In a rambling chapter from his Discourses Concerning Government, Algernon Sidney wrote of a simple truth; when governors take their nation down an obvious path to tyranny, the governed have the right and duty to apply the best remedies as they see fit.* Among America’s founding generation, Algernon Sidney (1623-1683) was a favorite radical, when, almost a hundred years after publication, his Discourses were regarded as the textbook to the American Revolution. Standing athwart Stuart tyranny, he paid for his opinions with his life.
Sidney denied Divine Right, of sovereignty in one man. Authority to rule is derived from the people for the purposes of their own safety and happiness. He further observed that tyrannicide alone cannot establish or restore free government.
Ever the practical historian, Sidney began with Imperial Rome, whose corrupt institutions were inadequate to secure liberty. Despite the occasional tyrannicide of emperors for abuse of power, Rome’s institutions remained unchanged after the people vented their passions, and as such, brought little relief.
As corollary to popular sovereignty, Sidney reasoned that no man, not even a king, may be a legitimate judge of his own cause. In ancient times, Republican Roman consuls, and German chieftains alike submitted difficult matters for adjudication to their priests, as did Gauls and Britons likewise with their Druids, Muslims to Caliphs, and as Christianized Britons did with clergy. In the Europe of Sidney’s day, some kings still yielded to the judgement of the Pope. Princes that resisted papal orders were often excommunicated, deposed, and destroyed. Putting aside the belief that Priests, Druids, Caliphs, and Popes had the sanction of God, Sidney’s larger point is that there is authority superior to kings and governors, and our governors are not competent to judge the extent of their powers.
Kingdoms which do not resort to first principles end in ruin. Wittiza, the last in a hereditary line of corrupt Gothic/Spanish monarchs, devoted so much effort against domestic opposition that his weakened kingdom fell to the Moors. The modern Left’s jihad against President Trump similarly saps the strength of our republic.
Two English kings, Edward II and Richard II were deposed and murdered by the second estate of English society, the nobility, for “enslaving the nation, subversion of the constitution, and the establishment of a mere tyranny in the place of a mixed monarchy.” In his manuscript, Sidney left out any reference to the Parliamentary execution of Charles I in 1649 for similar abuses of the British constitution. Charles I was the brother of Sidney’s king, Charles II, who put Sidney to death in 1683.
In a revolutionary inversion of the existing master/servant relationship, Sidney compared the relationship of the people to their kings to that of him to his personal, household servants. His servants worked for him at his pleasure. For any reason, he had absolute authority over the terms of their employment. Why should he keep a servant who had an open design and ability to poison him? Why should the people of any nation stand meekly by as they are led by their servants down an obvious path to ruin?
But, tyrannicide in and of itself cannot reform a nation’s government. Knocking off a tyrant, yet leaving the forms of government unchanged, the next monarch could, at best, be no more than a lull before oppression returned. Without constitutional change, tyrannicide is incapable of bringing an end to a government of will and force and replacing it with one of law and consent.
The government of the United States doesn’t rely on death, natural or otherwise, to replace its chief executive. America substituted the life term of hereditary kings with regular rotation of its chief executives. However, since the executive branch assumed over time the unconstitutional power of writing regulations with the force of law, the short, four-year term of our chief executive unintentionally opened the door to radical change in government on a regular basis. This reflects a thorough degradation of our Constitution. Instead of consistency, where the primary domestic duty of our President is to execute laws designed by a congress of reps of the people and the states, what passes for law in America is increasingly up to on one man, the President, and his executive branch agencies.
Among the few promises Obama kept, he did indeed transform America. He introduced national socialist healthcare, began nationalizing municipal police, stoked the fires of racial and class divisions, sicced the administrative state on his political enemies, and was well on his way to selling American sovereignty cheap to global elites. Although the tyrant Obama is out of office, the powers he abused remain for the next democrat President.
So, as per Sidney’s analysis, America has in President Trump no more than a temporary respite from tyranny.
In a reflection of the timeless principle of corrective self-government in Article V, Sidney wrote, “all human Constitutions are subject to corruption, and must perish, unless they are timely renewed, and reduced to their first principles,” and, “for it is clearer than daylight that, without renovation, these bodies do not last.” A few generations later, Thomas Jefferson called on patriots to regularly renovate their governing forms, to water the tree of liberty with their blood. Since bloody revolution is justified to excise tyranny, then less than violent means to the same end are appropriate and preferable.
From Sidney, “They who create magistracies and give to them such name, form, and power as they think fit, do only know, whether the end for which they were created, be performed or not. They who give being to the power which had none, can only judge whether it be employed to their welfare, or their ruin. They do not set up one or a few men, that they and their posterity may live in splendor and greatness, but rather that justice may be administered, virtue established, and provision made for the public safety.”
Sidney so much as anticipated the expression of the American demos, the US Constitution, which created magistracies, governing institutions, and enumerated powers. As per Article V, the component members of the republic are the legitimate judges of whether the Constitution is employed for their purposes, as expressed in the Preamble. Our government exists to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty.
The attainment of these societal goals is impossible if our ruling institutions self-judge their powers, and continue to set themselves above the reach of the supreme law of the land. We are the many; our oppressors are the few. Government is the playground of politicians, but the Constitution is ours. Be proactive. Be a Re-Founder. Join Convention of States. Sign our COS Petition
* Sidney, A. (2012). Discourses Concerning Government. Memphis: General Books LLC. Chapter III, Section 41.