« AnteriorContinuar »
SIDNEY AND NEVILE
the same enthusiasm for the rule of laws. But he took refuge in the mixed form of government, which has attracted so many political writers and produced few ideas of interest beyond his proposal for the periodical revision of constitutions. For political sense this proposal compares favourably with Harrington's childlike belief in the incorruptibility of good institutions ; but Harrington's was an idea which was as important as Sidney's in the development of the theory of the written constitution.
Nevile, the other great republican writer of the period, not unnaturally reflects Harrington more closely, and his book, “ Plato Redivivus," was included in the Dublin edition of Harrington's“ Works.” 1 The book was circulated privately in 1681, but it attracted enough notice to call forth at least two replies, the anonymous pamphlet, “Antidotum Britannicum," and Goddard's " Plato's Demon, or the State Physician Unmasked.” It is impossible to give anything more than a brief account of the book.
The first point of importance is the refutation of the theory of the origin of government which had appeared the year before in Filmer's “ Patriarcha," and the suggestion of an alternative, which was already meeting with acceptance from the Whigs and was destined to be made more famous by Locke. The theory that government was instituted for the preservation of property supplies an origin and explanation, real or imaginary, to the fact which Harrington was always asserting. When Nevile repeated the doctrine of the balance in these words, “Empire is founded upon Property; force or fraud may alter a government : but it is property that must found and eternise it,” ? he was using the word “found " in its 1 See below, p. 146.
: "Plato Redivivus," p. 35.
double sense, and bringing a new argument to his leader's proposition. But the value of Nevile's work lies not in this new argument, but in the application of Harrington's ideas to the problems of the Restoration period. Harrington had already prophesied that a monarch would find his position difficult in England because of the decline of the nobility and the purchase of so much land by the lesser gentry and common people.1 Nevile now pointed out that this was an adequate explanation of the difficulties which were actually being experienced by Charles II. natural part of our government, which is power," he wrote, “is by means of property in the hands of the people, while the artificial part, or the parchment, in which the form of government is written remains the same. . . . I do not affirm that there is no government in the world but where rule is founded in property, but I say there is no natural fixed government, but where it is so and when it is otherwise, the people are perpetually complaining and the King in perpetual anxiety, always in fear of his subjects and seeking new ways to secure himself; God having been so merciful to mankind that he has made nothing safe for Princes but what is Just and Honest.” : Nevile saw two ways of remedying this state of affairs : power could be brought into correspondence with property, or property with power. His republican sympathies led him to adopt the former alternative. He therefore suggested that the power of the King should be restricted in certain directions. Influenced perhaps by Temple's
1 Dryden ascribed the difficulties in Charles II.'s path to the same cause in the lines
'Add, that the power for property allow'd
Is mischievously seated in the crowd." “Absalom and Achitophel,” Part i. 777. 3“ Plato Redivivus," p. 134.
scheme, he proposed, (i) to abolish the Privy Council and replace it by four new Councils elected by Parliament under a scheme of rotation to exercise in conjunction with the King the powers of making war and peace, controlling the militia, nominating to offices, and spending the national revenue ; (ii) to abolish the royal prerogative of creating peers and have them made in future by Act of Parliament; (iii) to have annual Parliaments, and make a clear majority necessary for the election of members. These proposals, taken as a whole, were an interesting attempt to adapt republican ideas to the restored monarchy and to weaken the power of the Crown to an extent which would in some way correspond with its diminished resources. But each proposal has its point of special interest. The first, by compelling the King to exercise his power in conjunction with men approved by the nation, is an anticipation of one aspect of the cabinet system. The second is a further attempt to replace the power of the Crown by that of the Commons, rendered less objectionable by keeping the peerage hereditary and giving to existing peers a voice in the selection of their fellows. The third tends in the direction of proportional representation, and affords an additional proof of the confusion which characterised parliamentary elections in the seventeenth century, and the unrepresentative character of the members elected. “How can he be said to represent the country," runs Nevile's protest, “ if not a fifth part have consented to his choice, as happens sometimes, and may do oftener, for where 7 or 8 stand for one vacant place, as I have known in our last long parliament, where the votes being set in columns, he who has had most votes, has not exceeded 400 of above 2000 who were present.” 1
1 “ Plato Redivivus," p. 249.
The method which Nevile suggested for introducing his reforms, has a modern ring about it. But it shows more optimism and sanity than knowledge of the Stuart character. He wished a conference to be arranged between King and Parliament, at which the King would be persuaded, that it was to the interest of monarchy to accept the existing economic conditions and relinquish certain of his powers. The revolution of 1688 was not so very different from this.
In Shaftesbury, Penn, and Locke, the three greatest prophets of civil and religious liberty in the age of the Restoration, the influence of Harrington is also marked. More will be said about them when the place of Harrington in American political theory is discussed, but there are certain considerations which must be noted at this point.
It is not easy to decide how much Shaftesbury borrowed from other people, because he wrote very little, and not much is now known of his ideas. Two facts, however, point to a connection between him and Harrington. Some time in the year 1681 a curious poem appeared under the title “ Oceana and Britannia.” It has been attributed to Marvell and printed in his collected works. But as Marvell died in 1678, and the poem bears unmistakable allusions to the Oxford Parliament of 1681, this must be a mistake. The authorship of the poem, however, is of no importance ; the interest lies in its contents. It was written to celebrate the salvation of the country from the Popish terror and the happy certainty of the Protestant Succession, brought about by the efforts of Shaftesbury. The form is allegorical, Harrington's names, Oceana, Marpesia, and Panopeia, being used for England, Scotland, and Ireland; and the success of Shaftesbury's
policy is connected with the revival of the Oceana vocabulary and ideas :
“ Propose, resolve, Agrarian, forty-one,
Lycurgus, Brutus, Solon, Harrington."
The poem is very confused, and if there were no other considerations it would be natural to call it the work of some Harringtonian crank, who hoped to convert Shaftesbury to his way of thinking by merely asserting the fact. But the poem must not be taken by itself. In Shaftesbury's papers a pamphlet was found, which gave certain suggestions for reforming the electoral system. All the householders in each parish were to elect 8 or 10 electors, who were to proceed to the county town to represent the county. The sheriff was to prepare a list of the men in his county that had reached the age of forty, were in possession of property of the value of £10,000, and were free from debt. In every county 7, 9, or II were to be chosen from this list by the assembled electors, and “ to prevent the inconveniences of fear and favour," they were to register their votes by means of a dot placed against the names which they desired to support. The influence of Harrington is very clear in the ballot, the indirect election, and the qualifications for candidates. It is uncertain whether Shaftesbury was himself the author of the pamphlet, but in any case its discovery gives some support to the evidence of the poem. And knowing as we do that Shaftesbury stood for the rights of property and for civil and religious liberty, we are tempted to see some connection with Harrington.
An account of Penn will be given in another place. It will be sufficient here to call attention to some of
1 “Some observations concerning the regulating of Elections for Parliament.” In Somers' “Tracts,” viii. 396.