Theseus or Romulus, must inquire what benefits were received from them, or what was promised to them. It cannot be said that anything was due to them for the sake of their parents; they could have no prerogative by birth: Nimrod was the sixth son of Cush the son of Ham, who was the youngest son of Noah: his kingdom was erected whilst Noah and his elder sons Shem and Japheth, as well as Ham, Cush, and his elder sons were still living. Saul was the son of Kish, a man of Benjamin, who was the youngest son of Jacob; and he was chosen in the most democratical way by lot amongst the whole people. Theseus according to the custom of the times pretended to be the son of Neptune; and Rhea was so well pleased with the soldier that had gotten her with child, that she resolved to think or say that Mars was the father of the children, that is to say they were bastards; and therefore whatever was due to them was upon their own personal account, without any regard to their progenitors. This must be measured according to what they did for those nations before they were kings, or by the manner of their advancement. Nothing can be pretended before they were kings: Nimrod rose up after the confusion of languages, and the people that understood the tongue he spoke, follow’d him; Saul was a young man unknown in Israel; Theseus and Romulus had nothing to recommend them before other Athenians and Romans, except the reputation of their valour; and the honours conferred upon them for that reason, must proceed from expectation or hope, and not from gratitude or obligation. It must therefore proceed from the manner by which they came to be kings. He that neither is nor has any title to be a king, can come to be so only by force or by consent. If by force, he does not confer a benefit upon the people, but injures them in the most outrageous manner. If it be possible therefore or reasonable to imagine that one man did ever subdue a multitude, he can no otherwise resemble a father than the worst of all enemies who does the greatest mischiefs, resembles the best of all friends who confers the most inestimable benefits, and consequently does as justly deserve the utmost effects of hatred, as the other does of love, respect, and service. If by consent, he who is raised from amongst the people, and placed above his brethren, receives great honours and advantages, but confers none. The obligations of gratitude are on his side, and whatsoever he does in acknowledgment to his benefactors for their love to him, is no more than his duty; and he can demand no more from them than what they think fit to add to the favours already received. If more be pretended, it must be by virtue of that contract, and can no otherwise be proved than by producing it to be examined, that the true sense, meaning, and intention of it may be known.
This contract must be in form and substance according to a general rule given to all mankind, or such as is left to the will of every nation. If a general one be pretended, it ought to be shown, that by enquiring into the contents, we may understand the force and extent of it. If this cannot be done, it may justly pass for a fiction, no conclusion can be drawn from it; and we may be sure, that what contracts soever have been made between nations and their kings, have been framed according to the will of those nations; and consequently how many soever they are, and whatsoever the sense of any or all of them may be, they can oblige no man, except those, or at the most the descendants of those that made them. Whoever therefore would persuade us, that one or more nations are, by virtue of those contracts, bound to bear all the insolences of tyrants, is obliged to show, that by those contracts they did forever indefinitely bind themselves so to do, how great soever they might be.
I may justly go a step farther, and affirm, that if any such should appear in the world, the folly and turpitude of the thing would be a sufficient evidence of the madness of those that made it, and utterly destroy the contents of it: but no such having been as yet produced, nor any reason given to persuade a wise man that there has ever been any such, at least among civilized nations (for whom only we are concerned), it may be concluded there never was any; or if there were, they do not at all relate to our subject; and consequently that nations still continue in their native liberty, and are no otherwise obliged to endure the insolence of tyrants, than they, or each of them may esteem them tolerable.
2. To the second: Tho the words of Samuel had implied a necessity incumbent upon the Hebrews to bear all the injuries that their kings should do to them, it could no way relate to us; for he does not speak of all kings, but of such as they had asked, even such as reigned over the slavish Asiaticks their neighbours, who are no less infamous in the world for their baseness and cowardice, than detestable for their idolatry and vices. It was not a plot or trick of Samuel to keep the government in himself and family: Such scurrilous expressions or thoughts are fit only for Filmer, Heylyn, and their disciples: but the prophet being troubled at the folly and wickedness of the people, who chose rather to subject themselves to the irregular will of a man, than to be governed by God and his law, did, by the immediate command of God, declare to them what would be the event of their fury; that since they would be like to their neighbours in sin and folly, he told them they should be like to them in shame and misery; since they desired to cast off the thing that was good, they should suffer evil as the product of their own counsels; and that when they should cry to the Lord from a sense of their miseries, he does not tell them, as our author falsely says, they should have no other remedy against tyrants but crying and praying, but that their cries and prayers should not be heard. It was just that when they had rejected God, he should reject them, and leave them under the weight of the calamities they had brought upon themselves. In all other cases God had ever said, that when his people returned to him, he would hear and save them. When they cried by reason of the oppressions they suffered under the Egyptians, Canaanites, Midianites, Philistines, and others, tho their crimes had deserved them all, yet God heard and relieved them. But when they meditated this final defection from his law, and rejection of his government, God seemed to change his nature, and forget to be gracious; When ye shall cry to me by reason of your king, I win not hear you. This was the strongest dehortation from their wicked intention that can be imagined; but being not enough to reclaim them, they answered, Nay, but we will have a king.10 They were like to their neighbours in folly and vice, and would be like to them in government; which brought all the calamities upon them that the others suffer’d. But I know not what conclusion can be drawn from hence in favour of our author’s doctrine, unless all nations are obliged furiously to run into the same crimes with the Israelites, or to take upon themselves the same punishment, tho they do not commit the same crimes.
If this was not a precept to the Israelites, instructing them what they should do, but a denunciation of what they should suffer for the evil which they had committed, the Old Testament will afford none; and I hope in due time to answer such as he alleges from the New. Nay, we may conclude there can be none there, because being dictated by the same spirit, which is always uniform and constant to itself, it could not agree with the 17th of Deuteron. which so extremely restrains such a king as God allowed, as not to suffer him in any manner to raise his heart above his brethren; and was said in vain, if at the same time it gave him a power which might not be resisted, or forbade others to resist him if he would not obey the law.
3. To the third: Whatsoever was done by the command of God against Pharaoh king of Egypt, and against the kings of the Canaanites, Midianites, Moabites, Edomites, Amorites or Philistines, by Moses, Joshua, Ehud, Barak, Gideon, Samson, Jephthah, Samuel, and the rest of the judges, comes expressly under the particular precepts and examples promised by me, to show, that God had occasionally commanded, and his servants executed his commands in resisting and destroying the persons of kings, who were their own kings also, if possession was only to be regarded. And tho this be sufficient to overthrow our author’s doctrine; That we are not to examine the titles of kings, whether they be from usurpation, or any other means; but only to look upon the power:11 Yet they who seek truth, ought not to content themselves merely with victory; or to esteem that a victory, which is obtained by what the schools call argumentum ad hominem,12 grounded upon a false proposition, and is of no force except against those who are so ill advised to advance it. Therefore laying aside the advantages that may be justly taken against Filmer, for the folly of asserting the same right to be in a usurper, as in a lawful prince; and confessing that tho such as have no title, may and ought to be suppressed as enemies and robbers, when respect and obedience is due to those who are rightly instituted; I say, that none can be claimed by a prince lawfully instituted, if he assume to himself a power which is not granted to him by the law of his institution, because, as Grotius says, his legal power does not extend so far;13 or turn the power that is given him, to ends contrary to those for which it was given, because he thereby destroys it, and puts himself into the same condition as if it had never been. This is proved by the example of Saul; tho the people sinned grievously in asking a king, yet God assenting to their demand, no prince was ever more solemnly instituted than he. The people chose him by lot from amongst all the tribes, and he was placed in the throne by the general consent of the whole nation: But he turning his lawful power into tyranny, disobeying the word of the prophet, slaying the priests, sparing the Amalekites, and oppressing the innocent, overthrew his own right; and God declared the kingdom, which had been given him under a conditional promise of perpetuity, to be entirely abrogated. This did not only give a right to the whole people of opposing him, but to every particular man; and upon this account David did not only fly from his fury, but resisted it. He made himself head of all the discontented persons that would follow him: he had at first four, and afterwards six hundred men; he kept these in arms against Saul, and lived upon the country; and resolved to destroy Nabal with all his house, only for refusing to send provisions for his men. Finding himself weak and unsafe, he went to Achish the Philistine, and offer’d his service even against Israel. This was never reputed a sin in David, or in those that follow’d him, by any except the wicked court-flatterer Doeg the Edomite, and the drunken fool Nabal, who is said to have been a man of Belial.
If it be objected, that this was rather a flight than a war, in as much as he neither killed Saul nor his men, or that he made war as a king anointed by Samuel; I answer, that he who had six hundred men, and entertain’d as many as came to him, sufficiently shewed his intention rather to resist than to fly: And no other reason can be given why he did not farther pursue that intention, than that he had no greater power: and he who arms six hundred men against his prince, when he can have no more, can no more be said to obey patiently, than if he had so many hundreds of thousands. This holds, tho he kill no man, for that is not the war, but the manner of making it: and ’twere as absurd to say David made no war, because he killed no men, as that Charles the eighth made no war in Italy, because Guicciardini says, he conquer’d Naples without breaking a lance. But as David’s strength increased, he grew to be less sparing of blood. Those who say kings never die, but that the right is immediately transferr’d to the next heirs, cannot deny that Ishbosheth inherited the right of Saul, and that David had no other right of making war against him, than against Saul, unless it were conferred upon him by the tribe of Judah that made him king. If this be true, it must be confessed that not only a whole people, but a part of them, may at their own pleasure abrogate a kingdom, tho never so well established by common consent; for none was ever more solemnly instituted than that of Saul; and few subjects have more strongly obliged themselves to be obedient. If it be not true, the example of Nabal is to be follow’d; and David, tho guided by the Spirit of God, deserves to be condemned as a fellow that rose up against his master.
If to elude this it be said, that God instituted and abrogated Saul’s kingdom, and that David to whom the right was transmitted, might therefore proceed against him and his heirs as private men: I answer, that if the obedience due to Saul proceeded from God’s institution, it can extend to none but those who are so peculiarly instituted and anointed by his command, and the hand of his prophet, which will be of little advantage to the kings that can give no testimony of such an institution or unction; and an indisputable right will remain to every nation of abrogating the kingdoms which are instituted by and for themselves. But as David did resist the authority of Saul and Ishbosheth, without assuming the power of a king, tho designed by God, and anointed by the prophet, till he was made king of Judah by that tribe; or arrogating to himself a power over the other tribes till he was made king by them, and had enter’d into a covenant with them; ’tis much more certain that the persons and authority of ill kings, who have no title to the privileges due to Saul by virtue of his institution, may be justly resisted; which is as much as is necessary to my purpose.
Object. But David’s heart smote him when he had cut off the skirt of Saul’s garment, and he would not suffer Abishai to kill him.14 This might be of some force, if it were pretended that every man was obliged to kill an ill king, whensoever he could do it, which I think no man ever did say; and no man having ever affirmed it, no more can be concluded than is confessed by all. But how is it possible that a man of a generous spirit, like to David, could see a great and valiant king, chosen from amongst all the tribes of Israel, anointed by the command of God and the hand of the prophet, famous for victories obtained against the enemies of Israel, and a wonderful deliverance thereby purchased to that people, cast at his feet to receive life or death from the hand of one whom he had so furiously persecuted, and from whom he least deserved, and could least expect mercy, without extraordinary commotion of mind, most especially when Abishai, who saw all that he did, and thereby ought best to have known his thoughts, expressed so great a readiness to kill him? This could not but make him reflect upon the instability of all that seemed to be most glorious in men, and shew him that if Saul, who had been named even among the prophets, and assisted in an extraordinary manner to accomplish such great things, was so abandoned and given over to fury, misery and shame; he that seemed to be most firmly established ought to take care lest he should fall.
Surely these things are neither to be thought strange in relation to Saul, who was God’s anointed, nor communicable to such as are not: Some may suppose he was king by virtue of God’s unction (tho if that were true, he had never been chosen and made king by the people) but it were madness to think he became God’s anointed by being king: for if that were so, the same right and title would belong to every king, even to those who by his command were accursed and destroyed by his servants Moses, Joshua and Samuel. The same men, at the same time, and in the same sense, would be both his anointed and accursed, loved and detested by him; and the most sacred privileges made to extend to the worst of his enemies.
Again; the war made by David was not upon the account of being king, as anointed by Samuel, but upon the common natural right of defending himself against the violence and fury of a wicked man; he trusted to the promise, that he should be king, but knew that as yet he was not so; and when Saul found he had spared his life, he said, I now know well that thou shalt surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall surely be established in thy hand;15 not that it was already. Nay David himself was so far from taking upon him to be king, till the tribe of Judah had chosen him, that he often acknowledged Saul to be his lord. When Baanah and Rechab brought the head of Ishbosheth to him, he commanded them to be slain; Because they had killed a righteous man upon his bed, in his own house;16 which he could not have said, if Ishbosheth had unjustly detained from him the ten tribes, and that he had a right to reign over them before they had chosen him. The word of God did not make him king, but only foretold that he should be king; and by such ways as he pleased prepared the hearts of the people to set him up; and till the time designed by God for that work was accomplished, he pretended to no other authority, than what the six hundred men who first followed him, afterwards the tribe of Judah, and at last all the rest of the people, conferred upon him.
I no way defend Absalom’s revolt; he was wicked, and acted wickedly; but after his death no man was ever blamed or questioned for siding with him: and Amasa who commanded his army, is represented in Scripture as a good man, even David saying, that Joab, by slaying Abner and Amasa, had killed two men who were better than himself;17 which could not have been unless the people had a right of looking into matters of government, and of redressing abuses: tho being deceived by Absalom, they so far erred, as to prefer him, who was in all respects wicked, before the man, who, except in the matter of Uriah, is said to be after God’s own heart. This right was acknowledged by David himself, when he commanded Hushai to say to Absalom, I will be thy servant O king; and by Hushai in the following chapter, Nay, but whom the Lord and his people, and all the men of Israel chuse, his will I be, and with him will I abide:18 which could have no sense in it, unless the people had a right of chusing, and that the choice in which they generally concurred, was esteemed to be from God.
But if Saul who was made king by the whole people, and anointed by the command of God, might be lawfully resisted when he departed from the law of his institution; it cannot be doubted that any other for the like reason may be resisted. If David, tho designed by God to be king, and anointed by the hand of the prophet, was not king till the people had chosen him, and he had made a covenant with them; it will, if I mistake not, be hard to find a man who can claim a right which is not originally from them. And if the people of Israel could erect and pull down, institute, abrogate, or transfer to other persons or families, kingdoms more firmly established than any we know, the same right cannot be denied to other nations.
[Here begins Sidney’s commentary on the third of the three chapters in the 1680 edition of Filmer, ch. 22–32 of the original manuscript (Laslett edition). This chapter begins: “Hitherto I have endeavoured to show the natural institution of regal authority, and to free it from subjection to an arbitrary election of the people. It is necessary also to inquire whether human laws have a superiority over princes, because those that maintain the acquisition of royal jurisdiction from the people do subject the exercise of it to human positive laws.” Patriarcha, ch. 22 (“Regal Authority Not Subject to Human Laws. Kings before Laws. The Kings of Judah and Israel Not Tied to Laws”), pp. 95–96 (emphasis added).]
[Patriarcha, ch. 23 (“Samuel’s Description of a King. The Power Ascribed to Kings in the New Testament”), p. 97.]
[Welfare of the people … welfare of the kingdom. “Welfare” may also be translated “safety.”]
[The welfare of the king is the supreme law.]
[Patriarcha, ch. 22, p. 96.]
1 Sam. 10.
[Patriarcha, ch. 22, p. 96.]
Inter instrumenta servitutis reges habere. Tacit. [Tacitus, Agricola, ch. 14.]
Chi fa injuria non perdona mai.
[1 Samuel 8:18–19.]
[Not a quotation, but a summary of Filmer’s doctrine on p. 62 and elsewhere.]
[An argument (directed) to the man (with whom one is arguing).]
Quia eatenus non habet imperium. De jur. bel. [Grotius, De jure, bk. 1, ch. 4, sec. 13.]
1 Sam. 26.
1 Sam. 24.
2 Sam. 4.
2 Sam. 20. [Solomon actually says this, in 1 Kings 2:32.]
2 Kings. [2 Samuel 15:34; 16:18.]