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CHAP. II.: Shewing the Variation of the English Balance. - 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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Shewing the Variation of the English Balance.
THE land in possession of the nobility and clergy of England, till Henry 7th, cannot be esteem’d to have overbalanc’d those held by the people less than four to one. Wheras in our days, the clergy being destroy’d, the lands in possession of the people overbalance those held by the nobility, at least, nine in ten. In shewing how this change came about, som would have it that I assume to my self more than my share; tho they do not find me delivering that which must rely upon authority, and not vouching my authors. But Henry the Seventh being conscious of infirmity in his title, yet finding with what strength and vigor he was brought in by the nobility, conceiv’d jealousys of the like power in case of a decay or change of affections.Chap. II.Nondum orbis adoraverat Roman. The lords yet led country lives, their houses were open to retainers, men experienc’d in military affairs, and capable of commanding; their hospitality was the delight of their tenants, who by their tenures or dependence were oblig’d to follow their lords in arms. So that, this being the militia of the nation, a few noblemen discontented could at any time levy a great army; the effect wherof, both in the barons wars, and those of York and Lancaster, had been well known to divers kings. This state of affairs was that which inabl’d Henry the Seventh to make his advantage of troublesom times, and the frequent unruliness of retainers; while, under the pretence of curbing riots, he obtain’d the passing of such laws as did cut off these retainers, wherby the nobility wholly lost their officers. Then, wheras the dependence of the people upon their lords was of a strict ty or nature, he found means to loosen this also by laws, which he obtain’d upon as fair a pretence, even that of population.Verulam, H. 7. Thus farms were so brought to a standard, that the houses being kept up, each of them did of necessity inforce a dweller; and the proportion of land laid to each house, did of necessity inforce that dweller not to be a begger or cottager, but a man able to keep servants, and set the plow on going. By which means a great part of the lands of this nation came in effect to be amortiz’d to the hold of the yeomanry, or middle people, wherof consisted the main body of the militia, hereby incredibly advanc’d; and which henceforth, like cleaner underwood less choak’d by their staddles, began to grow excedingly. But the nobility, who by the former laws had lost their offices, by this lost their soldiery. Yet remain’d to them their estates, till the same prince introducing the statutes for alienations, these also became loose; and the lords less taken (for the reasons shewn) with their country lives, where their trains were clip’d, by degrees became more resident at court, where greater pomp and expence by the statutes of alienations began to plume them of their estates. The court was yet at Bridewel, nor reach’d London any farther than Temple-Bar. The latter growth of this city, and in that, the declining of the balance to popularity, derives from the decay of the nobility and of the clergy. In the reign of the succeding king were abbys (than which nothing more dwarfs a people) demolish’d. I did not, I do not attribute the effects of these things thus far to my own particular observation; but always did, and do attribute a sense thereof to the reign of queen Elizabeth, and the wisdom of her council. There is yet living testimony, that the ruin of the English monarchy, thro the causes mention’d, was frequently attributed to Henry the Seventh by Sir Henry Wotton; which tradition is not unlike to have descended to him from the queen’s council. But there is a difference between having the sense of a thing, and making a right use of that sense. Let a man read Plutarch in the lives of Agis, and of the Gracchi, there can be no plainer demonstration of the Lacedemonian or Roman balance; yet read his discourse of government in his morals, and he has forgot it: he makes no use, no mention at all of any such thing. Who could have bin plainer upon this point than Sir Walter Raleigh, where, to prove that the kings of Egypt were not elective but hereditary, he alleges that if the kings of Egypt had bin elective, the children ofPharaohmust have bin more mighty than the king, as landlords of all Egypt, and the king himself their tenant?Hist of the world, part 1. p. 200. yet when he coms to speak of government, he has no regard to, no remembrance of any such principle. In Mr. Selden’s titles of honor, he has demonstrated the English balance of the peerage, without making any application of it, or indeed perceiving it there, or in times when the defect of the same came to give so full a sense of it. The like might be made apparent in Aristotle, in Machiavel, in my lord Verulam, in all, in any politician: there is not one of them in whom may not be found as right a sense of this principle, as in this present narrative; or in whom may be found a righter use of it than was made by any of the partys thus far concern’d in this story, or by queen Elizabeth and her council.M. D. l. 1. b. 10.If a prince, says a great author, to reform a government were oblig’d to depose himself, he might, in neglecting of it, be capable of som excuse; but reformation of government being that with which a principality may stand, he deserves no excuse at all. It is not indeed observ’d by this author that where by reason of the declination of the balance to popularity, the state requires reformation in the superstructures, there the prince cannot rightly reform, unless from soverain power he descends to a principality in a commonwealth: nevertheless upon the like occasions this fails not to be found so in nature and experience. The growth of the people of England, since the ruins mention’d of the nobility and the clergy came in the reign of queen Elizabeth to more than stood with the interest, or indeed the nature or possibility of a well founded or durable monarchy; as was prudently perceiv’d, but withal temporiz’d by her council, who (if the truth of her government be rightly weigh’d) seem rather to have put her upon the exercise of principality in a commonwealth, than of soverain power in a monarchy. Certain it is that she courted not her nobility, nor gave her mind (as do monarchs seated upon the like foundation) to balance her great men, or reflect upon their power now inconsiderable; but rul’d wholly, with an art she had to high perfection, by humoring and blessing her people. For this mere shadow of a commonwealth is she yet famous, and shall ever be so; tho had she introduc’d the full perfection of the orders requisit to popular government, her fame had bin greater. First, she had establish’d such a principality to her successors, as they might have retain’d.The great council of Venice has the soverain power, and the duke the soverain dignity. Secondly, this principality (the commonwealth, as Rome of Romulus, being born of such a parent) might have retain’d the royal dignity and revenue to the full, both improv’d and discharg’d of all envy. Thirdly, it had sav’d all the blood and confusion, which thro this neglect in her and her successors, has since issu’d. Fourthly, it had bequeath’d to the people a light not so natural by them to be discover’d, which is a great pity. For even as the many, thro the difference of opinions that must needs abound among them, are not apt to introduce a government, as not understanding the good of it: so the many, having by trial or experience once attain’d to this understanding, agree not to quit such a government.M. D. l. 1. c. 9. And lastly, it had plac’d this nation in that perfect felicity, which, so far as concerns mere prudence, is in the power of human nature to enjoy. To this queen succeded king James, who likewise regardless of this point (into which nevertheless he saw so far as not seldom to prophesy sad things to his successors) neither his new peerage, which in abundance he created, nor the old avail’d him any thing against that dread wherin, more freely than prudently, he discover’d himself to stand of parlaments, as now mere popular councils, and running to popularity of government like a bowl down a hill; not so much, I may say, of malice prepens’d, as by natural instinct, wherof the petition of right, well consider’d, is a sufficient testimony. All persuasion of court eloquence, all patience for such, as but look’d that way, was now lost. There remain’d nothing to the destruction of a monarchy, retaining but the name, more than a prince who by contending should make the people to feel those advantages which they could not see. And this happen’d in the next king, who too secure in that undoubted right wherby he was advanc’d to a throne which had no foundation, dar’d to put this to an unseasonable trial; on whom therfore fell the tower in Silo. Nor may we think that they upon whom this tower fell, were sinners above all men; but that we, unless we repent, and look better to the true foundations, must likewise perish. We have had latter princes, latter parlaments. In what have they excel’d, or where are they? the balance not consider’d, no effectual work can be made as to settlement; and consider’d, as it now stands in England, requires to settlement no less than the superstructures natural to popular government: and the superstructures natural to popular government require no less than the highest skill or art that is in political architecture. The sum of which particular amounts to this, That the safety of the people of England is now plainly cast upon skill or sufficiency in political architecture: it is not enough therfore, that there are honest men addicted to all the good ends of a commonwealth, unless there be skill also in the formation of those proper means wherby such ends may be attain’d. Which is a sad, but a true account; this being in all experience, and in the judgment of all politicians, that wherof the many are incapable. And tho the meanest citizen, not informing the commonwealth of what he knows, or conceives to concern its safety, commits a hainous crime against God and his country; yet such is the temper of later times, that a man, having offer’d any light in this particular, has scap’d well enough, if he be despis’d and not ruin’d.
But to procede: if the balance, or state of property in a nation, be the efficient cause of government, and, the balance being not fix’d, the government (as by the present narrative is evinc’d) must remain inconstant or floting; then the process in the formation of a government must be first by a fixation of the balance, and next by erecting such superstructures as to the nature therof are necessary.