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An Introduction to the Following Discourse. - 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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An Introduction to the Following Discourse.
[MP 71, 9-16 Oct. 1651]
1 When the Senators of Rome, in their publike Decrees and Orations, began to comply with and court the People, calling them Lords of the world; how easie a matter was it then for Gracchus to perswade them to un-Lord the Senate? In like manner, when Athens was quitted of Kings, the Power was no sooner declared to be in the People, but immediately they took it, and made sure of it in their own hands, by the advice of Solon, that excellent Lawgiver: for, as Cicero saith, There is a natural desire of Power and Sovereignty in every man: so that if any have once an opportunity to seize, they seldom neglect it; and if they are told it is their due, they venture life and all to attain it.*
If a People once conceive they ought to be free, this conception is immediately put in practice; and they free themselves. Their first care is to see, that their Laws, their Rights, their Deputies, their Officers, and all their Dependents, be setled in a state of freedom. This becoms like the Apple of the eye; the least grain, atome, or touch, will grieve it: it is an espoused virgin; they are extreme jealous over it.
Thus strangely affected were the Roman people, that if any one among them (though ne’er so deserving) were found to aspire, they presently fetch’d him down, as they did the gallant Maelius and Manlius; yea, their2 jealousie was so great, that they observed every man’s looks, his very nods, his garb, and his gait, whether he walked, conversed, and lived as a friend of Freedom among his neighbours. The supercilious eye, the lofty brow, and the grand paw were accounted Monsters, and no Character3 of Freedom; so that it was the special care of the wiser Patriots, to keep themselves in a demure and humble posture, for the avoiding of suspicion. Hence it was, that Collatinus, one of their Freedoms Founders, and of the first Consuls, living in some more State than ordinary, and keeping at too great a distance from the people, soon taught them to forget his former merits: insomuch, that they not onely turned him out of his Consulship, but quite out of the City into Banishment. But his Colleague Brutus, and that wise Man Valerius Publicola, by taking a contrary course, preserved themselves and their reputation. For, the one sacrificed his Children, those living Monuments of his House, to make the vulgar amends for an injury: the other courted them with the Title of Majesty, laid the Fasces, the Ensigns of Authority at their Feet, fixt all appeals at their Tribunals, and levelled the lofty Walls of his own stately House, for fear they should mistake it for a Castle. Thus also did Menenius Agrippa, Camillus, and other eminent Men in that popular State: so that by these4 means they made themselves the Darlings of the people, whilst many others of a more Grandee-humor, soon lost their Interest and Reputation.
Thus you see, that5 when a Peoples Right is once declared to them, it is almost impossible to keep it, or take it from them.
6 It is pity, that the people of England, being born as free as any people in the World, should be of such a supple humor and inclination, to bow under the ignoble pressures of an Arbitrary Tyranny, and so unapt to learn what true Freedom is. It is an inestimable Jewel, of more worth than your Estates, or your Lives: it consists not in a License to do what you list, but in these few particulars: First, in having wholesome Laws suted to every Man’s state and condition. Secondly, in a due and easie course of administration, as to Law and Justice, that the Remedies of Evil may be cheap and speedy. Thirdly, in a power of altering Government and Governours upon occasion. Fourthly, in an uninterrupted course of successive Parliaments, or Assemblies of the People. Fifthly, in a free Election of Members to sit in every Parliament, when Rules of Election are once established. By enjoying these onely, a people are said to enjoy their Rights, and to be truely stated in a condition of safety and Freedom.
[MP 73, 23-30 Oct. 1651]
Now if Liberty is the most precious Jewel under the Sun, then when7 it is once in possession, it requires more than an ordinary art and industry to preserve it. But the great question is, Which is the safest way? whether by committing of it into the hands of a standing Power, or by placing the Guardianship in the hands of the People, in a constant succession of their supreme Assemblys. The best way to determine this, is by observation out of Romane8 Stories; whereby it plainly appears, that people never had any real Liberty, till they were possess’d of the power of calling and dissolving the Supreme Assemblies, changing Governments, enacting and repealing Laws, together with a power of chusing and deputing whom they pleased to this work, as often as they should judge expedient, for their own well-being, and the good of the Publike. This power is said to be the first-born of that Peoples Freedom: and many a shrewd fit, many a pang and throw the Commonwealth had, before it could be brought forth in the world: which (Gracchus told them)* was a sore affliction from the gods, that they should suffer so much for the ignorance or negligence of their Ancestors, who when they drave out Kings, forgat to drive out the Mysteries and inconveniences of Kingly power, which were all reserved within the hands9 of the Senate. By this means the poor people missing the first opportunity of setling their freedom, soon lost it again: they10 were told they were a Free-state; and why? because (forsooth) they had no King, they had at length never a Tarquin to trouble them: but what was that to the purpose, as long as they had a Caius, and an Appius Claudius, and the rest of that gang, who infected the Senators with a11 humour of Kinging it from generation to generation? Alas, when the Romans were at this pass, they were just such another Free-state as was that of Sparta, in the days of yore, where they had a Senate too, to pull down the pride of Kings; but the people were left destitute of power and means to pull down the pride of the Senate; by which means indeed they12 became free to do what they list, whilst the people were confined within straiter bounds13 than ever. Such another Free-state in these daies is that of Venice, where the people are free from the Dominion of their Prince or Duke; but little better than slaves14 under the power of their Senate: but now in the Commonwealth of Athens the case was far otherwise; where it was the care of Solon, that famous Law-giver, to place both the exercise & interest of Supremacy in the hands of the people, so that nothing of a publick interest15 could be imposed, but what passed currant by vertue of their consent and Authority: he instituted that famous Council16 called the Areopagus, for the managing of State-transactions: but left the power of Legislation, or law-making, in a successive course of the peoples Assemblies; so that avoiding Kingly Tyranny on the one side, and Senatical incroachments on the other, he is celebrated by all Posterity, as the man that hath left the onely Patern of a Free-state fit for all the world to follow.
[MP 72, 16-23 Oct. 1651]
It is also to be observed, when17 Kings were driven out of Rome, though they were declared and called a Free-state, yet it was a long time ere they could be free indeed, in regard18Brutus cheated them with a meer shadow and pretence of liberty: he had indeed an Ambition high enough, and opportunity fair enough to have seized the Crown into his own hands; but there were many considerations that deterr’d him from it; for he well perceived how odious the name of King was grown: Besides, had he sought to Inthrone himself, men would have judged it was not love to his Country made him take up Arms19 , but desire of Dominion; nor could he forget, that serene20 privacy is to be preferr’d before Hazardous Royalty: For what hope could he have to keep the Seat long, who by his own example had taught the people both the Theory and practice of opposing Tyranny? It was necessary therefore that he should think of some other course more plausible, whereby to worke his own ends, and yet preserve the love of the people; who not having been used to liberty, did very little understand it, and therefore were the more easily gul’d out of the substance, and made content with the shadow.
For the carrying on this Design, all the projecting Grandees joyned pates together; wherein, as one observes, Regnum quidem nomen, sed non Regia potestas Româ fuit expulsa: Though the Name of King were exploded with alacrity, yet the Kingly power was retained with all Art and subtilty, and shared under another notion among themselves, who were the great ones of the City. For all Authority was confin’d within the walls of a standing Senate, out of which, two Consuls were chosen yeerly; & so by turns they dub’d one another with a new kinde of Regality: the people being no gainers at all by this alteration of Government, save onely, that (like Asses) they were sadled with new Paniers of Slavery.
But what followed? The Senate having got all power into their own hands, in a short time degenerated from their first Virtue and Institution, to the practice21 of Avarice, Riot, and Luxury; whereby the love of their Country was changed into a Study of Ambition and Faction: so that they fell into divisions among themselves, as well as oppressions over the people; by which divisions, some leading Grandees, more potent than their Fellows, took occasion to wipe their Noses, and to assume the Power into their own hands, to the number of ten persons. This Form of Government was known by the Name of the Decemvirate; wherein these new Usurpers, joyning Forces together, made themselves rich with the spoiles of the people, not caring by what unlawful means they purchased either Profit or Pleasure, till that growing every day more insupportable, they were in the end by force cashiered of their Tyranny.
How the Romans obtained their Rights and PriviledgesBut what then? The people being flesh’d with this Victory, and calling to minde how gallantly their Ancestors had in like manner banished Kings, began at last to know their own strength; and stomack’d it exceedingly, that themselves, on whose shoulders the frame of State was supported, (and for whose sakes all States are founded) should be so much vassalized at the will of others, that they who were Lords abroad, should be Slaves at home: so that they resolved to be ridden no longer under fair shews of Liberty. They raised a Tumult under the conduct of their Tribune Canuteius22 ; nor could they by any perswasion23 be induced to lay down Arms, till they were put in possession of their Rights and Priviledges.* They were made capable of Offices of the Government,24 even to the Dictatorship; had Officers of their own, called Tribunes, who were held sacred and inviolable, as Protectors† of the Commons, and retained a power of meeting and acting with all Freedom in their great Assemblies. Now, and never till now, could they be called a Free State, and Commonwealth, though long before declared so: for the way being open to all without exception, vertue, learning, and good Parts made as speedy a Ladder to climbe unto Honours, as Nobility of Birth; and a Good Man as much respected as a Great; which was a rare felicity of the Times, not to be expected again, but upon the dawning of another golden Age.Goodness preferred before Greatness.
The main Observation then arising out of this Discourse, is this: That not onely the Name of King, but the Thing King (whether in the hands of one or of many) was pluck’d up root and branch, before ever the Romans could attain to a full Establishment in their Rights and Freedoms.
[MP 70, 2-9 Oct. 1651]
What they did to preserve their Freedom.Now when Rome was thus declared25 A Free State, the next work was to establish their Freedom in some sure & certain way: & in order to this, the first business they pitch’d upon, was, not onely to ingage the people by an Oath against the return of Tarquin ’s Family to the Kingdom, but also against the admission of any such Officer as a King, for ever, because those brave men, who glorified themselves in laying the foundation of a Commonwealth, well knew, that in a short Revolution, others of a less publick Spirit would arise in their places, and gape again after a Kingdom.* And therefore it was the special26 care of those worthy Patriots, to imprint such Principles in mens mindes, as might actuate them with an irreconcilable enmity to the former Power: insomuch, that the very Name of King became odious to the Roman People; yea, and they were so zealous herein, that in process of time, when Caesar took occasion by Civil Discords to assume the Soveraignty into his single Hands, he durst not entertain it under the fatal27 Name of King, but clothed himself with the more plausible stile of Emperor28 ; which nevertheless could not secure him from the29 fatal stab that was given him by Brutus in revenge, on the behalf of the people. Our Neighbours of Holland traced this example at the heels, when upon recovery of their Freedom from Spain, they binde30 themselves by an Oath to abjure the Government, not onely of King Philip, but of all Kings for ever.Oaths in those days were not like an old Almanack.
Kings being cashiered out of Rome, then the Right of Liberty, together with the Government, was retained within the hands and bounds of the Patrician or Senatorian Order of Nobility; the people not being admitted into any share, till partly by Mutinies, and partly by Importunities31 , they compell’d the Senate to grant them an Interest in Offices of State, and in the Legislative Power, which were circumscribed before within the bounds of the Senate. Hence arose those Officers called Tribunes, and those Conventions called Assemblies of the People, which were as Bridles to restrain the Power and Ambition of the Senate, or Nobility.No Laws imposed, but with the Peoples Consent in their Assemblies. Before the erection of those, whilst all was in the hands of the Senate, the Nation was accounted Free, because not subjected to the will of any single person: But afterwards they were Free indeed, when no Laws could be imposed upon them, without a consent first had in the Peoples Assemblies: so that the Government in the end came to be setled in an equal mixture of both Interests, Patrician and Popular; under which Form, they attained to the height of all their Glory and Greatness. In this Form of Free-State, we now see the Venetian, where the Patrician is predominant, and the People a little too much kept under. The same Form is imbraced also by our Neighbours the United Provinces; but the best part of their Interest lies deposited in the hands of the people. Rome kept up their32 Senate as their standing Councel, for the managing of State-affairs, which require Wisdom and Experience: but as for making of Laws, and the main Acts of Supremacy, they were reserv’d to the Grand Assemblies; so that the People33 gave Rules whereby to govern, and the secrets of Government were intrusted in the hands of the Senate. And this Commonwealth ever34 thriv’d best, when the People had most Power, and used most Moderation: and though they made use of it now and then to fly out into extravagant courses, yet they were no lasting fits, like those distempers that brake out through the Ambition of the Senators. Besides, we cannot but take notice, as long as the Popular Interest continued regular, and more predominant than the other, so long the People were secure of their Liberties: which enjoyment, was a good Allay and Recompence, for many harsh inconveniences that brake out when they were unruly and irregular35 : Whereas, when the Senate afterwards worm’d the People out of Power, as that design went on by degrees, so Rome lost her Liberty; the Senate domineering over the People, and particular Factions over the Senate, till those Factions tearing one another to pieces, at length he that was head of the paramount surviving Faction, by name Caesar, took occasion to usurp over all, swallowing up the Rights and Liberties of the Romans, in the Gulph of a single Tyranny.The Romans lose their Rights and Liberties.
[MP 68, 18-25 Sep. 1651]
It was36 a Noble saying, (though Machiavel’ s) Not he that placeth a vertuous Government in his own hands, or family; but he that establisheth a free and lastingForm, for the Peoples constant security, is most to becommended.* Whosoever hath this oportunity, may improve his actions to a greater height of glory, than ever followed the fame of any ambitious Idol that hath grasp’d a Monarchy: for, as Cato saith in Plutarch, Even the greatest Kings, or Tyrants, are far inferiour to those that are eminent in Free-States and Commonwealths: Nor were those mighty Monarchs of old, to be compared with Epimanondas37 , Pericles, Themistocles, Marcus Curius, Amilcar, Fabius, and Scipio, and other excellent Captains in Free-States, which purchased themselves a fame, in defence of their Liberties.† And though the very name of Liberty was38 for a time grown odious, or ridiculous among us, having been39 long a stranger in these and other parts; yet in Ancient time, Nations were wont to reckon themselves so much the more Noble, as they were free from the Regal yoke: which was the cause why then there were so many Free-States in all parts of the world.40
The Romans flourished most when they were a Free-State.Nor is it onely a meer Gallantry of spirit that excites men to the love of Freedom; but experience assures it to be the most commodious and profitable way of Government, conducing every way to the enlarg ing a people41 in Wealth and Dominion. It is incredible to be spoken, (saith Salust) how exceedingly the Romane Commonwealth increased in a short time, after they had obtained Liberty. And Guicciardine42 affirms, That Free-States must needs be more pleasing to God than any other Form, because in them more regard is to be had to the common good, more care for the impartial distribution of Justice, and the mindes of men are more enflamed thereby to the love of Glory and Vertue, and become much more zealous in the love of Religion, than in any other Government whatsoever.‡
It is wonderful to consider, how mightily the Athenians were augmented in a few years, both in Wealth and Power, after they had freed themselves from the Tyranny of Pistratus43 : but the Romans arrived to such a height, as was beyond all imagination after the expulsion of their Kings, and Kingly Government. Nor44 do these things happen without special reason; it being usual45 in Free-States to be more tender of the Publick in all their Decrees, than of particular Interests: whereas the case is otherwise in a Monarchy, because in this Form the Princes pleasure weighs46 down all Considerations of the Common good. And hence it is, that a Nation hath no sooner lost its Liberty, and stoop’d under the yoke of a single Tyrant, but it immediately loseth its former lustre, the Body fills with ill humors, and may swell in Titles;47 but cannot thrive either in Power or Riches, according to that proportion which it formerly enjoyed, because all new Acquisitions are appropriated as the Princes peculiar, and in no wise conduce to the ease and benefit of the Publick.
[MP 37, 13-20 Feb. 1651]
It was the pride of Richard Nevil the great Earl of Warwick, and he reckoned it the greatest of earthly glories, to be called, (as indeed he was) a Kingmaker, in that he made and unmade Kings at his pleasure48 : for we read in our Chronicles, how that he first pull’d down the House of Lancaster, and brought King Henry the sixth from a Crown to a Prison; setting up the Title of the House of York, in the person of King Edward the fourth: afterwards, he deposed49 this Edward, drave him out of England, and restored the same Henry to the Crown, whom he had before depress’d. But the great Query is, Wherefore, and how this was done? One would have thought, there had been no hope of reconciliation betwixt him and the House of Lancaster, having so highly disobliged them, in casting down and imprisoning the person of Henry. But yet it is very observable of this man, Warwick, being50 on a sudden discontented with the change that51 he had made, because he missed of those ends which he aimed at, in bringing it about; and perceived other persons (whom he conceived his inferiours), to partake of the interest and favour of Edward; therefore, out of an emulous impatience of Spirit, he presently cast about to undo all that before he had done; he supprest the new Government, to advance52 the old.
From which piece of Story, we may very well conclude,53 how unsafe it is in a new alteration, to trust any man with too great a share of Government, or place of Trust; for such54 persons stand ever ready (like that Warwick) upon any occasion of discontent, or of serving their own Interests, to betray and alter the Government; especially if they have Warwick ’s main Guard, that is, if they can (as he did) bring the Prince whom they formerly disobliged, to come in upon their own terms, and upon such conditions as may bridle him, and secure the Power so in their own Hands, that whilst he King it onely in Title, themselves may be Kings de facto, and leave their old Friends in the lurch, or yeeld them up at Mercy, (as Warwick did) to gratifie the Tyrant55 , and their own Tyrannical ambition.
[* ]Cicero, De Officiis, I.19.
[* ]Plutarch, Life of Tiberius Gracchus, XV.4-6.
[* ]Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, IV.1-6.
[† ]This word is not italicized in Politicus.
[* ]Nedham’s newsbook had warmly supported the Rump’s divisive decision of 1649-50 to impose on all adult males an “Engagement,” which read: “I do declare and promise, that I will be true and faithful to the Commonwealth of England, as it is now established, without a King or House of Lords.” LP, pp. 84-85, 188-89.
[* ]Machiavelli, Discourses, I.11 (cf. Knachel, p. 118). Nedham uses Edward Dacres’s translation, which was published in 1636 as Machiavel’s Discourses upon the First Decade of T. Livius.
[† ]Plutarch, Life of Marcus Cato the Elder, VIII.7-8.
[‡ ]Sallust, Bellum Catilinae, VII.3; Francesco Guicciardini, Historiarum sui Temporis (Basel, 1566), X. 352; Knachel, pp. 116-17.
[* ]The earl’s “tragedie” is related, and its vividness urged on the reader, in the sixteenth-century compilation, which retained its fame in the seventeenth, The Mirror for Magistrates. Lily B. Campbell, ed., The Mirror for Magistrates (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1938), pp. 204-5.
[1.]E omits: We hear not of many Nations in this latter Age, wherein the People have been solemnly acknowledged and declared to be the Original and Fountain of Supremacy, or that they have been made thus to understand it; But whereever it hath been so presented to vulgar Apprehensions, it takes such deep Impression, that all the Arts under heaven can never wear it out of memory; nor will they ever rest, till they have sipt and tasted all of the sweets of Soveraignty.
[5.]The Observation then which naturally ariseth hence, is, That
[6.]E substitutes this paragraph for: Liberty declared or possest, is like the Golden fleece, or the Hesperian fruit, watcht by Argus his hundred eyes, or by ever-waking Dragons.
[7.]In MP the paragraph begins: Liberty is the most precious Jewel under the Sun; And therefore when
[10.]lost it: they
[17.]It is observed, that when
[18.]in regard that
[19.]Country that moved him to take Arms
[25.]When Rome was once declared
[33.]so that it seemes the People
[34.]the Senate. The People without the Senatick Councell were like Sulphur and Mercury, ever in motion or combustion, (as appears by the Story:) but the Senate were as Salt to season, fix and fasten the body of the people.
[35.]irregular and unruly
[39.]it having been
[40.]E omits this passage, which MP takes from The Case of the Commonwealth (Knachel, pp. 117-18):
[41.]inlargement of a People
[44.]their kings. Nor
[45.]reason, for as much as it is usuall
[53.]we may very well reinforce the conclusion made in our last two [editorials], and learn,
[54.]with a share of Government, or in place of Trust, except he have, by some notable Series of Action, rendred himself utterly irreconcileable to the former power: for, otherwise, such
[55.]the new titular Tyrant
[56.]every new Commonwealth