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The Reception of the Republication - 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).
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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
NEDHAM AND HIS CLASSICAL SOURCES
Nedham’s argument proceeds by the invocation and accumulation of historical examples. He does not deploy or cite them in a fastidious spirit. His historical illustrations, sometimes evidently taken from memory, are frequently characterized by liberal paraphrase or loose quotation or misleading abbreviation. The writers to whose authority he appeals would have been surprised by some of the uses to which, through either overeagerness or deliberate distortion, he puts them.305 Because of his habits of imprecision, the identification of his sources for particular statements can, as Philip Knachel remarked in the preface to his admirable edition of Nedham’s The Case of the Commonwealth of England, Stated, be “a difficult and occasionally impossible task.”
The same habits preclude confident assessments of the extent of his reading. He used the conventional range of histories by classical writers, but did he go further? His literary associate Bulstrode Whitelocke, in passages on Roman history that draw extensively on Nedham’s writings (p. xlv n 71), employed Renaissance commentaries by Carolus Sigonius, Pedro Mexia, Johannes Rosinus, and Jean Bodin. It seems impossible to say whether Nedham did the same. He may, but may not, have used such compendia as Sir Robert Dallington’s Aphorismes Civill and Militarie (London, 1613), which conveniently reproduced, in English, extracts from Francesco Guicciardini. Nedham was not above appropriating English translations of classical historians, but does not seem to have been generally dependent on them.
In most cases Nedham turns to historians of antiquity merely for historical examples to support his own thesis. There are, however, three preeminent classical writers to whom his debt goes further, and whose political philosophies can be said to inform the editorials: Aristotle, Cicero, and Livy. Enterprising as his use of them is, he never quite integrates the varying perspectives with which they supply him. To Aristotle’s Politics he owes not only general debts—to its historical content and to accounts of the characteristics and tendencies of the various forms of government—but insights into the means by which governments, especially new ones, maintain power. He finds evidence of the importance of a public militia (Politics IV.13.1; p. 89) and of educating young people in the principles of government (V.9; p. 92) to the preservation of a free state. In the earlier part of The Excellencie Nedham makes use of Cicero’s De Officiis to argue that a free state is the form of government best suited to human nature. Later he turns to the same work to demonstrate Cicero’s own hostility to tyranny and preference for a republic.
Nedham’s use of Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita, which in the earlier stages of The Excellencie is largely restricted to the depiction of exemplary republican figures, grows much more extensive nearly halfway through, when it becomes the basis of Nedham’s analysis of the survival of “kingly power” in senatorial or consular hands. Livy’s own views are subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, transformed. References by the Roman historian to specific abuses of government are presented as general condemnations of the system of rule. His equivocal presentation of the Decemviri (III.9.4) is turned by Nedham into an unequivocally hostile one (p. 81). A view of kingly power ascribed by Livy to one of his characters (IX.34.16) is implicitly attributed to Livy himself (p. 85). To a large extent Nedham’s reading of Livy is shaped by Machiavelli, whose influence on Nedham has already been described. The Excellencie could almost be described as discourses on Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy.
THE TEXT AND THE NOTES
The text reproduced in this volume is that of 1656.306 The spelling of the original is retained (whereas in my introduction I have modernized the spelling of quotations, though not of titles of books). Except in reproducing proper names I have corrected obvious mis-prints, which are listed in Appendix A. I have not reproduced the occasional gaps to be found between paragraphs, some of which seem to have been inadvertent. The page numbers in the text that are reproduced within square brackets are those of the 1656 edition, except that I have supplied the page numbers of the preface. I have silently corrected seven errors of page numbering, though I have left the pagination as it is when the text leaps from p. 136 to p. 145. The bracketed headings, for example, [MP 71, 9-16 Oct. 1651], point to the corresponding issues of Mercurius Politicus.
Where italicized words are followed in E by punctuation in roman, the punctuation is here italicized. Also, in paragraphs that follow breaks in the text, the indentation of the opening line in E has been eliminated. The format of the headings of the sections or chapters of E has been standardized and modernized as well.
The footnotes are explanatory. References to classical texts are to the Loeb Classical Library editions. The endnotes, which can be found in Appendix C, record differences between The Excellencie and the corresponding editorials of Mercurius Politicus.307
The Excellencie of a Free-State
The Right Constitution
All Objections are answered, and
the best way to secure the Peoples
Some Errors of Government,
Rules of Policie.
Published by a Well-wisher to Posterity.
LONDON, Printed for Thomas Brewster, at the three
Bibles neer the West-end of Pauls. 1656.
[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.
[305. ]One passage (pp. 48-52) carries the tendency to extremes. In it Nedham, denying that republican rule leads to “levelling,” claims that Spartan and Roman history show that the true “Levellers” are kings. His manipulation of evidence at that point was accounted “wit and burlesque” by John Adams (Defence, 3:395-96) and has been independently characterized by a modern authority as “truly contorted, nearly comical” (Eric Nelson, The Greek Tradition in Republican Thought [Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2004], p. 92).
[306. ]Occasionally, indistinct print leaves a letter or punctuation mark uncertain, and in these cases I have made an educated guess as to Nedham’s intent.
[307. ]Other guides to Nedham’s reproduction of material from Politicus may be found in J. Milton French, “Milton, Needham, and Mercurius Politicus,” Studies in Philology 23 (1936): 236-52; and Ernest A. Beller, “Milton and Mercurius Politicus, ” Huntington Library Quarterly 5 (1952): 479-87.