Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION 33: The Liberty of a People is the gift of God and Nature. - Discourses Concerning Government
SECTION 33: The Liberty of a People is the gift of God and Nature. - Algernon Sidney, Discourses Concerning Government 
Discourses Concerning Government, ed. Thomas G. West (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1996).
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- The Argument of Sidney’s Discourses
- Filmer’s Position On Political Power
- Sidney’s Response
- Sidney and Locke
- Sidney’s Legacy
- Sidney’s Life
- Editor’s Note
- Reading the Discourses
- The Text
- Modernization of the Text
- Discourses Concerning Government
- Chapter One
- Section 1: Introduction.
- Section 2: The Common Notions of Liberty Are Not From School Divines, But From Nature.
- Section 3: Implicit Faith Belongs to Fools, and Truth Is Comprehended By Examining Principles.
- Section 4: The Rights of Particular Nations Cannot Subsist, If General Principles Contrary to Them Are Received As True.
- Section 5: To Depend Upon the Will of a Man Is Slavery.
- Section 6: God Leaves to Man the Choice of Forms In Government; and Those Who Constitute One Form, May Abrogate It.
- Section 7: Abraham and the Patriarchs Were Not Kings.
- Section 8: Nimrod Was the First King, During the Life of Cush, Ham, Shem, and Noah.
- Section 9: The Power of a Father Belongs Only to a Father.
- Section 10: Such As Enter Into Society, Must In Some Degree Diminish Their Liberty.
- Section 11: No Man Comes to Command Many, Unless By Consent Or By Force.
- Section 12: The Pretended Paternal Right Is Divisible Or Indivisible: If Divisible, ’tis Extinguished; If Indivisible, Universal.
- Section 13: There Was No Shadow of a Paternal Kingdom Amongst the Hebrews, Nor Precept For It.
- Section 14: If the Paternal Right Had Included Dominion, and Was to Be Transferred to a Single Heir, It Must Perish If He Were Not Known; and Could Be Applied to No Other Person.
- [section 15] 1
- Section 16: The Ancients Chose Those to Be Kings, Who Excelled In the Virtues That Are Most Beneficial to Civil Societies.
- Section 17: God Having Given the Government of the World to No One Man, Nor Declared How It Should Be Divided, Left It to the Will of Man.
- Section 18: If a Right of Dominion Were Esteemed Hereditary According to the Law of Nature, a Multitude of Destructive and Inextricable Controversies Would Thereupon Arise.
- Section 19: Kings Cannot Confer the Right of Father Upon Princes, Nor Princes Upon Kings.
- Section 20: All Just Magistratical Power Is From the People.
- Chapter Two
- Section I: That ’tis Natural For Nations to Govern, Or to Chuse Governors; and That Virtue Only Gives a Natural Preference of One Man Above Another, Or Reason Why One Should Be Chosen Rather Than Another.
- Section 2: Every Man That Hath Children, Hath the Right of a Father, and Is Capable of Preferment In a Society Composed of Many.
- Section 3: Government Is Not Instituted For the Good of the Governor, But of the Governed; and Power Is Not an Advantage, But a Burden.
- Section 4: The Paternal Right Devolves To, and Is Inherited By All the Children.
- Section 5: Freemen Join Together and Frame Greater Or Lesser Societies, and Give Such Forms to Them As Best Please Themselves.
- Section 6: They Who Have a Right of Chusing a King, Have the Right of Making a King.
- Section 7: The Laws of Every Nation Are the Measure of Magistratical Power.
- Section 8: There Is No Natural Propensity In Man Or Beast to Monarchy.
- Section 9: The Government Instituted By God Over the Israelites Was Aristocratical.
- Section 10: Aristotle Was Not Simply For Monarchy Or Against Popular Government; But Approved Or Disapproved of Either According to Circumstances.
- Section 11: Liberty Produceth Virtue, Order and Stability: Slavery Is Accompanied With Vice, Weakness and Misery.
- Section 12: The Glory, Virtue, and Power of the Romans Began and Ended With Their Liberty.
- Section 13: There Is No Disorder Or Prejudice In Changing the Name Or Number of Magistrates, Whilst the Root and Principle of Their Power Continues Entire.
- Section 14: No Sedition Was Hurtful to Rome, Till Through Their Prosperity Some Men Gained a Power Above the Laws.
- Section 15: The Empire of Rome Perpetually Decay’d When It Fell Into the Hands of One Man.
- Section 16: The Best Governments of the World Have Been Composed of Monarchy, Aristocracy, and Democracy.
- Section 17: Good Governments Admit of Changes In the Superstructures, Whilst the Foundations Remain Unchangeable.
- Section 18: Xenophon In Blaming the Disorders of Democracies, Favours Aristocracies, Not Monarchies.
- Section 19: That Corruption and Venality Which Is Natural to Courts, Is Seldom Found In Popular Governments.
- Section 20: Man’s Natural Love to Liberty Is Temper’d By Reason, Which Originally Is His Nature.
- Section 21: Mixed and Popular Governments Preserve Peace, and Manage Wars, Better Than Absolute Monarchies.
- Section 22: Commonwealths Seek Peace Or War According to the Variety of Their Constitutions.
- Section 23: That Is the Best Government, Which Best Provides For War.
- Section 24: Popular Governments Are Less Subject to Civil Disorders Than Monarchies; Manage Them More Ably, and More Easily Recover Out of Them.
- Section 25: Courts Are More Subject to Venality and Corruption Than Popular Governments.
- Section 26: Civil Tumults and Wars Are Not the Greatest Evils That Befall Nations.
- Section 27: The Mischiefs and Cruelties Proceeding From Tyranny Are Greater Than Any That Can Come From Popular Or Mixed Governments.
- Section 28: Men Living Under Popular Or Mix’d Governments, Are More Careful of the Publick Good, Than In Absolute Monarchies.
- Section 29: There Is No Assurance That the Distempers of a State Shall Be Cured By the Wisdom of a Prince.
- Section 30: A Monarchy Cannot Be Well Regulated, Unless the Powers of the Monarch Are Limited By Law.
- Section 31: The Liberties of Nations Are From God and Nature, Not From Kings.
- Section 32: The Contracts Made Between Magistrates, and the Nations That Created Them, Were Real, Solemn, and Obligatory.
- Chapter Three
- Section 1: Kings Not Being Fathers of Their People, Nor Excelling All Others In Virtue, Can Have No Other Just Power Than What the Laws Give; Nor Any Title to the Privileges of the Lord’s Anointed.
- Section 2: The Kings of Israel and Judah Were Under a Law Not Safely to Be Transgress’d.
- Section 3: Samuel Did Not Describe to the Israelites the Glory of a Free Monarchy; But the Evils the People Should Suffer, That He Might Divert Them From Desiring a King.
- Section 4: No People Can Be Obliged to Suffer From Their Kings What They Have Not a Right to Do.
- Section 5: The Mischiefs Suffer’d From Wicked Kings Are Such As Render It Both Reasonable and Just For All Nations That Have Virtue and Power to Exert Both In Repelling Them.
- Section 6: ’tis Not Good For Such Nations As Will Have Kings, to Suffer Them to Be Glorious, Powerful, Or Abounding In Riches.
- Section 7: When the Israelites Asked For Such a King As the Nations About Them Had, They Asked For a Tyrant, Tho They Did Not Call Him So.
- Section 8: Under the Name of Tribute No More Is Understood Than What the Law of Each Nation Gives to the Supreme Magistrate For the Defraying of Publick Charges; to Which the Customs of the Romans, Or Sufferings of the Jews Have No Relation.
- Section 9: Our Own Laws Confirm to Us the Enjoyment of Our Native Rights.
- Section 10: The Words of St. Paul Enjoining Obedience to Higher Powers, Favour All Sorts of Governments No Less Than Monarchy.
- Section 11: That Which Is Not Just, Is Not Law; and That Which Is Not Law, Ought Not to Be Obeyed.
- Section 12: The Right and Power of a Magistrate Depends Upon His Institution, Not Upon His Name.
- Section 13: Laws Were Made to Direct and Instruct Magistrates, And, If They Will Not Be Directed, to Restrain Them.
- Section 14: Laws Are Not Made By Kings, Not Because They Are Busied In Greater Matters Than Doing Justice, But Because Nations Will Be Governed By Rule, and Not Arbitrarily.
- Section 15: A General Presumption That Kings Will Govern Well, Is Not a Sufficient Security to the People.
- Section 16: The Observation of the Laws of Nature Is Absurdly Expected From Tyrants, Who Set Themselves Up Against All Laws: and He That Subjects Kings to No Other Law Than What Is Common to Tyrants, Destroys Their Being.
- Section 17: Kings Cannot Be the Interpreters of the Oaths They Take.
- Section 18: The Next In Blood to Deceased Kings Cannot Generally Be Said to Be Kings Till They Are Crowned.
- Section 19: The Greatest Enemy of a Just Magistrate Is He Who Endeavours to Invalidate the Contract Between Him and the People, Or to Corrupt Their Manners.
- Section 20: Unjust Commands Are Not to Be Obey’d; and No Man Is Obliged to Suffer For Not Obeying Such As Are Against Law.
- Section 21: It Cannot Be For the Good of the People That the Magistrate Have a Power Above the Law: and He Is Not a Magistrate Who Has Not His Power By Law.
- Section 22: The Rigour of the Law Is to Be Temper’d By Men of Known Integrity and Judgment, and Not By the Prince Who May Be Ignorant Or Vicious.
- Section 23: Aristotle Proves, That No Man Is to Be Entrusted With an Absolute Power, By Shewing That No One Knows How to Execute It, But Such a Man As Is Not to Be Found.
- Section 24: The Power of Augustus Caesar Was Not Given, But Usurped.
- Section 25: The Regal Power Was Not the First In This Nation; Nor Necessarily to Be Continued, Tho It Had Been the First.
- Section 26: Tho the King May Be Entrusted With the Power of Chusing Judges, Yet That By Which They Act Is From the Law.
- Section 27: Magna Charta Was Not the Original, But a Declaration of the English Liberties. the King’s Power Is Not Restrained, But Created By That and Other Laws; and the Nation That Made Them Can Only Correct the Defects of Them.
- Section 28: The English Nation Has Always Been Governed By Itself Or Its Representatives.
- Section 29: The King Was Never Master of the Soil.
- Section 30: Henry the First Was King of England By As Good a Title As Any of His Predecessors Or Successors.
- Section 31: Free Nations Have a Right of Meeting, When and Where They Please, Unless They Deprive Themselves of It.
- Section 32: The Powers of Kings Are So Various According to the Constitutions of Several States, That No Consequence Can Be Drawn to the Prejudice Or Advantage of Any One, Merely From the Name.
- Section 33: The Liberty of a People Is the Gift of God and Nature.
- Section 34: No Veneration Paid, Or Honor Conferr’d Upon a Just and Lawful Magistrate, Can Diminish the Liberty of a Nation.
- Section 35: The Authority Given By Our Law to the Acts Performed By a King De Facto, Detract Nothing From the People’s Right of Creating Whom They Please.
- Section 36: The General Revolt of a Nation Cannot Be Called a Rebellion.
- Section 37: The English Government Was Not Ill Constituted, the Defects More Lately Observed Proceeding From the Change of Manners, and Corruption of the Times.
- Section 38: The Power of Calling and Dissolving Parliaments Is Not Simply In the King. the Variety of Customs In Chusing Parliament Men, and the Errors a People May Commit, Neither Prove That Kings Are Or Ought to Be Absolute.
- Section 39: Those Kings Only Are Heads of the People, Who Are Good, Wise, and Seek to Advance No Interest But That of the Publick.
- Section 40: Good Laws Prescribe Easy and Safe Remedies Against the Evils Proceeding From the Vices Or Infirmities of the Magistrate; and When They Fail, They Must Be Supplied.
- Section 41: The People For Whom and By Whom the Magistrate Is Created, Can Only Judge Whether Be Rightly Perform His Office Or Not.
- Section 42: The Person That Wears the Crown Cannot Determine the Affairs Which the Law Refers to the King.
- Section 43: Proclamations Are Not Laws.
- Section 44: No People That Is Not Free Can Substitute Delegates.
- Section 45: The Legislative Power Is Always Arbitrary, and Not to Be Trusted In the Hands of Any Who Are Not Bound to Obey the Laws They Make.
- Section 46: The Coercive Power of the Law Proceeds From the Authority of Parliament.
The Liberty of a People is the gift of God and Nature.
If any man ask how nations come to have the power of doing these things, I answer, that liberty being only an exemption from the dominion of another, the question ought not to be, how a nation can come to be free, but how a man comes to have a dominion over it; for till the right of dominion be proved and justified, liberty subsists as arising from the nature and being of a man. Tertullian speaking of the emperors says, ab eo imperium a quo spiritus; and we taking man in his first condition may justly say, ab eo libertas a quo spiritus; for no man can owe more than he has received. The creature having nothing, and being nothing but what the creator makes him, must owe all to him, and nothing to anyone from whom he has received nothing. Man therefore must be naturally free, unless he be created by another power than we have yet heard of. The obedience due to parents arises from hence, in that they are the instruments of our generation; and we are instructed by the light of reason, that we ought to make great returns to those from whom under God we have received all. When they die we are their heirs, we enjoy the same rights, and devolve the same to our posterity. God only who confers this right upon us, can deprive us of it: and we can no way understand that he does so, unless he had so declared by express revelation, or had set some distinguishing marks of dominion and subjection upon men; and, as an ingenious person not long since said, caused some to be born with crowns upon their heads, and all others with saddles upon their backs. This liberty therefore must continue, till it be either forfeited or willingly resigned. The forfeiture is hardly comprehensible in a multitude that is not entered into any society; for as they are all equal, and equals can have no right over each other, no man can forfeit anything to one who can justly demand nothing, unless it may be by a personal injury, which is nothing to this case; because where there is no society, one man is not bound by the actions of another. All cannot join in the same act, because they are joined in none; or if they should, no man could recover, much less transmit the forfeiture; and not being transmitted, it perishes as if it had never been, and no man can claim anything from it.
’Twill be no less difficult to bring resignation to be subservient to our author’s purpose; for men could not resign their liberty, unless they naturally had it in themselves. Resignation is a publick declaration of their assent to be governed by the person to whom they resign; that is, they do by that act constitute him to be their governor. This necessarily puts us upon the inquiry, why they do resign, how they will be governed, and proves the governor to be their creature; and the right of disposing the government must be in them, or they who receive it can have none. This is so evident to common sense, that it were impertinent to ask who made Carthage, Athens, Rome or Venice to be free cities. Their charters were not from men, but from God and nature. When a number of Phoenicians had found a port on the coast of Africa, they might perhaps agree with the inhabitants for a parcel of ground, but they brought their liberty with them. When a company of Latins, Sabines and Tuscans met together upon the banks of the Tiber, and chose rather to build a city for themselves, than to live in such as were adjacent, they carried their liberty in their own breasts, and had hands and swords to defend it. This was their charter; and Romulus could confer no more upon them, than Dido upon the Carthaginians. When a multitude of barbarous nations infested Italy, and no protection could be expected from the corrupted and perishing empire, such as agreed to seek a place of refuge in the scatter’d islands of the Adriatick gulf, had no need of any man’s authority to ratify the institution of their government. They who were the formal part of the city, and had built the material, could not but have a right of governing it as they pleased, since if they did amiss, the hurt was only to themselves. ’Tis probable enough that some of the Roman emperors, as lords of the soil, might have pretended to a dominion over them, if there had been any colour for it: but nothing of that kind appearing in thirteen hundred years, we are not like to hear of any such cavils. ’Tis agreed by mankind, that subjection and protection are relative; and that he who cannot protect those that are under him, in vain pretends to a dominion over them. The only ends for which governments are constituted, and obedience render’d to them, are the obtaining of justice and protection; and they who cannot provide for both, give the people a right of taking such ways as best please themselves, in order to their own safety.
The matter is yet more clear in relation to those who never were in any society, as at the beginning, or renovation of the world after the Flood; or who upon the dissolution of the societies to which they did once belong, or by some other accident have been obliged to seek new habitations. Such were those who went from Babylon upon the confusion of tongues, those who escaped from Troy when it was burnt by the Grecians; almost all the nations of Europe, with many of Asia and Africa upon the dissolution of the Roman empire. To which may be added a multitude of Northern nations, who, when they had increased to such numbers that their countries could no longer nourish them, or because they wanted skill to improve their lands, were sent out to provide for themselves; and having done so, did erect many kingdoms and states, either by themselves, or in union and coalition with the ancient inhabitants.
’Tis in vain to say, that wheresoever they came, the land did belong to somebody, and that they who came to dwell there must be subject to the laws of those who were lords of the soil, for that is not always true in fact. Some come into desert countries that have no lord, others into such as are thinly peopled, by men who knowing not how to improve their land, do either grant part of it upon easy terms to the new comers, or grow into a union with them in the enjoyment of the whole; and histories furnish us with infinite examples of this nature.
If we will look into our own original, without troubling ourselves with the senseless stories of Samothes the son of Japheth and his magicians, or the giants begotten by spirits upon the thirty daughters of Danaus sent from Phoenicia in a boat without sail, oars or rudder, we shall find that when the Romans abandoned this island, the inhabitants were left to a full liberty of providing for themselves: and whether we deduce our original from them or the Saxons, or from both, our ancestors were perfectly free; and the Normans having inherited the same right when they came to be one nation with the former, we cannot but continue so still unless we have enslaved ourselves.
Nothing is more contrary to reason than to imagine this. When the fierce barbarity of the Saxons came to be softened by a more gentle climate, the arts and religion they learnt, taught them to reform their manners, and better enabled them to frame laws for the preservation of their liberty, but no way diminished their love to it: and tho the Normans might desire to get the lands of those who had joined with Harold, and of others into their hands; yet when they were settled in the country, and by marriages united to the ancient inhabitants, they became true Englishmen, and no less lovers of liberty and resolute defenders of it than the Saxons had been. There was then neither conquering Norman nor conquered Saxon, but a great and brave people composed of both, united in blood and interest in the defence of their common rights, which they so well maintained, that no prince since that time has too violently encroached upon them, who, as the reward of his folly, has not lived miserably and died shamefully.
Such actions of our ancestors do not, as I suppose, savour much of the submission which patrimonial slaves do usually render to the will of their lord. On the contrary, whatsoever they did was by a power inherent in themselves to defend that liberty in which they were born. All their kings were created upon the same condition, and for the same ends. Alfred acknowledged he found and left them perfectly free; and the confession of Offa, that they had not made him king for his own merits, but for the defence of their liberty, comprehends all that were before and after him. They well knew how great the honour was, to be made head of a great people, and rigorously exacted the performance of the ends for which such a one was elevated, severely punishing those who basely and wickedly betray’d the trust reposed in them, and violated all that is most sacred among men; which could not have been unless they were naturally free, for the liberty that has no being cannot be defended.