Front Page Titles (by Subject) Sect. II.: The reasonableness of resisting Tyrants asserted, from the Ends of Government, and the Nature of the Deity. Opinions the most impious and extravagant, why taught, and how easily swallowed. - The Works of Tacitus, vol. 1 - Gordon's Discourses, Annals (Books 1-3)
Sect. II.: The reasonableness of resisting Tyrants asserted, from the Ends of Government, and the Nature of the Deity. Opinions the most impious and extravagant, why taught, and how easily swallowed. - Publius Cornelius Tacitus, The Works of Tacitus, vol. 1 - Gordon’s Discourses, Annals (Books 1-3) [120 AD]
The Works of Tacitus. In Four Volumes. To which are prefixed, Political Discourses upon that Author by Thomas Gordon. The Second Edition, corrected. (London: T. Woodward and J. Peele, 1737). Vol. 1.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
- To the Right Honourable Sir Robert Walpole,
- Discourses Upon Tacitus.
- Discourse I.: Upon the Former English Translations of Tacitus.
- Sect. I.: Of the Translation By Greenway and Sir H. Savill.
- Sect. II.: Of the English Translation By Several Hands.
- Sect. III.: Of the Last Translation of the First Annal.
- Sect. IV.: Of the Last Translation of the Second Annal.
- Sect. V.: Of the Last Translation of the Third Annal.
- Sect. VI.: Of the Last Translation of the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Annal.
- Sect. VII.: Of the Last Translation of the Eleventh Annal.
- Sect. VIII.: Of the Last Translation of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Annals.
- Sect. IX.: Of the Last Translation of the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, and Sixteenth Annals.
- Discourse II.: Upon Tacitus and His Writings.
- Sect. I.: The Character of Tacitus.
- Sect. II.: How Much He Excells In Description and Force.
- Sect. III.: Further Instances of the Justness of His Genius, and of His Great Thoughts.
- Sect. IV.: The Morality of Tacitus, and His Spirit Virtuous and Humane.
- Sect. V.: The Stile of Tacitus, How Pertinent and Happy: His Obscurity, a Charge of the Moderns Only.
- Sect. VI.: A General Character of His Works.
- Sect. VII.: Tacitus Vindicated From the Imputation of Deriving Events From Counsels Too Subtle and Malevolent.
- Sect. VIII.: More Proofs of the Candour and Veracity of Tacitus.
- Sect. IX.: Mr. Bayle ’ S Unjust Censure of Tacitus; and How Well the Latter Knew and Observed the Laws of History.
- Sect. X.: An Apology For the Wrong Account By Tacitus Given of the Jews and Christians, and For His Disregard of the Religion Then Received.
- Sect. XI.: The Foolish Censure of Boccalini and Others Upon Tacitus.
- Sect. XII.: Of the Several Commentators and Translators of Tacitus.
- Sect. XIII.: A Conjecture Concerning the Modern Languages, More Largely Concerning the English.
- Sect. XIV.: A Conjecture Concerning the Present State of the English Tongue, With an Account of the Present Work.
- Discourse III.: Upon Cæsar the Dictator.
- Sect. I.: Of Cæsar’s Usurpation, and Why His Name Is Less Odious Than That of Catiline.
- Sect. II.: Of the Publick Corruption By Cæsar Promoted Or Introduced; With His Bold and Wicked Conduct.
- Sect. III.: Cæsar Might Have Purified and Reformed the State; But Far Different Were His Intentions. His Art, Good Sense, and Continued Ill Designs.
- Sect. IV.: The Probability of His Waxing More Cruel, Had He Reigned Much Longer.
- Sect. V.: Cæsar No Lawful Magistrate, But a Public Enemy.
- Sect. VI.: Of the Share Which Casualties Had, In Raising the Name and Memory of Cæsar. the Judgment of Cicero Concerning Him.
- Sect. VII.: How Vain It Is to Extol Any Designs of His For the Glory of the Roman People.
- Sect. VIII.: Of His Death; and the Rashness of Ascribing to Divine Vengeance the Fate of Such As Slew Him.
- Discourse IV.: Upon Octavius Cæsar, Afterwards Called Augustus.
- Sect. I.: Of the Base and Impious Arts By Which He Acquired the Empire.
- Sect. II.: Of the Vindictive Spirit of Octavius, and His Horrid Cruelties.
- Sect. III.: Of the Treachery, Ingratitude, and Further Cruelties of Octavius. That the Same Were Wanton and Voluntary.
- Sect. IV.: Of the Popular Arts and Accidents Which Raised the Character of Augustus.
- Sect. V.: Though Augustus Courted the People, and Particular Senators, He Continued to Depress Public Liberty, and the Senate.
- Sect. VI.: What Fame He Derived From the Poets and Other Flattering Writers of His Time.
- Sect. VII.: Of the False Glory Sought and Acquired By Augustus, From the Badness of His Successors.
- Sect. VIII.: The Character of Augustus.
- Sect. IX.: Of the Helps and Causes Which Acquired and Preserved the Empire to Augustus. His Great Power and Fortune No Proof of Extraordinary Ability.
- Discourse V.: Of Governments Free and Arbitrary, More Especially That of the Cæsars.
- Sect. I.: The Principle of God’s Appointing and Protecting Tyrants, an Absurdity Not Believed By the Romans.
- Sect. II.: The Reasonableness of Resisting Tyrants Asserted, From the Ends of Government, and the Nature of the Deity. Opinions the Most Impious and Extravagant, Why Taught, and How Easily Swallowed.
- Sect. III.: The Danger of Slavish Principles to Such As Trust In Them, and the Notorious Insecurity of Lawless Might.
- Sect. IV.: Princes of Little and Bad Minds, Most Greedy of Power. Princes of Large and Good Minds Chuse to Rule By Law and Limitations.
- Sect. V.: The Wisdom and Safety of Ruling By Standing Laws, to Prince and People.
- Sect. VI.: The Condition of Free States, How Preferable to That of Such As Are Not Free.
- Sect. VII.: The Misery and Insecurity of the Cæsars From Their Overgrown Power.
- Sect. VIII.: A Representation of the Torments and Horrors Under Which Tiberius Lived.
- Sect. IX.: The Terrible Operation of Lawless Power Upon the Minds of Princes; and How It Changes Them.
- Sect. X.: The Wretched Fears Accompanying the Possession of Arbitrary Power, Exemplified In Caligula and Other Roman Emperors.
- Sect. XI.: What It Is That Constitutes the Security and Glory of a Prince; and How a Prince and People Become Estranged From Each Other.
- Sect. XII.: How Nearly It Behoves a Prince to Be Beloved and Esteemed By His Subjects. the Terrible Consequences of Their Mutual Mistrust and Hatred.
- Sect. XIII.: Public Happiness Only Then Certain, When the Laws Are Certain and Inviolable.
- Discourse VI.: Of the Old Law of Treason By the Emperors Perverted and Extended.
- Sect. I.: The Antient Purpose of That Law; the Politics of Augustus In Stretching It.
- Sect. II.: The Deification of the Emperors, What an Engine of Tyranny, and Snare to the Roman People.
- Sect. III.: The Images of the Emperors, How Sacred They Became, and How Pernicious.
- Sect. IV.: What a Destructive Calamity the Law of Majesty Grew, and How Fast Treasons Multiplied Under Its Name.
- Discourse VII.: Of the Accusations, and Accusers Under the Emperors.
- Sect. I.: The Pestilent Employment of These Men, Their Treachery and Encouragement.
- Sect. II.: The Traiterous Methods Taken to Circumvent and Convict Innocence. the Spirit of Accusing How Common, the Dread of It How Universal; and the Misery of the Times.
- Sect. III.: Plots Feigned Or True, an Ample Field For Accusations and Cruelty; and Upon What Miserable Evidence Executions Were Decreed.
- Sect. IV.: What Ridiculous Causes Produced Capital Guilt. the Spirit of the Emperor Constantius; With Somewhat of His Father Constantine.
- Sect. V.: The Black and General Carnage Made Under Constantius, By His Bloody Minister Paulus Catena, For Certain Acts of Superstition and Curiosity.
- Sect. VI.: The Ravages of the Accusers Continued; Their Credit With the Emperors; Yet Generally Meet Their Fate. the Falsehood of These Princes. the Melancholy State of Those Times.
- Sect. VII.: The Increase of Tyranny. Innocence and Guilt Not Measured By the Law, But By the Emperor’s Pleasure and Malice.
- Sect. VIII.: What Tacitus Means By Instrumenta Regni.
- Sect. IX.: How Much These Emperors Hated, and How Fast They Destroyed All Great and Worthy Men. Their Dread of Every Man For Any Reason.
- Sect. X.: Reflections Upon the Spirit of a Tyrant. With What Wantonness the Roman Emperors Shed the Blood of the Roman People. the Blindness of Such As Assisted the Usurpation of Cæsar and Augustus.
- Sect. XI.: Why Under Such Tyrants, the Senate Continued to Subsist.
- Sect. XII.: How the Unrelenting Cruelty of the Emperors Hastened the Dissolution of the Empire. the Bad Reigns of Constantine and Constantius. the Good Reign of Julian. the Indiscreet Behaviour of the Christians. Continued Tyranny; and End of the Em
- Sect. XIII.: The Excellency of a Limited Monarchy, Especially of Our Own.
- Discourse VIII.: Of the General Debasement of Spirit and Adulation Which Accompany Power Unlimited.
- Sect. I.: The Motives of Flattery Considered. Its Vileness, and Whence It Begins.
- Sect. II.: Men of Elevated Minds Irreconcileable to Arbitrary Power, and Thence Suspected By It. the Court Paid to It Always Insincere, Sometimes Expedient, But Seldom Observes Any Bounds.
- Sect. III.: The Excessive Power of the Imperial Freed Slaves; With the Scandalous Submission and Honours Paid Them By the Romans.
- Sect. IV.: The Excessive Flattery of the Senate, How Ill Judged.
- Sect. V.: The Free Judgment of Posterity a Powerful Warning to Princes, to Reign With Moderation and to Detest Flatterers. the Name and Memory of the Roman Tyrants How Treated.
- Sect. VI.: How Lamentably Princes Are Debauched and Misled By Flatterers.
- Sect. VII.: The Pestilent Tendency of Flattering Counsels, and the Glory of Such As Are Sincere.
- Discourse IX.: Upon Courts.
- Sect. I.: Of Freedom of Speech; and How Reasonable It Is.
- Sect. II.: The Spirit of Courtiers What; Some Good Ones.
- Sect. III.: The Arts of Courtiers; Their Cautiousness, and Its Causes.
- Sect. IV.: Of Slanderers and Tale-bearers In Courts. the Folly of Craft.
- Sect. V.: How Much Worthless People Abound In Courts, and Why.
- Sect. VI.: The Remarkable Fickleness and Insincerity of Courtiers.
- Discourse X.: Of Armies and Conquest.
- Sect. I.: The Burden and Danger of Maintaining Great Armies.
- Sect. II.: Great Armies the Best Disciplined, Whether Thence the Less Formidable to a Country. Their Temper and Views.
- Sect. III.: Princes Ruling By Military Power, Ever At the Mercy of Military Men.
- Sect. IV.: Instances of the Boldness and Fury of the Roman Soldiery.
- Sect. V.: The Humour of Conquering, How Injudicious, Vain, and Destructive.
- Sect. VI.: The Folly of Conquering Further Urged and Exemplified.
- The Annals of Tacitus.
- Book I.
- Book II.
- Book III.
The reasonableness of resisting Tyrants asserted, from the Ends of Government, and the Nature of the Deity. Opinions the most impious and extravagant, why taught, and how easily swallowed.
IT is certainly unlawful to resist Government; but it is certainly lawful to resist the deviation from Government, to resist what destroys Government and men. To resist the abuse of Government, is to assist Government. It is allowed to be just to help our protectors; but it is equally just to oppose our enemies, madmen and spoilers. Now what was Nero, what Caligula and Claudius? one a bloody idiot, the other an inhuman madman; the first like the second, and all of them public robbers and butchers. If their course of cruelties and oppression was Government, so are plagues, tempests and inundations; but if their lives and actions were altogether pernicious and detestable; the exterminating of such monsters from amongst men, would have been a service to the whole race. Was Tarquin half so black and odious? yet who has ever blamed his expulsion? was the Insolence and Tyranny of Tarquin the Ordinance of God? what then was the succeeding Government of the People and Senate? if this was the Ordinance of God too; then every Government good and bad, or rather Mis-government as well as Government, public robbery and ruin, as well as public security and protection, may be equally said to be his Ordinance; and there are Ordinances of his that combat one another, like the two Angels contending in one of the Prophets. But if the Tyranny of Tarquin was, and the establishing of the free State was not the Ordinance of God, then are not the Patrons of this opinion obliged to say, and to maintain this gross and blasphemous absurdity, that the divine Being disapproves of good Government, Equity and Laws, and delights in injustice, cruelty and confusion; not in the rule of equal justice, but in the ravages of lust and iniquity?
To say that all Governments, the good and the bad, are alike to him, equally inviolable, is to say that he takes no cognizance of things below; and at this rate, there is, in his sight, no such thing as guilt and innocence. To alledge that that Government which is best for men, is disliked by him; and the rule of lust is preferable to that of Laws; is to make him worse than indifferent, the patron of wantonness and oppression; a foe to order and benevolence, fonder of one man’s caprice and violence, than of the happiness of millions; nay a professed advocate for iniquity, a professed adversary to all public righteousness. If it be said, that he approves not of Tyranny himself, and yet would not have it resisted by others; this is nonsense added to prophaneness; since what he neither checks nor allows to be checked, he may be said to approve. If I see a man going to commit murder, and by terrible threatning and penalties restrain such as would restrain him, will it not be construed, that I chose to have the murder perpetrated? It makes him besides a hard-hearted being, who forbids to remedy the highest human evil, nay, wilfully dooms human kind to the severest misery.
I never heard that he has forbid under any penalty the use of Medicines against the Plague, and I think I have found the reason why I never heard it; the Plague has no treasures, nor dignities to recompence flatterers. Had it been worth while to have made such prohibition a Doctrine of Religion; that is, had it been pleasing to Power, and the way to favour, I doubt not but it would have gained ground, and many followers, as other doctrines equally absurd have done, where the gain and craft of a few have been followed and defended by the superstition and zeal of many; witness Transubstantiation, Purgatory, Auricular Confession, blind Obedience under the rod of Tyranny, &c. The Turks out of bigotry to that of Predestination, forbear all precautions against the Plague, when raging on every side of them. It is impossible to invent a Doctrine so monstrous and mischievous, but it will meet with partizans and admirers, provided the inventors have convenient names and habiliments, without which the most illustrious and benevolent truths will hardly pass with a multitude bewitched with the magic of words and superstition.
It is impossible for the hearts of men to contrive a principle more absurd and wicked, than that of annexing divine and everlasting vengeance to the resisting of the most flagrant mischief which can possibly befal the sons of men; yet it has found inventors and vouchers. It is plain from this instance, and from a thousand more, that there is no wickedness of which the hearts of men are not capable, and that the wretchedness of the whole race weighs not so much with them as their own profit and pleasure. It would seem from hence, as if we had lived in the dregs and barbarism of time, since to the late age (at least here in Christendom) was reserved the infamy of hatching a Monster so horrible, that to its birth was sacrificed all Sense and Humanity, all the considerations, and even the essence of Truth, Order and Liberty.
The advocates for this impious tenet, which represents the great and good God as incensed with men for striving to remove their chains and sorrows, are, by defending Tyranny, so much worse than Tyrants, as a Scheme of Barbarity coolly and deliberately contrived or defended, is more heinous than particular acts of barbarity committed in the heat and hurry of passion, and as Murder is a greater crime than Manslaughter.
What avail Laws and Liberty, ever so excellently framed, when they are at the mercy of lawless rage and caprice? If we are forbid by God to defend Laws, why do we make them? Is it not unlawful to make what it is unlawful to defend? What else is the end of Government, but the felicity of men; and why are some raised higher in Society than others, but that all may be happy? Has God ever interposed against the establishment of Society upon a good foot? If he has not, but wills the good of Society, and of men, how comes he to interpose against the defence of an Establishment which he nowhere forbids, and against that good which he is said to will? What more right had Nero to take away the lives of innocent men than any other Assassin; what more title to their fortune than any other Robber; what better right to spill their blood than any Tyger? And is it unlawful to resist Robbers, and Assassins, and Beasts of Prey? Did the Almighty ever say of that beastly Tyrant, “Touch not Nero my Anointed, nor do his Ruffians any harm?” Did Nero’s station lessen or abrogate his crimes?
What idea does it give of God, the Father of mercies and of men, to represent him screening that enemy to God and man, as a person sacred and inviolable, and holding his authority from himself; the merciful and holy Jehovah protecting an inhuman Destroyer! What more relation could there be between God and Nero, than between God and an Earthquake, God and a Conflagration or Massacre? The very phrase is shocking to the soul! Is such representation likely to make the name and nature of God amiable to men, likely to excite them to love and reverence him? Satan is said to be delighted with the miseries and calamities of men; and, to suppose that wicked Being concerned for the security of a Tyrant, whose office it is to debase and afflict human race, is natural and consistent with his Character. But I wish men would not father upon the Author of all good such counsels and inclinations, as can only suit the father of cruelties and lies.