Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION 5: The Mischiefs suffer'd from wicked Kings are such as render it both reasonable and just for all Nations that have virtue and Power to exert both in repelling them. - Discourses Concerning Government
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SECTION 5: The Mischiefs suffer’d from wicked Kings are such as render it both reasonable and just for all Nations that have virtue and Power to exert both in repelling them. - Algernon Sidney, Discourses Concerning Government 
Discourses Concerning Government, ed. Thomas G. West (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1996).
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The Mischiefs suffer’d from wicked Kings are such as render it both reasonable and just for all Nations that have virtue and Power to exert both in repelling them.
If our author deserve credit, we need not examine whether nations have a right of resisting, or a reasonable hope of succeeding in their endeavours to prevent or avenge the mischiefs that are feared or suffered, for ’tis not worth their pains. The inconveniences, says he, and miseries which are reckoned up by Samuel, as belonging unto kingly government, were not intolerable, but such as have been and are still born by the subjects’ free consent from their princes. Nay at this day, and in this land, many tenants by their tenures are tied unto the same subjection, even unto subordinate and inferior lords.1 He is an excellent advocate for kingly government, that accounts inconveniences and miseries to be some of the essentials of it, which others esteem to be only incidents. Tho many princes are violent and wicked, yet some have been gentle and just: tho many have brought misery upon nations, some have been beneficial to them: and they who are esteemed most severe against monarchy, think the evils that are often suffer’d under that form of government, proceed from the corruption of it, or deviation from the principle of its institution; and that they are rather to be imputed to the vices of the person, than to the thing itself; but if our author speak truth, it is universally and eternally naught, inconvenience and misery belong to it.
He thinks to mend this by saying, they are not intolerable: but what is intolerable if inconveniences and miseries be not? For what end can he think governments to have been established, unless to prevent or remove inconveniences and miseries? or how can that be called a government which does not only permit, but cause them? What can incline nations to set up governments? Is it that they may suffer inconveniences, and be brought to misery? or if it be to enjoy happiness, how can that subsist under a government, which not by accident, deflection or corruption, but by a necessity inherent in itself, causes inconveniences and miseries? If it be pretended that no human constitution can be altogether free from inconveniences; I answer, that the best may to some degree fall into them, because they may be corrupted; but evil and misery can properly belong to none that is not evil in its own nature. If Samuel deserve credit, or may be thought to have spoken sense, he could not have enumerated the evils, which he foresaw the people should suffer from their kings, nor say, that they should cry to the Lord by reason of them, unless they were in themselves grievous, and in comparison greater than what they had suffer’d or known; since that would not have diverted them from their intention, but rather have confirmed them in it. And I leave it to our author to show, why any people should for the pleasure of one or a few men, erect or suffer that which brings more of evil with it than any others.
Moreover, there is a great difference between that which nations sometimes suffer under kings, and that which they willingly suffer; most especially if our author’s maxim be received, That all laws are the mandates of kings, and the subjects’ liberties and privileges no more than their gracious concessions; for how patient soever they are under the evils they suffer, it might reasonably be believ’d they are so because they know not how to help it: And this is certainly the case of too many places that are known to us. Whoever doubts of this, if he will not put himself to the trouble of going to Turkey or Morocco, let him pass only into Normandy, and ask the naked, barefooted and half-starved people whether they are willing to suffer the miseries under which they groan; and whether the magnificence of Versailles, and the pomp of their haughty master, do any way alleviate their calamities. If this also be a matter of too much pains, the wretches that come hither every day will inform him, that it is not by their own consent they are deprived of all honors and offices in the commonwealth, even of those, which by a corrupt custom that had gained the force of a law, they had dearly bought; prohibited to exercise any trade; exposed to the utmost effects of fraud and violence, if they refuse to adore their master’s idols. They will tell him, that ’tis not willingly they leave their lands and estates to seek a shelter in the most remote parts of the world; but because they are under a force which they are not able to resist; and because one part of the nation, which is enriched with the spoils of the other, have foolishly contributed to lay a yoke upon them which they cannot break.
To what he says concerning tenures, I answer, No man in England owes any service to his lord, unless by virtue of a contract made by himself or his predecessors, under which he holds the land granted to him on that condition by the proprietor. There may be something of hardship, but nothing of injustice. ’Tis a voluntary act in the beginning and continuance; and all men know that what is done to one who is willing is no injury.2 He who did not like the conditions, was not obliged to take the land; and he might leave it, if afterwards he came to dislike them. If any man say, the like may be done by anyone in the kingdom, I answer, That it is not always true; the Protestants now in France cannot without extreme hazard go out of that country, tho they are contented to lose their estates. ’Tis accounted a crime, for which they are condemned perpetually to the galleys, and such as are aiding to them to grievous fines. But before this be acknowledged to have any similitude or relation to our discourse concerning kings, it must be proved, that the present king, or those under whom he claims, is or were proprietors of all the lands in England, and granted the several parcels under the condition of suffering patiently such inconveniences and miseries as are above-mentioned: or that they who did confer the crown upon any of them, did also give a propriety in the land; which I do not find in any of the fifteen or sixteen titles that have been since the coming in of the Normans: and if it was not done to the first of every one, it cannot accrue to the others, unless by some new act to the same purpose, which will not easily be produced.
It will be no less difficult to prove that anything unworthy of freemen is by any tenures imposed in England, unless it be the offering up of the wives and daughters of tenants to the lust of abbots and monks; and they are so far from being willingly suffer’d, that since the dens and nurseries of those beasts were abolished, no man that succeeds them has had impudence sufficient to exact the performance; and tho the letter of the law may favour them, the turpitude of the thing has extinguished the usage.
But even the kings of Israel and Judah, who brought upon the people those evils that had been foretold by Samuel, did not think they had a right to the powers they exercised. If the law had given a right to Ahab to take the best of their vineyards, he might without ceremony have taken that of Naboth, and by the majestick power of an absolute monarch, have chastised the churlish clown, who refused to sell or change it for another: but for want of it, he was obliged to take a very different course.3 If the lives of subjects had in the like manner depended upon the will of kings, David might without scruple have killed Uriah, rather than to place him in the front of the army that he might fall by his own courage. The malice and treachery of such proceedings argues a defect of power; and he that acts in such an oblique manner, shews that his actions are not warranted by the law, which is boldly executed in the face of the sun. This shews the interpretation put upon the words, Against thee only have I sinned,4 by court-flatterers, to be false. If he had not sinned against Bathsheba whom he corrupted, Uriah whom he caused to be killed, the people that he scandalized, and the law which he violated, he had never endeavoured to cover his guilt by so vile a fraud. And as he did not thereby fly the sight of God, but of men, ’tis evident that he in that action feared men more than God.
If by the examples of Israel and Judah, we may judge whether the inconveniences and miseries brought upon nations by their kings be tolerable or intolerable, it will be enough to consider the madness of Saul’s cruelty towards his subjects, and the slaughter brought upon them by the hand of the Philistines on Mount Gilboa, where he fell with the flower of all Israel; the civil wars that happened in the time of David, and the plague brought upon the people by his wickedness; the heavy burdens laid upon them by Solomon, and the idolatry favour’d by him; the wretched folly of Rehoboam, and the defection of the ten tribes caused by it; the idolatry established by Jeroboam and the kings of Israel, and that of many of those of Judah also; the frequent wars and unheard of slaughters ensuing thereupon between the tribes; the daily devastations of the country by all sorts of strangers; the murders of the prophets; the abolition of God’s worship; the desolation of towns and provinces; the captivity of the ten tribes carried away into unknown countries; and in the end the abolition of both kingdoms, with the captivity of the tribe of Judah, and the utter destruction of the city. It cannot be said that these things were suffer’d under kings, and not from or by them; for the desolation of the cities, people and country is in many places of Scripture imputed to the kings that taught Israel to sin, as appears by what was denounced against Jeroboam, Jehu, Ahab, Manasseh, Zedekiah, and others. Nay the captivity of Babylon with the evils ensuing, were first announced to Hezekiah for his vanity; and Josiah by the like, brought a great slaughter upon himself and people.5 But if mischiefs fell upon the people by the frailty of these, who after David were the best, nothing surely less than the utmost of all miseries could be expected from such as were set to do evil, and to make the nation like to themselves, in which they met with too great success.
If it be pretended that God’s people living under an extraordinary dispensation can be no example to us, I desire other histories may be examined; for I confess I know no nation so great, happy and prosperous, nor any power so well established, that two or three ill kings immediately succeeding each other, have not been able to destroy and bring to such a condition, that it appeared the nations must perish, unless the senates, diets, and other assemblies of state had put a stop to the mischief, by restraining or deposing them; and tho this might be proved by innumerable testimonies, I shall content myself with that of the Roman empire, which perished by the vices, corruption, and baseness of their princes: the noble kingdom of the Goths in Spain overthrown by the tyranny of Witiza and Rodrigo: the present state of Spain now languishing and threatening ruin from the same causes: France brought to the last degree of misery and weakness by the degenerate races of Pharamond and Charles, preserved and restored by the virtues of Pepin and Capet; to which may be added those of our own country, which are so well known that I need not mention them.
[Patriarcha, ch. 23, p. 97. Filmer quotes Raleigh, History of the World, in Works, vol. 4, p. 472.]
Volenti non sit injuria.
[1 Kings 21.]
1 King. 14. 2 King. 21. 2 King. 20.