Vindicia Contra Tyronas
(A DEFENSE OF LIBERTY AGAINST TYRANTS)
THE THIRD QUESTION (Part 3): Whether it is lawful to resist a ruler who is oppressing or ruining the country, and how far such resistance may be extended; by whom, how, and by what right or law it is permitted.
The assembly of the three estates.
Besides all this, in ancient times, the general or three estates were assembled every year (and these days, they meet when required by urgent necessity) and all the provinces and towns of any size, meaning the burgesses, nobles and ecclesiastical persons, did they all send their deputies, and there they did publicly deliberate and conclude matters which concerned the public state. The authority of this assembly was always such that whatever it decided, whether it were to establish peace, or declare war, or create a regent in the kingdom, or impose some new tribute, was held firm and inviolable. And even by the authority of this assembly, kings themselves, if convicted of loose intemperance, or incompetence, or even for a charge as great as tyranny, were removed from the throne. And not only that, but all their descendants also were excluded from the royal succession, just as their ancestor was, by the same authority, raised to the throne of the same kingdom. Those whom the consent and approval of the estates had formerly raised, were by the dissent and disallowing of the same council, afterwards cast down. Those who, stepping in the virtuous steps of their ancestors, treated their own election to the throne as if it had been owed to them by right of inheritance, were driven out and disinherited for their degenerate ingratitude. For being tainted with insupportable vices, they made themselves incapable and unworthy of such honor. This shows that familial succession was tolerated in order to avoid all the plotting, sneaky and underhanded canvassing for votes, discontent of the unsuccessful candidates, interregnums, and other troubles resulting from holding elections. But on the other hand, when these successions brought other mischiefs more pernicious, when tyranny trampled on the kingdom, and when a tyrant possessed himself of the royal throne, the medicine proving much worse than the disease, then the estates of the kingdom lawfully assembled in the name of all the people, have ever maintained their authority, whether it were to drive out a tyrant, or other unworthy king, or to establish a good one in his place. The ancient French had learned that from the Gauls, as Caesar shows in his commentaries. For Ambiorix, king of the Eburons, (or Leigeons) confesses, " That such were the condition of the Gaulish empire, that people lawfully assembled had no less power over the king, than the king had over the people." This also appears also in Vercingetorix, who gives an account of his actions before the assembly of the people.
In the kingdoms of Spain, notably Aragon, Valentia, and Catalonia, there is the very same. For that which is called the Justitia Major in Aragon has the sovereign authority in itself. And there, the lords who represent the people proceed so far, that both at the inauguration of the king, as also at the assembly of the estates, which is observed every third year, they say to the king these exact words, "We who are as much worth as you, and have more power than you, choose you king upon these and these conditions, and there is one between you and us who commands over you, to wit, the Justitia Major of Aragon, who often refuses that which the king demands, and forbids that which the king enjoins."
In the kingdoms of England and Scotland the sovereignty seems to be in the parliament, which heretofore met almost every year. They refer to as parliaments the assembly of the estates of the kingdom, in which the bishops, earls, barons, and deputies of towns and provinces deliver their opinions, and resolve with a joint consent the affairs of state. The authority of this assembly has been so sacred and inviolable, that the king dare not abrogate or alter that which had been there once decreed.
It was that which heretofore called and installed in their charges all the chief officers of the kingdom, even sometimes the ordinary councillors of that which they call the king's privy council. In some, the other Christian kingdoms, as Hungary, Bohemia, Denmark, Sweden, and the rest, they have their officers apart from the kings; and histories, together with the examples that we have in these our times, sufficiently demonstrate that these officers and estates have known how to use their authority, even to the deposing and driving out of tyrannical and unworthy kings.
However, we must not think that this cuts too short the wings of royal authority, or that it is just the same as taking the king's head from his shoulders. We believe that God is almighty, neither think we it in any way diminishes His power because He cannot sin; neither do we say "that His empire is less to be esteemed, because it cannot be neither shaken, nor cast down" (??? where is that quote from?). Neither also must we judge a king to be too much abused, if he be withheld by others from falling into an error, to which he is over much inclined, or for that by the wisdom and discretion of some of his counsellors, his kingdom is preserved and kept entire and safe, which otherwise, by his weakness or wickedness, might have been ruined. Will you say that a man is less healthy because he is surrounded with discreet physicians who advise him to avoid all intemperance, and forbid him to eat such foods as are harmful to the stomach, and who purge him many times against his will. And when he resists, who will prove his better friends, these physicians who are studiously careful of his health, or those sycophants who are ready at every turn to give him that which must of necessity hasten his end? We must then always observe this distinction: The first are the friends of the king. The other are the friends of Francis who happens to be king. The friends of Francis are those who serve him. The friends of the king are the officers and servants of the kingdom. For, seeing the king has this name, because of the kingdom, and that it is the people who give being and consistence to the kingdom, and if the kingdom is lost or ruined, he must needs cease to be a king, or at the least not so truly a king, or else we must take a shadow for a substance.
Without question, those are most truly the king's friends, who are most industriously careful of the welfare of his kingdom and his worst enemies are those who neglect the good of the commonwealth, and seek to draw the king into the same lapse of error. And, as it is impossible to separate the kingdom from the people, nor the king from the kingdom, in like manner, neither can the friends of the king be disjoined from the friends of the people, and the kingdom. I say further, that those who, with a true affection, love Francis had rather see him a king than a subject. Now, seeing they cannot see him a king, it necessarily follows, that in loving Francis, they must also love the kingdom. But those who would be esteemed more the friends of Francis, than of the kingdom and the people, are truly flatterers, and the most pernicious enemies of the king and public state.
Now, if they were true friends indeed, they would desire and endeavour that the king might become more powerful, and more assured in his estate according to that notable saying of Theopompus, king of Sparta, after the ephores or controllers of the kings were instituted. "The more," said he, "are appointed by the people to watch over, and look to the affairs of the kingdom, the more those who govern shall have credit, and the more safe and happy shall be the state."
Whether lack of use can take away the authority of the people.
But perhaps someone will reply, 'you speak to us here of peers, of lords and officers of the crown. But to me these are nothing but shadows of the past, and as substantial as actors on a stage. I don't see any "authority of the people," and what's worse, most of the royal officers think of nothing but themselves, serving as sycophants to those kings who bat poor people around like tennis balls. Hardly any will extend either compassion or a helping hand to those in misery who are fleeced and scorched to the very bones by their insolent and insupportable oppression. And if any so much as desire to do so, they are immediately condemned as rebels and seditious, and are forced either to flee, or else, if they remain, put both of life and liberty at risk.' What is the answer to this? It is this: The outrageousness of kings, the ignorance of the people, together with the wicked complicity of the great ones of the kingdom, has been for the most part such throughout the world, that the licentious and unbridled power wherewith most kings are transported and which has made them insupportable, has in a manner, by the length of continuance, gained right of prescription, and the people, for want of using it, have quit or lost their just and ancient authority. So that it ordinarily happens that what all men's care ought to attend on, is for the most part neglected by every man; for what is committed to the generality, no man thinks is commended to his custody in particular. Notwithstanding, no such prescription nor prevarication can justly act against the right of the people. It is commonly said that the exchequers admit no rule of prescription against it, much less against the whole body of the people, whose power transcends the king's, and in whose right the king assumes to himself that privilege; for otherwise, wherefore is the prince only administrator, and the people true proprietor of the public exchequer, as we will prove here presently after.
Furthermore, it is not a thing resolved on by all, that no tyrannous intrusion or usurpation, and continuation in the same course, can by any length of time prescribe against lawful liberty. If it be objected that kings were enthroned and received their authority from the people who lived five hundred years ago, and not by those now living, I answer that the commonwealth never dies, whereas kings are taken out of this life one after another. For as the continual running of the water gives the river a perpetual being, so the alternative revolution of birth and death renders the people (quoad hunc mundum) immortal. And further, just as we have at today the same Seine and Tiber rivers as 1,000 years ago, in like manner is there also the same people of Germany, France, and Italy (excepting intermixing of colonies, or such like). Neither can the progress of time, nor changing of individuals alter in any way the right of those people. Furthermore, they say the king receives his kingdom from his father, and not from the people, and he from his grandfather, and so one from another upward. I ask, could the grandfather or ancestor transfer a greater right to his successor than he had himself? If he could not (as without doubt it must need be so) is it not clear that what the successor further arrogates to himself is equivalent to highway robbery? On the contrary, the people retain their right of eviction (of the king) intact. Although the officers of the crown have for a time lost or left their ranks, this cannot in any true right go against the people, but rather the opposite: As one would not grant audience or show favor to a slave who had long held his master prisoner, and did not only vaunt himself to be free, but also presumptuously assumed power over the life and death of his master, neither would any man allow the excuses of a thief, because he had continued in that trade thirty years, or that he had been bred for that way of life by his father, if he presumed that his long continuance in that function counts as lawfulness. Rather, the longer he had continued in his wickedness, the more grievous should be his punishment. In like manner, the prince is altogether unsupportable, who, because he succeeds a tyrant, or has kept the people (by whose suffrages he holds the crown) in long slavery, or has suppressed the officers of the kingdom (who should be protectors of the public liberty), that he therefore presumes that what he affects is lawful for him to effect, and that his will is not to be restrained or corrected by any positive law whatsoever. For long continuation in tyranny detracts nothing from the right of the people. Actually, it rather much aggravates the ruler's outrages. But what if the peers and principal officers of the kingdom make themselves parts with the king? What if betraying the public bring down the yoke of tyranny upon the people's neck? Does it follow that by this prevarication and treason the authority is assumed by the king? Does this detract anything from the right of the people's liberty, or does it add any licentious power to the king? Let the people thank themselves, say you, who relied on the disloyal loyalty of such men.
But I answer, that these officers are indeed those protectors whose principal care and study should be that the people are maintained in the free and absolute fruition of their goods and liberty. And therefore, in the same manner as if a treacherous advocate for a sum of money should agree to betray the cause of his client into the hands of his adversary, which he ought to have defended, does not have power for all that to alter the course of justice, nor of a bad cause to make a good one, although perhaps for a time he can make it look like one. In like manner this conspiracy of the great ones combined to ruin the inferiors cannot nullify the right of the people. In the mean season, those great ones incur the punishment that they themselves allot against prevaricators, and for the people, the same law allows them to choose another advocate and afresh to pursue their cause, as if it were then only to begin. For if the people of Rome condemned the captains and generals of their armies because they negotiated with their enemies to their disadvantage (although they were drawn to it by necessity, being on the verge of being overthrown) and would not be bound to perform the soldiers' negotiated decisions, much less shall a free people be tied up to bear the yoke of slavery, which is cast on them by those who should and might have prevented it; but being neither forced nor compelled, did, for their own particular gain, willingly betray those who had committed their liberty to their custody.
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