Front Page Titles (by Subject) Preface - The Struggle for Sovereignty: Seventeenth-Century English Political Tracts, vol. 1
Return to Title Page for The Struggle for Sovereignty: Seventeenth-Century English Political Tracts, vol. 1
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Preface - Joyce Lee Malcom, The Struggle for Sovereignty: Seventeenth-Century English Political Tracts, vol. 1 
The Struggle for Sovereignty: Seventeenth-Century English Political Tracts, 2 vols, ed. Joyce Lee Malcolm (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999). 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 copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
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.
toGeoffrey EltonandJohn Kenyon
May you live in interesting times, an old curse goes. The seventeenth century in England was nothing if not an interesting time. But unlike most turbulent centuries, it was no dark age. Quite the contrary, it was an era of great intellectual achievement. This was especially true in the realm of political thought, for at the core of England’s traumatic upheavals lay a fundamental intellectual controversy over the source and nature of political sovereignty. It was an intricate subject of the utmost importance that touched virtually every aspect of the relationship between the individual and the state. The source of sovereignty was no simple matter in a kingdom that boasted it possessed an “absolute” monarch presiding over a limited monarchy—a mixed government nicely balanced between power and liberty. Contradictory political and religious assumptions undergirded the English constitution. Most of the time Englishmen juggled these underlying inconsistent beliefs with remarkable equanimity. Indeed, their political system was capable of great flexibility. But flexibility and accommodation vanished when exalted pretensions for royal power clashed with the jealously guarded rights and privileges of the Parliament and with claims for the supremacy of the law. Upon the outcome of this confrontation over sovereignty would hang the form of English government and the rights of its people.
Happily the debate over sovereignty took place in print as scholars, statesmen, lawyers, clergymen, government propagandists, and other concerned individuals snatched their pens, racked their brains, and wrote. The preferred form was the essay published as a pamphlet or tract—a format that ideally suited the urgency of the controversy. Tracts could be quickly composed and speedily printed. Thousands appeared. Often a provocative tract would inspire several published replies, followed by the original author’s response. Issues and arguments evolved in counterpoint with political events, sometimes provoking them, sometimes responding, sometimes justifying, sometimes—as in the case of Charles I’s famous “Answer to the Nineteen Propositions”—becoming a part of the shifting situation. The result was a literature unprecedented in volume and of immense influence upon English and American constitutional thought and practice.
Many of the most valuable and influential of these tracts have long been out of print. The aim of The Struggle for Sovereignty is to publish a selection of the best and most important examples of this rich political literature. The hope is that bringing these essays to a larger audience will broaden general knowledge of seventeenth-century political thought. Certainly these tracts illustrate the debt subsequent generations owe to the political writers of that era. They also provide a more reliable context for an assessment of the thought of Locke, Milton, Hobbes, and Filmer. The tracts in these volumes span the entire century and set out the key elements of the constitutional debate as it unfolded. Volume 1 begins just prior to the reign of James I and concludes at the eve of the restoration of monarchy in 1660. Volume 2 resumes with the restoration of the monarchy and concludes with issues provoked by the Glorious Revolution. Within each volume tracts have been arranged in chronological order and divided into broad, thematic groups.
Compiling this collection has been a daunting task, and a word is in order about the criteria that governed the choice of tracts. Rather than presenting a sample of eloquent political writing, I focused on the issues under discussion. Therefore my first priority has been to select those tracts that not only best present the arguments on a subject but also do so cogently and concisely. For example, while Henry Parker wrote other excellent and influential essays, his “Case of Shipmony” was selected because it best illustrates the grave constitutional consequences that many of his contemporaries saw in the imposition of what they regarded as an illegal tax. For the same reason I included tracts that present a range of viewpoints. Here I am only too aware of a major omission—the works of the Levellers. This is not because the Levellers’ views were unimportant but because limitations of space persuaded me to exclude pieces already available in print. Since Leveller works are especially well preserved, it seemed preferable to rescue important works that are not. Hence I have reprinted key tracts not readily available or at least not available in complete form.
Choice of candidates for inclusion was more seriously limited by the early decision to reprint works in their entirety rather than excerpts from them. The obvious advantages to this method are that readers are not dependent on anyone’s prior judgment about which portions of an essay are significant and therefore can see the work whole. This decision, however, meant that longer tracts had to be excluded. Those familiar with the political essays of the seventeenth century know that many tracts were long—some attaining book length. Thus these two volumes include fewer tracts than could otherwise have been the case, and many excellent works could not be considered. Tracts that are reprinted, however, are entire, with two minor exceptions. In volume 1 only the second chapter of Heylyn’s “A Briefe and Moderate Answer” was reprinted. But this chapter was responding to a particular sermon of Henry Burton’s and is thus complete in itself. In volume 2 only the first five chapters of “The Arraignment of Co-Ordinate-Power” have been printed. These five chapters are quite independent of the last chapters, which are both narrowly technical and lengthy. It seemed better to reprint only the first chapters of this useful essay than omit the whole.
Other points. Where possible I have included one tract replying to another, thus allowing readers to sample the give-and-take of a debate as it occurred. For example, the exchange between Henry Ferne and Charles Herle over whether, in Ferne’s words, “Subjects may take Arms and resist? and whether that case be now?” is a famous debate between two of the best minds on the royalist and parliamentarian sides, respectively.
Operating under these constraints, I have endeavored to present the work of as many authors as possible. For this reason I rarely include more than one tract by a writer. The glaring exception occurs in volume 2 where readers will find three tracts by Anthony Ashley Cooper, the Earl of Shaftesbury. Shaftesbury has been allotted more space than others because few tracts dealing with pressing constitutional issues were published in the 1670s and because his essays are excellent. It is no accident that both exceptions to my guidelines occur in volume 2. Strict censorship was imposed during the Restoration and this fact, together with the more muted debate generally, meant that there were periods when few tracts unfavorable to the authorities were published. This is not the place to provide an essay on censorship during the seventeenth century. Suffice it to say that during this time spells of prolific publishing and little effective control of the press alternated with periods when strict censorship drove critics of the government either to silence or to anonymous publication and subterfuge. Several of the tracts in The Struggle for Sovereignty are anonymous. Where the authorship of a tract is in doubt, I have followed the attribution of the Wing Short Title Catalogue.
The contemporary market for tracts was so brisk that many essays went into several editions. Where this is the case I have preferred the first edition when it was available. Subsequent editions often contain responses to critics of the first edition. They are, therefore, longer—a disadvantage from my point of view. For the same reason the arguments in later editions tend to be more dilute with new passages inserted into the original text. Political tracts appeared in a variety of formats. I have included a mix of the most popular styles of the genre—formal dialogues, sermons, published speeches, familiar letters.
It has been a great luxury to be able to publish two volumes. Even so, after severely winnowing the hundreds of tracts I read to a manageable number, my initial selection would have created two books, each of which was fully double the present length. In short, the choice has not been an easy one. I am acutely mindful of the many excellent works that could not be included. Nevertheless, I hope the reader will find that closer acquaintance with the thought and wit of these particular authors will be time well spent and will find their tracts to be of interest, insight, and value. For myself, I have found them often brilliant, invariably thought-provoking, sometimes exasperating, always fresh, and frequently delightful.
Fashions in editorial approach, as in all else, change. Earlier in this century editors thought nothing of silently altering early works, changing even the language itself. The trend is now moving in the direction of producing something very close to a facsimile of an original text. I have taken a middle road. Because the goal is to make these works accessible, even to those unfamiliar with seventeenth-century English literature, some sensitive modernizing has been done. Occurrences of blackletter type have not been reproduced and spellings that might confuse have been changed (a decision I am confident the writers of the seventeenth century would approve). In addition, the spelling of proper names within individual tracts has been made consistent, unusual punctuation has been brought up-to-date, and with a few exceptions, contractions not now in use have been spelled out. Because tracts often were published in haste, they frequently contained misprints. Such typographical mistakes have been corrected. Seventeenth-century printers capitalized some words in titles because the words began a new line or for other reasons of design. The titles of the tracts contained in these volumes retain their original spellings and punctuation; except on the title pages, capitalization in the tract titles follows modern convention.
In several instances, the Greek script was illegible in the original. I have indicated the missing text in those cases with three ellipsis points enclosed by brackets. A few tracts contained prefaces that, for reasons of space, I have not reprinted, although I have noted in the relevant headnotes any dedications these included. Marginalia have also been omitted. Marginal notes usually were confined to the notation of references, and these tend to be listed in barely legible, severely abbreviated, form. The practice of using marginalia was especially common and the list of references especially lengthy in published sermons. I hope these omissions will not detract from readers’ appreciation of the text, and I urge those readers with particular interest in the prefaces or the marginalia to consult the original pamphlets.
Apart from these exceptions, the text has been painstakingly reproduced. The language has been faithfully preserved, as have the capitalization and italics of the originals. All departures from twentieth-century norms stand as a continual reminder that one is dealing with another era.
The introductions and editorial footnotes are designed to aid readers unfamiliar with the political thought of seventeenth-century England. A grasp of the historical and philosophical background, in all its bewildering complexity, with all its contradictions, subtleties, and shifts, is critical to a sensible reading of these works. True, the conceptions with which the authors wrestled are profound, the political dilemmas eternal, but they were men of their century facing urgent contemporary problems. To miss that is to mistake their meaning.