James Harrington was distantly related to Sir John Harington (or Harrington,) godson of Queen Elizabeth and inventor of the flush toilet. He was also a relative of John Harrington, whom James I made Baron of Exton and master of Princess Elizabeth's household.
At Oxford, James Harrington's tutor was probably the latitudinarian clergyman William Chillingworth.
Harrington traveled on the Continent and was especially impressed by the Republic of Venice. He played no direct part in the English Civil War, but in 1646 became a groom of the imprisoned Charles .
Harrington lobbied for constitutional reform both under Charles I, and with friends in the Rota Club not long before Charles II's Restoration. The Rota Club included John Aubrey, William Petty, John Wildman and Henry Neville.
Charles II imprisoned Harrington for conspiracy in 1661, and though Harrington was later released, his health failed, particularly because he consumed large quantities of a dangerous medicine called guaiacum which produced mental complications.
|Harrington's main work was
Commonwealth of Oceana. It is a description of an
state, and summarized Harrington's views on English history and
government, and on how the English constitution should be
He also subsequently wrote replies to a number of his critics
Sir Henry Neville may well have assisted Harrington in writing Oceana,
The execution of Charles I made many believe that England would become a republic. Harrington made concrete suggestions for thoroughgoing reform (unlike the many gentlemen who wanted as few changes as possible).
Harrington's belief that political power stemmed from
economic wealth convinced him that the only viable form of government
in England was a republic controlled by the people - for the monarch
and aristocracy no longer possessed the bulk of the country's wealth
as they once had.
Of gleaning all the land's wealth into one,
Into your own hands"
(Henry VIII 3.2)
Harrington greatly admired Machiavelli's Discourses, but thought that Machiavelli had failed to take proper account of the role of economics in politics. Harrington's achievement was to analyze politics and society in terms of economic interests (not simply rights and duties).
Harrington thought that the balance of political power depended primarily on the distribution of land. Thus, Rome was a republic because land was roughly equally distributed; feudal Europe had a "Gothick" balance where kings and nobles owned most of the land and controlled the state.
Harrington stressed land ownership. He wrote at a time when Europe's economy was
primarily agricultural and thought that it was land which supported
armies, and armies that compelled political obedience.
"But an army is a beast that has a great belly, and must be fed: wherefore this will come to what pastures you have, and what pastures you have will come to the balance of property, without which the public sword is but a name or mere spit-frog".
(Harrington: Oceana - [a spit-frog is a contemptuous name for a sword])
Harrington argued that Henry VII had begun to change the balance of England's constitution when - fearful of the noble disorder evidenced by the Wars of the Roses - he had stripped the nobility of much of their wealth. The Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII had taken the process further - placing vastly more land in the hands of the gentry.
Once the gentry had acquired land, they wanted political power
to go with it, and this in Harrington's view was what led to the Great
Rebellion against Charles I. Harrington believed that since the king
and lords had lost economic power, they could never again recover
political power, and his Oceana was a plan for the
must inevitable follow.
"Lo, now my glory smeared in dust and blood! My parks, my walks, my manors that I had. Even now forsake me, and of all my lands Is nothing left me but my body's length. Why, what is pomp, rule, reign, but earth and dust? And, live we how we can, yet die we must"
(Henry VI iii 5.2)
Harrington thought that a
was best, arguing that by the application of reason an institutional
mechanism could be created to prevent dangerous conflicts of interest
Harrington went into painstaking detail about every aspect of Oceana's constitution, but four ideas were central
Harrington's system was far from completely egalitarian - only male citizens (not servants) over the age of thirty were to be enfranchised. He wanted a series of hierarchically organized assemblies from the parish at the bottom to the national level at the top. These assemblies ("tribes") were to be divided - according to wealth - between commoners and knights. The knights' assembly (the Senate) would propose legislation, and the commoners' assembly (the prerogative tribe) would approve or reject it.
The individuality of Harrington's thought lay in his
economic theory of power, but it was his constitutional ideas that
were to have most influence - especially in America.
That in these several places of the city
You cry against the noble senate, who,
Under the gods, keep you in awe, which else
Would feed on one another?"
Algernon Sidney was a younger son of the Earl of Leicester and great-nephew of the poet, Sir Philip Sidney.
Algernon fought for Parliament during the English Civil War and was wounded at the Battle of Marston Moor (1644). He refused to take part in the trial and execution of Charles I, but did serve in the Rump Parliament until Cromwell's seizure of power.
After the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, Sidney lived on the Continent until 1677, when he returned to England and soon became involved with the Whig opposition.
In 1683, the government claimed to have discovered evidence of a plot to assassinate Charles II and his brother James when they passed the Rye House on the road from Newmarket to London. There was very little evidence of the plot's existence and still less of the involvement of any important Whigs, but the government used the Rye House Plot as a pretext for the execution of Algernon Sidney. and of Lord William Russell, a leader in the attempts to exclude James from the crown.
Algernon Sidney was executed on the evidence of
informers and the manuscript of a a work written against Sir Robert Filmer's theory of the divine
right of kings.
Sidney's manuscript was eventually published as Discourses concerning government in 1698.
Along with John Locke, Algernon Sidney was one of the
thinkers who most influenced the United States' founding fathers.
Sidney combined resistance theory with ideas derived from Machiavelli
and the republican tradition encouraging the involvement of citizens
|"My father was
attached, not attainted,
Condemn'd to die for treason, but no traitor;"
(Henry VI i 2.4)
John Locke was the son of a prosperous Somerset gentleman. He studied at Oxford and began to practice medicine. His most important patient was Anthony Ashley Cooper, later Earl of Shaftesbury, who became Locke's patron and friend after a successful treatment.
Shaftesbury was a supporter of religious toleration, as was Locke, and they were both opponents of royal absolutism, which they feared that Charles II and his younger brother (who became James II in 1685) wanted to introduce.
Shaftesbury led the Whigs in their attempts to exclude James II from the throne. But in the conservative reaction after the Exclusion Crisis, he and Locke were obliged to flee to Holland for safety.
The Glorious Revolution made possible John Locke's return to England, where he wrote philosophical works of great importance. He also helped plan the reform of England's coinage.
John Locke's most important work was Two Treatises of Government. Although it was not published until after the Glorious Revolution, it had been written a few years earlier.
In the First Treatise, Locke (like Sidney) attacked Sir Robert Filmer's Patriarcha. In the Second Treatise, Locke outlined his own beliefs about the natural law, property rights, the origins of government and when governors could be resisted.
|"If you do sweat to put a tyrant down,|
You sleep in peace, the tyrant being slain;
If you do fight against your country's foes,
Your country's fat shall pay your pains the hire;
If you do fight in safeguard of your wives,
Your wives shall welcome home the conquerors;
If you do free your children from the sword,
Your children's children quit it in your age.
Then, in the name of God and all these rights,
Advance your standards, draw your willing swords."
(Richard III 5.3)
Many of Locke's ideas differed little from earlier Parliamentarian and resistance theorists. He accepted that a contractual relationship existed between people and their governors, and that governors could be resisted if they breached the terms of this agreement. Like other opponents of patriarchalism he denied that political and paternal power were equivalent.
However, in the course of his arguments, Locke expounded some original notions:
John Locke's political theory was immensely influential in England,
in America and on the European Continent. His defense of individual rights was crucial to the development of liberalism.