Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. X.: Whether a Commonwealth that was not first broken by her self, was ever conquer'd by the Arms of any Monarch? - The Oceana and Other Works
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CHAP. X.: Whether a Commonwealth that was not first broken by her self, was ever conquer’d by the Arms of any Monarch? - James Harrington, The Oceana and Other Works 
The Oceana and Other Works of James Harrington, with an Account of His Life by John Toland (London: Becket and Cadell, 1771).
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Whether a Commonwealth that was not first broken by her self, was ever conquer’d by the Arms of any Monarch?
I COM in this chapter to resume the discourse, where I broke off in the former, making good my assertion, that a commonwealth is the government, which from the beginning of the world to this day was never conquer’d by any monarch; for if the commonwealths of Greece came under the yoke of the kings of Macedon, they were first broken by themselves.
When I speak of a commonwealth, in relation to this point, I am no more to be argu’d against out of the little citys in Asia, or those of Ragusa, and San Marino, which cannot be shewn to have had the command of any considerable army, than I argue against the prevaricator, where he asserts monarchy to consist of a mixture of arms and of a nobility, from the king of Yuetot, who had neither.
This assertion in the judgment of any rational man ought not to be incounter’d, but where there was a natural possibility of defence, in regard that a city which has no army at all, as Geneva (which yet being invaded by the duke of Savoy, found means to defend her self) or such a one as is not considerable, should be subdu’d by some potent monarch (if we could find the example) concerns the government no more, than if it had been overwhelm’d by som inundation, or swallow’d up by som earthquake. And yet all that is oppos’d by the considerer, amounts not to thus much.Consid. p. 53. Paus. Messen. The testimony he brings out of Pausanias coms far short; for it is recorded (says the author speaking of the Lacedemonians) that being corrupted by the bounty ofCræsus,they were the first that contracted amity with the Barbarians at the time when that king added the territorys inhabited by the Dorians upon the border of Caria, with other commonwealths in Asia, to his empire. So that Cræsus corrupted the Lacedemonians with gifts, Pausanias is express; but whether he obtain’d the Asiatic citys (likely in this case to have bin easilier corrupted than the Lacedemonians) by arms or by purchase, he is not express: and the presumtion of the latter, as in other regards, so in this, is the stronger, that Cræsus by the testimony of Solon, was more potent in gold than in iron. Now if it were so (and if otherwise, let the considerer shew) that these commonwealths inveigl’d by the treasure of Cræsus, came first under the Lydian, and fell with that under the Persian empire, when Cræsus was subdu’d by Cyrus; all I can learn by this example is no more than that Cræsus, for ought that is perceivable, might have brought those commonwealths as Cosimo of Medicis did Florence; from whom it is affirm’d by Machiavel, that there was not a considerable man in the whole city that had not receiv’d som considerable sum. So this example presumes; but in the next, which is of Sicily, there is not so much as a presumtion in favor of the assertor: the state of Sicily, before that which the Romans call the first Carthaginian war, being clear in story against his design.Chap. X.Fazello Hist de Sicil. Polyb. l. 1. For that Africa for the generation of monsters is not more famous than Sicily for that of tyrants, they who have pass’d their novitiat in story are not ignorant; nor how when Timoleon had freed her of this vermin, and with liberty she had recover’d some strength and virtue, she relaps’d under Agathocles and his horrid violation of faith, while he was trusted with the arms of her citizens; how after him Pyrrhus was call’d in from Epirus; after Pyrrhus, Hiero usurp’d; all by the same arts, getting first into trust or charge, and then recoiling upon them that would take no warning: by which it is apparent that the commonwealths of Sicily, like those of Greece, were ruin’d by themselves, and their own disorders; and no more subdu’d upon these changes by foren arms, than was Israel by the Canaanites, or Rome by the Gauls or Decemvirs.
ISRAEL having broken her orders, was indeed somtimes opprest by the Canaanites; Rome was sack’d by the Gauls, and usurp’d by the Decemvirs. But as the man that having got a fall in a duel, throws off his adversary, recovers himself and his sword, is not conquer’d, so neither the commonwealth:Decree of the States of Holland apud Grot. Hist. 4. wherfore neither Holland nor Genoa, tho they have bin under, being yet standing, can be said to be conquer’d by the arms of Spain or France, but rather the contrary; seeing the liberty of Holland (in many citys more ancient than any records or other monuments there can witness, and in it self than that of Tacitus, wherby Civilis, born of princely blood, is affirm’d to have vindicated the Betavian freedom) is still the same; and Genoa, tho happy in her Doria, remains as she was before he was born. Nor did the family of the Medicis banish’d out of Florence (where, by virtue of their prodigious wealth, and the inevitable consequence of the balance, their ancestors had bin princes many years before Charles the Fifth was a soldier) any more by the help of his arms, those of the Pope (at that time of the same family) and their party at home, than get into their known saddle. To insist a little more at large upon the storys of Genoa and Florence (because upon these the prevaricator sets up his rest that Mr. Harrington must needs be afflicted) Genoa was and is an oligarchy consisting of twenty-eight familys, making the great council, or aggregation, as they call it, none of these being capable of the senat or of magistracy; and if it could ever be said of a commonwealth, that she had broken her self, it might be said, at the time related to, of Genoa, where not only the faction of the Guelphs and Gibelins, which had destroy’d many citys in Italy, then reign’d; but the feud between the people included, and the subject excluded, was as great as ever had bin between the nobility and the people in Rome. Besides the quarrel of the Fieschi and the Adorni, two familys, like Cæsar and Pompey, which having many years together as it were ingroft the magistracy of duke, were nevertheless perpetually striving each with other, which should have it; and if one of these (as it did) brought in the king of France, there is nothing plainer than that this commonwealth was subdu’d by her own sedition, nor is there a man knowing any thing of her affairs, that makes any doubt of it. That of Florence indeed, if the prevaricator could shew it had bin ever up, I should grant were down; but to relate the story of this city, I must relate that of the house of Medicis. From Cosimo, a citizen famous throout Europe, both for his wisdom and his riches, this family for the space of sixty years exercis’d, under the pretext of some magistracy,Comines. very great power in Florence.P. Jovius. To Cosimo succeded Peter, to Peter Laurence, a man in prudence and liberality resembling his grandfather,Machiavel. save that he us’d more absolute power in managing the commonwealth; yet with gentleness, and not altogether to the suppression of liberty. Nevertheless he obtain’d of the signory (which did for the most part as he would have them) som small guard for his person: he was a man renown’d thro Italy, and look’d upon by foren princes with much respect. To him succeded his son, another Peter, who thro youth and rashness conceiving the power exercis’d by his predecessors to be no more than his due, took upon him the government as absolute lord of all; and standing most formidably upon his guard, grew sottishly profuse of the public mony, and committed many absurditys and violences: by which means having incurr’d the hatred of the citizens, he was banish’d by the signory, with cardinal John and Julian his brothers. This John coming after to be Pope Leo the Tenth, requir’d the revocation of his brother’s banishment, and the restitution of the house of Medicis; to which finding the prevailing party of the Florentins to be refractory, he stir’d up the arms of the emperor Charles the Fifth against them, by whose joint aid the city, after a long siege, was reduc’d to her old ward, and Alexander of Medicis, nephew to the Pope and son in law to the emperor, set in the known saddle of his ancestors. This is the action for which the prevaricator will have a commonwealth to have bin conquer’d by the arms of a monarch, tho whoever reads the story may very safely affirm, first, That Florence never attain’d to any such orders as could deserve the name of a commonwealth; and next, that the purse of Cosimo had don that long before, which is here attributed to the arms of the Pope and the emperor. Reason and experience, as I said, are like the roots and the branches of plants and trees: as of branches, fruits, and flowers, being open and obvious to the eye, the smell, the touch, and taste, every girl can judg; so examples to vulgar capacitys are the best arguments. Let him that says a commonwealth has bin at any time conquer’d by a monarch, to it again, and shew us the example. But tho fruits and flowers be easily known each from other, their roots are latent, and not only so, but of such resemblance, that to distinguish of these a man must be a gardener or a herbalist. In this manner, the reason why a commonwealth has not bin overcom by a monarch, has bin shewn in the distribution of arms, those of a prince consisting of subjects, or servants, and those of a commonwealth rightly order’d of citizens, which difference plainly relates to the perfection or imperfection of the government.
Consid. p. 51.BUT, says the prevaricator, this seems intended for a trial of our noses, whether they will serve us to discover the fallacy of an inference from the prosperous success of arms to the perfection of government. If the university, who should have som care of the vineyard of truth, shall ly pigging of wild boars, to grunt in this manner and tear with their tusks, and I happen to ring som of them (as I have don this Marcassin for rooting) there is nothing in my faith why such trial of their noses should be sin; but for fallacious inferences, such I leave to them whose caps are squarer than their play.
For all that, great and well policy’d empires, says he, have bin subverted by people so eloign’d from the perfection of government, that we scarce know of any thing to ty them together, but the desire of booty. Where, or how came he to know this? what reason or experience dos he allege for the proof of it? may we not say of this, it is for the trial of our noses, whether they will serve us to discover that a conclusion should have some premises? he gives us leave to go look, and all the premises that I can find are quite contrary.
The arms of Israel were always victorious till the death of Joshua, wherupon the orders of that commonwealth being neglected, they came afterwards to be seldom prosperous.Judg. ch. 1. & 2.Isocrates in his oration to the Areopagits, speaks thus of Athens: The Lacedemonians, who when we were under oligarchy, every day commanded us somthing; now while we are under popular administration, are our petitioners that we would not see them utterly ruin’d by the Thebans. Nor did Lacedemon fall to ruin till her agrarian, the foundation of her government was first broken. The arms of Rome (ever noted by historians, and clearly evinc’d by Machiavel to have bin the result of her policy) during the popular government were at such a pitch, as if victory had known no other wings than those of her eagles:Arte della Guerra. nor seeing the Goths and Vandals are the legislators, from whom we derive the government of king, lords, and commons, were these when they overcame the Roman empire, a people so eloign’d from the perfection of government, but their policy was then far better than that of the emperors, which having bin at first founded upon a broken senat, and a few military colonys, was now com to a cabinet and a mercenary army. The judgment of all ages and writers upon the policy of the Roman emperors, is in this place worthy, and thro the pains already taken by Erasmus and Sleidan, easy to be inserted. O miserable and deplorable state, says Erasmus,the authority of the senat, the power of the law, the liberty of the people being trod under foot!In his preface to Suetonius.to a prince that got up in this manner, the whole world was a servant, while he himself was a servant to such, as no honest man would have indur’d the like servants in his house: the senat dreaded the emperor, the emperor dreaded his execrable militia: the emperor gave laws to kings, and receiv’d them from his mercenarys.De quat. Imp. To this is added by Sleidan,that the condition of these princes was so desperat, it was a wonderful thing ambition it self could have the courage to run such a hazard; seeing fromCaius Cæsarslain in the senat toCharlesthe Great, there had bin above thirty of them murder’d, and four that had laid violent hands upon themselves: for there was always somthing in them that offended the soldiery, which whether they were good or bad, was equally subject to pick quarrels, upon the least occasion rais’d tumults, and dispatch’d even such of them as they had forc’d to accept of that dignity, for example,Ælius Pertinax. But if this be true, that of the Goths and Vandals, when they subdu’d this empire, must have bin the better government; for so ill as this never was there any, except that only of the kings of Israel, which certainly was much worse. Those of the Britains and the Gauls were but the dregs of this of Rome, when they were overcome by the Saxons and Franks, who brought in the policy of the Goths and Vandals.
When Tamerlan overcame Bajazet, the Turkish policy had not attain’d to that ancient territory, which is plainly necessary to the nature of it, nor was the order of the Janizarys yet instituted. The Hollander, who under a potent prince was but a fisherman, with the restitution of a popular government, is becom the better soldier; nor has he bin match’d but by a rising commonwealth, whose policy you will say was yet worse, but then her balance (being that especially which produces men) was far better. For vastness, for fruitfulness of territory, for bodys of men, for number, for courage, nature never made a country more potent than Germany: yet this nation, antiently the seminary of nations, has of late years, merely thro the defect of her policy (which intending one commonwealth, has made a hundred monarchys in her bowels, whose cross interests twist her guts) bin the theater of the saddest tragedys under the sun; nor is she curable, unless som prince falling to work with the hammer of war, be able totally to destroy the old, and forge her a government intirely new. But if this coms to pass, neither shall it be said, that a well-policy’d empire was subverted, nor by a people so eloign’d from perfection of government, but theirs must be much better than the other. Let me be as ridiculous as you will, the world is (in fæce romuli) ripe for great changes which must com. And look to it, whether it be Germany, Spain, France, Italy, or England, that coms first to fix her self upon a firm foundation of policy, she shall give law to, and be obey’d by the rest. There was never so much fighting as of late days to so little purpose; arms, except they have a root in policy, are altogether fruitless. In the war between the king and the parlament, not the nation only, but the policy of it was divided; and which part of it was upon the better foundation?
Consid. p. 51BUT, says he, Ragusa and San Marino are commended for their upright and equal frame of government, and yet have hardly extended their dominion beyond the size of a handsom mannor.
HaveRagusa or San Marino bin conquer’d by the arms of any monarch? for this (I take it) is the question; tho, if they had, these being commonwealths unarm’d, it were nothing to the purpose. The question of increase is another point. Lacedemon could not increase (because her frame was of another nature) without ruin; yet was she not conquer’d by any monarch.
Consid. p. 52.Com, com, says he, for all this; it is not the perfection of government, but the populousness of a nation, the natural valor of the inhabitants, the abundance of horses, arms, and other things necessary for equipping of an army, assisted with a good military disciplin, that qualify a people for conquest; and where these concur, victory is intail’d upon them. Very fine!
As if these could concur any otherwise than by virtue of the policy. For example, there is no nation under heaven more populous than France:Essay 29. yet, says Sir Francis Bacon,if the gentlemen be too many, the commons will be base, and not the hundredth poll fit for a helmet, as may be seen by comparison of England with France, wherof the former, tho far less in territory and populousness, has bin nevertheless the overmatch; in regard the middle people in England make good soldiers, which the peasants in France do not. This therfore was from the policy, by which the one has bin the freest, and the other the most inslav’d subject in the world; and not from populousness, in which case France must have bin the overmatch.
The like is observable in the natural valor of the people, there being no greater courage of an infantry, than that of the middle people in England, wheras the peasant having none at all, is never us’d in arms. Again, France has one of the best cavalrys in the world, which the English never had, yet it avail’d her not. Victory is more especially intail’d upon courage, and courage upon liberty, which grows not without a root planted in the policy or foundation of the government.
ALEXANDER with a handful of freemen overcame the greatest abundance of horses, arms, and other things necessary for the equipping of an army, the hugest armys, the most vast and populous empire in the world: and when he had don, could not by all these subdue that handful of freer men (tho he kill’d Clytus with his own hand in the quarrel) to the servil customs of that empire. And that the best military disciplin deriv’d from the policy of the Romans, I intimated before, and have shewn at large in other places.
But the prevaricator neither minds what is said, nor cares what he says; to affirm that a commonwealth was never conquer’d by any monarch, and that a commonwealth has conquer’d many monarchs, or frequently led mighty kings in triumph, is to run upon the foil, the second proposition being with him no more than only the conversion of the first.Chap. XI.Consid. p. 55. As if that Rome was not conquer’d by the world, and that the world was conquer’d by Rome, were but a simple conversion. So the world having not conquer’d Venice, it must follow, that Venice has conquer’d the world. Do we take, or are we taken? nor is he thus satisfy’d to burn his fingers, but he will blister his tongue.
Where I said that the commonwealth of Venice, consisting of all them that first fled from the main land to those ilands where the city is now planted, at the institution took in the whole people, he would make you believe I had said that the senat of Venice, at the first institution, took in the whole people:Consid. p. 70. it is matter of fact, and that in which his integrity will be apparent to every man’s judgment.Oceana, p. 41. I pray see the places. And yet when he has put this trick upon me, he tells me, perhaps it is not true; and this only I grant him past peradventure is false, whether that I said it, or that the thing is possible. For how is it possible, that the senat, which is no otherwise such than as it consists of the aristocracy, or select part of the people, should take in the whole people? it is true, that good authors, both antient and modern, when they speak of the senat of Rome, or of Venice historically, imply the people. Machiavel speaks of the magistracy of Publilius Philo, as prolong’d by the senat of Rome, without making any mention of the people, by whom nevertheless it was granted: the like is usual with other authors. Thuanus seldom mentions the commonwealth of Venice, but by the name of the senat; which not understood by the learned Considerer, where Contarini speaks in the same manner of the courses taken by the commonwealth of Venice, for withholding the subject in the city from sedition, he takes him to be speaking of the means wherby the senat (an’t please you) keeps the people under: and so having put one trick upon me, and another upon Contarini, these two are his premises, whence he draws this conclusion; that Venice is as much as any in the world an inequal commonwealth. Now the conclusion you know nobody can deny.