Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter 18: Oath of Allegiance - The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy
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Chapter 18: Oath of Allegiance - William Paley, The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy 
The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy, Foreword by D.L. Le Mahieu (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2002).
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Oath of Allegiance
“I do sincerely promise and swear, that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to his Majesty King George.” Formerly the oath of allegiance ran thus: “I do promise to be true and faithful to the king and his heirs, and truth and faith to bear, of life, and limb, and terrene honour; and not to know or hear of any ill or damage intended him, without defending him therefrom”: and was altered at the Revolution to the present form. So that the present oath is a relaxation of the old one. And as the oath was intended to ascertain, not so much the extent of the subject’s obedience, as the person to whom it was due, the legislature seems to have wrapped up its meaning upon the former point, in a word purposely made choice of for its general and indeterminate signification.
It will be most convenient to consider, first, what the oath excludes as inconsistent with it; secondly, what it permits.
1. The oath excludes all intention to support the claim or pretensions of any other person or persons to the crown and government, than the reigning sovereign. A Jacobite, who is persuaded of the Pretender’s right to the crown, and who moreover designs to join with the adherents to that cause to assert this right, whenever a proper opportunity, with a reasonable prospect of success, presents itself, cannot take the oath of allegiance; or, if he could, the oath of abjuration follows, which contains an express renunciation of all opinions in favour of the claim of the exiled family.
2. The oath excludes all design, at the time, of attempting to depose the reigning prince, for any reason whatever. Let the justice of the Revolution be what it would, no honest man could have taken even the present oath of allegiance to James the Second, who entertained, at the time of taking it, a design of joining in the measures which were entered into to dethrone him.
3. The oath forbids the taking up of arms against the reigning prince, with views of private advancement, or from motives of personal resentment or dislike. It is possible to happen in this, what frequently happens in despotic governments, that an ambitious general, at the head of the military force of the nation, might, by a conjuncture of fortunate circumstances, and a great ascendency over the minds of the soldiery, depose the prince upon the throne, and make way to it for himself, or for some creature of his own. A person in this situation would be withholden from such an attempt by the oath of allegiance, if he paid regard to it. If there were any who engaged in the rebellion of the year forty-five, with the expectation of titles, estates, or preferment; or because they were disappointed, and thought themselves neglected and ill-used at court; or because they entertained a family animosity, or personal resentment, against the king, the favourite, or the minister—if any were induced to take up arms by these motives, they added to the many crimes of an unprovoked rebellion, that of wilful and corrupt perjury. If, in the late American war, the same motives determined others to connect themselves with that opposition, their part in it was chargeable with perfidy and falsehood to their oath, whatever was the justice of the opposition itself, or however well-founded their own complaints might be of private injury.
We are next to consider what the oath of allegiance permits, or does not require.
1. It permits resistance to the king, when his ill behaviour or imbecility is such, as to make resistance beneficial to the community. It may fairly be presumed that the Convention Parliament, which introduced the oath in its present form, did not intend, by imposing it, to exclude all resistance, since the members of that legislature had many of them recently taken up arms against James the Second, and the very authority by which they sat together was itself the effect of a successful opposition to an acknowledged sovereign. Some resistance, therefore, was meant to be allowed; and, if any, it must be that which has the public interest for its object.
2. The oath does not require obedience to such commands of the king as are unauthorised by law. No such obedience is implied by the terms of the oath; the fidelity there promised, is intended of fidelity in opposition to his enemies, and not in opposition to law; and allegiance, at the utmost, can only signify obedience to lawful commands. Therefore, if the king should issue a proclamation, levying money, or imposing any service or restraint upon the subject beyond what the crown is empowered by law to enjoin, there would exist no sort of obligation to obey such a proclamation, in consequence of having taken the oath of allegiance.
3. The oath does not require that we should continue our allegiance to the king, after he is actually and absolutely deposed, driven into exile, carried away captive, or otherwise rendered incapable of exercising the regal office, whether by his fault or without it. The promise of allegiance implies, and is understood by all parties to suppose, that the person to whom the promise is made continues king; continues, that is, to exercise the power, and afford the protection, which belongs to the office of king: for, it is the possession of this power, which makes such a particular person the object of the oath; without it, why should I swear allegiance to this man, rather than to any man in the kingdom? Beside which, the contrary doctrine is burthened with this consequence, that every conquest, revolution of government, or disaster which befalls the person of the prince, must be followed by perpetual and irremediable anarchy.