Front Page Titles (by Subject) INTRODUCTION - Excellencie of a Free-State
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
INTRODUCTION - Marchamont Nedham, Excellencie of a Free-State 
Excellencie of a Free-State: Or, The Right Constitution of a Commonwealth, edited and with an Introduction by Blair Worden (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2011).
About Liberty Fund:
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
Marchamont Nedham (1620-1678) was the pioneer of English republicanism. His arguments for kingless rule were first published in brief essays written in 1650-52, during the rule of the Commonwealth that followed the execution of King Charles I in 1649. In 1656, when Oliver Cromwell had become lord protector, Nedham brought the essays together in his anonymously published tract The Excellencie of a Free-State; Or, The Right Constitution of a Commonwealth. His advocacy gave a new direction to English political thought. Posterity has paid less attention to him than to James Harrington, the other of the two most innovative republican writers of the 1650s. Harrington, whose treatise Oceana appeared five months after The Excellencie, was the more penetrating writer, but he followed where Nedham had led. The significance of The Excellencie was recognized in the reign of George III by the radical Whig bibliophile and antiquary Thomas Hollis, whose promotion of works favorable to his own conception of liberty made a large impact in Europe and, still more, in America. Hollis arranged the republication of Nedham’s tract in 1767. The edition he sponsored was circulated in England, revolutionary America, and revolutionary France. Since then the tract has been largely neglected until recent times, when the expansion of interest in seventeenth-century political thought revived attention to it. Now The Excellencie is brought back into print.
In Nedham’s time as in other historical periods, political thought was a response to political events. No writer’s ideas have been more closely woven with events, or been framed with a keener eye to their course, than Nedham’s. To understand the choice and purposes of his arguments we must re-create the circumstances that they addressed.1
Marchamont Nedham and the English Republic
English republicanism was a creation, not a cause, of the English civil wars.2 Before them, it is true, we can find much skepticism about princely rule, much complaint about the tendency of such rule to degenerate into tyranny, and much hostility to the evils of princely courts. We also find ample interest in the politics and virtues of ancient republics, as well as a thorough acquaintance with Machiavelli, their most adventurous modern interpreter. Yet those preoccupations were compatible with loyalty to, even veneration of, the English monarchy and the rights bestowed on kings by law and custom. The Parliament that resisted Charles I, known to posterity as the Long Parliament, sat from 1640 to 1653, though it was purged of its royalist members in 1642 and of the more cautious or conservative of its parliamentarian ones in 1648. During those thirteen years the revolution was transformed. It took directions, and found targets, that would have been unimaginable to its initiators. Men who went to war with Charles I in 1642 sought to preserve what they took to be the ancient constitution and the shared authority of king and Parliament. In their eyes Charles had subverted that authority. He had brought novel and illegal challenges to the liberty of the subject, to parliamentary privilege, and to the rights of property. Charles himself believed the Parliamentarians to be the innovators. In the year or so before the outbreak of war, they certainly assumed startling powers, both legislative and executive. Yet their initiatives were emergency measures, justified in Parliament’s view by the king’s desertion of his regal obligations. Parliament’s target was the misrule of a particular king, not the office of kingship.
No one in 1642 would have predicted the abolition of the monarchy seven years later. That development was the result of political events, not of political theory, which through the 1640s struggled to keep up with those events. The new model army, which by 1646 had won the first civil war for Parliament, was radicalized in its aftermath. It was further radicalized by the brief but bitter second civil war in 1648, which it likewise won. Now the army turned on its political masters, most of whom it suspected of entertaining too much respect for the defeated king and too little for the soldiery. In the fall of 1648, while a parliamentary delegation negotiated with Charles for his restoration, the army resolved to move against him. In December it occupied London and forcibly purged the Commons in the operation that would become known as Pride’s Purge, after Colonel Thomas Pride, who carried it out. Next month the minority of Members of Parliament whom the army had allowed to remain, or the Rump as they came to be derisively called, erected a court to try the king. The court convicted Charles as a traitor to his people and as a tyrant who had declared war on them and bore the guilt of the blood they had shed. He was executed on 30 January 1649.
How would he be replaced? When, forty winters later, Charles’s younger son James II lost his throne, his opponents had an alternative monarch in the Dutch Prince William of Orange, who was ready to rule with his wife, James’s daughter Mary. In 1648-49 no member of the Stuart family, outraged as it was by what it viewed as the murder of its leader, would have accepted enthronement at the hands of the murderers. Charles’s opponents were too divided to choose a monarch from among themselves, a move that anyway would have commanded no sense of legitimacy. Yet republican rule would be illegitimate too. The army’s political leaders, Oliver Cromwell and his son-in-law Henry Ireton, did not seek it. In 1647 they had for a time been willing to restore the king himself, on terms in some respects more generous than Parliament’s. It is true that by that time there were figures within the army’s ranks, and among its civilian allies, who were sporadically expressing or implying an aversion to kingly government. But they did not devise, if indeed they even conceived of, an alternative system of rule.
Only when Charles was dead did the new rulers confront the question of constitutional settlement, and then in slow and gingerly fashion.3 Republican rule was improvised. It emerged not by design but by default. On one reading, the cloudily worded preamble to the “act abolishing the office of king,” which the Rump passed in March 1649, repudiated kingship only in the unlimited form to which Charles had allegedly aspired and left open the possibility of a return to the “mixed” monarchical constitution that Members of Parliament had believed themselves to be defending in 1642.4 A further two months elapsed before the Rump passed an act declaring England “to be a Commonwealth and Free State.” This time the government could not even agree on a preamble to vindicate the measure, which was consequently published without one.5 The Rump would not have been able to reach any decision about the constitutional future at any point during the four years of its power, since from 1649 to 1651 it was preoccupied by the challenge of conquering Ireland and Scotland, where royalist armies kept the Stuart cause alive. Only with Cromwell’s defeat of the invading Scots at Worcester in September 1651 was the regime secure. When Parliament’s attention then turned to the settlement of England, divisions opened within it. The fatal split was between Parliament and its army. In April 1653 the army, which had forcibly destroyed the king, used its force to destroy the Parliament that had opposed him.
From 1649 to 1653 England was ruled not under a new constitution but by what was left of the old one. That rule was unicameral, for not only had kingship been abolished but at the same time so had the House of Lords, Parliament’s upper chamber. The Lords would never have passed the legislation that sanctioned the trial of the king. To remove that obstacle the Rump had resolved on 4 January 1649 that the Commons, “being chosen by, and representing the people, have the supreme power in this nation,” and were entitled to legislate unilater-ally.6 Yet the Rump’s claim to represent the people was contradicted by the absence from the Commons of that majority of representatives whom the army had purged, and by the nation’s plain hostility to a regime whose very existence, which only armed force could sustain, was at odds with the respect for the ancient constitution on which parliamentarianism had taken its stand in the civil wars.
How might the country be brought round to kingless rule? Not, the government knew, by professions of the legality of the regicide or the republic. The Rump in effect acknowledged its own illegality. In the aftermath of the regicide it drew on an argument that was widely circulated in 1649-52 and that found its most famous and accomplished expression in the Leviathan of Thomas Hobbes (1651). Hobbes wrote, not to justify a particular form of government, but to explain the obligation of subjects to obey any government, whatever its origins, that has acquired the protective power of the sword. In treatises and pamphlets written on the Rump’s behalf, the same principle was adopted by a number of lesser-known writers.7
None of them articulated it more effectively than Marchamont Nedham, whose short book The Case of the Commonwealth of England, Stated was published in May 1650 and republished later in the year. “The power of the sword,” explained Nedham, “is, and ever hath been, the foundation of all titles to government,” and those who do not submit to its jurisdiction have no claim to “the benefits of its protection.”8The Case has two parts. The first sets out five principles that vindicate the claims to obedience demanded by the Rump’s command of the sword. The arguments of the second part warn readers against the inducements of enemies who conspire or wish for the Rump’s overthrow. Each of four hostile groups, “the royal party,” “the Scots,” “the English Presbyterians,” and “the Levellers,” is accorded a chapter of refutation. The final chapter of part 2, offered “by way of conclusion,” takes a different course. Titled “A Discourse of the Excellency of a Free State Above a Kingly Government,” it urges the English to set aside their inherited prejudice in favor of monarchy and to grasp the superiority of republican rule. Nedham, who was an innovator on many intellectual and literary fronts,9 brought his powers of innovation to the “Discourse.” He used the title page of The Case to draw particular attention to the “Discourse” and its theme.10
Later in 1650 the young writer John Hall, who like Nedham was an employee of the Commonwealth, took up the republican case in his work The Grounds and Reasons of Monarchy. His career was so intimately bound with Nedham’s, and the arguments and language of the two men resembled each other so often, that their writings can be hard to tell apart.11 In 1650 Nedham and Hall introduced republicanism to English politics.
Marchamont Nedham (or sometimes “Needham,” a spelling that probably indicates the contemporary pronunciation of the name, which likely would have rhymed with “freedom”) is a figure troubling to readers who expect political thinkers to pursue a disinterested search for truth. He is the serial turncoat of the civil wars. In the first war he wrote for Parliament. In the second he wrote for the king. In 1649 he was caught printing royalist material and was threatened with a charge of treason. He averted it by switching his allegiance to the new rulers, who rescued him from penury with a handsome stipend. In the 1650s he supported every regime in its turn: the Rump; Barebone’s Parliament, the assembly with which Cromwell replaced the Rump in July 1653 but which endured only until December of that year, when it, too, succumbed to a military coup; the protectorate, which succeeded Barebone’s and which held power, first under Oliver and then, after his death in September 1658, under his son Richard, until Richard’s deposition in May 1659; then the Rump again, which was restored by the army that had expelled it six years earlier; then the army after it had expelled the Rump again in October 1659; and once more the Rump when it resumed power at the end of the same year. Thereafter he supported the restored monarchy.
Nedham airily acknowledged his transfers of allegiance. Most of his political writings— The Excellencie of a Free-State among them—were published anonymously, but in 1650 The Case of the Commonwealth, his first treatise for the republic, appeared under his own name and drew attention to his conversion. “Perhaps,” its opening words declare to the reader, “thou art of an opinion contrary to what is here written. I confess that for a time I myself was so too, till some causes made me reflect with an impartial eye upon the affairs of this new government.” The passage would reappear almost verbatim in a publication of 1661 that rejoiced in the king’s return.12
Nedham’s career, which repeatedly made him the friend or enemy of politicians and writers with whom he had at least once had the opposite relationship, challenges the categories of allegiance and conduct that govern our perceptions of both the political and the literary history of the civil wars. Nedham did have one point of consistency. It lay in his aversion, which he shared with Milton, to Presbyterianism, the parliamentarian grouping that had favored the return of the king in 1648 and that was the common enemy of royalism and the republic. He detested it less for its political goals than for its commitment to religious intolerance and for the scope it gave to clerical dogmatism. Yet no other enemy of Presbyterianism swung so blatantly between the alternatives to it. To contemporaries he was “that speckled chameleon,” “a mercenary soul,”13 “a cat that (throw him which way you will) still light[s] on his feet.”14 Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to think of Nedham merely as a hack polemicist, tamely obedient to the demands of his successive employers. If he needed their payment and protection and the outlets his masters gave him for literary expression, the masters themselves needed his exceptional skills of persuasion. Even as he supplied the propaganda they required of him, he found a means of asserting, with resourceful obliqueness, an individuality and independence of voice. Where, if anywhere, his own convictions lay cannot be authoritatively decided. What we can say is that within each public position he adopted, and most of all in his republican writing, he contrived to open a gap between opinions he was called on to propagate and ones he simultaneously fostered. “In our late wars,” he recalled in 1652, “the pen militant hath had as sharp encounters as the sword, and borne away as many trophies.”15 No writer, not even the dazzling royalist journalist Sir John Berkenhead, who was a rival of Nedham’s in the first civil war and a collaborator in the second,16 bore off as many trophies as he. Nedham won them largely through his management of news. But it was his polemic that politicians valued or feared most. His success enabled him to test to the limit the patience of his employers, or anyway the more conventional or mainstream of them, who found in his writings much to anger or trouble them.
Nedham was born in Burford in Oxfordshire. After a period at Oxford University and at Gray’s Inn, London, he rose to prominence in his early twenties as editor of the weekly parliamentarian newsbook Mercurius Britanicus, which began in 1643. The collapse of censorship in 1640-42, and the impact on the population of the civil wars and their attendant controversies, created a wide literary market that thrived on the vivid reporting of news and on plain, direct, earthy reasoning. The genre suited Nedham’s gifts, as did the war of pamphlets that paralleled that of the newsbooks. Britanicus championed the radical element within the parliamentarian cause. It attacked “lukewarm wretches,” “moderate friends,” and “neuters” who regretted the outbreak of the war or who wanted to end it on terms that would leave the king scope for renewed misrule. The war, Nedham urged, must be fought to the finish. He risked Parliament’s displeasure by indicating that Charles might be deposed and replaced by his eldest son, the future Charles II. In 1645-46, as the war neared its end, Nedham went too far. Parliament, in its dealings with the king and in its depictions of him, had clung to the conventions of deference, referring reverently to “his majesty” and mainly blaming his misrule not on him but on evil advisers around him. Nedham, however, wrote of Charles’s “guilty conscience” and “bloody hands.”17 Parliament’s response was to close down Britanicus and have Nedham briefly jailed.
Now Parliament discovered the force of his motto, Nemo me impune lacessit: no one strikes me with impunity. First he lent his pen to the emergent Leveller movement, which was protesting the emergence of a parliamentary tyranny in place of the defeated regal one. Then in August 1647 he wrote, possibly with the connivance of the leaders of the new model army,18The Case of the Kingdom, Stated, a tract designed to facilitate negotiations between the army and the king through which both sides hoped to outmaneuver the Presbyterians. By the next month he was in the king’s employment. Charles made him editor of a new weekly newsbook, Mercurius Pragmaticus, which would run until 1649, and whose professed aim was “to write his majesty back into his throne.” It was secretly written and published in London, a city that Parliament ostensibly controlled. It did not advance a royalist theory of government. Nedham’s substantial essays in political theory were all written on the parliamentarian side. The weapon of Pragmaticus was satire, a talent that Nedham exuberantly aimed at his Puritan and parliamentarian former employers.
His transfer of allegiance to the Commonwealth in 1649 was contrived by John Bradshaw, who had presided over the trial of the king and was now president of the executive arm of the regime, the council of state. Nedham became—if he was not already—an intimate, devoted friend of Bradshaw’s19 and of Bradshaw’s equally devoted associate, the poet John Milton, who was the council’s Latin Secretary. Soon Nedham and Milton were literary partners on the Commonwealth’s behalf. In June 1650, a month after the appearance of Nedham’s The Case of the Commonwealth, the former editor of Mercurius Britanicus and Mercurius Pragmaticus launched a third newsbook, Mercurius Politicus. Milton, on the state’s behalf, was soon supervising the production of Politicus and working closely with Nedham in the preparation of its content, which frequently echoed prose written by Milton himself on behalf of the regicide and the republic.20 From September 1650 on, material from The Case began to appear as weekly editorials (an anachronistic but unavoidable term) in Politicus. Anthony Wood, whose every political instinct was repelled by the newsbook, conceded that it made Nedham “the Goliah of the Philistines . . . whose pen was in comparison with others a weaver’s beam. ’Tis incredible what influence [it] had upon numbers of inconsiderable persons.”21 Most of the material in The Excellencie of a Free-State first appeared four years earlier in weekly editorials of Politicus, between September 1651 and August 1652. That period and the developments of 1649-51 which preceded it are the first of two contexts that shall be explored in order to grasp the purposes of Nedham’s republican arguments. The second is the period of the protectorate preceding the publication of The Excellencie.
Nedham and Mercurius Politicus
Like Mercurius Britanicus in the first civil war, Mercurius Politicus spoke for the bolder spirits among Nedham’s employers. Within the new regime there were two opposing impulses. The first was a desire to entrench the revolution that had been achieved by Pride’s Purge, the regicide, and the abolition of kingship and the House of Lords. Those deeds, it was urged, should be remembered and celebrated in print, while membership of central and local government should be confined to men ready to endorse them. The nation should be bound by oath to support the Commonwealth. Royal statues and other visual survivals of monarchy should be destroyed. The opposite impulse was toward the broadening, not the restriction, of the regime’s base. Many Members of Parliament who had been expelled from the Commons at Pride’s Purge or had then voluntarily withdrawn from it returned to it after the execution of the king. Even among those who had remained at Westminster during the king’s trial, there were a number who had resented the purge and were troubled by the regicide. Returning members held those sentiments more keenly. They wanted to relegate the execution of Charles to the past and to heal the wounds that it had caused. The purge, they hoped, would be at least partly undone and an attempt would be made to return to the original, limited goals of Parliament in 1642, from which the regicide and the establishment of the republic had deviated.
In that contest John Bradshaw was a leading figure on the radical side. Milton’s and Nedham’s publications backed his stance.22 Like Britanicus before it, Politicus disparaged “lukewarm,” “neutral,” “moderate” men. It urged that power and voting rights should be the prerogative of the Commonwealth’s “party of its own,” “men of valour and virtue,” “sensible of liberty,” who had dared to carry out or endorse the regicide and who now resisted the temporizing instincts of their colleagues. Nedham hailed the memory of Pride’s Purge, that “noble act,” and of the regicide, so “noble” and “heroic an act of justice,” “one of the most heroic and exemplary acts of justice that was ever done under the sun.”23 To royalists, the regicide had been a deed of sacrilege against the divinely appointed ruler. Nedham, determined to strip kingship of its mystery, laughed at Charles’s heir, “young Tarquin.”
In the editorials of 1651-52 that would reappear in The Excellencie, Nedham developed and expanded the republican thinking that he had announced in The Case of the Commonwealth in 1650. Now The Excellencie’ s argument appeared in a sprightlier form, one designed to attract a wider readership than The Case. The learned apparatus of The Case was omitted. There were individuals in the Rump, chief among them Henry Marten, Thomas Chaloner, and James Harrington’s literary partner Henry Neville, who likely encouraged Nedham’s republican advocacy.24Politicus backed adventurous social and commercial policies that were pursued by those figures in Parliament. It also shared their irreverent wit and their detachment from the Puritan solemnity that characterized the run of parliamentary opinion. They were travelled men, of cosmopolitan outlook, ready to look beyond the traditions and perspectives of native political thought. Powerful as those Members of Parliament could sometimes be, they stood outside the parliamentarian mainstream. Nedham’s friend Milton noticed how few of England’s new leaders had been abroad.25 The nation, he believed, would never gain political health until it imported “ripe understanding and many civil virtues . . . from foreign writings and examples of best ages.”26Politicus concurred.
But would the majority in the Commons welcome Nedham’s editorials? And could his newsbook convert the public rather than antagonize it? Margaret Judson has observed that, as a rule, “republican ideology” had “only a minor role” in the literature written on behalf of the Rump.27 The republican arguments that Nedham first voiced in The Case of the Commonwealth may have been formulated in his mind long before its publication. Mercurius Britanicus had slyly cast admiring glances at the Dutch republic and other “free states.”28 In November 1646 Nedham contributed to a tract, Vox Plebis; or, The Peoples Out-Cry Against Oppression, Injustice, and Tyranny, which was written on behalf of the Leveller leader John Lilburne. There Nedham used arguments derived from the Discourses of Machiavelli. On that occasion he did not employ Machiavelli’s thinking to argue for kingless rule. However, he did deduce from it points that in Politicus would reappear, in similar language, to support that purpose.29 Nevertheless, it was not until 1650 that he espoused republicanism in print. Much of the republican material that would resurface in Politicus may already have been drafted when The Case appeared, or it may have been first written in the year or so after the publication of that tract.30 But it was not until September 1651, when Cromwell’s victory at Worcester achieved the final defeat of the royalist cause, that the republican editorials began. It seems likely that the “Discourse” of 1650 had tested the water and that only after Worcester was the water deemed warm or safe enough for the adventurous campaign of Politicus.31
The campaign was conducted against a background of mounting international self-assertion by the Commonwealth. Alongside its exploits on the battlefield, it had built a formidable navy and was ready to use it. In 1652 it embarked on an epic naval war with the Dutch, whose rapid rise to commercial and maritime prosperity had been the economic miracle of the age. Algernon Sidney (or Sydney), an energetic member of the Rump in its later stages, and a writer as eager as Politicus that the English should emulate the wisdom and virtue of republican Rome, would rejoice to recall in his Discourses Concerning Government, written under Charles II, the exploits of the Rump, which “in a few years’ good discipline . . . produced more examples of pure, complete, incorruptible, and invincible virtue than Rome or Greece could ever boast.”32 The republicanism of Politicus drew on the Commonwealth’s achievements too. Nedham had already proclaimed in The Case that England’s new rulers were in “every way qualified like those Roman spirits of old.” In 1652 Politicus avowed that England’s “high achievements” since “the extirpation of tyranny” “may match any of the ancients” (p. 145); in another publication of the same year Nedham described England as “the most famous and potent republic in this day in the world,” indeed, “the greatest and most glorious republic that the sun ever saw,” though he here made an exception of Rome.33
Yet if the editorials congratulated England’s new rulers, they also had less comfortable messages for them. The overt and primary purpose of Politicus, the one for which Nedham was paid, was to assist the entrenchment of the republic and the overthrow of its royalist enemies. He presented his proposals as means to “preserve” the Commonwealth from its enemies abroad, and as “banks” or “bars” or “bulwarks” against the return of monarchy. Behind his endorsement of the regime, however, there lay criticism of it, in which Nedham’s individuality of voice asserts itself. The Rump sought to preserve its power by clinging to the improvised settlement of 1649. That settlement, Nedham indicated, could not last. He made it clear that it was not enough for the Rump to have declared England a Commonwealth and Free State, as it had done in May 1649. The nation must become “free indeed” (pp. 46, 50, 139), “a state . . . really free” (pp. 45, 144, 149, 156). It must set aside its insular preoccupations and explore the histories of republics ancient and modern. It must emulate their virtues and shun their mistakes. It thus would not only secure liberty at home but would export it through its might and arms and ships, and thus free England from the threats posed by foreign kings. The Dutch war must be fought in the cause not only of national might and prosperity but of republicanism. Politicus yearned for the extinction of monarchs and of monarchical interests and instincts in the Netherlands, in Scotland, in France, and in Italy. Nedham’s statements on that theme mirror lines of the “Horatian Ode” on Cromwell’s return from Ireland in 1650 by Andrew Marvell, a poet whose writings bear many other resemblances to Nedham’s.34 Anticipating the emancipation of Scotland, France, Italy, and “all states not free,” the poem summons old visions, to which the abolition of monarchy gave a fresh intensity, of the liberation by English force of foreigners eager to rise against their native oppressors. Politicus beats the same drum.35
Nedham’s editorials roamed history for illustrations to support his thesis. In that practice he followed Machiavelli, to whose Discourses the editorials were indebted in form and content. In the popular mind Machiavelli’s was a dirty name. Nedham, like many other writers who learned from him, remembered to disavow the ruthless affront to political morality which Machiavelli’s The Prince, “that unworthy book” (p. 120), was commonly taken to constitute, though Nedham also contrived to turn Machiavelli’s depictions of statecraft to his own polemical uses. However, the Machiavelli who mainly interests Nedham is not the analyst of princely rule but the celebrator of republican virtue. Nedham’s historical examples were spread across a wider range of place and time than Machiavelli’s, but at the center of his historical attention, as of Machiavelli’s, was ancient Rome. There was nothing new in the drawing of parallels between English and Roman history. The political and imaginative literature of the Renaissance had often dwelled on them. But Renaissance writers had written under monarchy. Though they detected innumerable instructive resemblances of character or circumstance between the Roman republic and modern times, they discovered deeper and more pressing modern correspondences in the imperial monarchy, the empire that had succeeded the republic. By contrast Nedham, like Machiavelli, centered his arguments on that Roman republic, of which modern England could now be seen as a counterpart. In the spirit of Machiavelli he commends the “active,” “magnanimous,” “gallant” character of free citizens, their love of “glory and virtue,” their “lofty” aspirations and the “edge” to their spirits. He follows Machiavelli in linking republicanism to austerity, in observing the classical distinction between “liberty” and “license,” and in aligning freedom with “discipline,” “virtuous poverty,” “honest poverty” and the denial of “luxury.”36
Nedham follows Machiavelli more daringly on another front. Machiavelli had dwelled on the conflicts in republican Rome between the aristocracy, or the senatorial class or order, and the people. Nedham portrayed a parallel conflict in civil-war England. Machiavelli not only helped Nedham to free himself from insular and traditional ways of political thinking but assisted his emancipation from familiar habits of social thinking. The civil wars had not been fought in the cause of republicanism, but neither had they been wars between classes. They had been fought between sides whose leaders accepted the hierarchies and deferences of a society dominated by landlords and, in the towns, by aldermanic oligarchies. The wars had, it is true, provoked a great deal of social protest. The most conspicuous protesters were the Levellers, who in the second half of the 1640s assailed abuses of the legal system that favored the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor. They did not, however, think of themselves as contending for one order of society at the expense of another. It was Nedham who injected that perspective into political debate.
Nedham’s relations with the Levellers, being mostly hidden from posterity’s view, are a tantalizing subject. They went back at least as far as 1645, when he composed a preface to a tract written by John Lilburne, or written on his behalf.37 Nedham’s contribution to Vox Plebis, another pamphlet in Lilburne’s cause, followed in 1646. In his writings both for the royalists and for the Commonwealth, Nedham attacked and derided the Levellers, as his employers would have expected or required him to do. Despite his outward hostility, his accounts of them sometimes hint at a personal sympathy. In Politicus his withering assaults are aimed not at the Leveller program but at the “odious signification” so misleadingly carried by “the common usage and application” of the term (p. 48), which implied the levelling of property and the community of estates. In this he echoed the sentiments of the Leveller leaders themselves. For “Leveller,” though a convenient shorthand term for us, was a pejorative label, indignantly disowned by those to whom it was applied. No more than Nedham were the Levellers opposed to the tenure or protection of property. As a political party they were broken by the end of 1649, yet Nedham retained his sympathy for them. In Politicus he not only extended Leveller ideas but, innovating again, gave them a classical and Machiavellian framework.38 He also widened the readership for them. Acquaintance with classical history was not confined to the minority of the population who attended universities, even if popular knowledge of the ancient past was uneven in depth. Largely perhaps through Nedham’s influence, appeals to classical and especially Roman history became a familiar feature of popular literary production in the 1650s.39
In one sense Nedham’s championship of the people went further than Machiavelli’s. Although Machiavelli despised the parasitic gentry and favored the people’s cause, he maintained that Rome had thrived on the conflict between the two orders. The senators had thus been as necessary to Rome’s greatness as the people. Nedham at one or two points implicitly endorses that view, but his populism (as for simplicity we shall call it) had a still stronger partisan thrust than Machiavelli’s. He gives the term “the people” a double edge, which is achieved, like much else in his writings, by his talent for ambiguity. In his editorials the phrase can mean all the inhabitants of the nation, or it can exclude those who are socially privileged. The assertion in Politicus that “the original of all just power is in the people” was not in itself a populist claim. It echoes the resolutions of 4 January 1649 through which the Commons, whose members were mostly gentry, asserted its right, as the representatives of “the people,” to try the king. In the Rump’s thinking, the interests of “the people” are assumed to be those of their leaders. Likewise Nedham’s claim that “all states are founded” for the sake of “the people” was compatible with much parliamentarian argument of the 1640s that had had no contentious social dimension. Even so, like the Levellers, he presents Parliament as the servant, not the master, of the people, for “all majesty and authority is really and fundamentally in the people, and but ministerially in their trustees, or representatives” (p. 96). The ideas of consent and representation that he brings to his accounts of ancient republics owe much more to his own society than to classical thought. He places those principles at the center of his argument and gives them a socially radical dimension.40
Nedham does not count all adult males as “the people,” as one or two of the Levellers were ready to do. For him “the rabble” are beyond the political pale. Yet the tone of his statements frequently brings Leveller perceptions of the people’s rights to mind. Fluctuating and sociologically imprecise as his vocabulary is, it recasts the political contests of the time. The Rump, asserts Nedham, has removed “the name of king” but not “the thing king.” For “the interest of monarchy,” whose “custom” it “hath been to lurk under every form” of government, “may reside in the hands of many, as well as of a single person” (p. 79). It is discernible in oppression by nobles, or by “grandees,” as much as by monarchs. Only when the “interest” is “plucked up root and branch” will the “rights and freedoms” that befit a republic be secured. Those truths have been hidden, under monarchical or aristocratic rule, by the addiction to “custom” and the ill “education” that are fostered by governors who have kept “the people in utter ignorance what liberty is” (pp. 13, 30, 164).
Writing against a fluid political background, and for a regime within which the balance of power recurrently shifted, Nedham found imprecision and malleability of language indispensable tools. On one subject his ambiguities create perplexity, perhaps by design. In ancient Rome, he maintains, the initial rule of kings gave way, not to popular rule, but to the dominance of the senate. Although “the Nation” had been “accounted free” under senatorial rule, the people became “free indeed” only when they challenged it and established their own officers and their own power. In turn they were “wormed out” of their liberty at times when senatorial or noble “encroachments” undermined that achievement (p. 15). Other seventeenth-century writers took as their models ancient Sparta or modern Venice, republics renowned for stability. Those commentators distanced themselves from the memory of Athens, or at least from the anarchical aspect of its democracy. But in Nedham’s eyes the Spartan people were oppressed by “the pride of the senate.” The “multiplied monarchy” or “grandee government” of contemporary Venice left the people “little better than slaves under the power of their senate,” whereas Athens—on which Nedham hoped to write at length elsewhere—was “the only pattern of a free state, for all the world to follow,” having been free not only from “kingly tyranny” but from “senatical encroachments” (p. 11). In Rome the people’s liberties were won by the creation, in opposition to senatorial power, of “the tribunes,” “that necessary office,” and by the legislative role of “the people’s assemblies” (pp. 10, 26). Only then could Rome, which had long been “declared” a free state, be properly called one.
What then of England’s constitutional arrangements? Most of the time Nedham vindicates, at least implicitly, the principle of unicameral rule on which his masters had alighted. At times we might suppose his allusions to tribunes and popular assemblies to be intended to further that goal. After all, the House of Commons claimed to rule as the representative body of the people. Vox Plebis, the anonymous tract on Lilburne’s behalf of 1646, to which Nedham had contributed and which had attacked the jurisdictional powers of the House of Lords, had appealed to the House of Commons as “the most honourable tribunes of the people.”41 During the proceedings against Charles I, John Bradshaw explained that England’s parliament—which when Bradshaw spoke had been reduced to the Commons—was “what the tribunes of Rome were heretofore to the Roman Commonwealth.”42 Does Nedham mean, then, that the House of Lords has been England’s senate, and that in 1649 the Commons, England’s tribunes, rightly triumphed at the senate’s expense? Some passages of the editorials may have been prudently intended to allow for that interpretation, but there are more that confound it. In them Nedham makes it plain that the English “senate” has remained in being since 1649 and that its power and failings are the basic problem of the republic. The inescapable message, though he is careful not to spell it out, is that the equivalent to Rome’s senate is not the Lords but the Commons. Conventional parlance often referred to the Commons, flatteringly, as the senate.43 Nedham’s equation of the two is unflattering. He impels us to deduce that England will be truly free and have a true republic only when it has acquired some equivalent to Rome’s “necessary” tribunes and its popular assemblies. It is a revolutionary proposal, and to most or all members of the Rump it would have been a horrifying one. There is no surprise in its having been advanced only briefly and imprecisely.
Running throughout Nedham’s editorials is an implicit contrast between a truly free state and the oligarchical regime in power in England that claims to have created one. The contrast becomes explicit in a tract of 1651 by a collaborator of Nedham’s, Charles Hotham, a scholar of Cambridge University who was aggrieved by his recent removal from a post there. Hotham sets his ideal of “a right republical government” against the “absolute oligarchy of a Hogen Mogen” that is now in power in England.44 Nedham’s own purpose is clarified when we return to his relations with the Levellers. In raising the subject of Rome’s tribunes in Vox Plebis, the tract of 1646 written on Lilburne’s behalf, Nedham advanced an argument that strikingly anticipated his claims of the 1650s. The pamphlet recalled that after the expulsion of Rome’s “hereditary kings,” the Tarquins, “the nobility began to take upon them the rule of the people: and by a greater tyranny than the Tarquins had done.” So “the people,” “enforced by a necessity of their preservations,” “created Tribunes, as guardians of the publick liberty, whereby the insolence and arbitrary power of the nobility was restrained.”45
By 1653 Lilburne was himself making the same case in his own name. During the publication of the editorials of Politicus of 1651-52 he was exiled by the Rump. He went to Holland, and thence to Flanders, before returning to England in June 1653. In 1652, writing abroad, Lilburne praised the “notable preambles”—the editorials—of Politicus.46 They appear to explain the fascination he developed, during his exile, with classical history, about which he read “with so much delight and seriousness.” His chief inspiration was Machiavelli, whose books, “for the excellency and usefulness in corrupt times and places,” he discovered to be the best “for the good of all mankind” that he had read, worth their weight “in beaten gold” and “as useful, advantageous, necessary, and requisite to me, as a compass or perspective glass.”47 But Lilburne read Machiavelli through Nedham’s eyes, and he repeated Nedham’s arguments, often in Nedham’s wording. From the outset of its rule, Lilburne had regarded the Rump as the replacement of a regal tyranny by a parliamentary one. Now classical history proved to him that the people of England had even better reason than “the old plebeians, or common people of Rome” to “contest even to the death, for the election from amongst themselves of tribunes, or keepers, or defenders of the people’s liberties, indued with ample power, to preserve them against the annihilating encroachments, that their present tyrannical riders have already made upon them.” Thus must they assert themselves, as the Roman people had done, against “the greatest . . . patricians, noblemen, senators.”48
Nedham avowed that republics flourish when the interest of the people is “more predominant than the other” (p. 15). The people, “who best know where the shoe pinches” (p. 25), are equal, on their own, to the task of drafting and passing laws. Legislation, requiring as it does “no great skill,” is “the proper work of the people in their supreme assemblies” (p. 55). Yet there will remain a need for some institution, parallel to Rome’s senate, with which the machinery of popular involvement will “share” power. It will supply, as the Roman senate did, the “wisdom” that is requisite for the management of the executive and for the handling of “the secrets of government” (p. 15). In such statements Nedham qualifies his populism, perhaps with the aim of offering reassurance or concessions to his masters or to conventional opinion. In other passages, perhaps for the same reason, his republicanism is itself softened. Sometimes it seems that the modern deprivation of the people’s liberties has been brought about not by kingship itself but by the erosion of restraints imposed on it in earlier times. Nedham’s Machiavellian language is tempered, too, by a more comforting vocabulary, which promises the English not the animated political conflict that Machiavelli favored but the attainment of tranquillity and safety and the preservation of inherited “rights and liberties” (pp. 15, 98, 166). Machiavelli had insisted on the benefits brought to Rome by the “tumults” occasioned by its social and political divisions. To most readers in England, where fear of public disorder was an ancient and dominant feature of the political landscape, that was an alarming assertion. James Harrington, who followed Machiavelli on other fronts, renounced him on that one. Nedham by contrast does invoke Machiavelli’s teaching on tumults, yet his espousal of it is hesitant and qualified.
Even so, his claims for “the people” must have caused unease in the Rump. The unease would have been intensified by his appeal to disaffected members of the army, a body whose hostility to the Parliament grew during the period of the republican editorials and culminated in the coup of April 1653. Officers and soldiers saw themselves as champions or defenders of the cause of the people, which in their eyes the Rump was betraying. They also had grievances of their own. We know from other evidence that there was “murmuring” among the officers “that they are not rewarded according to their deserts,” that “they have neither profit, nor preferment,” that Members of Parliament were “engrossing all places of honour and profit to themselves.”49 Nedham recalled that in republican Rome the people had overthrown the monopoly of office held by the senatorial families. They had ensured that “the road of preferment lay plain to every man” (p. 28), and that “all places of honour and trust were exposed to men of merit, without distinction” (p. 29).
To the extent that the army stood for the Commonwealth’s “party of its own,” Politicus can be seen as its mouthpiece. Of the army’s political demands, none was keener or more prominent than its requirement that the Rump, the remnant of the Parliament that had sat since 1640, should dissolve itself. In its place there must be regular parliamentary elections that would root authority in the nation’s consent. “Roman stories,” urged Politicus, showed that the “people never had any real liberty” under “a standing power” (p. 10). For “the very life of liberty lies in a succession of powers and persons (p. 55)” and in the people’s possession of “a constant succession of their supreme assemblies” (p. 10). Nedham repeatedly insinuates that the Rump, in resisting the pressure to dissolve, is proving itself to be a “standing senate,” whose survival is incompatible with freedom. To the demand for fresh elections, however, there was an obvious objection. Would not an electorate so antagonistic to the Rump return a Parliament eager to destroy the cause for which the army had fought? Almost everyone accepted that former royalists would be disqualified from voting until the wounds of the recent conflict had healed. But what of Presbyterians and neutrals, who had themselves been outraged by Pride’s Purge and the regicide? Much depended on the outlook of Cromwell, lord general of the army, who was also the most powerful figure, if far from an omnipotent one, in the Commons. Recognizing the difficulties that elections would bring, he half-connived at their postponement, and by doing so incurred mistrust among the Commonwealth’s “party of its own,” which was generally less ready to acknowledge the problem. Nedham’s argument that the vote should be confined to those who had actively supported the parliamentarian war effort—the “party”—at least offered a straight forward solution. Though this proposal could not be expected to broaden the base of the Commonwealth’s support, it would remove the obvious impediment to the rapid dissolution of the Parliament for which Politicus pressed. The Rump was not convinced. In November 1651 the Parliament pledged not to sit for more than a further three years. For Nedham, that was too long.50
If the Rump remained in power, he warned, power would contract, if it had not already done so, into the hands of a clique of grandees. Naturally he did not say whom he meant, but a coalition of civilian and military grandees is perhaps the likeliest answer.51 It was not only the Rump, however, whose continuation in office Nedham challenged. Machiavelli had warned of the dangers to republican liberty posed when the power of military leaders is “prolonged.” His argument, which Nedham had taken up in Vox Plebis,52 appears again in Politicus, which repeatedly counsels against the “prolonging” or “continuing” or “protracting” of power, and against “continuing power too long in the hands of particular persons.” Nedham particularly warns, in his customary interlinear manner, against the extension of the authority of the lord general of the army. Cromwell would certainly have been one of the grandees he had in mind, for Cromwell had, on this front too, earned mistrust among the soldiery, where it was feared that his self-promotion would destroy the army’s political virtue. Nedham presents Cromwell as another Julius Caesar, whose command, like that of generals at other moments of its history, Rome fatally “lengthened.” In 1650 Marvell’s “Horatian Ode” warned that Cromwell might cross a Rubicon, “grow stiffer with command,” and acquire supreme rule.53 Nedham cites Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon to the same end (pp. 91, 98). It was after that event, he contends, that the bearing of arms, which hitherto had been a mark of citizenship, was “kept . . . out of the hands of the people.” On the same principle, intimates Nedham, Cromwell’s army might become a mercenary force, a “Praetorian” rather than a “popular militia” (p. 92).
While the editorials were being published, Cromwell was assiduously courting popular support by promises of social and legal reform.54Politicus allows us to understand his behavior as a bid for the power base from which to acquire single rule. Cromwell had indeed done heroic service for his country, as Caesar and other Roman leaders named by Nedham did for theirs, but it is precisely in the “ambition” of such men, and in the “temptation” to pursue it that will beset them, that the largest danger to liberty may lie. Caesar, after all, “who first took arms upon the public score, and became the people’s leader, le[t] in ambitious thoughts to his unbounded power” and “soon shook hands with his first friends and principles, and became another man: so that upon the first fair opportunity, he turned his arms on the public liberty” (p. 102). Likewise, “what more excellent patriot could there be than Manlius, till he became corrupted by time and power? Who more noble, and courteous, and well-affected to the common good, than was Appius Claudius?” (p. 27).
The danger to England is that the people’s “negligence, in suffering themselves to be deluded” will allow them to be “won by specious pretences, and deluded by created necessities” (p. 80) and that a “supposed great patron of liberty” (p. 97) will prove to be its enemy. Although Cromwell’s elevation would in the event be achieved through military coups, there seemed at least as much likelihood, during the period of the republican editorials, that it would emerge through the scenario against which Nedham repeatedly warns: the gradual contraction of power into a few hands and thence into a single person. The danger was the greater for being barely perceptible. Nedham recalls Tacitus’s description of the Emperor Augustus, who “never declared himself, till, after many delays and shifts, for the continuation of power in his own hands, he got insensibly into the throne” (pp. 94-95). There is also a more sinister parallel. In the opening issue of Politicus Nedham had described Cromwell as “the only”—that is, the outstanding or archetypal—“ Novus Princeps I ever met with in all the confines of history.” The words unmistakably alluded to the model of the “new prince” whose rule is the subject of Machiavelli’s The Prince. Now, in 1652, the newsbook reproduced the chapter of The Prince that recalls the wicked devices by which the “new prince” Dionysius of Syracuse, the Sicilian tyrant of the fourth century bc, achieved and maintained his tyranny. When writing on the king’s behalf Nedham had explicitly compared Cromwell to Dionysius.55 He could not name him now, but discerning readers could hardly have missed the identification. It is heightened by Nedham’s recollection that Dionysius had won his tyranny by “cloathing himself with a pretence of the people’s liberties” and had been “by that means made their general” (p. 58).
Some of Nedham’s boldest observations about the protraction of Cromwell’s command were offered in May 1652 (pp. 81-82, 85-88). They were sharply topical, for in that month the Commons resolved that the office of the lord lieutenant of Ireland, a survival from the monarchy that he had acquired in 1649, “be not continued.”56 It was in May, too, that Lilburne mentioned the “notable preambles” of Politicus. Their warnings about Cromwell were the passages invoked by Lilburne, who suspected, as perhaps Nedham did, that the lord general’s foot-dragging over the holding of parliamentary elections derived from a fear that a newly elected parliament would feel more confident than the present one in resisting his own aggrandizement. Lilburne and the Levellers had long hated Cromwell, whom they believed to have turned ruthlessly against them; they had long been dismayed by the protraction of his military authority; they had long observed the “Machiavellian pretences” by which he advanced his own power.57 The terms “junta” and “grandee,” which Politicus aims at both him and the Rump, had been used to convey their own detestation of them. They had likewise directed the term “lordly interest,” which recurrently appears in Politicus, at Cromwell.58
Lilburne returned to those subjects in a tract of 1653, in passages that again deploy the arguments and language of Nedham’s republican editorials. “Great and glorious things . . . for the people’s good,” Lilburne writes, have been “pretended” by Cromwell, so that he might thwart the people’s hopes of “constant successive parliaments” and, “Julius Caesar-like,” usurp power for himself. Lilburne himself reproduced the chapter of The Prince about Dionysius of Syracuse—and made mischievous adjustments to it that heightened its pertinence to Cromwell.59 Lilburne’s literary campaign against Cromwell in 1653 included a public letter to “my very good friend” the Member of Parliament Henry Marten, who had long been a fellow sympathizer of Nedham’s. Marten acted as a teller against the prolongation of Cromwell’s lord lieutenancy in May 1652.60 In Marten’s papers there survives a manuscript that was composed, evidently with a view to publication or circulation, in the summer of 1653, shortly after Cromwell’s forcible expulsion of the Rump. Written, or ostensibly written, by a member of the Parliament, perhaps by Marten himself and certainly by someone who held a number of his views, the paper recalled that the Rump had “lived in perpetual apprehension of what is now happened.” The Parliament, the paper added, had brought destruction on itself by its elevation of Cromwell to supreme command of the army that occupied England and that conquered Ireland and Scotland. For “nothing did render the parliament more unfit to, and indeed more uncapable to settle the government than their putting all the power into the three nations into one hand,” a decision by which it was “manifested to the world” that the parliament “understood nothing of a Commonwealth but the name.”61 Its ignorance on that subject was Nedham’s complaint too.
Alongside Nedham’s indications that Cromwell was a “kingly aspirer” (p. 21) there lay another foreboding. In the weeks before the regicide, and on occasions in the years of the Commonwealth and then of the protectorate, a proposal surfaced, sometimes within Cromwell’s circle, sometimes outside it, that he or the republic should strike a deal with the exiled court. The outcome would be the return of the Stuart line, now or at some future date, on terms that would guarantee the survival of the parliamentarians, or Cromwell himself, in power.62 It was an unlikely prospect but, Nedham evidently sensed, not an impossible one. In February 1651, when the antagonism of his patron John Bradshaw to Cromwell was sharpening, Nedham published an editorial recalling the unscrupulous achievement during the Wars of the Roses of that self-interested deposer and enthroner of kings, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (p. 17).
Although mostly concerned with advancing a political program, the editorials of Politicus advance a religious program too. It is a no less radical one. On no subject was Nedham closer to Milton, whose demand for the separation of church from state is echoed in two editorials of Politicus.63 Though Nedham’s writing has none of the spiritual dimension of Milton’s, it shares his friend’s aversion to what the two men saw as the power and bigotry of the clerical estate, especially in its Presbyterian form. As in politics, so in religion, the rulers of the Commonwealth were divided. Most Members of Parliament wanted reform of the church, but within existing structures and conceptions of state control. Only a minority took Milton’s and Nedham’s more far-reaching position. The first of the two editorials appeared on 29 April 1652, just when the Commonwealth’s debates on religious reform had reached their decisive moment. In response to that crisis Milton wrote the sonnet to Cromwell that urges him to protect the passage of God’s spirit from the contaminations of the world. The second of the editorials, on 12 August 1652, was the last one that the newsbook would publish. Perhaps its passionately worded anticlericalism, which in its audacity recalls the suicidal attacks on Charles I in the last stage of Nedham’s earlier newsbook Britanicus, explains or helps to explain the demise of the editorials. Or perhaps Nedham already knew that his sequence of republican arguments, which he may anyway have felt to have run its course, was about to be terminated, and he decided to conclude with a defiantly explosive outburst. By August 1652 the intensification of divisions within the regime had paralyzed the government’s capacity for polemical initiatives. Henceforth Politicus confined its indications of opinion to the slanting of the news it carried.64
Nedham and The Excellencie (1656)
Journalism, for which Nedham had such gifts, never satisfied him. He longed to write “treatises” that would give scope for more reflective writing and would command more public respect. “Serious truth,” he complained, “is not regarded in a pamphlet,” “the very name whereof is enough to raise a prejudice upon any other notions, how reasonable soever they be.”65 In August 1652 he concluded the last of his editorials in these words: “being confined to a few pages weekly, I have been able to give you but the bare hints of things done in haste, which may (perhaps) appear abroad in a more accomplished manner hereafter.”66
Four years later, on or around 29 June 1656, The Excellencie of a Free-State appeared.67 Most of it consisted of material reproduced, mostly in the same order, from the editorials that had run from September 1651 to August 1652, though on three occasions he returned to editorials published earlier in 1651 (one of which contained the material about Warwick the kingmaker).
Unlike the editorials, the republication presents Nedham’s material in a coherent and convenient form. It is, alas, not “more accomplished” than the earlier venture, and it is not the expanded version that is apparently anticipated by his statement that the editorials have contained only “bare hints” of his thinking. Although he made a number of adjustments to the editorials in 1656, he left their essential character and content intact. Journalists, who know that their material is soon forgotten, can afford to repeat it. If they write with a polemical purpose, as Nedham did, repetition may be necessary. To readers who encounter the editorials in their gathered form, the repetitions may be an irritant.68 Another deficiency, which lies in the opportunism and the distortions that characterize his historical illustrations, is likewise heightened when the editorials are viewed alongside each other. Perhaps those weaknesses help to explain why, as far as we can judge, The Excellencie made far less contemporary impact than the editorials had done. It did, however, resonate in two significant works by other writers. The title of Milton’s tract of 1660, The Readie and Easie Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth, and the Excellence Thereof, a book in whose composition and promotion Nedham was closely involved,69 echoes Nedham’s title: The Excellencie of a Free-State; or, The Right Constitution of a Commonwealth.70 The second writer is the Puritan politician Bulstrode Whitelocke, another associate of Nedham, whose reflections on the English constitution would acquire an eighteenth-century following. Whitelocke reproduced passages that appear in The Excellencie, without naming the book or its author, in his manuscript “Historie of the Parlement of England,” which he probably drew up after the Restoration, but in which he is likely to have drawn on notes made before it. Its main debt was to Nedham’s condemnation of the oppression of the people by classical oligarchies and to his discussion of the emergence of Rome’s tribunes and popular assemblies. On the subject of oligarchy Whitelocke “follow[ed] most the history of Rome,” “as affording most examples, and perhaps too many resemblances,” to English history.71
The publication of The Excellencie in 1656 is not to be understood merely as a bid to give permanence or status to arguments previously offered in an ephemeral form. It had another purpose. Politicus had been a vehicle for criticism of a regime of which it was simultaneously the most influential weekly organ. The Excellencie carried sharper, and more startling, criticism of the present power.72 Unlike Politicus it was not a government publication. Since Cromwell’s elevation to single rule in December 1653, Nedham had been working for the protectorate, still with Milton at his side, in the office of Cromwell’s secretary of state John Thurloe. From the beginning to the end of the Cromwellian regime, Politicus gave it unequivocal support. In February 1654 there was published, by the government printer Thomas Newcomb, who also printed Politicus, Nedham’s pamphlet A True State of the Case of the Commonwealth. It was the ablest and most influential work to appear in vindication of the new government. The regime and its supporters did what they could to promote it.73 Cromwell, in one of a number of indications that the protector turned to Nedham for help in the preparation of his speeches, would himself commend it and draw on its arguments in an address to Parliament in January 1655.74 The pamphlet was the only contemporary work to which he ever referred in such a way. It may be—for the evidence is inconclusive—that a copy of the tract was handed to each Member of Parliament during the critical debates over the authority of the protectorate in the same Parliament four months earlier.75 By contrast, the publication of The Excellencie was furtive. It made no mention of the earlier appearance of the material in Politicus. Its authorship was disguised by the pretense—or semipretense, for Nedham’s language has characteristically clever ambiguity—that the anonymous writer is a member of the army (p. 7).76 The publisher, Thomas Brewster, had a line in unorthodox or radical publications, and had fallen from government favor upon Cromwell’s elevation. Nedham took many risks in his career but none braver or rasher than the publication of The Excellencie. The treatise is an attack on the protectorate. That it did not cost him his freedom or even his job is intelligible only on the supposition that the government grasped what earlier powers had discovered: that politicians had more to gain from employing his gifts of propaganda, even at the cost of overlooking his departures from the official line, than from driving him into open opposition.77 In his survival as much as in the “tergiversations” that imperilled it, his career unseats our perceptions of Puritan politics.
The Excellencie presents itself in its preface as a response to “high and ranting discourses of personal prerogative and unbounded monarchy” that have recently been published. Nedham singles out a work that appeared in September 1655, a month before The Excellencie was registered for publication.78 This was Som Sober Inspections . . . of theLate-long Parliament (London, 1655) by the royalist James Howell. In his royalist phase in 1648, Nedham’s newsbook Mercurius Pragmaticus had called Howell “that rare gentleman” and had commended a “seasonable” antiparliamentarian publication by him, “full of high reason and satisfaction.”79 A work by Howell of 1651 about the republic of Venice had been twice endorsed in editorials of Politicus (pp. 149, 161). Now, as so often, Nedham turned against a former literary ally. In 1654 Howell had urged Cromwell to follow the course against which Nedham, in Politicus, had warned in his allusions to Warwick the kingmaker. The protector, Howell proposed, should reach an agreement with the exiled court that would allow Charles II to assume the throne on Cromwell’s death.80Som Sober Inspections has other advice for Cromwell, of a kind that would have been equally unsavory to republicans. He should rid himself, urged Howell, of the obstructive capacity of parliaments that had blighted Stuart rule.
Nedham quickly admits that The Excellencie is “not intended for a particular answer” to Howell’s tract. His decision to begin with it, however, brings him two opportunities. First, he is able to give the initial impression that his book is directed, as the government would have liked it to be, against “the family and interest of the Stuarts,” and that his own sympathies are with “his Highness,” the protector. Disloyal to the protectorate as The Excellencie is, the disloyalty is never explicit. Its extent becomes evident when we recognize the second advantage that Nedham takes of the publication of Howell’s tract. He cleverly lets Howell’s plea for unfettered single rule, and his attack on parliamentary government and on the Parliament that Cromwell had dissolved in April 1653, set the terms of his own argument. Nedham agrees with Howell that the nation faces a choice between “unbounded monarchy” and rule by a parliament—and reaches the opposite answer. Two years earlier, in A True State, Nedham had portrayed the protectorate as a middle way between those choices. He had commended the Instrument of Government, the constitution on which the protectorate based its authority, for returning to the traditional balance of power between a single ruler and Parliament. In The Excellencie the middle way is forgotten. Readers of Nedham’s preface are now invited to decide which of two courses will “best secure the liberties and freedoms of the people from the encroachments and usurpations of tyranny, and answer the true ends of the late wars”: Howell’s program, or “a due and orderly succession of the supreme authority in the hands of the people’s representatives.”
It soon becomes evident that the unbounded ruler that Nedham has in mind is not a Stuart. It is the usurper and tyrant Cromwell. It also soon becomes evident that the alternative Nedham offers is a return to the parliamentary sovereignty that Cromwell has broken. His purpose is achieved by a sleight of hand adroit even by his standards. A True State had reminded parliamentarian readers that “the original ground of our first engaging in the war” against Charles I had not been the attainment of parliamentary or republican government. The king’s opponents had fought against tyranny, not kingship. They had sought to “regulate” the “disorders and excesses” of Charles I’s rule.81 The preface to The Excellencie likewise has passages that seem reassuring to mainstream parliamentary opinion. Claiming to speak for “all” the “friends and adherents” of the Long Parliament, Nedham remembers that it took up arms “not to destroy magistracy, but to regulate it; nor to confound propriety, but to enlarge it: that the prince as well as the people might be governed by law.” Yet before we know where we are he has contrived to indicate that “the true ends of the late war” will be “answered” by the rule of sovereign parliaments, which will make England “a glorious commonwealth.” For in The Excellencie the “due and orderly succession . . . in the hands of the people’s representatives” is a defining feature, even the defining one, of a “free state,” of which the book celebrates the “excellencie.” It was the sovereign parliament of 1649-53, and it alone, that had declared England a “free state.” The protectorate shunned the term.
No more than Politicus does The Excellencie provide an unambiguous vindication of the imperfect free state of 1649-53. Almost all the criticisms of the Rump that are visible in the newsbook reappear in The Excellencie. But the most damaging criticism, which had been directed at the Parliament’s reluctance to hold elections, had lost much of its force as a result of the Rump’s expulsion. Once removed from power, the victims of the coup committed themselves to the “constant succession” of parliaments that Politicus had demanded. Nedham now stands with its former members against Cromwell’s destruction of parliamentary supremacy and against the tyranny with which the protector was alleged to have replaced it. Former prominent members of the Commonwealth regime, John Bradshaw among them, protested and conspired against Cromwell’s rule. They liked to remind the protector that his expulsion of the Long Parliament had breached the treason act passed by the Commonwealth in 1649. Politicus had warned him that in accumulating power he risked “the guilt of treason against the interest and majesty of the people.” The Excellencie, by repeating that passage (p. 102), confirms his crime. Another linguistic echo works to similar effect. Under the protectorate, men of Bradshaw’s outlook, standing on the principle of parliamentary supremacy, were called “commonwealthmen” or “commonwealthsmen.” Politicus had urged the English to “learn to be true commonwealth’s-men.” That plea, too, reappears in The Excellencie (p. 81).
We cannot say why Nedham, or his publisher, delayed nine months between registering The Excellencie and publishing it. It seems likely that the book, when it went to the printer in 1656, stood as it had done, or much as it had done, the previous year82 —but with one exception. The concluding passage of the tract looks like a late addition. It reverts from the concluding editorials of Politicus to an earlier one, of November 1651, which now reappears as “a word of advice” to the electorate. The decision to call the parliament of 1656 was made at the end of May. The council’s order for the issuing of electoral writs was agreed, as Politicus informed the nation, on or around 1 July.83The Excellencie (published on or around 29 June) appeared as an election manifesto. Its advice was to elect commonwealthmen. They were active in the election campaign, none more so than Henry Neville, who had been an ally of Nedham under the Commonwealth, and the quashing of whose election by the protectorate became a cause célèbre. Cromwell’s executive council forbade all those commonwealthmen who won election in 1656 to sit in the Parliament, which in 1657 gave legislative sanction to the protectorate, brought it closer to the traditional forms of monarchy, and made Cromwell “king in all but name.”84
Around six weeks before the publication of The Excellencie, another tract hostile to the protectorate had appeared: A Healing Question Propounded (London, 1656) by Sir Henry Vane. A hero of Milton, Vane was a former member of the Long Parliament who had been a crucial ally of Cromwell in it, but who had broken bitterly with him in 1653. The Excellencie carried an advertisement for another work by Vane that was unsympathetic to the protector, The Retired Mans Meditations, which Thomas Brewster had published in 1655. In November 1656 there appeared the Oceana of James Harrington, to which Harrington’s intimate friend Henry Neville reportedly contributed, and which conformed to Neville’s own views. Oceana, like Nedham’s editorials in Politicus and like The Excellencie, has an anti-Cromwellian purpose that is intelligible only when its wording is set against its immediate political background.85 It seems that Harrington had drafted it not long after the regicide, and that in 1656 the draft was adapted, as the editorials of Politicus were in The Excellencie, to the circumstances of the protectorate. Amid a number of differences between Oceana and The Excellencie, the most pronounced of them arising from Harrington’s dislike of the spirit of political partisanship that Nedham’s propaganda espoused, there is a striking series of parallels between the republican arguments of the two men.86 If Harrington’s treatise indeed originated, like Nedham’s, under the Rump, we are left to remark on the fertility of that era in political thought and reflection, producing as it also did Hobbes’s Leviathan, the debate over the sovereignty of the sword, Marvell’s “Horatian Ode,” and the rhetorical triumph of the Defensio published by Milton on behalf of the regicide.
If Nedham was not the profoundest of the thinkers of the Commonwealth, he could at least have claimed, under the protectorate, to have been the most prophetic of them. The reappearance in The Excellencie of the warnings that Politicus had given Cromwell imparts a quality of dramatic irony to the work. But Nedham was not content to repeat those warnings. By deft adjustments of wording he points to the difference of context and of purpose between the editorials, which were written to secure and extend republican rule, and the book, which was intended to restore it. Having reminded the reader, in the first sentence of the preface, that England has been “declared” to be a “free state,” Nedham time and again alters the wording of Politicus so as to bring the term “free state” before the reader’s eye (pp. 83, 95, 98, 105). Even on occasions when the term is reproduced from Politicus, Nedham redeploys it so as to underline Cromwell’s destruction of the republic. Politicus, in urging the English not to re-admit the Stuarts, had advised them “to keep close to the rules of a free state, for the barring out of monarchy,” and had commended the founders of commonwealths, such as En gland’s rulers of 1649, who “have blocked up the way against monarchal tyranny, by declaring for the liberty of the people.” In 1656, when England had, or was getting, a new monarchy (under whatever name), Nedham amended his wording and cited “the rules of a free state, for the turning out of monarchy” and commended founders of commonwealths “who shall block up the way against monarchic tyranny” by declaring—as Nedham would have wanted the parliament of 1656 to do—“for the liberty of the people” (p. 82). Other changes likewise draw hostile attention to Cromwell’s usurpation. In Politicus “it is good commonwealth language” to maintain “that a due and orderly succession of power and persons” is the only means to preserve freedom and avoid tyranny. In The Excellencie “it was, and is, good commonwealth language” to do so (p. 23). In Politicus, the people are “now invested” in the possession of the “excellent” government of a free state: in the tract, they “but the other day were invested” in it (p. 81). The arguments of Politicus were replies to “all objecting monarchs and royalists”: The Excellencie, to remind readers that a new kind of kingly power had arisen in the Stuarts’ place, answered “all objecting monarchs and royalists, of what name and title soever” (p. 52). Another change enabled Nedham to glance at what he, and not he alone,87 mockingly called the “holy war” which from the end of 1654 Cromwell had been fighting against Spain and which The Excellencie ascribes not to the zealous anti-Catholic motives professed by the regime but to the sinister principle of “reason of state” (p. 108). Further alterations enabled Nedham to use two terms that the commonwealthmen habitually applied to Cromwell’s regime after his assumption of the protectorate. First, like them he alludes to the “apostacy” of those who support it (p. 42). Second, like the commonwealthmen, who refused to call Cromwell “protector,” he instead alludes to him as the “general” (p. 58), the military title which his own ambition had prolonged, and by virtue of which he had seized power in April 1653.88 He does, however, reproduce from Politicus his commendation of Rome’s tribunes as the “protectors” of the people—but the noun is now italicized, a change that hints at the unhappy contrast between the Roman past and the English present (p. 13).89
When, in October 1655, Nedham registered The Excellencie, the protectorate’s fortunes were low. Its attempt to secure parliamentary sanction for the Instrument of Government in the previous winter had been rebuffed, and it had resorted instead to the military rule of the major-generals. Over the summer of 1655 there seem to have been discussions within the regime, perhaps born of desperation, of a proposal to return to hereditary rule under the Cromwell family, a prospect that could have prompted or speeded the composition of The Excellencie. Late in the summer news came through of the humiliating defeat of an ambitious expedition sent by Cromwell to attack the Spanish empire in the new world. The political and fiscal paralysis that would induce the government to call the parliament of 1656 was already apparent. Perhaps Nedham, as at other times in his career, was preparing to jump ship. But there is an alternative, or additional, possibility. Under the Rump his arguments, offensive or troubling as they must have been in varying degrees to a high proportion of the nation’s rulers, would have had support or protection from such radical figures as John Bradshaw and Henry Marten. Perhaps he had protectors, or even supporters, in Whitehall now. The protectorate, like the Rump before it, was a divided regime. Alongside those who wanted to steer it toward the resumption of monarchy, there were men, the military leaders Charles Fleetwood and John Desborough—Cromwell’s sonin-law and brother-in-law—at their fore, who saw the protectorate as a means to preserve the nation and the Puritan cause from the anarchy into which it had descended in 1653, but who resisted the monarchical trend that had followed Cromwell’s elevation. In opposition to it they were ready, in the manner of many politicians of the era, to endorse the publication of arguments bolder than their own positions. Fleetwood gave Sir Henry Vane encouragement to write A Healing Question Propounded. In 1654 Desborough had striven to protect a writer, John Streater, whose statements of republican principles were remarkably close to Nedham’s.90 He was, however, more vulnerable than Nedham. Being inflexibly committed to his principles, he had nothing to offer the government in return for toleration of his arguments. In 1654 he got into trouble for publishing a “discourse” in which “the excellence of a free state was maintained, and the inconveniences of a tyranny or single person were fully demonstrated.” Troops were sent to Streater’s house, perhaps at Thurloe’s behest, to silence him.91 In 1656 Streater would be the printer of Harrington’s Oceana.
Fleetwood and Desborough, however troubled they might have been by Nedham’s main argument, could have been expected to welcome certain of the adjustments that were made in The Excellencie to material that had appeared in Politicus. In The Excellencie Nedham fleetingly and tentatively allows for a possibility that he had ruled out in 1651-52 and that the tract of 1656 otherwise excludes: the appointment of a king, who would be “chosen by the people’s representatives, and made an officer of trust by them” (p. 41). In some men’s eyes, at least, that proposal would have been compatible, as the principles laid down on behalf of the protectorate in Nedham’s A True State in 1654 would not have been, with the sovereignty of Parliament, to which the king would be subordinate. The wording recalls that of the army when, before its march on London in December 1648, it contemplated the enthronement of an elected monarch.92Politicus had insisted that England’s republic be kept free from “mixture” with any other form of government. That stipulation was omitted from The Excellencie (p. 141). Perhaps the reminder in the preface that parliament had fought the king so that “the prince as well as the people might be governed by law” was another hint that the unqualified republicanism demanded by the main body of the tract was not nonnegotiable. Support could have been found within The Excellencie for the continuation of Cromwell in office, with reduced powers defined and delegated by a sovereign parliament.
Not only was it a solution that might have satisfied Fleetwood and Desborough. It would have more or less accorded with the goals of Presbyterian members of the Parliament of 1654-55 who had been appalled by the pure republicanism of the commonwealthmen, and who had accordingly been ready to help keep the protectorate in being, but who had insisted that the definition of the protector’s powers was a matter for Parliament alone. The editorials of Politicus had recalled the misconduct of those Members of Parliament and their allies in 1647. The Excellencie dropped those accusations (pp. 139, 158, 170, 173), which in any case now belonged to the past. Nedham does nothing to indicate any diminution of his aversion to Presbyterian bigotry, but he does omit the last of the editorials of Politicus, the more inflammatory of the two that he had directed at the clerical estate, which the Presbyterians championed. In other places on the periphery of its argument his tract likewise offers concessions, or the hope of them, to political groups distant from the commonwealthmen.
In their despair and anger at Cromwell’s usurpation, commonwealth-men had tried to form an anti-Cromwellian front, a tactic that would be repeated by Henry Neville and allies of his in the elections of 1656.93 The commonwealthmen even appealed, as Levellers had sometimes done in the years since 1649, to those fellow victims of Cromwellian or military rule, the royalists, whom The Excellencie also aspired to win over. Even though it remained hostile to the memory of Charles I, and even though it offered royalists, at least for the time being, no prospect of participation in politics, the tract took a much softer line against the Stuart cause than Politicus had done. The phrase “the late tyrant,” used of Charles I in Politicus, became, in 1656, “the late king” (pp. 37, 67, 92, 98). In the same year Harrington’s republican treatise Oceana likewise shielded Charles from the charge of tyranny. To Harrington, as to Nedham in The Excellencie, the tyrant was Cromwell.94Politicus had vilified “the odious . . . name of Stuart,” but The Excellencie replaced it with that of Richard III, the usurping king and former lord protector, whose name stood, in antiprotectoral thinking, for the usurper Cromwell.95 The social radicalism of the newsbook, which had corresponded to a marked trend of the political writing and agitation of 1651-52, but which would have exercised less public appeal by 1656, was toned down in The Excellencie. Criticisms of the social oppression which Politicus had discerned in the oligarchical republic of Venice were now reduced. The term “public popular militia” gives way to the tamer “public militia” (p. 92). Even as Nedham prepares, in the preface to The Excellencie, to argue for a contentious and animating political programme, he offers the prospect that the nation can become “a quiet habitation” where “none might make the people afraid.” By such tactics does he seek to portray the republicanism of Politicus as the natural creed not only of the radicals in parliament and army but of the broad, essentially conservative parliamentarian cause. To that end the republicanism is presented in what, at least to outward appearances, is a diluted form. Neville and other republicans would adopt the same tactic in Parliament in 1659.96
The Republication of The Excellencie (1767)
The republication of The Excellencie in 1767 has its context too. Behind it there lies a story that goes back about seventy years to 1698-1700, a decade or so after the Revolution that deposed James II and brought William III and Mary II to the throne. In those years a group of radical Whig writers and publicists, of whom the most active was the deist John Toland, revived the republican arguments of the Cromwellian and Restoration eras by publishing or, in most cases, republishing books that had advanced them. Writings by John Milton, Algernon Sidney, James Harrington, Henry Neville, and Edmund Ludlow were brought or brought back into print.
It was a brave venture.97 Since the Restoration the memory of the regicide, and of the military and sectarian anarchy that followed it, had discredited republican arguments. In the 1690s two rival views of the midcentury convulsion emerged among the Whigs. Mainstream Whigs were eager, in the face of Tory accusations of seditious purpose, to demonstrate their affection for the established constitution. They dwelled on the memory not of 1649 but of the Revolution of 1688, which had brought them to power and which had preserved rather than destroyed the monarchy. To radical Whigs, by contrast, 1688 had been a missed opportunity to reassert the principles that had brought Charles I to account and to achieve the radical curtailment, possibly even the elimination, of the monarchy. So long as the post-Revolutionary regime of William III was fighting for survival against France, which had taken up the cause of the exiled Stuarts, the radical case was only intermittently advanced. After the Peace of Ryswick in 1697 it was boldly articulated. The Peace handed an inflammatory issue to republicans. They castigated the determination of the Whig ministry to retain an army in peacetime, a move, they alleged, that recalled the military rule of Cromwell. As in the 1650s, it was implied, so in the 1690s: a regime that had claimed to replace a tyranny had acquired its own tyrannical properties.
Of the republican writers who had had roles in the civil wars and whose works were published or revived at the end of the century, one name is conspicuously absent: Nedham’s. The omission not only confined his tract to obscurity but also restricted the impact of the edition of 1767. By that time the republican writings that Toland and his allies did publish had become well known, so much so that it would be difficult for Nedham’s writing to add much to them. But if Toland and his allies never mentioned Nedham’s name, they did make silent use of him. In 1697 one of the principal tracts of the standing army controversy, apparently written by Toland in association with Walter Moyle and John Trenchard, appropriated, without acknowledgment, paragraphs in which Nedham had sung the praises of citizen militias, the republican alternative to standing armies.98 In 1698 a separate contribution to the standing army debate by Toland, his tract The Militia Reform’d, borrowed briefly from the same passage by Nedham.99 The material on which Toland, Moyle, and Trenchard drew had appeared both in Politicus and in The Excellencie, and it is impossible to be certain from which of the two sources the passage was taken. The likely answer is Politicus, a work that had been drawn to public attention in 1692 in a biographical account of Nedham by the antiquary Anthony Wood—although Wood’s text does not name The Excellencie among Nedham’s other publications. Wood also mentions Nedham’s authorship of Politicus, but again does not refer to The Excellencie, in his brief life of Milton, in which Nedham figures as a friend of the poet. Wood’s descriptions of Nedham lodged themselves in the public mind. Thanks to them, Politicus would be much more widely known about than The Excellencie until the republication of the tract in 1767.100The Excellencie itself seems to have come close to disappearance between the Restoration and the republication of 1767.101 Toland’s circle may not have been aware of its existence. Toland did, however, republish a work that had been closely connected to Nedham’s republican writings: The Grounds and Reasons of Monarchy (1650) by John Hall, who had been a contributor to Mercurius Politicus. It was included in the edition of the works of James Harrington published by Toland in 1700. In the original version the authorship had been indicated solely by the initials “J.H.” Perhaps Toland, when he decided to reprint the tract, supposed that Harrington was the author, or else believed that the status of the work would be enhanced if it could be passed off as his. If so, he must have withdrawn the attribution before publication. The preface to the volume acknowledges that the work is not Harrington’s but does not say what it is doing in an edition of Harrington’s works.102
The spirit and energy of Hall’s tract, and the vigor and candor of its republicanism, would have appealed to Toland. So would the liveliness of Nedham’s prose. But even if Toland did know of The Excellencie, would he have considered publishing it? Nedham’s social radicalism, though it might have had some appeal to Toland himself, would have gone against the grain of the political and social thought of the late seventeenth century, when radicals felt either inclined or obliged to acknowledge the dependence of liberty on the power of magnates with the wealth to sustain the independence of the crown.103 Further and perhaps stronger reasons against the republication of The Excellencie would have been supplied by the immediate political context in which, and the political purpose for which, Toland worked. The proposal to maintain the army in peacetime provoked a reaction not only among radical Whigs but among Tories. Toland’s patron Robert Harley, a statesman with a Whig past and a Tory future, saw in the issue an opportunity to create a “country” alliance, drawn from both parties. It would be united by opposition to the recent expansion of the executive and of its resources of patronage, developments that, it was alleged, had weakened both the virtue and the independence of Members of Parliament. The country party would attack not only the potential of a standing army to oppress the nation but the accompanying corruption and venality of the government and the court. Toland wanted to present his heroes of the civil wars not as incendiary figures but as men—preferably landed men—whose virtue and constancy had been impervious to corruption by either Charles I or Cromwell.
Like Nedham (and like Henry Neville) before him, Toland diluted a radical message to broaden its appeal. Yet, again like Nedham (and Neville), he did so with the purpose of luring moderate opinion toward radical solutions. The champions of liberty in the civil wars, Toland invites readers to infer, had not been firebrands. Solemn and responsible reflection had convinced them that only by bringing tyranny to account, or by fundamental constitutional change, could the freedom of the subject be achieved or maintained. He made the views of those heroes seem the natural companion to their uprightness of character. By taking huge editorial liberties he transformed Ludlow’s personality to bring it into line with “country” values.104 It would have been impossible to do the same with Nedham. The account of his life that Wood published in 1692 had brought the venal mutations of “this most seditious, notable and reviling author” to public attention. It is no surprise that the writers of the tract that five years later appropriated Nedham’s arguments for citizen militias concealed their source. In the following year Toland’s laudatory biography of Milton absorbed material from the earlier lives of the poet by Wood and by Milton’s nephew Edward Phillips, but omitted the recollection of those writers that Nedham had been among Milton’s friends.105
In the eighteenth century the editions of seventeenth-century writers that Toland and his friends did bring into print—Milton, Sidney, Harrington, Neville, Ludlow—were the dominant works in what Caroline Robbins, in her seminal book The Eighteenth-Century Commonwealthman half a century ago, called a “sacred canon” of “Real Whig” texts.106 Their long-term influence, especially their place in “the ideological origins of the American Revolution,” is now widely recognized.107 But by the mid-eighteenth century the impact of Toland’s publications, in England at least, had begun to fade. Toland had sought to merge republicanism with hostility to corruption. Under the first two Georges, hostility to corruption intensified, but republicanism was in retreat.108 The revival and the renewed impact of the canon were the achievement of a second series of publications, this one spread over a longer period. Two men were responsible for it: Richard Baron and Thomas Hollis. It was they who achieved the republication of The Excellencie in 1767. Although they had their allies and sympathizers, they can hardly be said to have led a movement. Hollis’s “dissemination of ideas,” as Caroline Robbins remarked, “was a strictly private enterprise.”109 Although he had many connections in the antiquarian and bookselling worlds, his allies in the promotion of his program were very few.110 There is something of the eccentric loner about both him and Baron. There is also a streak of over sensitivity, perhaps of paranoia. And there is an absence of guile, a feature that sharply distinguishes both men from their predecessor in the field, Toland. Hollis was called by Horace Walpole “as simple a soul as ever existed”111 and by Dr. Johnson “a dull, poor creature as ever lived.”112 Yet by his own lights his labors on liberty’s behalf had far-reaching results.
We know much less about Baron113 than about Hollis. Born at Leeds and educated at Glasgow, Baron was an impecunious writer, plagued by ill health and family misfortune, a man of artless and uncompromising idealism and of impetuous and splenetic temperament. In his youth he was a devotee of Thomas Gordon, the author, with John Trenchard, of Cato’s Letters.114 In 1751 Baron began the revival of the “sacred canon” by producing new editions of the Memoirs of Edmund Ludlow and the Discourses of Algernon Sidney.115 His views on seventeenth-century history were notably outspoken. In the Ludlow edition, which enabled the reader, explained Baron, to admire the “principles” on which “those men acted, who passed sentence on King Charles I,”116 he included the speech which John Cook, whom the Rump had appointed to conduct the prosecution of Charles I, had planned to deliver at the trial. In 1752 Baron edited a collection of tracts, The Pillars of Priestcraft and Orthodoxy Shaken (London, 1752), which included a sermon delivered in New England two years earlier by Jonathan Mayhew that had famously applauded Charles’s execution. In 1753 Baron produced a new edition, in two volumes, of Milton’s prose works.117 In 1756 he published a hitherto unknown second edition, from 1650, of Milton’s attack on the recently executed Charles I, Eikonoklastes. Baron announced his own principles and purposes in a preface, where he explained that the edition was designed to “strengthen and support” “the good old cause.” “The good old cause” was the label that seventeenth-century regicides and commonwealthmen had claimed for themselves. It was also the ideal, announced Baron’s preface, “which in my youth I embraced, and the principles whereof I will assert and maintain whilst I live.”
He presented a copy of the publication to “my much honoured and esteemed friend, Thomas Hollis.”118 Hollis was born in 1720 and died in 1774, six years after Baron (whose year of birth is unknown). Like Baron he had Yorkshire connections, but his background was otherwise quite different. He was rich, Baron poor. Hollis, though he lived in London, had estates in Dorset. Maintaining that the political corruption of the age ran so deep as to incapacitate virtue at Westminster, he decided not to seek a seat in Parliament. Instead he sought to influence opinion through the publication and republication of works in “the cause of liberty” or “the cause of truth and liberty.” Thus would he champion—in the phrase he highlighted when remembering the martyrdom of Algernon Sidney, who had been executed for treason after a rigged trial in 1683—“the OLD CAUSE.”119 The canon, and the values it represented, would be profoundly indebted to Hollis’s munificence. He subsidized expensive editions of canonical works. He had handsome copies, individually bound and inscribed, sent to individuals and libraries in Britain; in North America (where the principal beneficiary was the library of Harvard College);120 and on the European Continent, where they reached the Netherlands,121 Sweden, France, Germany, Russia, Italy, and Corsica. “Books of government,” he explained, were what he “delighted most to send,” for “if government goes right all goes right.”122 He arranged and financed the publication of excerpts from the canonical works in the gazettes. He had fresh editions of Ludlow and Harrington printed; he planned new ones of Milton and Neville; and he tried to get the political works of Andrew Marvell republished. Although Hollis normally left the bulk of the editorial work to others, there were two significant exceptions. In 1761 he produced his own edition of Toland’s life of Milton, together with Amyntor, the sequel Toland had published in 1699.123 Then, in 1763, came the most laborious and perhaps the most influential of his publishing ventures, his loving edition of Sidney’s Discourses, which he had undertaken, as he recorded in his diary, “without a single bye view, and ALONE for the love I bear to liberty and his memory” and for “the benefit of my countrymen and mankind.”124 The editions of Sidney and Toland carried extensive annotations that reinforced the texts with pleas for liberty extracted from other works, often from other times.
When Baron’s edition of Eikonoklastes appeared in 1756, his friendship with Hollis, warm as it evidently was, was of recent origin.125 At least by 1759, when Hollis’s diary begins and we can follow its course, the relationship had become close.126 The two men would meet frequently and at length, sometimes at Hollis’s chambers in Lincoln’s Inn, sometimes near Baron’s home at Blackheath. They found much common ground in their dismay at the condition of “the times”—a favorite lament of Hollis.127 They were appalled by the crown’s treatment of the American colonies, and went out on a limb in their ardent support for the colonists’ cause.128 Jonathan Mayhew, whose explosive sermon of 1750 had been reprinted by Baron and invoked by Hollis,129 became Hollis’s principal contact with the American movement of resistance.130 In the colonists’ cause he “found himself,” as Robbins wrote, “slowly but inexorably cast in the new role of interpreter to England of American sentiments.”131 His American ally Andrew Eliot told him that, were it not for the information sent over by him, “we should be quite ignorant of what is said either for us or against us” in England.132 There was much else to unite Hollis and Baron. Both men, preoccupied by the venality of contemporary English politics, looked to the abolition of borough constituencies as the sole means to end it.133 The political radicalism of the two friends was partnered by a vigorous and vigilant antipathy, on which a rounded account of their lives would have much to say, to clericalism and to ecclesiastical and doctrinal intolerance, evils of which they likewise discerned a revival in their own time. Both men presented themselves as assertors of “civil and religious liberty,”134 a phrase Hollis liked to inscribe in presentation copies of the books he promoted. They were dismayed not merely by the political and religious tendencies of the age but by its moral character and by the degeneration of public and private virtue. They were scandalized by the appeal of novels and romances to young men who preferred reading them to the strenuous study of the texts of liberty.135
Their closest bond, however, was the hold of the seventeenth century on their minds. They sought out scarce tracts from the period. Hollis, who also tracked down civil-war manuscripts, compiled a large collection of pamphlets of that time. He made selections from them available to two historians whose writings on the seventeenth century he did what he could to assist: Catharine Macaulay, the author of a prodigiously successful History of England, and Hollis’s own friend William Harris, the biographer of Cromwell and Charles II.136 Hollis took Baron’s edition of Eikonoklastes to his heart. He inserted his own extensive annotations between the leaves of copies of the work. In a copy he sent to Harvard he also inserted a copy of Charles I’s death warrant, which had been printed by the Society of Antiquaries in 1750.137 He delighted in the intended speech of John Cook that Baron had reprinted. He heavily annotated Cook’s tract of 1652, Monarchy No Creature of God’s Making, which vindicated, as Hollis exultantly remarked, “that famous piece of justice of January 30 164,” the regicide, “in which we have great cause to rejoice.” He drew attention to other vindications of the king’s execution and publicized the desire of the regicide Thomas Scot, as recorded in Ludlow’s Memoirs, to have inscribed on his tomb the words “Here lieth one who had a hand and a heart in the execution of Charles Stuart late King of England.”138
Hollis sighed to remember the courage, and the vigilance for liberty, that in the seventeenth century had emboldened men to bring a tyrant to account. It dismayed him to compare those elevated figures with their “progeny,” the men of his own time, who had “arrived” “to such a comfortable pitch of inattention and insensibility, to such a total extinction of the public spirit.”139 Not only were freedom and virtue now insufficiently valued, but the principles that had sustained the Stuart tyranny were reasserting themselves. The overthrow of the Whig ascendancy after the accession of George III in 1760 provoked many comparisons between the king’s favorite minister, the Earl of Bute, and the Duke of Buckingham under Charles I;140 many anxieties about the return of “the Laudean-times”;141 many fears that divine-right or patriarchal theories of government were returning. “The rod of oppression,” it was remarked, “may as well be held over [the people’s] head by a Charles as a George.”142 Since the Restoration, church and law had commanded the annual remembrance of the blasphemous execution of Charles I on 30 January 1649 and the happy enthronement of Charles II on 29 May 1660. The commemorations, which often brought public controversy, seemed to Hollis to be arousing worrying new sentiments. In the mid-1760s, noticing the “great singularity and boldness” with which “Jacobites and Papists” had come to celebrate each 29 May, he feared that the mood would escape public control.143 He himself liked to draw public attention to the two anniversaries, but in an opposite spirit: 30 January was for him a day for reverential memory, 29 May one for national shame.144 His view of the Restoration commanded a wider potential appeal than his admiration for the regicide, for since 1688 the ruling order had hesitated or declined to defend the reign of Charles II, when corruption, degeneracy, and arbitrary tendencies in government were held to have prevailed. Likewise there were many readers who, while they might have been horrified to remember the killing of Charles I, would have taken no pleasure in the royalist response to it, Eikon Basilike (1649), an advertisement for the divine authority of kingship that, as Hollis liked to remember, John Toland had effectively attacked.145 To land had also exploited the embarrassment within conventional opinion at the memory of the hideous executions of the regicides in 1660-62. Hollis played on the same sentiment by placing on the title page of his edition of Sidney’s Discourses the line of Samson Agonistes in which Milton had alluded to those “unjust tribunals under change of times.”
Like Baron’s, Hollis’s republication of seventeenth-century writings was designed to instruct and animate the eighteenth. As his memorial-ist Francis Blackburne would recall in 1780, Hollis aimed “to stem the pernicious current and apprise the men of England of their danger, by referring them to those immortal geniuses Milton, Sidney, Locke, &c. for instruction upon what only solid foundation the preservation of their rights and liberties depends.” “It never was more necessary,” added Blackburne, “than it has been” in the seventeen years since the republication of Sidney’s Discourses in 1763 “to let such men as Sydney speak for themselves.”146 Against the background of the Tory reaction of the 1760s, Hollis viewed the prospects of his edition of Sidney with pessimism.147 It had been planned in the last years of George II,148 but it was published, as Blackburne would recall, “at that critical period when it began to be visible that the management of our public affairs was consigned into the hands of men known to have entertained principles notoriously unfavourable to liberty,” principles “upon which those men acted who sacrificed Sydney without law or justice, to the tyranny of a profligate and licentious court and ministry.”149 Tories struck heavy blows at Sidney’s reputation, and at those of other members of the canon, in the years and decades following the appearance of Hollis’s edition.150 John Adams, the future president of the United States, recorded in his Thoughts on Government in 1776 that “a man must be indifferent to the sneers of modern Englishmen, to mention in their company the names of Sidney, Harrington, Locke, Milton, Nedham, Neville, [Gilbert] Burnet, and [Benjamin] Hoadly. No small fortitude is necessary to confess that one has read them.”151
That, however, depended on the company one kept. The Tory revival of the 1760s provoked its own reaction, which succored Hollis’s projects. He was ready to brave Tory jibes. In 1763 a newspaper article, probably written by him,152 asked “Men of England . . . what is become of the noble spirit of your ancestors! Where are your Pyms, your Hampdens, your Ludlows, your Sydneys, and all the illustrious spirits of forty-one ! Suffer not the noble memorials of them longer to be defaced by moths and cobwebs in your libraries. Bring them forth to action. . . .”153 In 1768 he caused extracts from Harrington’s Oceana to be printed in the gazettes so as to bring its “exciting, just and valuable ideas” into current political debate.154 But it was the beliefs and characters of “the divine Milton”155 and Algernon Sidney, the two seventeenth-century authors whom he most intensely admired, that he, like Baron, most zealously promoted. “All antiquity,” proclaimed Baron’s preface to Eikonoklastes, “cannot shew two writers equal to these.” Hollis reproduced that statement in his edition of Sidney’s Discourses and, with it, the observation in the same preface that “Many circumstances at present loudly call upon us to exert ourselves. Venality and corruption have well nigh extinguished all principles of liberty.”156 Though the Sidney edition was the product, as Hollis recalled, of “considerable expense” and “ great and continued labor,”157 he readily acknowledged its limitations. In light of them he commissioned a revised version, which was published in 1772 by a new editor whose improvements he handsomely acknowledged.158
Despite their shared commitments, the friendship of Hollis and Baron withered and died. By the autumn of 1760 Baron’s behavior to Hollis, as Hollis reported it, was becoming “shameful” and “most strange, extravagant, and ungrateful.”159 Perhaps two men so readily hurt by disagreement were bound to fall out. Still, Hollis knew the ability and usefulness of Baron, that “thorough friend to liberty,” and was anxious not to alienate him.160 Baron for his part depended desperately on Hollis’s largesse and on payment by him for editorial work. So the working partnership survived the friendship. In 1763, following Hollis’s republication of Sidney’s Discourses, he and Baron worked closely together on a new edition of John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, which would be published the following year. Hollis had acquired, and Baron prepared for publication, a copy of the text that contains manuscript corrections in the hand of Locke’s amanuensis Pierre Coste.161 On its publication in 1764 Hollis presented the text to Christ’s College Cambridge, where it would attract modern scholarship that has revolutionized the study of Locke’s political thought.162 In 1764 Baron and Hollis collaborated again, now on an edition of Locke’s Letters onToleration, which would be published in 1765. Baron, having compiled the text, wrote the preface, which he and Hollis “revised” and “altered” during long discussions.163
The preparation of The Excellencie for the press followed the same pattern. We cannot say whether it was Baron or Hollis who discovered the tract or first mooted its republication. But again it was Baron who did the donkeywork. The text was ready by the close of 1766, when its forthcoming publication was announced in the press.164 Baron had drafted the preface by 1 January, the date given to it in the publication. But the next day it was “altered” and “settled” in a discussion between him and Hollis that lasted nearly four hours. They discussed it again on 13 January, and again the next day, when, recorded Hollis, it was “altered in several respects, much I think for the better, and finally settled for the press.”165 As in the case of the preface to the edition of Locke, the reader may wonder that so brief a document called for such prolonged conversation. (The preface is printed in appendix B.) The book was published on or around 19 February.166
Though Hollis, who liked his exertions on liberty’s behalf to be anonymous, was happy to see the preface, and thus the edition, carry Baron’s name alone, he had his own interest in Nedham. He possessed at least some issues of Mercurius Politicus, that “celebrated journal,” “that remarkable State newspaper in favour of the Commonwealth,” as he called it.167 He transcribed an extract from one issue of the news-book (no. 56, 26 June-3 July 1651) into a copy of Baron’s edition of Eikonoklastes, as he did a passage from an issue of Nedham’s MercuriusPragmaticus.168 Hollis’s interest in Nedham took other directions too. He tried to arrange the republication of a tract of his of 1649, a plea to the Rump’s council of state to tolerate the printing of dissenting political opinion.169 Though written in the royalist cause, the pamphlet seemed to Hollis a kindred spirit of Milton’s Areopagitica. Hollis delighted to discover Nedham’s translation and edition of John Selden’s Of the Dominion of the Seas, which had been published in 1652.170 In it he found testimony to the assertion of England’s might in the 1650s, an achievement that again shamed the present, and that inspired him to applaud the naval and foreign exploits of the Rump,171 the government under which Nedham’s edition of Selden was compiled. He cited Nedham’s description of that regime as “the most famous and potent republic this day in the world.”172
In the spring of 1767 Hollis was planning fresh editions of works by Milton, Marvell, and Locke. He hoped that Milton’s prose works would appear in a version superior to Baron’s hastily compiled edition of 1753, and would be adorned, like Hollis’s editions of Sidney and of Toland’s life of Milton, with extensive annotations and quotations. Nedham would have been one of the authors cited.173 Hollis wanted Baron to compile the texts of the Marvell and Milton editions, but after “much discourse” Baron judged himself “not equal to the task, for want of anecdotes, [and] did not seem inclined to undertake” the Marvell project, while the plan for a new edition of Milton’s prose works foundered after a quarrel, involving both Hollis and Baron, with the prospective publisher, Andrew Millar.174 It was Millar who, alone or with others, had published the eighteenth-century editions of Baron and Hollis—that is, Baron’s editions of Ludlow and Milton in the 1750s, Hollis’s editions of Milton and Sidney in the early 1760s, and The Excellencie in 1767.
In January 1768, a year after the preparation of The Excellencie for the press, Baron died. The Excellencie seems to have been his last production. Hollis, deprived of his assistance, was dismayed by the demise of “an old acquaintance, once a friend, of great genius and infirmities.”175 He assisted Baron’s distressed family and, “from regard to his memory,” supported his wife “although, as often informed, a drunken, bad hussey.”176 Hollis’s own labors were beginning to wilt. In 1770 he would retire to his Dorset estates,177 where he now named farms or fields after friends of liberty, Nedham among them.178
The preface of 1767 concedes the inferiority of The Excellencie to the “incomparable writings” of Milton, Harrington, Sidney, and Locke. It nonetheless commends the book as one of “many lesser treatises on the same argument” that “deserve to be read and preserved,” and it describes Nedham as “a man, in the judgement of many, inferior only to Milton.” It looks forward to the prospect of further republications of second-rank seventeenth-century works if opportunity should arise. Yet no such volumes appeared. In Hollis’s publishing activities The Excellencie had a low priority. The humble octavo form of the edition of 1767 distinguishes it from the handsome and costly editions, in folio and quarto, of his other republications from the seventeenth century. On only one subject, the commendable practice of classical antiquity in revering the slayers of tyrants, does he ever seem to have quoted The Excellencie in writing of his own, and even then not in print.179 Since he republished the book, we must suppose that he approved the thrust of its arguments, or anyway judged that their reappearance would be of public benefit. The virtues and histories of the classical republics had supplied his earliest lessons in liberty.180 Of the “lesser” seventeenth-century books that he might have republished, it was The Excellencie, that innovative analysis of the Roman republic, that he singled out. Why then did he not promote the publication more widely and more boldly?
Perhaps his admiration for the tract was tempered by unease. For one thing, there were the belligerence and candor of Nedham’s republicanism. Francis Blackburne called Richard Baron “a high-spirited republican,”181 which he likely enough was. The little we know of Baron suggests that he at least is unlikely to have had any qualms about the content of The Excellencie. But Blackburne was careful to defend Hollis’s memory from the imputation of republicanism, which had fallen on Hollis when he republished Sidney’s Discourses.182 Hollis could hardly have complained of the charge, since the edition, as well as commending the exploits of the English republic abroad, had described Sidney as “both by inclination and principle, a zealous republican” and had invoked the parliamentary declaration that vindicated the abolition of monarchy in March 1649.183 Hollis loved to remember examples of republican virtue and heroism and courage and to publish the evidence for them.
But there were lines to be drawn. The spirit of past republics, even their forms of rule, could be openly admired across a wide range of eighteenth-century opinion, so long as authors did not call for kingless government in the present day. Nedham’s tract is a polemical demand for the elimination of the forms and spirit of monarchy. Hollis did, it is true, feel able to press on the public’s attention, in words he took from Toland, the scheme of republican government that had been proposed in Harrington’s Oceana, which “for practicableness, equality and completeness” was “the most perfect model of a commonwealth that ever was delineated by ancient or modern pen.”184 But Harrington’s proposals, which were advanced without the aggression that marked Nedham’s writing, had lost their revolutionary sting by the eighteenth century. Writers had learned to detach from his nonmonarchical framework the principle of constitutional balance that he had advanced, and to portray it as the guiding premise of the post-Revolutionary constitution.185
When, before the civil wars, authors critical of the conduct or character of monarchical rule had appealed to Roman example, they had done so not in order to propose a republican alternative, but with one or both of two different purposes: to remark on the oppression that follows when single rule degenerates into tyranny, or to commend the examples of courage or probity or prudence of those Romans who had challenged that trend or had found honorable ways of enduring it. Under the English republic, Nedham’s candid republicanism had broken with that approach. With the Restoration, monarchical assumptions returned. In the later seventeenth century Algernon Sidney, Henry Neville, John Toland, and others, all drawn in their various ways to classical republican practice, found ways of combining that admiration with outward respect for England’s monarchical constitution. They won more support by their opposition to tyranny than by their republicanism.186 The same was still more true of the eighteenth-century impact of the same authors.187 Nedham’s standing suffered from his omission from the canon created by Toland’s circle, which had published works that had followed in Nedham’s wake. The Excellencie had advanced too few arguments that, by the time of its republication, had not become familiar from those other writings, so that what now chiefly distinguished the book was its unpalatable republicanism. In 1697 John Toland and his friends had silently appropriated a passage from Nedham that bore on the evils of standing armies and the virtues of citizen militias. That remained a live issue in the later 1760s.188 Hollis, to whom “our trained bands are the truest and most proper strength of a free nation,” reminded readers of the pertinence of other seventeenth-century writings to the subject.189 In one of the two copies of The Excellencie that he sent to Harvard he marked (as well as other passages) Nedham’s praise of citizen militias.190 Yet he did nothing else to exploit Nedham’s discussion of the topic, which by 1767 had little to add to public thinking. It could scarcely have competed with the autobiography of Edmund Ludlow, which Toland’s editorial exertions had turned into a vivid warning against standing armies, and which had a wide and deep influence on eighteenth-century thinking on the subject, both through the circulation of Toland’s text and through excerpts from it in pamphlets.191
Hollis consistently portrayed himself as a champion of “the most noble, the most happy Revolution,” the “ever-glorious Revolution,” of 1688. He thrilled to remember the “glorious struggles” that had “obtained” the Revolution and had produced the Act of Settlement in 1701.192 He was distressed by the “subversion” of “Revolution principles,”193 which by George III’s reign, as he often remarked in exclamatory style or punctuation, were “waning” or “ruining” fast.194 Not only had they been threatened from the outset by the prospect of invasion and rebellion and conspiracy in the Jacobite and popish causes,195 they had been undermined by the corruption of ministries and of public spirit and by the unconstitutional aspirations that such corruption had fostered. Even so, he remained pledged to “the rights of the House of Hanover,” to “the Protestant Revolution family,” and to “liberty and King George the Third.” He longed for George to become a second King Alfred or a patriot king.196 Hollis’s perception of the Revolution of 1688, it is true, was not a mainstream one. Like Toland before him, he saw it as a continuation of the valiant cause of 1649. It was the radical Whigs of the decades after the overthrow of James II whose memory he honored: Toland himself, “a man of great genius and learning, a staunch asserter of liberty”;197 Toland’s close and incendiary political ally the clergyman William Stephens, whom Hollis associated with the “OLD WHIG” cause;198 Lord Molesworth, to whose “political creed” Hollis was “a subscriber”;199 John Trenchard, “that magnanimous gentleman,” “the last great Englishman!”200 Those writers, heirs to the republican thinkers of the civil wars and the Restoration, had constituted a second wave, even stronger than the first, of the “ideological origins of the American Revolution.”201 Some of them had given hints of pure republicanism, yet they had been careful never to embrace it openly, at least not without qualification. They had tended to use the term “free government” rather than “free state” and had remembered to equate free government with “the constitution of the English monarchy.”202 Their caution was heightened as the Tory reaction of the beginning of the eighteenth century advanced.
Hollis took the same path. He was an adversary of tyranny, but not, as Nedham had been, of kingship. What he applauded about the execution of Charles I was not that it prepared the way for republican government but that it asserted the principle, of which he saw Milton and Sidney as heroic exponents, of the right or duty of resistance to tyrants. He likewise revered the sixteenth-century thinkers who had proclaimed the same tenet: Christopher Goodman, John Ponet, François Hotman, Hubert Languet, and the “master-patriot” George Buchanan.203The Excellencie vindicated the principle too, but that was not the main concern of the tract, which added nothing of substance or eloquence to other vindications. Echoing some earlier critics of the Stuart monarchy, Hollis insisted that it was only because Charles I had destroyed “the ancient form” of the English government that men such as Milton, who as Hollis says elsewhere “commends” it, were driven to replace it.204 When Hollis sent copies of his publications of Sidney and Milton to Harvard he was glad to inscribe them with descriptions of himself as a “lover of liberty, his country and its excellent constitution, so nobly restored at the happy Revolution” of 1688.205 The streak of ancient constitutionalism discernible in both writers may have seemed to Hollis to lend aptness to the sentiment. He informed prospective readers of Milton in America that “we owe the most noble, the most happy Revolution to his principles.”206 But the animating theme of Nedham’s The Excellencie is the need to renounce the ancient constitution and to create anew. Can Hollis, in a copy of the tract that he sent to Harvard, have inscribed the tribute he there pays to “the wonderful restoration of the constitution” in 1688207 without a sense of discordance?
In Hollis’s eyes what properly characterized that constitution was “the harmony of the three estates.”208 Nedham’s apologia for the unicameral Rump was remote from that ideal. Hollis was equally far from sharing Nedham’s aggressive populism, which, like the belligerence of his republicanism, distinguished his writing from the canonical publications of 1698-1700. There were, it is true, writers in the canon, higher in Hollis’s esteem, who believed that constitutions should have democratic components. Harrington and Sidney and Neville were at their fore. Their writing, however, was more accommodating toward aristocratic or gentle outlooks and interests. The eighteenth century looked for gentility, or anyway for respect for it, in political thinkers. Baron’s hero Thomas Gordon, in translating Tacitus, commended the Roman historian for having “the good sense and breeding of a gentleman.”209 Hollis liked to invoke James Harrington’s observation that in the leadership of a commonwealth “there is something” that “seems to be peculiar unto the genius of a gentleman.”210 Nedham was no gentleman.
Perhaps there was a further question mark in Hollis’s mind about The Excellencie, one that Toland and his circle would have understood. An approving but lukewarm reviewer (apparently the only reviewer) of the republication declared that “the rights of the people are well explained and vindicated” by the book, but complained that “the strongest argument . . . in favour of national freedom, is not sufficiently enforced, which is the tendency it has to promote the happiness in society upon moral principles.”211 In conventional thinking of the later eighteenth century, political thought was morally improving or it was nothing. If there is a single moral quality for which the eighteenth century looked to political heroes it was “disinterestedness”: an impregnable immunity to the claims of reward, faction, and corruption. In accord with the spirit of the age, Hollis liked his heroes to be “inflexible.”212 It was for their sturdy and stoical refusal to compromise with power or corruption that Sidney and Ludlow won admiration from eighteenth-century readers who would never have endorsed their revolutionary political deeds. Like Toland, Hollis dwelled as much on the characters as on the opinions of the seventeenth century’s republicans. A favorite adjective of his was “honest.” His own “honest views” were fortified by the examples of “honest Ludlow” and “honest Andrew Marvell” in England, or by “honest Lucan” in ancient Rome.213 “Sidney, Milton and honest Ludlow are my heroes,” he told Jonathan Mayhew in 1769.214 By commissioning engravings and wax impressions he made such men into figures of immovable Roman integrity. They became the modern counter parts to Brutus and Cassius, with whose nobility of spirit Hollis also liked to associate his own character.215 But how could he have made a stoical or incorruptible Roman of the venal Nedham? Hollis searched assiduously for biographical information about Milton and Sidney and eagerly communicated it to the public. By contrast the preface to The Excellencie gives no account of Nedham’s life and no sense of his personality, save to remark defensively that Wood’s sketch of his character, which still pursued Nedham, was “drawn in bitterness of wrath and anger.”216 Even if paintings or drawings of Nedham had survived, would Hollis have reproduced them? Francis Blackburne, writing in 1780, judged the impact of Hollis’s republication of The Excellencie to have been limited, and related its failure to the moral reputation of its author. The book, he pronounced,
is well written, and upon sound principles; but was attended with the common fate of the works of all such writers as Nedham, who had been a sort of periodical hackney to different parties; and when a man has lost his reputation for steadiness and consistency, let him write and speak like an angel, he reaps no other reputation from his abilities but that of being a graceful actor on the political stage; an useful admonition to some of our modern renegado patriots, and others who have changed their party through disgust and disappointment.217
Nedham’s ill reputation persisted.218 It undermined the republished version of The Excellencie and mocked Hollis’s publication of him. Hollis was wont to proclaim selfishness, or “self,” to be the underlying evil of the times. When, in 1784, some words from Nedham’s preface to his translation of Selden were delivered as the “Invocation” in a public concert, a reporter of the event remarked that Nedham had been “driven by the abject selfishness of his principles” to his changes of side. “The treachery of such miscreants,” added the reporter, “creates apprehensions even against fidelity, and hinders the deceived from trusting those who merit truth.”219
The Reception of the Republication
Caroline Robbins included The Excellencie among the eighteenth century’s “sacred canon” of “Real Whig” writing.220 Yet how wide was its readership? Most of the known admirers of the work were people who are known, or are likely, to have been introduced to it by Hollis or by his friends. Nedham did have his open enthusiasts in England. In 1762, five years before the publication of The Excellencie, William Harris’s biography of Cromwell, in which Hollis had had “some share,”221 named Nedham alongside Milton to illustrate his claim that “the best pens” had been “sought out and recommended by the parliament for writing in behalf of civil and religious liberty.” Harris published long excerpts from two consecutive editorials of Politicus (nos. 98-99, 15-29 April 1652), the first showing that “the original of all just power is in the people,” the second attacking “the corrupt division of a state into ecclesiastical and civil.”222 He had evidently acquired them from Hollis, for his text repeats errors that appear in a transcription of Hollis’s own.223 Harris hailed Nedham’s repudiation of “reason of state” as a “beautiful piece of satire.” In 1771 another beneficiary of Hollis’s assistance, Catharine Macaulay, concluded her History of England, which at that time ended at the Restoration, with a paean to “the illustrious champions of the public cause” during the civil wars. She was glad to observe that, now that “time and experience” had “abated the violence” of feeling aroused by the conflict, the greatness of the “champions” had become “a theme of delight among the few enlightened citizens.” Immortal qualities, she ruled, were to be found above all in Sidney and Ludlow and Harrington and Neville, authors whose works “excel even the ancient classics.” But she also had warm words for Nedham. The fact that he was now read “with pleasure and applause,” she proclaimed in the last words of the book, was evidence of “the recovered sense and taste of the nation.” In the following year another edition of her History added the information that he had “the keenest pen that the age or any other ever produced.” With Harris, Macaulay savored what she called the “keen satire” that accompanied Nedham’s “judicious reflections.”224
How many people shared Harris’s and Macaulay’s admiration? Other evidence of the reading of The Excellencie in England of the later eighteenth century is hard to come by. His populism might be expected to have appealed to advocates of radical reform of Parliament and society, in whose writings Sidney, Harrington, and Milton were often invoked.225 Should not the radicals have taken inspiration from Nedham’s predominant unicameralism, a position that accorded with the hostility of Tom Paine and his fellow sympathizers to the principle of constitutional balance, which they interpreted as an aristocratic pretext for thwarting popular sovereignty? Yet the only one of the radical reformers who appears—alone or with his immediate allies—to have made explicit use of Nedham is John Cartwright. In 1777 he cited Nedham’s admonitions against aristocrats who contend against regal power only to appropriate it for themselves. He also (following William Harris) endorsed Nedham’s attack on the unscrupulous deployment of the language of “reason of state.”226 Here at least the later eighteenth century could find an unambiguously edifying moral sentiment in Nedham. Five years later Cartwright’s Society for Constitutional Information published a series of snippets from The Excellencie in support of popular freedom.227 It may be that Nedham’s arguments were also used, as they had been in 1697, by men who prudently concealed their source. Perhaps one writer had Nedham in mind in arguing, in a periodical of June 1767, five months after the publication of The Excellencie, that English politics and society were undergoing a movement parallel to one emphasized by Nedham in Roman history: a drift toward aristocracy and thus toward conditions from which a monarchical tyranny might emerge.228 Four months later a writer in the same periodical recalled, in language that echoes Nedham’s (p. 32), the baneful effect of luxury in ancient Greece, which had preserved its freedom “so long as virtue walked hand in hand with liberty.”229 In 1776 we find John Wilkes, in a speech in the Commons on parliamentary representation, offering a warning against the prolongation of political power that is suggestively close to one of Nedham’s.230 In none of those cases, however, is a debt to him certain. It does not look as if The Excellencie exerted any great popular appeal.231 By 1815 Cartwright himself had moved on from Nedham, and was ready to mock The Excellencie for its failure to demand annual parliamentary elections.232
If the influence of The Excellencie in England in the decades after its publication was restricted, one American writer, who noticed its neglect in its native land, claimed that it had had a much greater impact abroad. This was John Adams. Adams claimed, in statements made in distant retrospect, to have studied Nedham in his youth. In 1807 he recalled that he had read Nedham “long before” the Stamp Act crisis—that is, some years before Hollis’s republication of The Excellencie.233 It is likely that his memory deceived him. In 1765 he did include Nedham’s name in a list of other civil-war Englishmen who “are all said to have owed their eminence in political knowledge” to the experience of the tyrannies of James I and Charles I. The others were Lord Brooke, John Hampden, Sir Henry Vane, John Selden, Milton, Harrington, Neville, Sidney, and Locke. Adams’s pronouncement appeared in one of a series of articles by him in the Boston Gazette which Hollis, who took a keen interest in Adams and shared American contacts with him,234 published in book form in 1768.235 There is no indication in his statement, however, that Adams has read Nedham. In 1776 Adams included Nedham in another list of seventeenth-century English names, the ones at whom the “sneers” of Englishmen were directed. A “reading” of them, he there claimed, would “convince any candid mind, that there is no good government but what is republican.”236
But how considered had Adams’s own “reading” of Nedham’s tract been? It seems not to have been until 1787, thirteen years after Hollis’s death, that he paid close attention to The Excellencie. He was then living in London as ambassador for the American republic and longing to return to his homeland from “a life so useless to the public and so insipid to myself, as mine is in Europe.”237 In January of that year Thomas Brand, Hollis’s heir, who had lengthened his own name to Thomas Brand Hollis, sent a copy of the edition of 1767 to his own “friend” Adams, “to be deposited among his republican tracts.”238 Adams had recently completed the first of the three volumes of his Defence of the Constitutions of America. It appeared in February 1787. The Defence is a series of hastily written essays on historical and political writers whom Adams judged to be of present political relevance. In the first volume Adams made no mention of Nedham, but the receipt of the copy from Brand Hollis brought him forcefully back into his mind. The second volume, which had appeared by August 1787, and the third, which appeared in 1788, contained a very long commentary on The Excellencie, far longer than Nedham’s text itself, and far longer than the observations offered by the Defence on the writings of other authors.
The Excellencie merited so much attention, explained Adams, because it “is a valuable morsel of antiquity well known in America, where it has many partisans”; because “it contains every semblance of argument which can possibly be urged in favour of ” the system of government that it advocates; because it provides “the popular idea of a republic in England and France”;239 and because it was “a valuable monument of the early period in which the true principles of liberty began to be adopted and avowed in” England.240 Adams viewed Nedham with a divided mind. He found much to applaud in his book, which “abounds with sense and learning” and demonstrated “profound judgement.”241 Yet he found more, often much more, to distress him. With one part of himself Adams liked to believe that “conscience was always uppermost” in Nedham’s arguments.242 Yet he simultaneously doubted whether he was “sincere” or “honest.”243 He charged him with “specious” or “absurd” or “very ridiculous” reasoning;244 with “declamatory flourishes” fit only for “a fugitive pamphlet,” not for a work of serious thought;245 with manipulating the evidence of Roman history to support “popular sophisms”; and with “miserably pervert[ing]” his learning to “answer a present purpose.”246 Analyzing Nedham’s text page by page, he concludes that his “system” is uniformly disproved by the very historical examples he cites on its behalf.247
Though Adams referred to “the Proteus Nedham” and to his changes of side,248 it was not the inconsistencies of Nedham’s career that troubled him. It was his arguments. For on both sides of the Atlantic, Adams insisted, there was a choice to be made. The fundamental principle of political health, one not only taught by history but discernible in nature itself, was the balancing of powers. It had been at work in Roman history and was embodied in the British constitution, which modern ministries had betrayed. It turned on the separation of legislative, executive, and judicial power, and on a division of the legislature itself. “The fundamental article of my political creed,” he declared in 1785, “is that despotism, or unlimited sovereignty, or absolute power, is the same in a majority of a popular assembly, an aristocratic council, an oligarchical junto, and a single emperor. Equally arbitrary, cruel, bloody, and in every respect diabolical.”249 In the United States he had observed the contentious establishment of unicameral rule in Pennsylvania and other states.250 His commentary on Nedham contains a series of anxious glances, indicative of a deepening pessimism and conservatism in Adams’s political thinking around this time,251 at the “hazardous experiment” of the American constitution in providing, as Nedham urged nations to do, for frequent elections to office.252 Perhaps Shays’s Rebellion in Massachusetts in 1787 had intensified the horror of populism that informs Adams’s reading of Nedham’s book.253The Excellencie, as Adams read it, advocated pure democracy. In charitable moments he suggested that Nedham did not really subscribe to the “crude conceptions” he advanced on behalf of “the people” and that only the particular circumstances in which he had written, when the exiled Stuart monarch, and most of the peers, sought the destruction of the Commonwealth, had obliged him to turn against two of the three estates.254 But in Adams’s own time, he warned, those “conceptions” had a dangerous potential. One by one he seeks to take apart Nedham’s claims: that the people are the best keepers of their own liberty; that popular rule is the form of government best equipped to withstand tyranny, defy faction, and prevent corruption; that it alone ensures the promotion of merit; and so on.255
Adams’s presentation of Nedham as a writer committed to the concentration of all power in a single assembly is compatible with most of the content of The Excellencie, but not with all of it. It does not square with Nedham’s proposal for the creation of tribunes and popular assemblies to counter or restrict the weight of the senate. Then there is Nedham’s insistence on the separation of executive and legislative power. “In the keeping of these two powers distinct, flowing in distinct channels,” he writes, “consists the safety of the state” (p. 109). Adams, introducing his readers to that passage, invites them “to pause here with astonishment” at an argument that, he alleges, contradicts the whole trend of its author’s thought.256 He might have added that in any case the executive and legislature envisaged in The Excellencie do not “flow in distinct channels.” Rather, the power of the executive is “transferred” by the legislature and is thus “derived from” it (p. 109). Just so did the Rump’s executive body, the council of state, the body to which Nedham was directly answerable for Politicus, report to the legislature, the Parliament, which appointed it and defined its powers. Adams had been alarmed to find how many of the leaders of the American Revolution had had something similar in mind for their own country’s future: they had “no other idea of any other government but a contemptible legislature, in one assembly, with committees of executive magistrates. . . .”257
Yet it looks as if Nedham’s own thoughts were closer to those of Adams than the American realized.258 As in his suggestions for the creation of tribunes and representative assemblies, Nedham may have been looking toward constitutional machinery that would have been incompatible with the undivided sovereignty that was claimed by the Commons, and that he outwardly endorsed, in 1649-53. In 1654 the passage advocating “distinct channels,” which had been printed in Politicus in 1652, reappeared in A True State of the Case of the Commonwealth, the tract Nedham wrote in vindication of the Instrument of Government. The Instrument envisaged a new relationship between executive and legislature. The two would assist and complement each other, but would also be balanced against each other. In A True State the wording of Politicus, now lengthened and strengthened, was directed against the memory of the Rump, precisely on the ground that the parliament had sought to preserve the “placing the legislative and executive powers in the same persons,” a practice that “is a marvellous in-let of corruption and tyranny.” The Rump, Nedham now complains, made provision for “no manner of check or balance” to be “reserved upon” the power of the Commons.259
It was as an enemy of the division of powers, not as its friend, that Adams assailed Nedham. Why did he assail him at such length? Adams became obsessed by the dangers inherent in the arguments of The Excellencie. The book had gotten under his skin. He discerned, or imagined, its malign influence in places where it never reached. It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that whenever he encountered unicameralist arguments he blamed them on Nedham. What he called the “democratical hurricane”260 of the French Revolution heightened that tendency. “Nedham’s perfect commonwealth,” he told Thomas Jefferson in 1796, was spreading everywhere. It had been implemented in France and America, was winning support in Holland, and threatened to extend to England.261 Adams unwarrantably discerned an allusion to The Excellencie in Mary Wollstonecraft’s An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution (1794).262 The only particularization Adams ever offered of his claim that The Excellencie had “many partisans” in America and was “well known” there is to be found in his groundless allegation that Benjamin Franklin was “the weak disciple of Nedham.”263
How many American “partisans” did the book in fact have? The one conspicuous judgment passed in its favor was delivered by the New England clergyman Andrew Eliot, Hollis’s ally in the publicizing of the colonists’ cause. Eliot wrote to Hollis in May 1767, three months after the publication of The Excellencie, to thank him for a copy of it: “I was so particularly pleased with The Excellencie of a Free State. I wonder so valuable a performance has been so long hid. The style and manner are far beyond the writers of that day, and the treatise justly gives the author a place among the most noble writers of government.” Eliot’s single regret was that when Baron, in his preface, described Nedham “as inferior only to Milton” he had not added alongside Milton’s name that of Algernon Sidney, “ ‘that’, as you justly style him, ‘Martyr to Civil Liberty.’ ”264 Another evident admirer of Nedham was Josiah Quincy Jr., who acted as counsel for Adams in the trial of Captain Preston in 1770. In pseudonymous articles in the Boston Gazette in 1772-74 he used “Marchamont Nedham” as one of his pseudonyms (another being the Leveller Edward Sexby). Quincy did not, however, mention The Excellencie. His interest in Nedham may have derived not from the tract but from Mercurius Politicus, of which Quincy knew at second hand. In his commonplace book, sometime between 1770 and 1774, he transcribed the inaccurate copy of an issue of Mercurius Politicus that William Harris, who in turn had received it from Hollis, had included in his life of Cromwell.265 Presumably Harris’s book, or else Hollis himself, was Quincy’s source. The Excellencie itself was rarely named, at least in print, by Eliot’s and Quincy’s American contemporaries.266 Even in the replies to Adams’s Defence the book is hardly mentioned, though one pamphlet of 1796 did take Nedham’s side, replying to Adams that Nedham’s views on the rotation of power “perfectly” and “calmly accord[ed] with the spirit and nature of the United States” and with “the provisions of its federal constitution.”267
It may of course be that, in America as in England, there were writers ready to use Nedham’s writing but not to acknowledge their source. Yet any unacknowledged debts are hard to pin down. Late eighteenth-century American political literature contains various echoes of Nedham’s assertions (which themselves derived from Machiavelli) that “the people are the best keepers of their own liberties.”268 He made the claim alongside the statement that the people’s liberties are most “safe” in their own “hands” (p.20). Nedham perhaps influenced a sermon delivered in Boston on the occasion of the “Commencement” of John Adams’s Constitution of Massachusetts, when the preacher, having praised “the immortal writings of Sidney and Locke,” noted how “effectually” the Constitution “makes the people the keepers of their own liberties, with whom they are certainly safest.”269 Likewise in December 1792 James Madison asked, “Who are the best keepers of the people’s liberties,” and answered, “the people themselves,” for nowhere can the trust of government be so “safe” as in their “hands.”270 Yet we could not be confident in attributing such language to Nedham’s influence.
Modern tributes to the eighteenth-century impact of The Excellencie, and the allocation to it of a place in the “sacred canon,” seem to derive from Adams’s assertions. Even on the most generous estimate, the book commanded nothing like the influence, on either side of the Atlantic, of the writings of the figures whose place in the canon is incontestable.271 On the whole the canon, and Hollis’s promotion of it, had considerably more success in America than in his native land. In England, where Hollis was accused of misspending his fortune “in paving the way for sedition,”272 the tradition of resistance to tyranny that he championed was widely feared and widely derided. In America it chimed with an emerging political culture and helped to shape it. But Nedham’s part in that process was far smaller than that of the canonical works that Toland had put into circulation. Adams himself, who contended so strenuously against Nedham’s unicameralism, relished the arguments for mixed or balanced constitutions that he found in Harrington and Sidney.273 Other Americans savored them too. As in England itself, the mixed or balanced English constitution—as distinct from the modern ministries that abused or perverted it— was judged to be perfect.274 Besides, Americans, no less than Englishmen, liked to find high morality and virtue in political thinkers. Adams, who believed “pure virtue” to be “the only foundation of a free constitution,”275 was enraptured by the courage and incorruptibility of Sidney, that “martyr to liberty,”276 the example of whose courage in vindicating armed resistance was urged on him by Hollis or through his influence.277 Andrew Eliot remembered that it was Sidney who had “taught him any just sentiments of government.”278 Jonathan Mayhew, another figure whom Hollis introduced to Sidney’s merits,279 thought “virtue inseparable from civil liberty” and acknowledged the debt of his own understanding of “civil liberty” to the teaching of Sidney, as of Milton.280 Peter Karsten’s study of Patriot-Heroes in England and America illustrates the lasting and widespread reverence that the characters and deeds of Sidney, Milton, and John Hampden won for their names. Karsten has no occasion to mention Nedham.
Yet it was not in the English-speaking world that Adams believed Nedham’s book to have had its most pernicious effect. It was in France. The works published by Toland’s circle at the end of the seventeenth century had won a following there. Thus the Memoirs of Edmund Ludlow were quickly translated into French, as were Sidney’s Discourses, in an edition that would be reprinted in 1755. Sidney, Ludlow, Milton, and Harrington would be influential writers or role models in the era of the Revolution. In France, and in France alone, can Nedham claim an influence comparable to theirs, albeit hardly an equal one. The English text of 1767 was translated into French by the Chevalier d’Eon de Beaumont, a French diplomat who had arrived in England in 1762, and whose colorful and sometimes scandalous sojourn there, which lasted fifteen years, may have involved him in dealings, treasonous to his own masters, with opposition politicians.281 The translation was included in 1774 in his eight-volume compilation, Les Loisirs du Chevalier d’Eon, a copy of which Hollis apparently sent to America.282 Perhaps d’Eon learned of The Excellencie through his friends, and Hollis’s associates, John Wilkes and Catharine Macaulay. D’Eon remarked on the “boldness” of The Excellencie, as well as its “profundity and solidity.”283 But he did not dwell on the distance between its recommendations and England’s eighteenth-century constitution, which, like other Frenchmen of the century, he presented as a healthy contrast to the French one. He portrayed the book as a characteristically English work that testified to the spirit of freedom in that “island of philosophy and liberty.”
D’Eon noticed how little known The Excellencie was in England.284 His own translation may not have done much for it in France. In 1790 there would be a second translation, whose author, Théophile Mandar, did not know (or anyway did not tell his readers) of d’Eon’s version.285 Mandar, who was reportedly one of the inciters of popular insurrection in July 1789, thereafter “devoted myself more than ever to the reading of works that have contributed towards enlightening men on their interests. The first to which I gave my attention was that of Needham.” The author of The Excellencie, claimed Mandar, was regarded by the English “as one of the most daring geniuses who had written on the liberty of the people,”286 and his writing entitled him to “a reputation as a profound political thinker, if one considers the time in which he wrote.” Mandar, who dedicated his translation to “my brothers in arms,”287 became an active member of the Cordeliers Club, on which much of the French interest in English republicanism centered. Like d’Eon before him, Mandar had little idea about the circumstances from which The Excellencie had emerged. At one point he suggests that “this immortal work” had appeared in the reign of Charles II.288 Little if anything seems to have been known in France about Nedham’s character and career, those obstacles to his acceptance in the English-speaking world. Mandar’s translation appeared in two volumes, under the title De la Souveraineté du Peuple, et de l’excellence d’un état libre (Paris: Lavillette, 1790). Perhaps in imitation of Hollis’s editions of Sidney and of Toland’s life of Milton, Mandar supplies an apparatus of extensive commentary and quotation that relates the arguments of the text to the concerns of all ages and especially of the present one.289 Mandar was particularly eager to link Nedham’s reasoning to that of Rousseau. He also portrayed Nedham as a kindred spirit of Sidney, a writer who meant more to Mandar than did Nedham, and whose Discourses he revered.290 Occasionally Mandar adjusted Nedham’s text. Its populism, which alarmed Adams and may have inhibited admiration among other English-speaking readers, had a ready appeal to the Cordeliers. It was heightened by Mandar, whose translation eliminated the hesitancy and the qualifications that had accompanied Nedham’s endorsement of the principle of political equality. Mandar’s version was favorably noticed by the daily newspaper Le Moniteur, which commanded a wide circulation. The reviewer welcomed Nedham’s ripostes to “the partisans of tyranny” and endorsed Mandar’s claims for the present relevance of the work and for its affinity to Rousseau.291
There is, however, no sign that Adams knew of the French translations, which would have been grist to his mill. It was other French writings that troubled him. In 1778 the politician and economist Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, whom Adams met in that year, wrote a letter to the English reformer Richard Price, which Price published in his own commentary on the American Revolution in 1784.292 Turgot complained that the American republic, instead of introducing a pure democracy, had emulated the English principle of mixed government. Turgot’s argument would be supported by Antoine-Nicolas de Condorcet, who in a posthumously published work of 1795 fleetingly commended Nedham, alongside Harrington, as an advocate of resistance to tyranny.293 That was hardly Nedham’s prime claim to notice, and was still less Harrington’s. Condorcet apparently lacked firsthand knowledge of either author. Equally there seems to be no indication that Turgot himself had read Nedham. Adams nonetheless declared that Turgot’s “idea of a commonwealth, in which all authority is to be collected in one centre, and that centre the nation, is supposed [by Adams] to be precisely the project of Marchamont Nedham, and [was] probably derived from” The Excellencie. Adams’s Defence thus becomes an attack on the political scheme of “Mr. Turgot and Marchamont Nedham.”294 Later Adams would assert, implausibly, that the whole “system” of the French revolutionaries was “a servile imitation of Nedham’s.”295
In the nineteenth century The Excellencie had no discernible reputation in France, America, or England. Nedham’s friendship with Milton did keep his name alive. In his History of the Commonwealth (1824-28), the republican William Godwin, struck by the friendship, considered Nedham “too extraordinary a man . . . not to make it proper that we should pause for a moment to enter his history,” though Godwin, within whose radicalism an eighteenth-century country-party philosophy lived on,296 did wonder that so austere and sublime a poet should have chosen as a close companion a figure so unrepresentative of what Goodwin judged to have been “an age of principle in England.” Like so many before him, Godwin was more drawn to Milton, Ludlow, and Sidney, “men,” he recalled, “far beyond the imputation of interested views.”297 By God win’s time, however, seventeenth-century republicanism, and appeals to Roman republican example, had a declining prestige among radicals, not least because of a growing readiness, as the Industrial Revolution advanced, to equate “Roman” with aristocratic morality, and of growing indignation at the Roman practice of slavery.298 Among mainstream opinion, Victorian censoriousness was no friendlier to Nedham than Hanoverian country-party sentiment had been. Those great Victorian historians David Masson and S. R. Gardiner were led to Nedham by Milton’s involvement in the production of Mercurius Politicus, but Masson could not warm to the “dull drollery,” “scurrility,” and “ribaldry” of the editorials,299 while Gardiner lamented not only the “scurrility” but the “wearisome monotony” of Nedham’s prose.300 It was left to Gardiner’s disciple C. H. Firth in 1909 to recognize in Nedham not only “a journalist of great ability and versatility” but a writer, in his political tracts of 1650-56, of “serious works.”301 Yet no one followed Firth’s lead.
Recent interest in Nedham arises from developments in the professional study of the history of political thought, whose practitioners have become readier both to extend their enquiries beyond the more famous writers and to relate historical ideas to political contexts such as that from which Nedham’s writings emerged. The rediscovery of Nedham is indebted to Perez Zagorin, who briefly discussed his political ideas in 1954,302 and to the edition of The Case of the Commonwealth produced by Philip Knachel in 1969. The principal stimulus has been the work of J. G. A. Pocock, who in 1975 pointed to Nedham’s role in the emergence of English republican thinking in the 1650s, a development that Pocock in turn placed within a long movement of republican ideas from the Italian Renaissance to the American Revolution.303 Even when we have acknowledged the shallowness and slipperiness that can characterize Nedham’s writing, and even when we have recognized the exaggerations in the claims that have been made for his posthumous readership, he remains a critical figure in English political thought. His assault on ancient constitutionalism, and his advocacy of an Italianate republican alternative to it, opened a door through which Harrington and Sidney and their republican or Whig successors, in England and America, would pass. In the story that leads from Machiavelli to the revolutionary thinking of the later eighteenth century, the editorials that Nedham republished in The Excellencie of a Free-State are a decisive moment.304
[1. ]I have discussed aspects of Nedham’s career more fully in “ ‘Wit in a Roundhead’: The Dilemma of Marchamont Nedham,” in Political Culture and Cultural Politics in Early Modern England, ed. Susan Amussen and Mark Kishlansky (Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 1995), pp. 301-37; and in LP. The first publication is mostly concerned with the years before 1651; the second with 1651-60.
[2. ]I offer accounts of seventeenth-century English republicanism in David Wootton, ed., Republicanism, Liberty, and Commercial Society, 1649-1776 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1994), chaps. 1-4; and “Republicanism, Regicide and Republic: The English Experience,” in Republicanism: A Shared European Heritage, 2 vols., ed. Martin van Gelderen and Quentin Skinner (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 1:307-27.
[3. ]I have described the politics of the Commonwealth period in The Rump Parliament 1648-1653 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1977).
[4. ]S. R. Gardiner, ed., The Constitutional Documents of the Puritan Revolution, 1625-1660, 3rd ed., rev. (Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon Press, 1962), pp. 385-86.
[5. ]Ibid., p. 388.
[6. ]Journal of the House of Commons, 4 January 1649.
[7. ]Quentin Skinner, “Conquest and Consent: Hobbes and the Engagement Controversy,” in Visions of Politics, 3 vols. (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2002-3), 3:287-307.
[8. ]Knachel, p. 5.
[9. ]See p. xci, n. 259.
[10. ]Knachel, p. 1; compare ibid., pp. 116-17.
[11. ]Hall’s political writings and their affinity with Nedham’s are discussed in David Norbrook, Writing the English Republic: Poetry, Rhetoric and Politics 1627-1660 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1999), and in LP. For Hall’s career and writings see also Nicholas McDowell, Poetry and Allegiance in the English Civil Wars (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2008).
[12. ]The True Character of a Rigid Presbyter (London, 1661), preface.
[13. ]LP, p. 27.
[14. ]Quoted from the fourth page of (the confusingly paginated) A Word for All: Or, The Rumps Funeral Sermon (1660) in Paul A. Rahe, Against Throne and Altar: Machiavelli and Political Theory Under the English Republic (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), p. 177.
[15. ]Epistle dedicatorie in Of the Dominion of the Seas by John Selden, trans. and ed. Nedham (London, 1652).
[16. ]Peter W. Thomas, Sir John Berkenhead 1617-1679: A Royalist Career in Politics and Polemics (Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon Press, 1969).
[17. ]Worden, “ ‘Wit in a Roundhead,’ ” pp. 315-16.
[18. ]LP, p. 183.
[19. ]Ibid., pp. 45-47.
[20. ]Ibid., chap. 9.
[21. ]Wood’s account of Nedham is found in Anthony Wood, Atheniae Oxonienses, 4 vols. (London, 1813-20), 3:1180-90.
[22. ]LP, pp. 195-99.
[23. ]Ibid., p. 182.
[24. ]Ibid., pp. 73-75, 111.
[25. ]Leo Miller, John Milton and the Oldenburg Safeguard (New York: Loewenthal Press, 1985), p. 172.
[26. ]Complete Prose Works of John Milton, 8 vols., ed. D. M. Wolfe et al. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1953-82), 5:451.
[27. ]Margaret Judson, From Tradition to Political Reality: A Study of the Ideas Set Forth in Support of the Commonwealth Government in England, 1649-1653 (Hamden, Conn.: Archon, 1980), p. 11.
[28. ]Worden, “ ‘Wit in a Roundhead,’ ” p. 317.
[29. ]Nedham’s involvement in the pamphlet is evident not only from the distinctive style and vocabulary of the passage but from his re-use of material from it in later writings. LP, p. 42.
[30. ]H. Sylvia Anthony, “ Mercurius Politicus under Milton,” Journal of the History of Ideas 27 (1966): 593-609, at pp. 602-3.
[31. ]Material from the republican chapter of The Case would reappear in Politicus, but only after Worcester. Nedham reproduced a passage of it (p. 16; Knachel, pp. 116-17) in the editorial of 25 September 1651; and a further brief passage (claiming that virtues in hereditary rules are “very rare”: p. 41; Knachel, pp. 117-18) reappears on 5 February 1652. The second extract, and much of the first, would be reproduced in The Excellencie. Nedham thus published that material three times.
[32. ]Algernon Sidney, Discourses Concerning Government, ed. Thomas G. West (Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund, 1990), p. 216; compare ibid., pp. 143-44, 472.
[33. ]LP, pp. 182, 219; Epistle dedicatorie and p. 483, Of the Dominion of the Seas by John Selden.
[34. ]LP, chaps. 3-6.
[35. ]Ibid., pp. 67-69.
[36. ]Ibid., pp. 25, 186-87.
[37. ]Worden, “ ‘Wit in a Roundhead,’ ” p. 320.
[38. ]Mercurius Politicus was quoted in the cause of “honest Levelling” by Charles Hotham, Corporations Vindicated in Their Fundamental Liberties (1651), 22-33.
[39. ]Nigel Smith, “Popular Republicanism in the 1650s: John Streater’s ‘Heroic Mechanicks,’ ” in Milton and Republicanism, ed. David Armitage, Armand Himy, and Quentin Skinner (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 137-55; Joad Raymond, “John Streater and The Grand Politick Informer, ” Historical Journal 41 (1998): 567-74. In 1654-59 various newsbooks alerted a popular readership to classical parallels to current affairs, though on a less ambitious scale than Politicus.
[40. ]David Underdown, Pride’s Purge (Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon Press, 1971), p. 263.
[41. ]Vox Plebis (London, 1646), p. 58; see, too, Eric Nelson, The Greek Tradition in Republican Thought (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 91n.
[42. ]Milton, Complete Prose Works, 3:589n.; compare ibid., 3:46.
[43. ]See, for example, LP, pp. 149, 224, 347.
[44. ]Hotham, Corporations Vindicated, pp. 26-28, 33.
[45. ]Vox Plebis, p. 3.
[46. ]John Lilburne, As You Were ([Amsterdam?], 1652), p. 29; Rahe, Against Throne and Altar, p. 334. Samuel Dennis Glover, “The Putney Debates: Popular Versus Elitist Republicanism,” Past and Present 164 (1999): 47-80, valuably draws attention to the interest of Lilburne and other Levellers in classical history. See, too, Smith, “Popular Republicanism.”
[47. ]Lilburne, The Upright Mans Vindication ([London], 1653), pp. 7, 23.
[48. ]John Lilburne, L. Colonel John Lilburne Revived ([Amsterdam?], 1653), pp. 9-10.
[49. ]Bulstrode Whitelocke, Memorials of the English Affairs, 4 vols. (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 1853), 3:470; and see Writings and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell, 4 vols., ed. W. C. Abbott (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1937-47), 3:57.
[50. ]His newsbook reported the decision with outward deference but with evident restlessness: Worden, Rump Parliament, p. 289.
[51. ]In 1653 Lilburne, drawing on a Roman example that Nedham also used, directed a similar point solely against military grandees: against not only Cromwell but the officers John Lambert and Thomas Harrison, whom, with him, he portrayed as England’s equivalent to the triumvirate of Octavian, Anthony, and Lepidus (Upright Mans Vindication, pp. 6-9). However, that was after the expulsion of the Rump, for which the three men had borne most responsibility. Edmund Ludlow, Memoirs of Edmund Ludlow, 2 vols., ed. C. H. Firth (Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon Press, 1894), 1:346.
[52. ]Vox Plebis, p. 66.
[53. ]LP, p. 96.
[54. ]Ibid., pp. 94-95.
[55. ]Ibid., pp. 91-92.
[56. ]Journal of the House of Commons, May 19, 1652. I am grateful to John Morrill for discussions of this point.
[57. ]Walter Scott, ed., Somers Tracts, 13 vols. (London, 1806-13), 6:49.
[58. ]Ibid., 6:45.
[59. ]Lilburne, Upright Mans Vindication, pp. 6-8. See, too, Scott, Somers Tracts, 6:45, 168; The Leveller (London, 1659), pp. 80-89 (a tract published by Thomas Brewster, the publisher of Nedham’s The Excellencie in 1656); A Collection of the State Papers of John Thurloe, 7 vols., ed. Thomas Birch (London, 1742), 7:754.
[60. ]Journal of the House of Commons, 21 May 1652.
[61. ]C. M. Williams, “The Political Career of Henry Marten” (Ph.D. thesis, Oxford University, 1954), pp. 546-47.
[62. ]Whitelocke, Memorials, 3:373-74; James Howell, An Admonition to my Lord Protector (London, 1654); Cromwell, Writings and Speeches, 3:524-25.
[63. ]LP, pp. 249-54.
[64. ]Students of Politicus may wish to note a run of variant issues found at the Harvard College Library: see H. Weber, “On a File of Mercurius Politicus in the Harvard College Library,” Notes and Queries 164 (1933): 364-66.
[65. ]Worden, “ ‘Wit in a Roundhead,’ ” p. 303.
[66. ]A comparable passage had appeared in April 1652 (p. 157): perhaps the editorials had nearly been terminated at that time.
[67. ]For the approximate date of publication see G. K. Fortescue, ed., Catalogue of the Pamphlets . . . collected by George Thomason, 1640-1661, 2 vols. (London, 1908), 2:153.
[68. ]The repetitions irritated a reviewer upon the book’s republication in 1767. Monthly Review, January 1767, p. 39.
[69. ]LP, pp. 349-53.
[70. ]Ibid., pp. 77n, 133-36, 409.
[71. ]Stowe MS 333, fols. 103-20, British Library. While Whitelocke’s longer extracts from Nedham seem to have been taken from the text of The Excellencie rather than of Politicus (for on the two pertinent occasions when the texts of those two publications diverge, Whitelocke’s wording is that of the tract rather than of the newsbook), there is one brief passage in which Whitelocke carries an echo of Politicus (fol. 113v, on Appius Claudius; see p. 177, below), and another that has material also to be found in Nedham’s The Case of the Commonwealth (fol. 120v, on Sallust; Knachel, pp. 116-17). While Whitelocke, in composing his manuscript, may simply have moved among Nedham’s publications, there is perhaps an alternative possibility: that he drew on a compendium of notes made available to him by Nedham. There is a hint elsewhere of literary collaboration between the two men. In 1652 Nedham, in dedicating his translation of John Selden’s Mare Clausum to Parliament in 1652, said that his work for the book had been much “indebted,” “(as I also am for many other favours), to a Right Honourable Member of your own great assembly” (Selden, Of the Dominion, sig. A2v). The obvious candidate is Selden’s friend and devoted admirer Whitelocke, whose own writing drew extensively on Selden’s. Though Whitelocke was no republican, he, like Nedham, defies the customary categorizations of Puritan politics. Like him he worked for, and was paid by, the protectorate while regarding it as a tyranny. Like him he had Leveller connections and sympathies that can surprise readers accustomed to his other faces. See Ruth Spalding, Contemporaries of Bulstrode Whitelocke 1605-1675 (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 1990), pp. 457-63; Whitelocke, Memorials, 4:187. For the connections between Whitelocke and Nedham see, too, Spalding, Contemporaries of Bulstrode Whitelocke, pp. 215-18; LP, pp. 134-36.
[72. ]LP, pp. 305-13.
[73. ]State Papers of John Thurloe, ed. Birch, 2:164; John Goodwin, Peace Protected (London, 1654), pp. 71-72.
[74. ]LP, p. 141.
[75. ]A Perfect Diurnall; or, Occurrences of Certain Military Affairs (London, 1654), 4-11 September 1654, p, 152; A Perfect Account (London, n.d.), 6-13 September 1654, p. 1535.
[76. ]It is uncertain whether another republican attack on the protectorate, the Harringtonian tract carrying the title A Copy of a Letter from an Officer of the Army in Ireland (London, 1656), was really written by a soldier. The Political Works of James Harrington, ed. J. G. A. Pocock (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1977), pp. 10-12.
[77. ]He served the protectorate adroitly not only as a writer but as an informer and as a ruthless orchestrator of favorable addresses to the regime from the localities. LP, pp. 25-26. For his manipulation of news in the government’s interests see Patrick Little, “John Thurloe and the Offer of the Crown to Oliver Cromwell,” in Oliver Cromwell: New Perspectives, ed. Patrick Little (Basingstoke, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), pp. 223, 226-27.
[78. ]For the registration see A Transcript of the Registers of the Worshipful Company of Stationers, 3 vols. (London, 1913-14), 2:20. The fact that The Excellencie was registered can be taken to eliminate any possibility that the book was somehow published without Nedham’s willing involvement.
[79. ]Mercurius Pragmaticus, 26 September 1648, p. 16.
[80. ]Howell, Admonition.
[81. ]A True State of the Case of the Commonwealth (London, 1654), pp. 5-6.
[82. ]The book carried an advertisement for three of the publisher’s other productions, all of them carrying the date 1655. See Appendix A.
[83. ]Cromwell, Writings and Speeches, ed. Abbott, 4:169, 198.
[84. ]Roy Sherwood, Oliver Cromwell: King in All But Name (Stroud, U.K.: Sutton, 1997).
[85. ]Wootton, Republicanism, pp. 113-26; LP, pp. 105-15.
[86. ]I have explained the point in Wootton, Republicanism, pp. 111-14, although I should have paid more attention to the resemblances between the proposals and arguments advanced by the two writers for dividing and balancing the functions and powers of a senate and a popular assembly. Note, too, in Harrington’s account in Oceana of the age when “the world was full of popular governments” (Harrington, Political Works, l. 3, p. 312), the echo of Nedham’s allusion to the times when “the world abounded with free-states” (p. 35; compare p. 73).
[87. ]Patrick Little and David L. Smith, Parliaments and Politics During the Cromwellian Protectorate (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 257.
[88. ]For the practice of making barbed interlinear allusions to Cromwell as the “general” see LP, pp. 317-18. It had begun before 1653 (p. xl), and was used in Lilburne’s anti-Cromwellian tracts.
[89. ]Compare Nedham’s ingeniously hostile deployment of the same noun in 1659. LP, p. 44.
[90. ]LP, pp. 313-16; Wootton, Republicanism, p. 138 and n. 88.
[91. ]John Streater, Secret Reasons of State (London, 1659), p. 18; LP, p. 312.
[92. ]Worden, “Republicanism, Regicide and Republic,” pp. 320-21.
[93. ]Thurloe State Papers, 5:296.
[94. ]LP, pp. 105-14.
[95. ]William Prynne, King Richard the Third Revived (London, 1657), PRO 31.3/92, fol. 197, The National Archives.
[96. ]Wootton, Republicanism, pp. 126-38.
[97. ]I have described this venture, and the political setting and purposes of the republications, in Blair Worden, Roundhead Reputations: The English Civil Wars and the Passions of Posterity (London: Allen Lane, Penguin Press, 2001) and in “Whig History and Puritan Politics: The Memoirs of Edmund Ludlow Revisited,” Historical Research 75 (2002): 209-37.
[98. ]Compare An Argument, Shewing, that a Standing Army is inconsistent with a Free Government (London, 1697), pp. 7-9, with p. 90. Nedham’s wording was altered, but the debt to him is clear and extensive. See too the passages that recall Nedham’s wording in Moyle’s treatise of 1698, An Essay upon the Constitution of the Roman Government. Caroline Robbins, ed., Two English Republican Tracts (London: Cambridge University Press, 1969), pp. 235, 239-40.
[99. ]John Toland, The Militia Reform’d (London, 1698), p. 72. The interest of Toland’s circle in Nedham is suggested, too, by bookseller Richard Baldwin’s 1692 republication of a previously anonymous tract, Christianissimus Christianandus (1678), with Nedham attributed as author. Baldwin, a central figure in the publishing community that produced the canonical texts of the late 1690s, identifies Nedham as the author. There were other anonymous editions: 1691 (published as The German Spie), 1701, and 1707. For Baldwin see Edmund Ludlow, A Voyce from the Watch Tower, ed. Blair Worden (London: Royal Historical Society, 1978), pp. 18-19, 25, 34n, 54, and Worden, “Whig History and Puritan Politics,” pp. 211-13.
[100. ]A biweekly paper of political commentary by J[ames] Drake was published as Mercurius Politicus in 1705, and another periodical with the same title, launched by Daniel Defoe, ran from 1716 to 1720.
[101. ]Copies of the 1656 edition very occasionally appear in eighteenth-century book catalogs. When Thomas Hollis presented a copy of the 1656 text to Christ’s College Cambridge in 1768 (HD, 14 December 1768), his inscription described it as “ rarissima, ” though he seems to have acquired at least one other copy. See London Chronicle 6 October 1772; Blackburne, Memoirs, pp. 659, 772-73.
[102. ]James Harrington, The Oceana of James Harrington and his Other Works, ed. John Toland (London, 1700), p. xxviii. Some eighteenth-century readers, coming across the tract in that edition or in the ones that followed it, and missing the prefatory disclaimer, would suppose it to be Harrington’s. It was sometimes attributed to him in book catalogs, as it was in John Milner, Virtue the Basis of Publick Happiness (London, 1747), p. 32n.
[103. ]Wootton, Republicanism, pp. 183-86.
[104. ]Worden, Roundhead Reputations, chaps. 1-4.
[105. ]Helen Darbishire, ed., Early Lives of Milton (London: Constable, 1932), pp. xxxviii, 44-45, 74.
[106. ]Caroline Robbins, The Eighteenth-Century Commonwealthman (1959; repr. New York: Atheneum, 1968), pp. 4-5.
[107. ]On the American side the seminal work was Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1967).
[108. ]Worden, Roundhead Reputations, chaps. 5-6.
[109. ]Caroline Robbins, “The Strenuous Whig, Thomas Hollis of Lincoln’s Inn,” in Absolute Liberty: A Selection from the Articles and Papers of Caroline Robbins, ed. Barbara Taft (Hamden, Conn.: Archon, 1982), p. 173. The material in Taft’s selection, particularly this essay, remains the best introduction to Hollis and his work.
[110. ]D. P. Sainsbury, Disaffected Patriots: London Supporters of Revolutionary America, 1769-82 (Kingston and Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1987), p. 12; Bridget Hill, The Republican Virago: The Life and Times of Catharine Macaulay, Historian (Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon Press, 1992), p. 164.
[111. ]Bernard Knollenberg, “Thomas Hollis and Jonathan Mayhew: Their Correspondence, 1759-1766,” Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society 69 (1956): 102-93, at p. 103.
[112. ]W. H. Bond, Thomas Hollis of Lincoln’s Inn: A Whig and His Books (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. 1.
[113. ]The best sources for Baron are Blackburne, pp. 61-63, 75-76, 145-46, 356, 361-65, 391, 492-93, 516, 721; HD; The Protestant Dissenter’s Magazine 6 (1799): 166-68; Sylas Neville, The Diary of Sylas Neville 1767-1788, ed. Basil Cozens-Hardy (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 1950); see, too, Hill, Republican Virago, s.v. “Baron.” The brief article in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is not reliable.
[114. ]John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon, Cato’s Letters: Essays on Liberty, 2 vols., ed. Ronald Hamowy (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1995).
[115. ]He, and the promotion of the canon, were indebted to the editorial labors of the antiquary Thomas Birch, whose cautious politics were disliked by Baron and by Hollis’s circle, but whose contribution they intermittently acknowledged.
[116. ]Memoirs of Edmund Ludlow (London, 1751), p. xii.
[117. ]The Works of John Milton, Historical, Political, and Miscellaneous, 2 vols., ed. Thomas Birch (London, 1753).
[118. ]Blackburne, p. 62. Another presentation copy, given by Baron to a Mr. Trueman, is in the Bodleian Library, Oxford: Vet A5 c. 100. It may be that only a small number of copies were printed, for distribution to Baron’s friends: see the flyleaf of the copy of the second edition, of 1770, in the Bodleian, classmark 22856 e. 124. Hollis was probably responsible for the second edition and probably also arranged for the second edition, in 1768, of Baron’s The Pillars of Priestcraft and Orthodoxy Shaken, 4 vols. (London, 1768) (HD, 11 June 1767).
[119. ]HD, 2 May 1764; Robbins, “Strenuous Whig,” pp. 171, 186; Sidney, Discourses Concerning Government, ed. Thomas Hollis (London 1763 ed.), p. 40. In my references to this edition of the Discourses, page numbers will be those of the Introduction, which is separately paginated.
[120. ]Caroline Robbins, “Library of Liberty,” in Absolute Liberty, pp. 206-29. William H. Bond’s study, From the Great Desire of Promoting Learning: Thomas Hollis’s Gifts to Harvard College Library (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2010), appeared after this introduction was written.
[121. ]Kees van Strien, “Thomas Hollis and His Donation to Leiden University Library, 1759-70,” Quaerendo 30 (2000): 3-34.
[122. ]Charles W. Akers, Called unto Liberty: A Life of Jonathan Mayhew, 1720-1766 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1964), p. 145.
[123. ]John Toland, The Life of John Milton . . . with Amyntor, or, A Defense of Milton’s Life (London, 1761).
[124. ]HD, 31 March 1763.
[125. ]Blackburne, p. 61.
[126. ]I am most grateful to David Womersley for lending me microfilms of the diary.
[127. ]HD, 26 June 1764, 6 December 1766, 15 September 1768; Hollis to Timothy Hollis, 23 February 1771, MS Eng. 1191/1/1, Houghton Library, Harvard University.
[128. ]HD, 6 December 1766; for the eccentricity of their position see Sainsbury, Disaffected Patriots, p. 13.
[129. ]Toland, Life of John Milton, p. 248; Blackburne, pp. 73, 92-93, 763; HD, 2 April 1764; Robbins, “Strenuous Whig,” p. 190.
[130. ]Blackburne, p. 81; Akers, Called unto Liberty, s.v. “Hollis.”
[131. ]Robbins, “Strenuous Whig,” p. 186.
[132. ]7 September 1769, MS Am. 882.5F, Houghton Library, Harvard University.
[133. ]Blackburne, pp. 321-22; HD, 28 May 1770.
[134. ]Blackburne, pp. vi, 27, 66, 76, 81, 362 (compare pp. 470, 577); Bond, Thomas Hollis, p. 121; HD, 28 March 1765; 21 June, 5 November 1766; 23 August 1767; 28 January, 24 December 1768. Compare Political Register, June 1768, p. 405, and another publication in which Hollis was involved: Collection of Letters and Essays in Favour of Public Liberty, 3 vols. (London, 1774), title page and 1:253.
[135. ]Milton, Eikonoklastes, ed. Baron (London, 1756), preface, and Hollis’s annotations on p. iv of the preface in the copy in the Houghton Library, EC75.H7267. Zz756m3 (hereafter “Houghton Eikonoklastes ”); Sidney, Discourses (1763 ed.), p. 45; Blackburne, p. 377.
[136. ]Hill, Republican Virago, explores the relationship of Hollis and Macaulay. Mutually admiring letters between them are in the Houghton Library, MS Eng. 1191/2. Hollis’s diary provides information about his communications with, and admiration for, both Macaulay and Harris.
[137. ]Houghton, Eikonoklastes; Blackburne, pp. 759-60.
[138. ]Cook, Monarchy No Creature of Gods Making (1652; EC75. H7267. Zz652c, Houghton Library), esp. p. 131; Blackburne, pp. 749-78; Sidney, Discourses (1763 ed.), pp. 8-13, 45.
[139. ]Blackburne, p. 61.
[140. ]Baron was ready to defend Buckingham’s assassination by John Felton in 1628. Neville, Diary, p. 23. A similar enthusiasm was professed in The Political Register (July 1767, p. 138), a periodical in which Hollis arranged the publication of “pieces in favour of public liberty.” HD, 10 April, 2 May 1769; 1 May 1770.
[141. ]Political Register, September 1769, p. 145; May 1770, p. 270; June 1770, pp. 320, 324-25.
[142. ]Ibid., April 1770, p. 226; compare Neville, Diary, p. 23.
[143. ]HD, 29 May 1766; compare Collection of Letters and Essays in Favour, 1:33-36, 232-41, 2:140; Sidney, Discourses (1763 ed.), p. 10.
[144. ]HD, 6 February, 4 June 1769. For celebrations on 30 January see, too, Neville, Diary, pp. 90, 91, 149, 301.
[145. ]Blackburne, p. 237; compare HD, 25 July 1761; Collection of Letters and Essays, 1:33-36, 234-35.
[146. ]Blackburne, pp. 148, 188. Compare Political Register, November 1768, p. 280.
[147. ]HD, 25 April 1763.
[148. ]Blackburne, p. 97.
[149. ]Ibid., pp. 186-87; compare Peter Karsten, Patriot-Heroes in England and America (Madison, Wisc.: University of Wisconsin Press, 1978), p. 49.
[150. ]See Blair Worden, “The Commonwealth Kidney of Algernon Sidney,” Journal of British Studies 24 (1995): 1-40, at pp. 32, 35.
[151. ]Charles S. Hyneman and Daniel S. Lutz, eds., American Political Writing During the Founding Era, 1760-1805, 2 vols. (Indianapolis: Liberty Press, 1983), 1:403.
[152. ]Compare it with the injunction by Hollis to “Men of New England” quoted in Akers, Called unto Liberty, p. 145.
[153. ]Blackburne, p. 318.
[154. ]HD, 8 June 1768, 18 February 1769.
[155. ]Blackburne, pp. 60, 93. Hollis was echoing, as many others did, a phrase of the poet James Thompson.
[156. ]Sidney, Discourses (1763 ed.), p. 45.
[157. ]HD, 31 March 1763; compare ibid., 27 October 1761; Blackburne, p. 186.
[158. ]Blackburne, pp. 447-49.
[159. ]HD, 8 October, 1 December 1760; compare 11 July, 2 September 1767.
[160. ]Ibid., 26 October 1763.
[161. ]Ibid., 26 October, 9 November 1763; 17 April, 2 May 1764; John Locke, Two Treatises of Government (London, 1764); John Locke, Two Treatises of Government, ed. Peter Laslett (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1960), p. 23.
[162. ]HD, 20 April 1764; Locke, Two Treatises, ed. Laslett. There is another Hollis presentation copy in the Bodleian Library, Radcliffe e.271. For other donations by Hollis to Christ’s see HD, 7 April 1762, 28 May 1765.
[163. ]HD, 8 May, 26 June, 21, 30 October, 6, 9, 10, 16 November 1764.
[164. ]London Chronicle, 30 December 1766; compare Lloyd’s Evening Post, 2 January 1767; Public Advertiser, 22, 29 January 1767. For Hollis and the London Chronicle see also HD, 14 April 1769.
[165. ]HD, 2, 13, 14 January 1767; compare 12, 13 December 1766.
[166. ]London Chronicle, 19 February 1767; Public Advertiser, 20 February 1767.
[167. ]Hollis’s notes on the copy of Nedham’s edition of John Selden’s The Dominion of the Seas in the Houghton Library, EC65. H7267. Zz6525 (hereafter “Houghton Selden”); London Chronicle, 6 October 1772. Politicus is described as “that celebrated state-paper” in the preface to the 1767 edition of The Excellencie, a phrase we can ascribe to Hollis.
[168. ]Blackburne, pp. 760, 773. At a few points the text of The Excellencie of 1767, which is otherwise mostly faithful to the version of 1656, effects slight alterations that bring the wording into line with the passages of Politicus from which Nedham had reproduced it in 1656 (pp. 130-31). Most of these changes correct obvious misprints and would likely have been made whether or not Baron or Hollis had access to the corresponding issues of the newsbook. It is, however, hard to decide whether that explanation can be extended to the other alterations. Various runs and separate issues of the newsbook survive. I owe to Moses Tannenbaum the information that a run of Politicus from 1650 to 1655 in the Cambridge University Library belonged to John Moore (1646-1714). The same library has a run from August 1651 to September 1652, roughly the period of the sequence of editorials reproduced in The Excellencie. Copies of Politicus travelled to America, where in 1799 Noah Webster’s A Brief History of Epidemic and Pestilential Diseases (Hartford, Conn.; pp. 189-90) drew on what looks to have been a run of the newsbook at least from 1652 to 1656.
[169. ]Blackburne, pp. 269, 358; Certain Considerations tendered in all humility, to an Honorable Member of the Council of State (London, 1649).
[170. ]Blackburne, p. 357; Sidney, Discourses (1763 ed.), p. 14; Houghton Selden.
[171. ]Sidney, Discourses (1763 ed.), pp. 17-21.
[172. ]Ibid., pp. 12-13. Hollis likewise commended the foreign exploits of Cromwell, whose “spirit” in war and diplomacy he admired even as he denounced what he thought of as the protector’s “shocking usurpation.” Ibid., pp. 43-44; Blackburne, pp. 92-93; Houghton Eikonoklastes, pp. vi, vii; Toland, Life of John Milton, ed. Hollis, p. 98; HD, 30 September 1759, 29 December 1763. Compare Political Register, November 1767, p. 45; London Chronicle, 9 June 1768, p. 551; 30 June 1768, p. 620.
[173. ]Blackburne, p. 366.
[174. ]Ibid., pp. 356-67.
[175. ]HD, 23 February 1668.
[176. ]Ibid., 2 January 1769.
[177. ]Robbins, “Strenuous Whig,” p. 184.
[178. ]Idem, “Thomas Hollis in his Dorsetshire Retirement,” in Absolute Liberty, p. 244.
[179. ]Blackburne, pp. 772-73.
[180. ]Robbins, “Library of Liberty,” p. 212.
[181. ]Blackburne, p. 61; and see Hill, Republican Virago, p. 169.
[182. ]Blackburne, pp. iii-iv, 117-18, 186, 210, 449.
[183. ]Sidney, Discourses (1763 ed.), pp. 2, 10-11, 13; but see also ibid., pp. 40-41.
[184. ]Blackburne, p. 306; Darbishire, ed., Early Lives of Milton, p. 174.
[185. ]H. F. Russell Smith, Harrington and His “ Oceana”: A Study of a Seventeenth-Century Utopia and Its Influence in America (1914; repr. New York: Octagon, 1971), pp. 145-48.
[186. ]Wootton, Republicanism, chap. 4.
[187. ]Worden, Roundhead Reputations, chaps. 5, 6.
[188. ]See, for example, Political Register, May 1768, p. 326; July 1768, pp. 6-18; Neville, Diary, p. 55.
[189. ]Blackburne, pp. 660, 799; Sidney, Discourses (1763 ed.), pp. 13, 30; Houghton Eikonoklastes, p. 440; Toland, Life of John Milton (ed. Hollis), p. 104; HD, 5 June 1768, 10 April 1769; compare Andrew Eliot to Thomas Hollis, 29 September 1768, MS Am. 882.5F, Houghton Library. Hollis’s alertness to the topic complicated his perception of the civil wars, for his admiration for the regicide was accompanied by a dislike of the new model army as a standing force, which had carried it out in so unconstitutional a manner. Houghton Eikonoklastes, p. [vi]; Blackburne, pp. 92-93. Jonathan Mayhew had the same difficulty with the regicide: see his A Discourse concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers (Boston, 1750), pp. 44-48.
[190. ]EC75. N2845 656eb, pp. 114-15, Houghton Library.
[191. ]Worden, Roundhead Reputations, s.v. “standing armies”; Robbins, Eighteenth-Century Commonwealthman, p. 48. See, too, the annotations in the copy of the edition, sponsored by Hollis, of Ludlow’s Memoirs of 1771 in the Elham collection of publications in Canterbury Cathedral Library; and Critical Memoirs of the Times, 10 Febuary 1769, p. 125. This was another periodical in which Hollis involved himself (e.g., HD, 14 April 1769).
[192. ]HD, 15 September 1768; Sainsbury, Disaffected Patriots, pp. 8-9.
[193. ]HD, 6 March 1769.
[194. ]Ibid., 24 November 1767; 15 April, 7 October, 19 December 1768; 2 January, 4 February, 14 April, 20 October 1769; 18 January, 14 April 1770.
[195. ]Bond, Thomas Hollis, p. 9.
[196. ]HD, 25 October 1760; 24 October, 3 November 1763; 24 November 1767; 19 December 1768; 4 March 1769; 2 May 1770; compare Sidney, Discourses (1763 ed.), pp. 31-32.
[197. ]Blackburne, p. 236.
[198. ]HD, 18 February 1770; Sidney, Discourses (1763 ed.), p. 40.
[199. ]Blackburne, p. iii. Compare Blackburne, pp. 236-37, 659; Toland, Life of John Milton, ed. Hollis, p. 248; HD, 28 September 1760.
[200. ]HD, 24 February 1769. Anthony Collins was another figure from the period who attracted Hollis. HD, 26 June 1764; Blackburne, p. 660; Toland, Life of John Milton, ed. Hollis, p. 255. Henry Booth, Lord Delamere and Earl of Warrington, was one more radical Whig admiringly remembered in Hollis’s time. Political Register, December 1768, pp. 352-54.
[201. ]Bailyn, Ideological Origins, pp. 35-40.
[202. ]Thus see An Argument, Shewing, title page.
[203. ]Robbins, “Library of Liberty,” pp. 223-26; Blackburne, pp. 659, 750-51, 771; HD, 27 December 1764, 4 January 1765, 29 June 1768, 7 June 1770; compare Collection of Letters and Essays, 1:115-16.
[204. ]Blackburne, pp. 92-93. Milton’s state letters, which Hollis admired, provided support for that view. LP, p. 230.
[205. ]EC75. H7267. Zz763s2 (Sidney), EC65. M6427. 3753wa (Milton), Houghton Library.
[206. ]Blackburne, p. 93.
[207. ]EC65 N2845 656eb, Houghton Library.
[208. ]Toland, Life of John Milton, ed. Hollis, p. 248.
[209. ]The Works of Tacitus, 2 vols., trans. and ed. Thomas Gordon (Dublin, 1728-32), 1:27.
[210. ]HD, 8 June 1768 (compare ibid., 18 February 1769); London Chronicle, 11, 14 June 1768; Toland, Life of John Milton, ed. Hollis, p. 243.
[211. ]Monthly Review, January 1767, p. 39.
[212. ]Worden, Roundhead Reputations, especially chap. 6; compare Blackburne, pp. 118, 144.
[213. ]Blackburne, pp. 66, 188; HD, 8 September 1760; 18 April, 25 July 1761; 19, 23 February 1768; Sidney, Discourses (1763 ed.), p. 33.
[214. ]Knollenberg, “Thomas Hollis and Jonathan Mayhew,” p. 116.
[215. ]Bond, Thomas Hollis, pp. 23, 33; HD, 30 August 1765; Hollis to Timothy Hollis, 20 May 1771, MS 1191.1/2, Houghton Library; Worden, “Commonwealth Kidney,” p. 31.
[216. ]Houghton Selden, sig. G2v.
[217. ]Blackburne, p. 357.
[218. ]Horace Walpole, The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence, 48 vols., ed. W. S. Lewis et al. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1937-83), 16:5. An earlier condemnation of his character is found in Daily Gazetteer, 5 May 1737.
[219. ]Public Advertiser, 20 May 1784; compare Diary or Woodfall’s Register, 16 May 1792.
[220. ]Robbins, Eighteenth-Century Commonwealthman, pp. 4-5.
[221. ]HD, 2 July 1761.
[222. ]William Harris, An Historical and Critical Account of the Life of Oliver Cromwell (1672), pp. 295-305.
[223. ]Blackburne, p. 660. I owe this observation to Moses Tannenbaum.
[224. ]Catharine Macaulay, The History of England from the Accession of James I to the Elevation of the House of Hanover, 5 vols. (Dublin, 1764-71), 5:361; 5 vols. (London, 1763-83), 5:383; 5 vols. (London, 1769-72), 5:305n, 363, 370. (Although Hollis himself can seem a humorless figure, he enjoyed satire when it was deployed in liberty’s cause. He had Henry Neville’s “very scarce” satirical work The Isle of Pines republished in 1768. HD, 7 September 1765; 23 June 1768.) Harris knew two other tracts by Nedham. Harris, An Historical and Critical Account of the Life of Charles the Second, 2 vols. (London, 1766), 1:47ff., 287-94. One of these tracts, Interest Will Not Lie (London, 1659), was also cited by Macaulay (Dublin ed., 5:331; London ed., 1772, 5:358) and had other currency in the eighteenth century. Another work of Nedham, his anonymous verse attack on the Presbyterians in 1661, A Short History of the English Rebellion (London, 1661), was reprinted in the Harleian Miscellany in the mid-1740s, as were two prose tracts of his, also anonymous: Christianissimus Christianandus and The Pacquet-Boat Advice (London, 1678).
[225. ]See, for example, Worden, “Commonwealth Kidney,” pp. 32-33.
[226. ]John Cartwright, The Legislative Rights of the Commonalty Vindicated (London, 1777), pp. 70-71, 75.
[227. ]Parker’s General Advertiser and Morning Intelligencer, 11 November 1782; Robbins, Eighteenth-Century Commonwealthman, p. 375 and n. 82.
[228. ]Political Register, June 1767, pp. 143-46; cf. ibid., January 1768, pp. 144-45; August 1770, pp. 140-41.
[229. ]Ibid., October 1770, pp. 203-4. But Hollis, at least, did not need lessons from Nedham on the preservation of Greek liberty. Toland, Life of John Milton, ed. Hollis, p. 254.
[230. ]Compare John Wilkes, The Speeches of John Wilkes, 3 vols. (London, 1777-78), 1:87 with p. 115. Wilkes maintains that “the leaving power too long in the hands of the same persons, by which the armies of the republic became the armies of Sylla, Pompey, and Caesar,” helped to “enslave” Rome. Nedham’s point itself draws on Machiavelli’s Discourses, bk. 3, chap. 24, which argues that “the continuation of governments brought Rome into thraldom,” and which one might therefore suppose to be Wilkes’s source. But Machiavelli cites the power only of Sylla, Marius, and Caesar, whereas Nedham and Wilkes add the name of Pompey. Hollis, who had a mixed but generally approving view of Wilkes, pressed the virtues of Algernon Sidney on him. HD, 19 January 1765; compare Political Register, June 1768, p. 412.
[231. ]Even the populist annotations, which presumably were not for public consumption, in the copy in the British Library (reproduced in “Eighteenth-Century Collections Online,” http://www.gale.cengage.com/DigitalCollections/products/ ecco/index.htm) of John Thelwall’s abbreviated version of Walter Moyle’s essay on Roman history, Democracy Vindicated (Norwich, 1796), do not refer to Nedham, even though both Thelwall and the annotator would have concurred with much in Nedham’s work. For Moyle’s own silent debt to Nedham see p. lviii.
[232. ]Cartwright, Letter, &c. [to Sir Francis Burdett, 12 December 1815] (London, 1815), p. 9 (2274 d. 11, Bodleian Library).
[233. ]John Adams, Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, 4 vols., ed. L. H. Butterfield (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1961), 3:358; “Correspondence Between John Adams and Mercy Warren,” Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society 44 (1878): 324.
[234. ]Bond, Thomas Hollis, pp. 120-21; HD, 21 June 1768; and see Andrew Eliot’s letters to Hollis, MS Am. 882.5F, Houghton Library.
[235. ]HD, 4, 21 June, 15 July 1768; 24 April 1769; The True Sentiments of America (London, 1768), p. 141. Perhaps Adams (who did not know Hollis when the articles in the Boston Gazette appeared) had learned of Nedham, directly or indirectly, from the quotations from Politicus in William Harris’s life of Cromwell in 1762. A copy of Harris’s book, annotated by Hollis, is in the Adams National Park and Museum.
[236. ]Hyneman and Lutz, American Political Writing, 1:403.
[237. ]John R. Howe, Jr., The Changing Political Thought of John Adams (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966), p. 129.
[238. ]Zoltán Haraszti, John Adams and the Prophets of Progress (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1952), p. 162. A letter of Adams to Brand Hollis about the Cromwellian times is found in John Disney, Memoirs of Thomas Brand-Hollis (London, 1808), pp. 32-33.
[239. ]John Adams, A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, 3 vols. (London, 1794), 3:213.
[240. ]Ibid., 3:400.
[241. ]Ibid., 3:400, 410; compare 3:288, 398.
[242. ]Ibid., 3:407.
[243. ]Ibid., 2:224, 3:472.
[244. ]Ibid., 3:270, 287.
[245. ]Ibid., 3:213, 219.
[246. ]Ibid., 3:400
[247. ]Ibid., 3:232, 267, 279, 410.
[248. ]Haraszti, John Adams, p. 209.
[249. ]Ibid., p. 26.
[250. ]Gordon S. Wood, The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1969), pp. 163, 441.
[251. ]Howe, Changing Political Thought, pp. 130-31, 170-71, 173-74.
[252. ]Adams, Defence, 3:239, 296, 373.
[253. ]Haraszti, John Adams, p. 35; John Adams, The Adams-Jefferson Letters, ed. Lester J. Cappon (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1959; repr. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1971), p. 166.
[254. ]Adams, Defence, 3:211-12.
[255. ]C. Bradley Thompson, John Adams and the Spirit of Liberty (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998), pp. 128-30.
[256. ]Adams, Defence, 3:418.
[257. ]Adams, Diary and Autobiography, 3:358.
[258. ]Haraszti, John Adams, p. 163; W. B. Gwyn, The Meaning of the Separation of Powers, Tulane Studies in Political Science, vol. 9 (New Orleans: Tulane University, 1965), pp. 118-21. Adams’s interpretation was distorted by his conflation of the two issues of constitutional balance and the separation of powers.
[259. ]A True State of the Case of the Commonwealth (London, 1654), p. 10. It seems that Nedham, a pioneer here as elsewhere, may have introduced the language of constitutional “checks,” which in the eighteenth century would be so frequent and potent to political thought. At least, it is fair to speculate that he was responsible for two known uses of the term during the Puritan Revolution. The term checks appeared in a declaration of the new model army in August 1647 in which he seems likely to have had a hand (LP, p. 183), and in 1657 it was used in a speech by Cromwell, who depended on Nedham for the articulation of political concepts (LP, p. 141). For those instances and the early history of the term checks, see David Wootton, “Liberty, Metaphor, and Mechanism: ‘Checks and Balances’ and the Origin of Modern Constitutionalism,” in Liberty and American Experience in the Eighteenth Century, ed. David Womersley (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2006), pp. 209-74, especially pp. 216-17, 221, 237-38. To those two uses we may add Cromwell’s insistence on the need for “a check” and for “a balance” in his speech to Parliament of 12 September 1654 (Writings and Speeches, ed. Abbott, 3:459-60) and the pleas by his supporters in the Commons, during the previous days, for a “check” on Parliament’s authority: Thomas Burton, Diary of Thomas Burton, 4 vols., ed. J. T. Rutt (London, 1828), 1:xxviii, xxii. In Wootton’s account the term went into abeyance after Nedham’s use of it and was revived at the end of the century by John Trenchard, Walter Moyle, and John Toland, whom Wootton portrays as “key figures” in the evolution of the language. Did those writers, owing an unacknowledged debt to Nedham on the subject of standing armies, also draw on him—this time on A True State —here? Elsewhere, too, Nedham as an innovator awaits proper recognition. He helped to bring to domestic politics (as distinct from international relations, where it had already been applied) the notion, which would gather a widening following in the later seventeenth century, that the key to political health and stability is the identification and balancing of competing interest groups of society. J. A. W. Gunn, Politics and the Public Interest in the Seventeenth Century (London: Routledge and K. Paul, 1969); Worden, “ ‘Wit in a Roundhead,’ ” pp. 317-18. I hope to show elsewhere that he had a pioneering role in the shaping of a new vocabulary that brought the causes of civil and religious liberty together. Moreover, his obituary of his friend John Bradshaw in 1659 (LP, p. 47) was, in its scope and character, a literary departure.
[260. ]Howe, Changing Political Thought, p. 171.
[261. ]Adams, Adams-Jefferson Letters, p. 261
[262. ]Mary Wollstonecraft, An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution (London, 1794), p. 356; Haraszti, John Adams, p. 213.
[263. ]Haraszti, John Adams, p. 203.
[264. ]Richard Fotheringham, ed., “Letters from Andrew Eliot to Thomas Hollis,” Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 4th ser., 4 (1858): 403. For Eliot and Nedham see, too, Alice M. Baldwin, The New England Clergy and the American Revolution (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1928), pp. 9n, 11. Eliot repeated the phrase about Sidney (H. Trevor Colbourn, The Lamp of Experience: Whig History and the Intellectual Origins of the American Revolution [Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1965], p. 60).
[265. ]Josiah Quincy Jr., Portrait of a Patriot: The Major Political and Legal Papers of Josiah Quincy Junior, ed. Daniel R. Coquillette and Neil Longley York (Boston: Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 2005-), 1:68-70, 85, 178. I am indebted to Moses Tannenbaum for guidance on Eliot and Quincy, as on much else.
[266. ]It is no surprise to find that Nedham does not figure among the well-known authors mentioned by Donald S. Lutz, “The Relative Influence of European Writers on Late Eighteenth-Century Political Thought,” American Political Science Review 78 (1984): 189-97. The Excellencie was included in a very long list of the books “more frequently used” by “undergraduate sophisters” at Harvard in a catalogue of the library there in 1773, but the description is doubtful: see W. H. Bond and Hugh Amory, eds., The Printed Catalogues of the Harvard College Library, 1723-1790 (Boston: Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 1996), pp. xxxv, 186, 254.
[267. ][Trench Coxe], The Federalist: containing some Strictures upon a Pamphlet, entitled “ The Pretensions of Thomas Jefferson. . . . ” (Philadelphia, 1796), pp. 20-24. See too [William Griffin], Eumenes (1799), p. 123. In England a reviewer of the third volume of Adams’s Defence described The Excellencie as an “able” work, but gave no indication of having read it. The reviewer took it on trust from Adams that the tract was “a favourite book in America.” Monthly Review, October 1788, pp. 289-97.
[268. ]Here as elsewhere in this paragraph I am indebted to Mr. Tannenbaum.
[269. ]Samuel Cooper, A Sermon Preached before his Excellency John Hancock (Boston, 1780), p. 28.
[270. ]National Gazette, 20 December 1792. Conceivably, too, Nedham’s influence is present in the passage of a pamphlet of 1776 which maintained that “the people know best their own wants and necessities, and therefore are best able to rule themselves” (quoted by Bailyn, Ideological Origins, p. 294).
[271. ]A copy of the book did make its way to Monticello. Colbourn, Lamp of Experience, p. 220.
[272. ]Robbins, “Library of Liberty,” p. 208.
[273. ]Adams, Defence, 1:148-52, 158-61; Haraszti, John Adams, pp. 34-35.
[274. ]Bailyn, Ideological Origins, p. 67.
[275. ]Howe, Changing Political Thought, p. 88.
[276. ]See, for example, Colbourn, Lamp of Experience, pp. 91-92; Worden, Roundhead Reputations, p. 157.
[277. ]Bond, Thomas Hollis, pp. 120-21; compare Political Register, June 1767, pp. 136-37.
[278. ]Colbourn, Lamp of Experience, p. 60.
[279. ]Knollenberg, “Thomas Hollis and Jonathan Mayhew,” p. 102.
[280. ]Jonathan Mayhew, The Snare Broken (Boston, 1766), p. 43; Colbourn, Lamp of Experience, p. 65.
[281. ]D’Eon would return to England in 1785 and remain until his death in 1810. For d’Eon and Nedham see Rachel Hammersley, French Revolutionaries and English Republicans: The Cordeliers Club, 1790-1794 (Woodbridge, U.K.: Boydell Press, 2005), pp. 58-60. For a fuller exploration of the subject, see Hammersley, The English Republican Tradition and Eighteenth-Century France: Between the Ancients and the Moderns (Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 2010). My account of the French reception of The Excellencie is almost entirely indebted to her pioneering studies (though I must not implicate her in my inferences from them).
[282. ]Robbins, “Strenuous Whig,” p. 219n18.
[283. ]Charles d’Eon de Beaumont, Les Loisirs du Chevalier d’Eon de Beaumont, 8 vols. (Amsterdam, 1774), 5:137. Caroline Robbins’s reference to “an Amsterdam reprint” of The Excellencie in 1774 (Eighteenth-Century Commonwealthman, p. 49) has misled some readers by implying that there was a second edition of the Hollis-Baron publication. She was presumably thinking of d’Eon’s publication. The edition of 1767 was re-advertised in 1771. Public Advertiser, 11 September 1771; see, too, St. James’s Chronicle, 4 August 1767, and Public Advertiser, 29 October 1768.
[284. ]Hammersley, French Revolutionaries, p. 60.
[285. ]For Mandar’s translation see ibid., chap. 2.
[286. ]Ibid., pp. 56, 65.
[287. ]Ibid., p. 62.
[288. ]Ibid., p. 79. The preface, however, states that the book was published under the protectorate.
[289. ]Despite his “immense prejudice” against the French, Hollis sent books to France, though not on the scale of his dissemination of literature elsewhere. Robbins, “Library of Liberty,” pp. 213-14.
[290. ]Hammersley, French Revolutionaries, pp. 80-81.
[291. ]Ibid., pp. 272-75.
[292. ]Paul Rahe, Republics Ancient and Modern: Classical Republicanism and the American Revolution (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992), p. 254.
[293. ]Jean-Antoine-Nicolas de Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet, Outlines of an Historical View of the Progress of the Human Mind (London, 1795), p. 201.
[294. ]Adams, Defence, 2:13, 236; Thompson, John Adams, pp. 129-30.
[295. ]Haraszti, John Adams, p. 209.
[296. ]Worden, Roundhead Reputations, s.v. “Godwin.”
[297. ]William Godwin, History of the Commonwealth of England, 4 vols. (London, 1824-28), 2:24, 31, 3:343-47. In 1854 brief excerpts from issues of Mercurius Politicus published around the time of Oliver Cromwell’s death were reprinted, without explanation, in a curious publication, The Commonwealth Mercury.
[298. ]Worden, Roundhead Reputations, p. 284. The authority of Roman history on English political thinking at large was challenged by two other developments: a confidence that the modern world, and modern England, were at least as well equipped as the inhabitants of classical antiquity to discover the rules of political prudence; and a growing emphasis on the turbulence and instability of the classical republics. Ibid., p. 161; and see Political Register, 25 February 1769, pp. 187-88.
[299. ]David Masson, The Life of John Milton, 7 vols. (London: Macmillan, 1859-94), 4:335.
[300. ]S. R. Gardiner, History of the Commonwealth and Protectorate, 1649-1660, 4 vols. (1894-1903; repr. New York: AMS, 1965), 1:255, 2:18.
[301. ]C. H. Firth, The Last Years of the Protectorate, 2 vols. (London: Longmans, Green, 1909), 1:156. Firth seems to have been the first to notice the disparities between the editorials and the corresponding passages of The Excellencie, though he apparently did not explore them. Firth e. 147, Bodleian Library pamphlets.
[302. ]Perez Zagorin, A History of Political Thought in the English Revolution (London: Routledge and Paul, 1954), chap. 10.
[303. ]J. G. A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the American Republican Tradition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975), pp. 382-84, 508. Nedham’s observations about militias and standing armies, which were selected for covert polemical use in the late seventeenth century, have attracted modern attention too. Pocock was especially interested in Nedham’s espousal of what Pocock took to be Machiavelli’s “ideal of the armed and militant people” and of the “vivere civile e popolare” that derived from “the classical ideal of the armed citizen.” Paul Rahe, however, maintains that Machiavelli “never contended that arms-bearing should depend on citizenship or vice-versa” and portrays Nedham himself as “the first modern political theorist to insist, as [Aristotle and] the ancients had done,” on that equation (Against Throne and Altar [New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008], pp. 239-40). Nedham is a substantial figure in Rahe’s book. He figures prominently too in Jonathan Scott, Commonwealth Principles: Republican Writing of the English Revolution (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2004).
[304. ]As this volume goes to press I can add that the Dutch ‘Patriot’ movement of the late eighteenth century produced two native-language versions of The Excellencie . In the first, De Voortrefelijkheid van een Vryen Staat (Amsterdam, 1783), the portion to be found on pp. 8-46 below is reproduced, without any indication of the origins or authorship of the work. The publication was dedicated to George Washington. Ten years later Théophile Mandar’s French translation was converted into Dutch as De Oppermagt des Volks, of de Voortrefelijkheid van eenen Vrijen Staat (Amsterdam, 1793). T here is now a modern edition of Mandar’s translation: Marchamont Nedham, De la Souveraineté du Peuple, et de l’Excellence d’un État Libre, ed. Raymonde Monnier (Comité des Travaux Historiques et Scientifiques, Paris, 2010). I am most grateful to Rachel Hammersley, Wyger Velema, and Arthur Weinsteijn for their help in these matters.