Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Pro Populo Adversus Tyrannos = The sovereign right and power of the people over tyrants

"No man that knows any thing, can be so stupid to deny that all men naturally were born free, being the image and resemblance of God himself, and were by privilege above all the creatures born to command and not to obey. And that they lived so, till from the root of Adam's transgression, falling among themselves to do wrong and violence; and foreseeing that such courses must needs tend to the destruction of them all, they agreed by common league to bind each other from mutual injury, and jointly to defend themselves against any that gave disturbance or opposition to such agreement. Hence came cities, towns, and commonwealths. And because no faith in all was found sufficiently binding, they saw it needful to ordain some authority, that might restrain by force and punishment what was violated against peace and common right: the authority and power of self defence and preservation, being originally and naturally in every one of them, and united in them all for ease and for order. And lest each man should be his own partial judge, they communicated and derived either to one, whom for the eminency of his wisdom and integrity they chose above the rest; or to more than one, whom they thought of equal deserving. The first was called a king, the other magistrates. Not to be their lords and masters,--(though afterwards those names in some places were given voluntarily to such as had been authors of inestimable good to the people;)--but to be their deputies and commissioners, to execute, by virtue of their entrusted power, that justice which else every man, by the bond of nature and of covenant, must have executed for himself and for one another. And to him that shall consider well, why among free persons one man by civil right should bear authority and jurisdiction over another, no other end or reason can be imaginable. These for a while governed well, and with much equity decided all things at their own arbitrament; till the temptation of such a power left absolute on their hands, perverted them at length to injustice and partiality. Then did they who now by trial had found the danger and inconveniences of committing arbitrary to any, invent laws either framed or consented to by all, that should confine and limit the authority of whom they chose to govern them, that so man of whose failing they had proof, might no more rule over them;--but law and reason abstracted as much as might he from personal errors and frailties When this would not serve, but that the law was either not executed or misapplied, they were constrained from that time, the only remedy left them; to put conditions and take oaths from all kings and magistrates at their first instalment, to do impartial justice by law, who upon those terms and no other received allegiance from the people,--that is to say, bond or covenant to obey them in execution of those laws, which they the people had themselves made or assented to. And this oftentimes with express warning, that if the king or magistrate proved unfaithful to his trust, the people would be disengaged. It being thus manifest, that the power of kings and magistrates is nothing else but what is only derivative, transferred, and committed to them in trust for the people, to the common good of them all; in whom the power yet remains fundamentally, and cannot be taken from them without a violation of their natural birthright. Hence Aristotle and the best of political writers have defined a king,--him who governs to the good and profit of his people, and not for his own ends. To say, as is usual, the king hath as good right to his crown and dignity as any man to his inheritance, is to make the subject no better than the king's slave, his chattel, or his possession, that may be bought and sold. To say kings are accountable to none but God, is the overturning of all law and government. It follows, that the king or magistrate holds his authority of the people, both originally and naturally, for their good in the first place, and not his own; then may the people, as oft as they shall judge it for the best, either chuse him or reject him, retain him or depose him, though no tyrant; merely by the liberty and right of free-born men to be governed as seems to them best. Since kings, and that by scripture, boast the justness of their title by holding it immediately of God, yet cannot shew the time when God ever set on the throne them or their forefathers, but only when the people chose them;--why by the same reason, since God ascribes as often to himself the casting down of princes from the throne, it should not be thought as lawful and as much from God, when none are seen to do it but the people, and that for just causes. For if it must needs be a sin in them to depose, it may as likely be a sin to have elected. And contrary, if the people's act in election be pleaded by a king as the act of God, and the most just title to enthrone; him why may not the people's act of rejection be as well pleaded by the people as the act of God, and the most just reason to depose him? So that we see the title and just right of reigning or deposing, in reference to God, is found in scripture to be all one, visible only in the people, and depending merely upon justice and demerit. Thus far hath been considered briefly the power of kings and magistrates, how it was and is originally the people's; and by them conferred in trust only to be employed to the common peace and benefit; with liberty, therefore, and right remaining in them, to reassume it to themselves, if by kings and magistrates it be abused; or to dispose of it by any alteration, as they shall judge most conducing to the public good.--(Pro Populo Adversus Tyrannos, 1689.)

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