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Isaac Penington, The Right, Liberty and Safety of the People - 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.
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Isaac Penington, The Right, Liberty and Safety of the People
Isaac Penington Jr., 1616-1679
Right, Liberty and Safety
Isaac Penington the younger was the son of Sir Isaac Penington, lord mayor of London and a staunch Puritan. The elder Penington represented London in the Short and Long Parliaments. He served on the council of state in 1648 and sat at the trial of Charles I although he refused to sign the death warrant. Although the younger Penington was well-educated, he did not follow any profession. He seems to have been preoccupied with religion and racked with doubts about his own faith. Most of his published works dealt with religion. He was a Puritan until 1657 when he became a Quaker. During the Interregnum, however, between 1651 and 1653, Isaac junior veered from this religious preoccupation to write several political tracts. “The Right, Liberty and Safety of the People” is one of these.
This intelligent and original piece was published on or about 15 May 1651. The Engagement Controversy was then raging, but Penington addresses himself instead to a different subject matter. He criticizes long-sitting and unrepresentative parliaments such as the Rump and probes the theory of government itself. He is particularly interested in how government should be structured and representatives chosen to promote the liberty and welfare of the people. He sees the people’s well-being as the end of government and supports their right to alter the government as they wish. Anticipating Locke he advocates the separation of powers, a representative legislature, a limited executive, and a separation of church and state. A second edition of Penington’s essay appeared in 1657.
At the Restoration the elder Penington was imprisoned in the Tower where he died. Isaac the younger suffered intermittent terms in prison for his Quaker beliefs, which included a refusal to take any oaths—including the oath of allegiance to Charles II.
The Right, Liberty and Safety of the People lieth chiefly in these three things; in the Choice of their Government and Governors, in the Establishment of that Government and those Governors which they shall chuse, and in the Alteration of either as they find cause. This belongs to every people (though few, if any, are in possession of it), and that people, which enjoyeth these, enjoyeth its Right, is indeed free and safe while it so remaineth.
1. The Right, Liberty and Safety of the People consists in the Choice of their Government and Governors.
It is their Right: for in Civil Societies Nature hath not cut out the body into form and shape, but hath left it to be done by the will and wisdom of man, having imprinted in him a sense of and desire after the enjoyment of Justice, Order, Love, Peace (and whatsoever else is good and profitable for him) both particularly in himself and in common with others; which desire thoroughly kindled in man, and guided by the true light of Reason, will lead man to chuse that which is properly good both for himself and others. And though man may possibly or probably abuse this, yet that is no sufficient ground for depriving him of his right.
Their Liberty lies in it too. They only are a free People who have their Government of their own choice. Such upon whom others do intrude, or upon whom other Laws or Regents are imposed than what themselves judg meet and necessary, and besides that which they themselves voluntarily and by free consent submit unto for their good and welfare, are so far under slavery and such a miserable subjection as Nature never appointed them unto.
Their Safety likewise lies in it: for to be sure they will chuse nothing but what in probability will conduce to their own good and happiness; whereas others, making Laws for them, or setting Governors over them, may respect their own particular benefit and advantage, and not so much the good of the People, which is the main end why Laws, Governments and Governors are appointed, and to which they should in a direct line be guided.
And upon this ground I conceive it very requisite, that men who are chosen to sit in Parliament to make or alter Laws, to set up or alter Governments or Governors for and in behalf of the People, should, as soon as any, lie open to the force of all the Laws they make, or of anything they do in that kind; that no Law they make should take effect till they be dissolved, and come to lie as liable to it as any, otherwise they will not be sensible enough of the People’s condition, and consequently not fit to stand in their stead, or to act for them in cases that concern them so nearly. The greatest security the People have concerning their Parliaments is that they chuse persons whose condition will keep them from injurying them, for if they prejudice them they prejudice themselves, if they neglect their good they neglect their own good. This security is good while the people chuse them that are of their own rank, and while these make no Laws for them which shall have any life or vertue to do good or hurt till they come also to be exposed to them, but otherwise it is very invalid, if not wholly lost. They who are to govern by Laws should have little or no hand in making the Laws they are to govern by: for Man respects himself in what he does; (The Governor will respect himself, his own ease, advantage and honour in Government, and lay loads upon the people, but make his own burthen light). Therefore things should be so ordered, in the behalf and for the security of the people, that such as are chosen and appointed to act in this kind should lay no load upon the people, but what their own backs may come as soon and as fully, in their degree and station, to bear, as any of the people’s.
2. The Right, Liberty and Safety of the People consists in the Establishment of their Government and Governors. As they have right to chuse, so they have right to confirm what they chuse, to establish that Government and such kind of Governors as they judg or find most convenient and necessary for them. Without this the people can be neither free nor safe no more than without the other, nay without this their right to chuse would be to little purpose, the end of choice in things of this nature being for the duration of its appointed season.
3. Their Right, Liberty and Safety lieth also in enjoining and exercising (as need requires) the Power of altering their Government or Governors: that when they find either burdensom or inconvenient they may lay it aside, and place what else they shall judg lighter, fitter or better in the stead of it. Nature still teacheth everything, as it groweth, to reach further and further towards perfection. No man is bound to that which he chuseth or establisheth further than he findeth it suitable to the end for which he chose and established it. Now several states and conditions of things and persons changing, there must of necessity be an answerable change in Laws, Orders, Governments or Governors also, or man will be instrumental to introduce slavery, misery and tyranny upon himself, which Nature teacheth everything both to abhor, and as much as may be to avoid.
It is the desire of most men both in reference to Church and State (as men commonly speak) to have Laws and Ordinances, after the manner of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be altered: I cannot but approve the desire, since it is written in man’s nature. It is natural to man, and a stamp of the divine Image upon him, to press after unchangeableness both in himself and in the things which appertain unto him. But yet it is not suitable to his present condition which will in no wise admit of it, because it is continually subject to change and alteration. And as it still changeth, so do his needs and desires, as also his experience and wisdom, and so must the Laws and Orders which he prescribes to himself and others, or he will be grievously cruel to himself and others. Ages have their growth as well as particular persons, and must change their garments, their Customs, their courses, &c. for those which are still suitable to their present state and growth. Laws are but temporary; and as they are founded upon Reason, so they are no longer to last than the Reason of them lasteth, to which they ought to give place, and admit of such a succession as it appoints. Only herein hath Nature provided well for the people, if they could fairly come to their Right, and had wisdom to use it (which sense and experience is continually instructing them how to do) in that she doth allot them to make and alter their own clothes, to shape out their own burdens, to form, renew or alter that yoke of Government which is most necessary and convenient for their necks.
All this, or any part of this (either the chusing, establishing or altering Governments, Laws or Governors) the people cannot do in a Body; an whole Nation is too unweildy to act together themselves: therefore Nature hath taught them to do it by Substitutes, whom they themselves chuse to stand in their stead to do any of these things for them as their present condition and need requires, which Body of persons is with us called a Parliament, who are picked out by the whole to be the Representative of the whole, to do that for the whole which they would have to be done, and would do themselves if they were a Body in a capacity to act.
And from this first rise of things may best be discovered the nature, ends, proper use and limits of Parliaments, all which are necessary to be known, both that they may move according to their nature, pursue their ends, be rightly used, keep within their compass, and that the people may clearly discern that they so do, whereby they will come to rest satisfied in their proceedings, and in their expectations of good thereby.
We see here of what kind of persons the Parliament is to consist, viz. of the common people, that they may be fit to represent their burdens and desires.
We see here of what use and for what end they are, viz. to relieve the people, to redress any occasion of grief or burden to them, to make Laws, alter Laws, set Laws in a due way of Administration, set up or alter Governments and Governors, dispose of everything in such a way as the people may freely enjoy their Rights in Peace and Safety.
We see also their bounds in general, viz. the exercising the power of the People in such ways as were proper for the people to exercise it in were they capable of joint and orderly acting.
We see likewise their Nature or Constitution, what they are. They are the ELECTIVE POWER, the CONSTITUTIVE POWER, the ALTERATIVE POWER. What lies confused and unuseful in the people is treasured up in them in order, and in a fitting way for use. Is there a Government wanting? The people cannot orderly or wisely debate or chuse that which is likely to be most commodious and safe. Are there any Laws wanting? The people cannot well set about making Laws. Are there any Laws, Customs, or Encroachments burdensom? The people cannot rightly scan how far they are so, or proceed to a regular alteration of them. So that the whole, Right, Freedom, Welfare and Safety of the People consists in Parliaments rightly and duly called, constituted and ordered towards acting faithfully in the discharge of the Trust reposed in them.
Yea lastly, Here we may see in a direct line the proper course and way of Parliaments, which speaks out itself, and would easily be discerned by us, if our eyes were kept fixed here, and not entangled with other intermixtures, which are apt to seize upon everything, and interweave with everything, hardly anything keeping its own pure nature or proper current. Take it thus, (with a little kind of Circuit for the better illustration of it, yet very briefly).
All Governments (though intended for and directed towards common good) are still declining and contracting private, selfish and corrupt Interests, whereby the people come to feel burdens under them, and find want of fences to guard them from the insolencies and assaults of such as are above them, which are very usual everywhere, for every man (I think I need not add, almost) though he be unwilling to have any tyrannize over him, yet he is too prone to tyrannize over such as are under him. Who would not, when he feels oppression, if he were able, thrust the Oppressor out of his seat? And yet who sees how ready he himself would be, so soon as he hath done it, to seat himself in the same throne of oppression; and that he will as certainly do the one as the other, if he be not hindered by outward force, or (which is better) by an inward principle? Indeed man can by no means come to see this concerning himself, but the people still come too soon to feel it.
Now the People, who wear their Government, finding by experience where it sitteth easie or pincheth, what present loads they groan most under, what future fences they stand in need of to shelter them from the injurious assaults of Powers above them; accordingly chuse persons, who lie under the same sense with them, to represent, consult about, and redress these their grievances, by punishing Offenders for misdemeanors past, by opening the course of Law for time to come, as also by adding thereto, or detracting therefrom, as the condition and need of the people requires, &c.
These persons thus chosen are to come with the sense and desires of the particular Counties, Cities or Boroughs for which they serve, mutually to represent these, and to consult together how all burthens may be taken off, and all desires satisfied in such a way as may stand with the good of the whole.
After full debate had how these things may be done, to come to an agreement of full setling them accordingly in the firmest way that can be, which having done to dissolve, and leave the people experimentally to try and reap the benefit of their care, pains and fidelity, and to return immediately into their former condition, to lie with them sensibly again under the benefit or inconvenience of what they have done.
And this to be done with as much speed, as the motion of such a kind of Body, in Affairs so weighty, can permit; that if they chance to fail in effecting what is desired and expected from them, the people may quiet themselves with the expectation of another remedy in its season approaching. The reason why Parliaments should with all possible speed dispatch their work, is for avoiding of that corruption which standing pools are subject to, and which is most dangerous in them; for what shall rectifie the last remedy, if that be out of order, and grow so corrupt, that it hath more need of a Physician itself, than to act the part of a Physician? All things by degrees gather corruption, the governing Power by degrees declineth from its first purity, and so also doth the rectifying and reforming Power, its deviation is as easie as the others, and of far greater consequence; more destructive, less curable. Therefore better were it for Parliaments to leave part of their work undone, than to sit so long as to contract corruption. It is better to want somewhat of the full application of a remedy, than to have it poisoned. But of this more by and by under a distinct head by itself.
Now the whole Right, Liberty, Welfare and Safety of the People consisting in Parliaments; the right Constitution and orderly motion of them is of the greatest consequence that can be, there being so much embarqued in this Vessel, where, if it miscarry, it is irreparably lost, unless it can be recovered again out of the Sea of Confusion.
Wherefore it becometh every one (both in reference to himself and the whole) to contribute his utmost towards the right steering of this Vessel, towards the preserving of it pure both in its state and motions, lest both the good and welfare of the whole and of every particular miscarry, for want of due care and observation.
Towards which work, the further to incite and provoke others, I cast in this present offering, making mention of those dangers which lie open to my eye in reference to Parliaments, whereby the true and genuine fruit of them may either be hindered from growth, or come to be corrupted, whereby the People at least cannot but miss of the proper use and benefit, which it ought to reap from them.
There are, in reference to Parliaments, six Cases or Considerations, evident to me, whereby the hazard of the people may be very great, which I shall set down distinctly that they may be the better taken notice of, weighed and judged.
1. Want of Parliaments. Parliaments are the proper Remedy to relieve the grieved People from their burdens and oppressions; from any kind or the several kinds of oppressions that may befall them; from the oppressions of any Government, any Governors, any Laws, any Incroachments, &c. (for by several ways, means and instruments the people may be oppressed). Now if Parliaments be wanting, that is to say, be not duly called according to the need of the people (it being their proper engine whereby alone they can duly, orderly and safely act) their Right, Liberty and Safety is much hazarded, and they obnoxious to lie under the burden of oppression without remedy. If diseases grow, and a due course of physique be not to be had, the body cannot but suffer damage and hazard.
There are two things essentially necessary to the health and well-being of a Nation, as well as of other bodies both natural and politique, which are, the cutting off of exuberances, and the supplying of defects, both which in the principal and most weighty part of them, are peculiar to Parliaments; so that where there is want of them, the radical life and vertue of the people must needs be obstructed, languish and decay. This is a very ill disease, however those who never knew or experimented the sweetness of enjoying their Right and Liberty, may not be considerably sensible of it.
2. Want of fair Elections, as thus, If the people be by any means drawn from minding their own good, from bending themselves to chuse persons who may be fit to act for them. How easily may Parliaments warp aside from easing and relieving the people unto further burthening and grieving of them, if such persons be chosen to appear in their behalf, who are friends to their Oppressors, and have a particular advantage of sharing with them in the benefit of that which is the burden and cause of grief to the people? And here is a great danger the people are very obnoxious to: Their burdens commonly arise from the miscarriage of the still present Governors, and these Governors cannot but have great advantages, by their Power over them, to have an influence upon their choice. Therefore if the people be not so much the more wary, that which was intended for their greatest relief may turn to their greatest prejudice. O how miserable is man, whose remedies against multitudes of dangers are so few, and even those few all along so subject to miscarry! A Parliament may be prevented, that it may not be to be had when there is most need of it. A Parliament may be corrupt before it hath a Being, it may be so ill constituted in respect of the materials of it, that it may be a fitter engine of slavery and misery than of freedom and happiness to a poor enthralled people. And yet this is not all the danger that Parliaments are exposed unto, as also the people, in relation to that good they hope for by Parliaments.
3. Short continuance of Parliaments. Suppose the people have Parliaments, have a fair and free choice without being overpowered therein, or swayed aside; nay suppose yet more, that they chuse well for themselves; yet the Power they are to deal with may overbear them, and (if they cannot bend them aside) enforce their dissolution. And hereby the people must needs be deprived of reaping that good they desired and hoped for by their endeavors.
Parliaments are great Bodies, and consequently slow in motion, which is their proper pace and advantage, for they can hardly do anything well but what they do slowly; for motions that require swiftness Nature hath cut out other kind of bodies. Again, Parliaments are to act very warily, (as the things they are to do, are of great concernment, and require much circumspection and consideration), and therefore in both these respects must have time convenient to act accurately in the discharge of so great a Trust, and in the managing of so Weighty Affairs, which if it be not answerably allotted them, they must of necessity be defective in.
4. Want of Power to Parliaments. Parliaments have a difficult piece of work, viz. to chastise the greatest Oppressors, and to strike at the very root and foundation of oppression in any kind, and unless they have Power answerable they cannot possibly go through with it. Oppositions and interruptions from other Powers they must expect to meet with, which if they be not able to graple with and overcome, they cannot exercise the full Right and Liberty of the People, either in punishing Offenders against the People, or in chusing, establishing or altering Governments, Laws or Governors for the People. This must necessarily much hinder, if not put a stop to their work: for if any fall short of those means which are proper to an end, they cannot possibly attain that end. If the hand which imposeth and would keep burthens upon the back, be stronger than that which would remove them; If the hand which would supply defects, be weaker than that which stands in its way to stop it in its course, vain and fruitless will all its endeavors be. (The Power that relieveth from oppression must of necessity be greater than the Power that oppresseth.) And this was the condition of this present Parliament, there was visibly such a Power over them as they could do nothing to purpose for the good of the People. This doubtless they had great reason to strive to get loose from, and the people had great reason to stick to them in it, as also to expect from them their own freedom after they were made free, the freedom of the people being the end (theirs but the means), and therefore most to be eyed. ’Tis to no purpose at all to have never so free a Parliament, unless we have also a People put into the possession of their freedoms by the Parliament.
5. Over-long duration of Parliaments. This was glanced at before, but yet it will be requisite to consider of it further, because after those many changes which of late we have been much driven and necessitated into,1 we may at present lie more open to the ill influence of this, than of any of the former: and it should be the especial wisdom and care of man to take most heed of that danger which he lieth most open to. Everything hath its appointed seasons, bounds and proper way of operation, within which it is very beautiful and profitable, but beyond it very uncomely and dangerous. Parliaments, in their season, may bring forth a most sweet and excellent kind of fruit, which may vigorously refresh the spirits, and recover the decaying Liberties of a dying Nation; but continuing longer than its season, the Root itself, may easily grow corrupt, and the fruit prove soure, harsh, and deadly, yea may tend to a more bitter death than it was ordained to prevent. Many dangers Parliaments are exposed to by long continuance, whereby their nature and constitution may be depraved, or they induced to act after a different nature, or in other ways than is proper for them, or good for the people. Those dangers which more principally in this respect represent themselves to my eye, I shall here make mention of.
1. Parliaments, by long continuance, will be subject to fall into factions, which is the foundation of so many breaches and divisions in the whole, upon which they cannot but have an influence to conform them unto themselves, the eye of the people being still upon the fountainhead. We have had sufficient experience to evidence the truth of this, for still as the Parliament hath been divided, there have also been divisions throughout the whole Nation. Persons who act jointly and uniformly at first, (having one and the same sense upon their spirits, one and the same end in their eye, one and the same desire in their hearts) may in process of time lose this sense, this desire, this end, and be drawn aside to another sense, desire, end, and differ also in their new choice, which may insensibly creep in upon them; and according to this difference, there will ensue a division among them both in their motions and actions. Now how dangerous this is to have a breach in the Root, to have a seed of division in the heart, working there, springing forth from thence, and diffusing itself throughout the whole body, I think it will be needless to express.
2. Parliament men, by the long continuance of a Parliament, will be exposed to the temptation of seeking themselves, of minding and prosecuting their several particular ends and interests. A Parliament man, as he is chosen to be, so he should set himself to be a publique person, as it were forgetting himself, and giving up himself to be taken up only with the publique good, for the season of this work. This a good Patriot may find somewhat easie to do for awhile, but if the Parliament last long, Self which is very strong in him, and may challenge a right to be looked after, will revive its right, pleading both reason and necessity in its own behalf. That man, that could be content to lay all aside, and bend himself wholly for the publique for a short time, cannot hold out in doing so, but will be enforced to look after himself, his own affairs, his own profit and thriving in the world, &c. And when he comes to manage these and the other together, it will be very difficult for him to avoid making use of that advantage, which both his power and the long continuance of it affords him, towards his own particular benefit. And Self, having thus crept in, will grow more and more upon him, and will be continually, secretly and subtilly drawing him more and more towards himself, and more and more from the publique: and killing those affections in him (which are too apt of themselves to do) which were very lively at first for the publique, and consequently much unfit him for his work.
3. Parliaments by long continuance are in danger of contracting a particular Interest (an Interest distinct from that Interest which they have as a part of and in common with the people) in the publique Government. Every man hath an allowable Interest in common with the whole, so that if it goeth well with the whole, everyone shares in it. This is a good, a profitable Interest, no way prejudicial to any else. But then there is a particular Interest, whereby it may go well with some, though ill with the generality; nay the welfare of some may arise out of the incommodity of the generality. That wind which bloweth ill upon the publique, may blow profit to some. This Interest all Powers doe readily contract to themselves, partly by their own strength, and partly by their advantage to winde into other Powers, the greater still bringing the less into subjection, which must be at its command and use, or be broken by it. This snare which other Powers by their continuation are still running into, the Parliament is to redeem and purge them from; but to take heed lest their own continuance should be so long, as to bring them into the same snare; which may both unfit them for their proper work, which is to be Judges on the behalf of the Commonwealth, which how can they truly execute, who have a particular interest and share of their own (besides that which they have in common with the people) in the present Government, whom as it favours, so they must again favour it? As also it may engage them in an improper work, viz. in becoming Administrators in the present Government, which is no way proper for such as are appointed to be the Judges of Administrators and Administrations.
A Parliament have an interest in the Government with the rest of the people, yea a right and power conferred upon them by the people to order, settle, amend, or (if need be) new-make the Government for themselves and the people; but not to meddle with the administration of it, or to endeavor to bend it aside, in the administration of it, for any particular end or advantage of their own, which their Power may easily do, and which their overlong duration may too much intice them to assay to do.
4. Parliaments, by long continuance, may incur the danger of interrupting, if not of swallowing up the ordinary course of the people’s enjoying their Right in obtaining speedy, free and impartial Justice by the administration and execution of the Laws. The greater doth commonly weaken, if not devour the less. Extraordinary remedies are apt to thrust into the place of the ordinary, especially when by long duration they may seem to challenge to themselves the right of becoming ordinary.
5. (Which is worst of all) Parliaments, by over-long duration, may slip into danger of depriving the people of the proper use and benefit of Parliaments. The proper use of Parliaments is to be a curb to the extravagancy of Power, of the highest standing Power. But if they themselves become the standing Power, how can they be a fit curb for it? A Parliament is to be such a Body as may have the sense of the people upon them, that so they may be led by that sense to ease, relieve and safeguard the people. But if once they become Governors, they will lose that sense, and have a sense of different nature upon them. They will (like other Governors) have a sense of the duty of the people which they owe to their Governors, but lose (by degrees, still more and more) their sense of the burthens and grievances of the People. So that if Parliaments succeed in the place of the supream-administering-power, there will be as much need of somewhat else to stand between the people and them, as there was of them to stand between the people and Kingly Power: for they coming into that place and Authority, the people are in as much danger of them, as they were of the Power of Kings: for it is not the person simply, but the power, wherein the danger or benefit lieth. And this doubtless is the Right and Liberty of the People, and herein lieth their Safety, viz. to have an extraordinary, legislative, alterative, corrective Power above the ordinary standing Power; and this Power, as to consist of the Body of the People, so likewise to be kept altogether free from having any particular hand in Government, (but to keep within the bounds of their own extraordinary work, which is not so much in as about Government), that so they may both have and retain the sense of the people, being engaged by their state and condition to do nothing which may prejudice the people, because in case they do, they themselves will suddenly feel the smart of it.
6. The last danger, which I shall at this time mention in reference to Parliaments, is this. The assuming a Power of a different nature from them, not proper to them; and intermedling with a work which they are not fitted for, entrusted with, or appointed to.
Powers, like other things (and somewhat more advantagiously than other things, having stronger hands) are still gathering in to themselves. The rich man will be gathering riches, the wise man will be gathering wisdom, and the powerful man will be gathering power. And in attracting to himself (especially where he is the sole Judg) it is very difficult for him to be moderate or innocent. He who hath a right power in some things, it is hard for him to keep there, and not to seek after and lay hold on, if he can, that power which he ought not to have, and in those other kind of things wherein he ought not to have power. That a Parliament, as well as other Powers, is subject to this temptation, cannot be denied.
This is dangerous everywhere. (To have things endowed with a different, if not contrary nature, to have things employed about a different, if not a contrary work, to neglect their own work for which they are fit, to which they are appointed, and execute another work for which they are not fit, to which they are not appointed; this, let it be never so carefully and faithfully managed, must needs bring disorder, confusion, nay greater inconveniences). But the greater the power is, the greater is the danger: because as the greatest power may do most good in its own way, so it may do most harm in a wrong way. Powers that are great, bring forth great effects either of Peace or Trouble, Order or Confusion, Salvation or Destruction. No remedy so soveraign, so restorative as a Parliament rightly constituted, rightly applied, and rightly acting. No disease more deadly, more consuming the very heart-life of the Rights and Liberties of a Nation, than a Parliament misconstituted, misapplied, misacting.
But everyone here will be ready to say, What is that Power which is proper to Parliaments? What is their proper work? What is that Power of a different nature, which will be so dangerous for them to assume? And what is that work, which they are not fitted for, entrusted with, or appointed to?
To satisfie the desire of such as may greedily enquire after this, I shall answer somewhat, according to that insight which is afforded me into the nature of things, shewing (from the Principles foregoing) both what their proper Power and Work is, and then what Power and Work is improper for them. And it is a clearer and far safer way, to search out and discover things from their first rise in Nature, than from succeeding Principles or Practises, which may easily decline awry and cover the true knowledg and intent of things.
Now concerning their proper Power and Work, I shall not undertake to define the particular limits of it, it will suffice to my purpose, to express the general nature of it, which to me appeareth thus.
It is a NATURAL (Human or Civil) EXTRAORDINARY, CONSTITUTIVE, CORRECTIVE, ALTERATIVE POWER. I shall speak chiefly of their Power, which will of itself discover their Work, therefore that will not need so particularly to be opened.
First, I say it is NATURAL: such a Power as is sown in man, in the nature of man. Man hath a power over himself, to dispose of himself, according to that wisdom and righteousness which is seated in him, grows up with him (if it be not blasted or kept under), which he further attains to, or is in a further degree bestowed upon him. Of this common kinde is this, with all other earthly Powers.
But this expresseth only the kinde of it, we are yet far from the particular nature, end, or use of it.
Therefore to describe it further, I term it EXTRAORDINARY, which it discovers itself to be, being a thing not for common and constant use, but for extraordinary ends and purposes; and the nature of things must be suited to their end, for thither it is to direct them.
Then more particularly there is expressed what kinde of extraordinary Power it is, namely, CONSTITUTIVE, CORRECTIVE, ALTERATIVE. It is a Power of seting up or establishing Laws, Governments, Governors; of correcting them, of altering them.
This is the nature of their Power, which pointeth out their work so plainly, as it will not need more particularly to be specified in this place.
Now by this there are two sorts of Power cut off from them, one whole kinde of Power, and one main branch of another kinde.
1. Spiritual Power, which claimeth its descent from Christ as theHead of his Church, and is appropriated by its nature, end and use, unto his Body the Church, which is his City or Kingdom, to be governed by him, even by that power of his Spirit which he pleaseth to exercise upon them, whether immediately by himself, or mediately by such as he substituteth under him. This Power, as it is spiritual, so it is fit to be managed only by spiritual hands: Not by Men, but by Christians; nor by every Christian, but by such only as can clear the derivacy of it from Christ to them, such as are fitted and appointed by him to be under him in his own seat and place of Government. Nor are Christians to exercise this Government over other men, but only over Christians, whom alone it is suited to. Nor are they to govern as men; by outward force; but as Christians, by spiritual vertue and efficacy upon the Conscience, the seat of Christ in man, so that it may appear that not they, but the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit in Christ, doth rule and govern. O how sweet would this Government be! How pleaseant to a Christian the strictest execution of the sharpest Laws in it! Christ’s yoke is easie, and his burthen is light, even in the sharpest and weightiest part of it.
But this Power belongeth not to any Nation or People under Heaven, there being not any Nation or People which can evidence the fair and clear derivacy of this Power from Christ to them: (as it was not intended for any Nation or People, save only his own Nation, his own People). Therefore not to any Parliament, who are but the People in a representative Body, in a Body contracted into a narrower compass for the use and service of the People; who as they stand in their stead, so they have only their Power. The People being the stock or root from whence their Power and Authority doth spring, it can rise no higher, nor be of any other nature, than that which is in the People.
2. In Civil Power, the administrative or governing part of it appeareth from hence not to appertain to them.
In Civil Societies, as well as in natural, Nature hath cut out the proportion (in general, though not in particular). There is the Head and the Members, having each their several innate Properties, Motions, Laws and Priviledges, which cannot be transgressed without violence to Nature, or without danger to that Body or Society which breaketh the bounds limited by Nature. In every Society which is orderly, there is the Head and the Members, part to govern, and part to be governed; to each of which appertain their particular Rights: to the one such as they may be advantaged for and in government by, to the other such as they may be advantaged under government by; that the yoke may be gently, orderly, and sweetly managed by the one, and sweetly born by the other.
Now this is most evident, that the People are the Body, the People are to be governed; not to be the Head, not to govern. The Legislative Power indeed belongs to them, that their yoke might be the more easie. But the Administrative Power doth in no wise belong to them, but to those who are to govern. And though the People might be flattered and encouraged, from sense of the misuse of this Power, to take it into their own hands, yet it can never thrive there: and though they should set themselves to rest content, nay to please themselves with it; yet you must needs grow weary of it, and that very quickly, the inconveniences will multiply so fast, and grow so unavoidable.
Parliaments are the Body of the People, chosen by the People to stand for them, to represent them, to act in their stead. Answerably, They have that Power which is proper to the People, the Legislative, the Supremely Judicative; but not that Power which belongs not to the People, viz. the Administrative.
In like manner this discovers a double kinde of work improper for them.
The one is, medling with spiritual affairs. The constituting of these, the amending of these, the altering of these is only proper to such as are invested with spiritual Power and Authority. The Laws of Christ were never appointed to be set up by the Power of man, but by the Power of his Spirit in the Conscience. It is accounted profane, and much startled at, to touch that which man hath made holy, which man hath separated and consecrated to divine use; and yet how propense are, almost all persons, to be laying hands on that, which God hath made holy and set a part for himself! How sad an effect we have seen and felt from undertakings in this kinde, cannot but be fresh in our memories; what a sad breach and disunion it hath occasioned throughout the whole Nation, and particularly in the Parliament. Nor can I conceive readily, how it could be otherwise. The closest bond of union mistaken and misapplied must needs become the greatest instrument of division (to let pass God’s interest to blast men, when they will be venturing upon that work which he hath not appointed them unto, but reserved for himself). The wound thus made may prove incurable. Men differing in their judgments, and consequently in their desires; differing in the apprehension of their duties; their motions and endevors must needs run cross and become irreconcilable, while the foundation of this difference remains. While a man is strongly perswaded, that this or this is the way and Will of God, that it is his duty to use the utmost of his abilities, opportunities and advantages for the promoting of it, that this is the main end for which power is put into his hands, the chief thing God expects from him, and will call him to a very strict account about the improving of all his power and interest unto the advancing of this; I say while things stand thus, how can he with the quiet of his Conscience neglect acting accordingly? The Presbyterian is now engaged indissolubly, to use his utmost strength and endevor towards the advancing of Presbytery, which is God’s instituted way of Worship in his eye; and so the Independent of Independency, which is Christ’s Institution in his eye. Now having tasted so much of this, and smarted so much by this, men should be very wary of intermedling in things of this nature, further than their ground is clear.
The other is, The taking upon them the Administration of Government,or intermixing with the administration of Government. This is the most pernicious thing to a Parliament that can be, for it both diverteth them from their own work, and out of their own way, into one of another nature; and so thrusteth them into a necessity of doing disservice, and into an incapacity of doing service. This may make useless, nay may make burthensom, the best constituted Parliament. Suppose a Parliament of never such entire-hearted-honest-men, most studiously bent and applying themselves to publique service; yet if they be over-full of another kind of business than their own, or intermix another kinde of business with their own, they can neither well dispatch that other kinde of business which they are so over-full of, or which they so intermix; nor their own neither. And it is the ready way to turn the hearts of the People from Parliaments: for finding things go so grievously amiss (as by this means they needs must), and in the hands too of such men, as they can hardly hope for better, they will begin to look on a Parliament no longer as a remedy, but as a worse disease, than that which they addressed themselves to it for cure of. O consider your snare, ye who are in danger of it! How prone was the Administrative Power to intrench upon the bounds of the Legislative, and how afflictive did it become thereby! Is not the Legislative Power as prone to intrench upon the Administrative? And in so doing, is it not likely to prove as afflictive?
Look into Nature, See if ever this kinde of Body was cut out, fitted or appointed by it to govern. It hath not a fit form or shape for it; it is unweildy for such a kinde of motion.
Again, Look into the tenor of your Call and Trust. Were ye ever entrusted herewith by the People? Is it, or ever was it, the minde of the People? Did they chuse you for this end? Have ye a Commission from them, I mean not formally, but so much as vertually, intentionally? They called you to rectifie Government, that is clear enough; but did they call you to govern? O remember, remember, when any such motions arise in you, when any such temptations beset you; Ye are not fitted to it by Nature: your motion is slow, but the work and way of Government requires speed and swiftness. And if ye should from a desire, from an apprehension of advantage, from sense of present need, or any other never so good an intent, alter your own slow pace and strive to act swiftly; it will quickly appear how uncomely it is in you, and how unsafe for the People. Remember also, that ye are not called to it by the People: and if ye will yet be venturing upon it, doubtless ye will run the hazard of ruining both yourselves and the People.
These are some of the dangers which Parliaments (and through them the People) are obnoxious to. How far this present Parliament hath been overtaken with any of them, or how far the People hath suffered thereby, I shall not take upon me to determine. Only thus much I cannot but express, That the present state of affairs is (to my eye) much entangled, and that the true foundations of Right and Freedom (so far as I can discern) are not yet laid; and I could earnestly desire and much entreat those in whose power it is, to do the main work, and to do it thoroughly: To let fall all desire of Power or Supremacy (whose sweetness will be tempting the best) to strike at the root of all particular Interests which stand in the way of publique good, and to set upon such ways of publique good, so evidently and directly tending thereto, as might be forcible to convince very enemies to them by their clearness in reason, and by the sweet benefit which they should not be able to avoid tasting and reaping from them. Having such advantage of Power in their hands, what is it which might not be done for publique good, if men had hearts, and were in a right way?
It is commonly said, that a stander by may see more than a gamester: which if it be true, I may assume unto myself some freedom of speech more than ordinary, my condition interessing me in it. For I have been long taken off from being an Actor in any kinde, to become only a Spectator; yea and I think I may say safely, not an engaged but a free Spectator. I have not been interessed in the designs of any party whatsoever, nor so much as in desire to have any party thrive, further than they have been guided by Principles of Reason and Righteousness unto common good. There is not one sort of men upon the face of the Earth, to whom I bear any enmity in my spirit (though in some respect I must confess myself an enemy to every sort of men) but wish, with all my heart, they might all attain and enjoy as much Peace, Prosperity, and Happiness, as their state and condition will bear. There are not any to whom I should envy Government, but, who ever they are, they should have my vote on their behalf, whom I saw fitted for it and called to it. Indeed I am offended, very much offended with most persons and things, and I have a deep Charge against them, which at present I keep secret, not intending to bring it forth till I come upon that stage where I may have fair play. Yet thus much I will say, which toucheth a little upon it. I am offended both with Light and Darkeness, or rather with that which pretends to be Light, and that which is acknowledged to be Darkness. I am offended with that which pretends to be Light, because it doth not more fairly overcome Darkness; but while it blames it for its dark paths of Tyranny, Cruelty and Oppression, itself seeks (not by the pure vertue and power of Light, but) by the same weapons, viz. of dark violence to conquer it; and if it ever prevail this way to do it effectually, I shall be much mistaken. I am also offended with Darkness; because it is not true to itself, not just to itself, not at peace with itself, nor keeps within the sphere of its own dark Principles (even those which it doth acknowledg) in its own motions, or in its opposing either Light or Darkness Christians dishonour themselves and their Principles; They speak indeed of the Light of God, of the Life of God, of the Power of God, of the great Name of God, but are fallen short of the true vertue and glory of all these, both in Religion, and in their course in the World. Men dishonor themselves and their Principles, falling short of that common love, good will and righteousness which very Nature would teach them to observe, notwithstanding its depravation, were their ears open. But I delight neither to complain nor accuse, only I cannot but wish that all cause and occasion of complaint and accusation were taken away from him who doth delight in either. All the liberty I shall now make use of, is only freely to express what I conceive necessary, in the present confused state of things, to reduce them into some certain safe and well-grounded order, according to plain Principles of Reason and Righteousness, without aiming either at the throwing down or setting up of any person or thing: Which, what interpretation soever of weakness, folly or disaffection may be put upon it, I finde not myself very prone to value. This temper hath long attended my spirit, not much to regard, what account either I myself or any else put upon things, but rather to expect what things will then appear to be, when they shall be made manifest by that Light, which doth discover them as they are, and will pass such a judgment upon them as they deserve, and shall not be able to gainsay or avoid.
It is a kinde office and a commendable peece of service to help out of the mire, or to offer so to do, yet can hardly be so esteemed by him who observeth not himself to be in the mire, and consequently hath no sense of any need of help. He will rather entertain it with disdain than acceptation, it implying him to be in such a condition as he is unwilling to own or acknowledg. But however, as I have on the one hand expressed my sence (though very sparingly) of our present entangled condition, wherein we finde ourselves at a loss in our very remedy: so I shall on the other hand offer what help my Reason and Judgment presents to me as proper and necessary to dis-involve us and bring us into a right course.
To come then to what I drive at, first I shall speak a word in general towards setling, and then propound more particularly, what things are needful (considering our present state) towards the setling of affairs in order, justice and safety, both to dis-engage us from fundamental miscarriages and dangers (which it is very easie to slip into, and very hard to wade out of, especially after our so long treading in such an unusual track, as of late we have been much driven into) and to set us straight.
Towards setling in general I should say three things.
First, That we should look well to our setling, look well how we settle.
Secondly, That we should be careful of avoiding Arbitrariness of Government in our setling.
Thirdly, That we should have regard to the Rights of the People, and especially to their rectifying Right, that it have its free current.
1. We should look well to our setling. Shakings generally tend to setling; and setlings frequently make way for future shakings. Shakings are sudden and violent most commonly, not flowing so much from deliberation as from force: but setlings require great wariness and circumspection, lest that corruption which caused our disturbance (and should be shaken out) put on a new guise, and settle again on our new foundation; whereby there are not only new seed-plots strown of fresh ensuing miseries, but also preparation made for a new Earthquake. Therefore it behoveth us to look well about us, and to settle warily, that we may settle surely.
2. We should be careful to avoid Arbitrariness of Government in our setling. If Arbitrariness of Power, and a Government by Will, not Law, was our burthen, and that which we so strongly desired and endevored to throw off from our backs: then surely they to whom it appertaineth, and who have engaged themselves to free us from it, ought to be exceeding careful and watchful against involving us again in it. If it hath already miscarried in one hand, it may also do in another. However, in reason we are not to be tied to run the venture. It is not the change of the hand, but the change of the Rule, which we expect as our foundation of Safety. He that doth us good in an arbitrary way, and by an arbitrary power today, may by the same way and power do us harm tomorrow.
3. In our setling regard should be had to the Rights of the People, and especially to their rectifying Right, that it have its free current. The Rights of the People were the main thing presented to view in this great conflict, and therefore in equity should be mainly prosecuted: and most principally those which are their most needful and useful Rights. Our Laws are our Rights, and we should be loth to be deprived of any of them (whose reason was both good at first, and remaineth still in force). But there are some Rights and Liberties which are the root and foundation of our Laws, and our ultimate Refuge for succour and safety; and therefore much nearer to us, and more essential to our happiness, than others are. These are especially to be regarded. And this so much the rather, because the people are so fit a Body to be subjected and trampled upon, that it is very hard for those which are great in power, to keep their feet from off their necks. Alas, the people have no way to avoid danger but by running upon the Rocks; they have no way to shun ruine, but by hasting into ruine. Those they chuse to govern them gently, to defend them, may sit hard upon their backs, yea themselves may make a prize of them. And if they can in length of time, through many difficulties, obtain and appoint Trustees to rectifie these miscarriages, yet how many temptations they have to mismanage it, they think not of, and how they will manage it, they know not. Experience doth still shew how difficult it is thoroughly to mind the good of the people. One half of the work is sometimes done (sometimes very often) viz. the crushing of Oppressors: but the other half, viz. the breaking the yoke of oppression, is very rare and hard even for them to do who have prevailed to shake the Oppressors out of their seats.
Thus much in general. Now more particularly, there are four things appear to me as necessary, unto a fair and firm setling.
1. A clear distinction between the administrative or executive Power, and the legislative or judicative: that as they have in themselves, so they may retain in their course, their clear and distinct natures, the one not intermixing or intermedling with the other. That the administrative may not intermingle itself, or meddle with the legislative, but leave it to its own free course; not the legislative with the administrative by any extemporary precepts, directions or injunctions, but only by set and known Laws. Things which are severed in their nature must likewise be severed in their use and application, or else we cannot but fail of reaping those fruits and effects which we desire from them, and which otherwise they might bear, and we enjoy.
2. A prescription of clear and distinct Rules and Bounds to each. That the Trust, Power, Priviledges and Duty of each, which flow from the common light of man, and are intended for the common good of man, may be made evident to that common light; that the people may know hereby what they are to expect from each, what they are to expect from the Parliament, what they are to expect from their Supream Governor or Governors, and so may be understandingly sensible of good or ill usage. There is nothing (among that nature of things we now treat of) of itself unlimited: and the more clearly the limits of anything are set and known, the greater advantage hath it both to move safely, and to vindicate the integrity and righteousness of its motions. If the limits of Power be not described and made known, it will be left too loose in its actings, and the people also will be left too loose in the interpretation of its actings (neither of them being groundedly able to justifie themselves in either unto the other) neither of which is safe. If the Parliament hath one apprehension of its limits, and the people another, they can neither be satisfied in the other; but the people must needs disrelish the actions of the Parliament, and the Parliament cannot but think themselves injured by the people, which may occasion the laying of a dangerous foundation of discontent and division between them. Yea hereby the Parliament’s best friends may be forced to become its enemies, and it may be forced to deal most sharply with its best friends, and so weaken its best strength, and the best strength of the Nation. Those that are friends to things are not friends to persons, any further than they are subservient to things. It is as hateful to true-bred-spirits to idolize the name of a Parliament any more than of a King: it is righteousness, rightly administered in its own proper way and channel, by persons in place and power, which alone can make them lovely to such as love not men, but righteousness. It was the error of the foregoing governing Power to esteem itself more at liberty, than in right it was; it may also be the error of the present legislative power, yea their condition exposeth them more unto it (their Liberty being larger, or of a larger kind); and therefore they ought the more abundantly to beware of it, and to apply themselves to produce, or cause to be produced, a true and fair discovery of those bounds and limits wherein they are (by the nature of things) circumscribed: for if they do not know them, it will be impossible for them to keep within them; and if the people do not know them, it may be difficult (in many considerable cases) to them to believe that they do keep within them.
3. An unquestionably free and equal Parliament. It is not every cause which will produce a true and genuine effect, but the cause must be rightly tempered to bring forth kindly fruit. It is not every Parliament which can heal or settle a Nation, or that the people have just cause to rest satisfied in; but a Parliament fairly chosen, equally representing the people, and freely acting for the people.
Now every man knoweth force to be opposite to freedom. That which is free is not forced, and that which is forced is not free.
This Parliament hath, visibly to every common eye, been more than once forced;2 and it is not very easie after violence to break forth again into perfect liberty: the sense and remembrance of the former force, together with an inward fear of the like again (if the like occasion shall happen) may be a secret, though not so apparant a bond upon their spirits, which may in some particulars incline them both to do what they would not, and to neglect the doing of what they would.
Besides, it may be considered how far that visible force, which caused so great an alteration in the Parliament, and such a change in affairs, did intrench upon the freedom of Parliament. For though every detention of some or many Members may not disanul the freedom of a Parliament, yet some kind of detention, so and so qualified, necessarily doth. An occasional or accidental detention is not of so great force as an intentional: yet if such an accidental detention of some of the Members should happen, whereby the state and course of the Parliament should be changed, it might well be disputed, whether the rest (still sitting and acting contrary to what was done before those Members were detained) might be accounted a free Parliament, (when such a force was visibly upon some part of it, as changed the whole state of affairs in it). For this were plainly an accidental bending of the Parliament from its intended course, from its free current, and so far as it is bent it is not free. But in the case in hand there was yet more,3 There was an intentional bending of the Parliament, (as was expressly declared by them who were the instruments to bend it) there was a culling out of those who stood in the way of what the Army thought just, safe and necessary to be done. And this was done purposely that the Parliament might be put into another posture, and act other things different from what, as they were then constituted, they could be drawn unto. Now though there should be a violent detention of divers Members of the Parliament from doing that service, which they ought and desire to do according to their Judgments and Consciences; yet if the Parliament be not bent hereby, but go on in the same path it was walking in before, it hath the greater advantage thereby to argue and to make good its freedome. But if by this force it be visibly and apparantly bent, put into another posture, and into contrary ways and motions, the evidencing of its freedom will, in this case, be more difficult.
There might yet be further added the Judgment of the Army concerning this action of their own, who were likely to look favourably upon it being their own, but I purposely wave it: for I do not go about to make the most of these things, but desire only the granting of thus much to me, that this Parliament is not unquestionably free, and so the people, who are sensible thereof, cannot rest fully satisfied in their spirits, that this present engine is their evidently-genuine and proper engine.
And as this present Parliament is not unquestionably free, no more is it an unquestionably equal Representative of the people, neither in respect of the number of the persons, nor in respect of the qualification of the persons.
First, for the number of the persons. Every County, City, Borough, having their stock going, their right and interest concerned in the whole, their particular advantage or disadvantage while Parliaments sit; so they ought to have their proper Substitutes or Representers to appear for them, to stand in their stead, to have an influence in the managing of their particular cases, and their right in the whole, which, as the case now stands, many do want.
Secondly, for the qualification of the persons. For it is not a number of persons (though chosen by the people) simply considered, that do or can represent the people. They are but shadows, not the true Representatives of the People (though designed by the people to that end) unless they be rightly qualified. How is that? Why thus: by understanding the condition and desires of those they stand for, and by representing those desires seasonably in their stead: for they are chosen to be common persons, and therefore ought to have the common sense of the Rights, Liberties, Safeties, Needs, Desires of those they stand for. If a man undertake to appear for me, and doth not know or care to know what I need or desire, he doth me a double injury; both putting me to the loss of that which I might obtain, and depriving me of the means I might otherwise have attained it by.
Now there is a great exception against these present Representers in this respect, the state of things, and consequently burthens being much changed, since they were chosen to represent them. It is a long while since the first sitting of this Parliament, and the change of Power, with other things, may have caused many new burthens, which they, being in power, cannot so fully feel, nor seem so fit to be Judges of. The burthens of the People still arise from the present Power, that power from which they did formerly arise is removed, another hath succeeded. Now they who are the greatest in the succeeding Power seem no way fit to represent the burthens of the people under that power: but such of the common people as lie most under them, and most feel them, are likely to be most fit to represent the sense of them. These indeed might be fit, when they were chosen, to be Judges of former burthens and oppressions, but they seem not now so fit to be Judges concerning present burthens and oppressions. Not that which manageth the power can so fairly, clearly and sensibly judg whether it be easie or grievous, but that which lieth under it.
And here I may not unfitly add one thing concerning the way of managing affairs in Parliament so much in use, viz. by Votes; the necessity whereof in some cases, and the multitude of transactions, may have been an occasion to draw into more common use than is either fit or safe. My ground of excepting against it is this. The actions of the people (and so of the Parliament, who are the collective body of the people) should be very clear and evident to the eye of common sense, so as to bear down all opposition or gainsaying. The people should desire the removal of nothing but what is evidently burthensom, the addition of no Law but what is evidently good, the punishment of none but him who hath evidently been an offender. But the putting things to Vote is an argument against this clearness and evidence, and doth seem to whisper, if not to speak out, that things are doubtful, and that the determination is also doubtful, arising not necessarily from the strength of reason, but perhaps from the number of voices. I confess it is impossible for such a body to manage many affairs without this course: but I cannot conceive that ever Nature cut out such a body for the managing of many affairs. It is a body of the common people, who are not supposed to be skilful in administering Government, nor intended to meddle in managing of affairs, but only to set them in a right posture, and in a fair way of administration. A few, easie, necessary things, such as common sense, reason and experience instructeth the common sort of men in, are the fittest things for them to apply themselves unto. Indeed the people should have no more hand in or rather about Government, than necessity requires for their own preservation, safety and welfare; and dispatch quickly what they have to do (as a few plain things may quickly be done) and so return into subjection unto Government again, whereby alone they will be able to know whether they have done well or ill in what they have done. Again, as it is a Body of the common people, so it is of a great bulk (it cannot be otherwise formed), and therefore not fited for many motions, but only for such as are slow and sure. Yet their slowness of motion (the right order of nature being observed) will be neither burdensom to themselves nor others, being recompenced by the fewness of those things which Nature (I mean the nature of their end, call and trust) hath appointed for them to do.
4. A regular way of Elections: that the people might be put into a fair, clear, understanding way of managing this: that they might not be urged from favour to the present administering power to make their choice according to their desires, but might be left free therein, and might be incited to wariness by being instructed of what concernment their choice is: that if they chuse amiss they contribute towards the laying a foundation of enslaving themselves and the whole Nation. The people have a sense of their own good, as well as a desire to please their Superiors, and if that sense were by suitable means quickened in them at the time or season when they chuse, they would be so much the more careful to make choice of such as were fittest to represent that sense. In such a great and extraordinary Remedy there should be extraordinary care about every step and degree of the framing and constituting of it that we may be sure (as sure as possibly we can) to have it right and fit for its appointed end and use: for one error here is as it were a womb of danger and misery, which hereby it is in a way to bring forth. Now that the people might the better understand the end, work, &c. for which they are chosen, and put themselves, or rather be put (for they can hardly do anything themselves orderly) into such a posture as they might chuse most advantagiously to their own good; and that those whom they chuse might the better apply themselves thereto; that both these might be more commodiously done, I shall propound these three things. (And here I desire free scope in the ballance of everyone’s Judgment, for I propose not these things from any conceit of them, but meerly from the strength of that reason which representeth itself to me in them, having no desire they should take place, so much as in anyone’s mind, any further than the reason in them makes way there for them, and it will be my delight and joy to see them give place to anything which is better or more solid.)
1. That the Counties, Cities or Boroughs meet together (as they were wont to do to chuse their Knights, Citizens or Burgesses) to chuse a convenient number of their Commonalty as a Committee to chuse their Knights, Citizens or Burgesses for them for that one time.
I speak now in general concerning a convenient way of chusing, but if I were to speak concerning a sudden new choice, I should add this. That none should be admitted either to be chosen or to vote in this choice, but such as have been faithful to their Country in the late great defection:4 for which end, that exceptions should be drawn up, and great penalties annexed to them, to be inflicted on such as should venture to give their vote, who are excepted from chusing; or such as shall accept of the choice, who are excepted from being chosen. (Only these exceptions should be so plain, as there may be no cause of doubt or scruple concerning the interpretation of any of them, lest they prove a snare to any to deprive them of the exercise of their just Right and Liberty herein.) It is undeniably just and rational, that the people having fought for their Rights and Liberties, and purchased them with the expence of their blood, should now enjoy them, and not permit such a participation of those among them, who endeavored and fought against them, as may cause a new hazard of the return of that into their hands, which hath been thus difficultly and costily recovered from them.
2. That this Committee immediately upon their being chosen (before or at their first sitting) may have an Oath administered unto them, to this intent, That without partiality, regard to friendship, or any other by-respect, they shall chuse (either from among themselves or elsewhere) him whom they shall judg most fit, both for ability and fidelity, to serve his Country in general, and that County, City, or Borough in particular.
3. That this Committee, immediately after they have finished their choice, consult about and draw up (and that an Oath be administered for this end likewise, or a clause for it inserted in the former Oath) a Copy of what, according to their Consciences, they conceive them to be entrusted with by the people; with what kind of power, in what sphere, and to what end; which might be before them as a Light and Rule unto them, though not absolute, yet it might be very helpful: Whereas otherwise (without some such help) persons called to that employment may be ignorant what their work is, and from this ignorance (and their own modesty together) may join with others in the way they find them in (if a Parliament be sitting) or in the way some, who are most looked upon, may propose; in the meanwhile they themselves not understanding where they are, to what direct end, or upon what ground they act. And I must confess this hath ever made me unwilling to venture upon that employment, not having clear and certain instruction how or what to act therein: and I must confess myself somewhat unsatisfied to undertake a Trust, the nature whereof is not clearly manifested unto me. I am content to serve my Country with all my poor strength, but withall cannot but be shy of such a snare of doing them disservice instead of service, as my own remediless ignorance herein may necessarily expose me to. And perhaps there may be some others who may stand in need of this help as well as I: however, a clear and plain way of knowledg, me thinks, should be burdensom to none.
Such kind of things as these are proper transactions for a Parliament, for there may be errors or defects in this kind which the people cannot come together to consult about and heal, yet it is requisite such things, in this kind amiss, should be healed, who therefore fitter to do it than their Representatives? And what might not be done in this nature, and entertained thankfully by the people, if it were so managed, upon such plain grounds of Reason and principles of Justice, and in such a plain clear way, as might carry conviction, that it was not done from any selfish respects, but for common good. It is a jealousie in the people, that their Substitutes neglect them, and mind themselves, which makes them interpret their actions so ill, which jealousie by this means would easily be rooted out of the people, nay it would fall of itself.
These are the things which to me seem necessary to set us right. And if it were once thus, that Powers were rightly distinguished according to their own natures, rightly bounded within their own spheres, ranks, orders and places; if there were also a Parliament in every respect fairly chosen, set right in its constitution, and rightly acting according to its own nature, end and work within its own bounds, there might be some ground of hope both towards the well setling of things at present, and the easie further amending of what should be found amiss afterwards. But I dare confidently affirm it, that until the true way, course and end of Nature be discovered and observed, let there be never so many other advantages; a Parliament never so wise, never so industrious, never so faithful; a People never so pliable and thankeful, never so quiet and patient, both in submitting unto the pains of their cure, and in continual renewing of their expectations when it will once be; yet the desired end will never be effected by the Parliament, nor enjoyed by the People. If a Parliament will produce such or such effects, it must become such or such a cause as is proper to produce those effects, (and operate like that cause) otherwise it will be impossible.
There is one thing more I desire to mention, of no small importance, (with the same freedom which I have used hitherto) which hath been acted publiquely in the sight of the world, and will one day be examined more publiquely. That which is well done will endure a review; and that which is ill done doth deserve a review, that it might be amended: yea that which is of very great consequence may in equity require a review.
The thing is this, that there might be a Revisal of this present Government (whether by this present Parliament, or an ensuing, or by both, I determine not) wherein it might be taken into full consideration (more full perhaps than that present exigence of affairs, when it was first pitched upon, would permit); First, the necessity of a change; and secondly, the commodiousness of this change, or certainty of advantage by this change: for changes are never good but when they are necessary, and when the change is certainly, or at least very probably, for the better. Now as there is at some times need of a change, so there is at other times an itching humour in man after change, when there is no need: yet a man who hath a mind to change, will take it for granted that there is a need of change, and run greedily into it though he suffer loss thereby, changing for that which is ten times worse, even in that very respect, because of which he changeth, only his eye being blinded by his present desire and interest, he cannot discern it.
There ought to be much circumspection in all weighty changes: This, being the most weighty and of most concernment to the people, deserves the greater wariness and the more thorow scanning. It doth not become wise men to take a prejudice against a thing because they have smarted by it, or to conceive well of another thing because it is different from that, or because it appeareth plausible at first view, or because they have not yet had experience of the incommodiousness, evil or danger of it; but narrowly to pierce into the ground and nature of things, and from a clear sight thereof to bottom their change.
In changing either Governments or Governors, it is very incident to man to be unjust. Man ordinarily doth that unjustly which is just to be done. Because of his sense of smart, he is become an enemy (and so far an unfit Judg) to that and them which he smarted by; and can very hardly afford them a fair hearing of what they can say for themselves. Yet this is the due of everything which is laid aside. And for my part, though I shall not plead for the resettlement of Kingly Government (for I am not so far engaged in my affections to it, as it yet hath been) yet I would have a fair and friendly shaking hands with it, and not any blame laid upon it beyond its desert: For doubtless it is both proper, good and useful in its kinde, and hath its advantages above any other Government on the one hand, as it hath also its disadvantages on the other hand.
Now since I have waded thus far herein, I will proceed a little further, propounding what way I should judg most convenient for myself to take, if I were to have an hand in this particular, so as I might discharge it with most Justice in reference to the thing itself, and with most satisfaction in reference to my own spirit. (Every man must be master of what he doth in his own Understanding, or he cannot act justly; and his heart is poor and weak, if it can be satisfied in managing things beyond his strength.)
In the first place (supposing I had Power) I would require such learned Lawyers, as I should judg most fit, to give me a plain and full description of Kingly Government; of the Duty, Power, Prerogatives of it, with all the several bounds of it, according to the Laws of this Land.
Secondly, I would consider, whether any of these were defective; and particularly since the Prerogative part was so encroaching, what bonds might be laid upon it for the future, and how far they might be able to bind it fast from intrenching upon the Rights and Liberties of the People.
Thirdly, I would consider, what security or certainty might be had of a setled course of Parliaments in fitting seasons and with sufficient Power for remedying any grievances which might arise to the People from this Government, or from any Governors which might be employed in it: for in every Government there are (besides the Supreme) Sub-governors, who are usually the greatest Oppressors.
Having done this, fully and fairly, to the satisfaction (not of my will or desire, but) of my understanding unbiassed; I would as fairly propound, to my view, the other Government, which might seem fit to succeed in the stead of this. I would take a full draught of it; the Duty, Power, Prerogatives (for such it ought to have; its work being hard, in equity it should have priviledges to sweeten it) and several limits of it. I would consider again and again, how it could be bound faster than the other: How the Convention and Session of Parliaments in season, with full Power and Freedom, might be more certain under this. And after full and thorow consideration of everything needful to be considered, if it did indeed appear that Errors in the former kind of Government could not safely or easily be amended, nor the dangers thereof well prevented, but might with much more safety and ease be both amended and prevented in the latter; then would I abolish the former, and settle the latter.
This, in my apprehension, would be a fair and just way, and would not expose me to drink in prejudices (which become not a Judg) against the Government which is to be called into question; or to lay that as a particular Objection to it, which other Governments are as liable unto. Neglecting of Duty, grasping of extraordinary Power, enlarging of Priviledges and Prerogatives, trampling upon them that are low, that are as it were the earth under them, riding in pomp upon the backs of the People, &c. these are common to every Government, and will be growing up under every Government further than they are powerfully suppressed. As for that great Objection of the enmity of Kingly Government to Parliaments, any other Government may be as liable to it. No ordinary supreme Power loveth an extraordinary supreme Power; and what Power soever be set up, it will go neer (if much care be not used to prevent it) to have an influence upon the choice of Parliament men, and will be molding the Parliament to itself, which if it cannot do, it will hardly look upon it as its friend. I must confess the changing of the form of Government is not so considerable in my eye, but the fixing of so strong and safe bounds and limits, as a good Governor or Governors may delight to keep within, and a bad or bad ones may not be able to break through: which may be much helped by the frequent use of Parliaments, if they can be kept within their bounds, or else that will be worst of all according to that known Maxim, Corruptio optimi pessima, the best thing being corrupted proveth worst.
When this is done (for I do not look upon it as yet done, till all reviews, which in reason and equity can be desired, are first over) and the supreme Governor or Governors fully agreed upon: then it will be seasonable, just and requisite to restore to them those Rights and Priviledges which belong unto them, and which it is the minde of the People they should have: as particularly his or their consent in making Laws. It is great reason the People should make their own Laws; and it is as agreeable to Reason, that he who is to govern by them should consent unto them. As the People (so far as they understand themselves) cannot but be unwilling to be made slaves by their Governor, to be governed by such Laws as he should make at his pleasure: so neither should they desire to make him a slave, by putting what Laws they please into his hand, requiring him to take care of the observation of them: but a mutual agreement & transaction in things of this nature is fairest and most just. Yea this would be most advantagious to the people, for he who constantly weilds the Scepter is in likelihood best able to give advice concerning Laws, and may put them into a better way (by vertue of his experience) of attaining their ends and desires than they of themselves can light upon. If the chief Governor or Governors shall refuse to assent to such Laws as are evidently good and necessary, a better remedy may be found out than the depriving of him from this Liberty. The true way of curing is difficult, requiring much skill, care and pains; the common way of man is by running out of one extream into another, which he is apt to please himself much in, because he observeth himself at such a distance from that which he found so inconvenient and perhaps so mischievous before. But this is neither just in itself, nor can prove either easie or safe in the issue.
To draw to a conclusion; I shall only mention some few properties of a good Governor, to which the people should have respect in their choice, and to which he who is chosen by the People to that degree and honor, should have respect in his acting.
There are two proprties or proper ways of motion (which contain in them several properties) of a good Governor, which, if he will be furnished unto, will make him very useful and serviceable in his place.
1. To manage his Trust with all care and fidelity. To neglect himself, his own particular ease, pleasure, advantage; and apply himself to the good of the whole. To minister Justice equally, fairly, freely, speedily; and mercy tenderly. To punish meerly for necessity sake, but to relieve from his heart.
2. To settle the Foundations (so far as lies in his way and within his reach) of the People’s Liberty, Peace and Welfare, that it may be in a thriving condition growing still more and more. For the welfare of the People doth not so much consist in a quiet, prosperous, setled state at present, as in a good seed for future growth, whereby alone the Government can come to yeeld the good fruit of a present good setling. It may cost much at present to manure the ground and plant a good Government, the benefit is to be reaped afterwards, which will lie much in the Governor, who may help much to cherish or blast it.
The main thing in a Governor (which will fit him unto both these) is to keep within his bounds: Not to think or undertake to do all the good which is needful to be done, but that good which belongs to his place and office: Not to avoid bonds, but to desire to be bound as fast as may be. He who is indeed unwilling to transgress, to do evil; is willing to be tied up, as fast and close as can be, from all temptations and advantages thereunto. Good honest plain-dealing-hearts are too apt to desire scope, thinking only to improve it for good; and others are too apt to trust them, little suspecting that they will do otherwise, till at length on a sudden so evident snares and temptations overtake them, as give too plain a proof of the contrary. This experience is so deep, that it may well be questioned, Whether it were better to have a bad Governor being fast bound, or a good Governor being at liberty; which would be very difficult to resolve, because on the one hand it is so hard to finde bonds to binde a bad Governor fast enough, and so difficult on the other hand for a good Governor being left at liberty, to act well. He who hath had experience what he is, when he is left at liberty, and what others are when they are left at liberty (how easily his or their Judgment, Will and Affections are perverted) will neither desire to be left at liberty himself, nor to have others left at liberty. A good Governor might do great service in this respect, namely both by a ready compliance with his bonds (for the good and necessary use of them) which is very rare; as also by seeking further bonds, where he can discover starting holes, which is yet more rare.
Man naturally seeketh liberty from bonds, desireth to avoid them: He would binde others, but be without bonds himself. Others need bonds, but he can act well without them, yea he can do more good without them than with them. They may be a fit curb for others, but they will be but a clog to him in the pursuit of the people’s happiness, whereby he shall be hindered from doing that good service which he would and otherwise might. Thus the best men, many times, come to do most hurt, least suspecting themselves, and being least mistrusted by others. (Who would not beleeve his own heart, that if he were in place and Power he would not do thus or thus, but amend this and that and the other thing; and the more scope he had, the better and more swiftly would he do it?) But to seek bonds, to desire to be hedged up from everything that is unlawful or unfit; to seek where one might evade and prepare before-hand strength to resist it, engines to oppose and keep it back, this is as unusual an undertaking in Governors, as needful and profitable for the people.
There would one great advantage from this arrive unto Posterity, besides that which the People themselves might enjoy under it at present: for it would make the fruit of a good GOVERNOR’S Government extend itself to future Generations, in this respect, because by this means there would be bonds prepared to tie up such as should afterwards succeed, who might be more inclinable to break forth into unjust and by-ways, than a present Governor or Governors. There are none who have such advantage to espy starting-holes, as those who are penned up: and if they be careful in espying and faithful in stopping up those holes (by putting the Parliament upon setting such fences of Laws so made about them, as may best secure the People in this respect) the Administration will soon prove both regular and safe, as also in a thriving condition, in so much as that the Liberty, Safety, and sound Prosperity of the People will grow more and more upon them.
The “After Game”
[1. ]The most significant of those changes were, of course, the trial and execution of Charles I and the abolition of the monarchy and of the House of Lords.
[2. ]Pride’s Purge, which took place in December 1648, was an obvious use of such force in this Parliament.
[3. ]The “case in hand” was Pride’s Purge.
[4. ]The Scots uprising led by Charles II to establish him on the throne of England was still in progress as Penington wrote. This constituted the most recent “defection.”