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NEDHAM AND HIS CLASSICAL SOURCES - 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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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 To Aristotle’s Politics he owes not only general debts—to its historical content and to accounts of the characteristics and tendencies of the various forms of government—but insights into the means by which governments, especially new ones,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.
[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).