Vindicia Contra Tyronas
(A DEFENSE OF LIBERTY AGAINST TYRANTS)
THE THIRD QUESTION (Part 8): 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.
Whether the king owns all property in the kingdom.
For as we have already said, all the administration of the kingdom is not by the people absolutely resigned into the hands of the king; as neither the bishopric nor care of the universal church, is totally committed to the pope: but also to the care and custody of all the principal officers of the kingdom. Now, for the preserving of peace and concord amongst those who govern, and for the preventing of jealousies, factions, and distrusts amongst men of equal rank and dignity, the king was created prime and principal superintendent in the government of the commonwealth. The king swears that his most special care shall be for the welfare of the kingdom; and the officers of the crown take all the same oath. If then the king, or divers of them falsifying their faith, ruin the commonwealth, or abandon her in her greatest necessity, must the rest also fashion themselves to their base courses, and quit all care of the state's safety; as if the bad example of their companions absolved them from their oath of fidelity? Nay, rather on the contrary, in seeing them neglect their promise, they shall best advantage the commonwealth in carefully observing theirs: chiefly because for this reason they were instituted, as in the steads of ephori, or public controllers, and for that every thing gains the better estimation of just and right in that it is mainly and principally addressed to that end for which it was first ordained.
Furthermore, if divers have jointly vowed one and the same thing, is the obligation of the one annihilated by the perjury of the other? If many become bound for one and the same sum, can the bankrupting of one of the obligees quit the rest of their engagement? If divers tutors administer ill the goods of their pupil, and that there be one amongst them who makes conscience of his actions, can the bad dealing of his companions acquit him? Nay, rather on the contrary, he cannot free himself from the infamy of perjury, if to the utmost of his power he do not truly discharge his trust, and perform his promise: neither can the others' deficiency be excused, in the bad managing of the tutorship, if they likewise accuse not the rest who were joined with them in the administration, for it is not only the principal tutor who may call to an account those who are suspected to have unjustly or indiscreetly ordered the affairs of their pupil, but even those who were formerly removed may also upon just occasion discharge and remove the delinquents therein. Therefore those who are obliged to serve a whole empire and kingdom, as the constables, marshals, peers and others, or those who have particular obligations to some provinces or cities, which make a part or portion of the kingdom, as dukes, marquises, earls, sheriffs, mayors, and the rest, are bound by the duty of their place, to succour the commonwealth, and to free it from the burden of tyrants, according to the rank and place which they hold of the people next after the king. The first ought to deliver the whole kingdom from tyrannous oppression; the other, as tutors, that part of the kingdom whose protection they have undertaken; the duty of the former is to suppress the tyrant, that of the latter, to drive him from their confines. Wherefore Mattathias, being a principal man in the state, when some basely connived, others perniciously consorted with Antiochus, the tyrannous oppressor of the Jewish kingdom, he courageously opposing the manifest oppression both of church and state, encourages the people to the taking of arms, with these words, "Let us restore the decayed estate of our people, and let us fight for our people, and for the sanctuary." Whereby it plainly appears, that not for religion only, but even for our country and our possessions, we may fight and take arms against a tyrant, as this Antiochus was. For the Machabites are not by any questioned, or reprehended for conquering the kingdom, and expelling the tyrant, but in that they attributed to themselves the royal dignity, which only belongs by God's special appointment, to the tribe of Judah.
Humane histories are frequently stored with examples of this kind. Arbactus, governor of the Medes, killed effeminate Sardanapalus, spinning amongst women, and sportingly distributing all the treasures of the kingdom amongst those his loose companions. Vindex and Galba quit the party of Nero, yea, though the senate connived, and in a sort supported his tyranny, and drew with them Gallia and Spain, being the provinces whereof they were governors. But amongst all, the decree of the senate of Sparta is most notable, and ought to pass as an undeniable maxim amongst all nations. The Spartans being lords of the city Byzantium, sent Olearchus thither for governor and commander for the wars; who took corn from the citizens, and distributed it to his soldiers. In the meantime the families of the citizens died for hunger, Anaxilaus, a principal man of the city, disdaining that tyrannous usage, entered into treaty with Alcibiades to deliver up the town, who shortly after was received into it. Anaxilaus, being accused at Sparta for the delivery of Byzantium, pleaded his cause himself, and was there acquit by the judges; for (said they) "Wars are to be made with families, and not with nature, nothing being more repugnant to nature, than that those who are bound to defend a city, should be more cruel to the inhabitants, than their enemies who besiege them."
This was the opinion of the Lacedemonians, certainly just rulers. Neither can he be accounted a just king, who approves not this sentence of absolution; for those who desire to govern according to the due proportion of equity and reason, take into consideration, as well what the law inflicts on tyrants, as also, what are the proper rights and bounds, both of the patrician and plebeian orders. But we must yet proceed a little further. There is not so mean a mariner, but must be ready to prevent the shipwreck of the vessel, when either the negligence or wilfulness of the pilot casts it into danger. Every magistrate is bound to relieve, and as much as in him lies, to redress the miseries of the commonwealth, if he shall see the prince, or the principal officers of state, his associates, by their weakness or wickedness, to hazard the ruin thereof; briefly, he must either free the whole kingdom, or at least that portion especially recommended to his care, from their imminent and encroaching tyranny. But has this duty proper relation to every one? Shall it be permitted to Hendonius Sabinus, to Ennus Suranus, or to the fencer Spartanus; or to be brief, to a mere private person to present the bonnet to slaves, put arms into the hands of subjects, or to join battle with the prince, although he oppress the people with tyranny? No, certainly, the commonwealth was not given in charge to particular persons, considered one by one; but, on the contrary, particulars even as papists are recommended to the care of the principal officers and magistrates; and therefore they are not bound to defend the commonwealth, which cannot defend themselves. God nor the people have not put the sword into the hands of particular persons; therefore, if without commandment they draw the sword, they are seditious, although the cause seem never so just.
Furthermore, the prince is not established by private and particular persons, but by all in general considered in one entire body; whereupon it follows, that they are bound to attend the commandment of all, to wit, of those who are the representative body of a kingdom, or of a province, or of a city, or at the least of some one of them, before they undertake anything against the prince.
For, as a pupil cannot bring an action, but, being avowed in the name of his tutor, although the pupil be indeed the true proprietor of the estate, and the tutor only owner with reference to the charge committed unto him; so likewise the people may not enterprise actions of such nature, but by the command of those into whose hands they have resigned their power and authority, whether they be ordinary magistrates, or extraordinary, created in the assembly of the estates; whom, if I may so say, for that purpose, they have girded with their sword, and invested with authority, both to govern and defend them, established in the same kind as the pretor at Rome, who determined all differences between masters and their servants, to the end that if any controversy happened between the king and the subjects, they should be judges and preservers of the right, lest the subjects should assume power to themselves to be judges in their own causes. And therefore if they were oppressed with tributes and unreasonable imposts; if anything were attempted contrary to covenant and oath, and no magistrate opposed those unjust proceedings; they must rest quiet, and suppose that many times the best physicians, both to prevent and cure some grievous disease, do appoint both letting blood, evacuation of humours, and lancing of the flesh; and that the affairs of this world are of that nature, that with much difficulty, one evil cannot be remedied without the adventuring, if not the suffering of another; nor any good be achieved without great pains.
They have the example of the people of Israel, who, during the reign of Solomon, refused not to pay those excessive taxes imposed on them, both for the building of the temple, and fortifying of the kingdom, because by a general consent they were granted for the promulgation of the glory of God, and for an ornament and defence of the public state.
They have also the example of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who, though he were King of Kings, notwithstanding, because he conversed in this world in another quality, to wit, of a private and particular man, paid willingly tribute. If the magistrates themselves manifestly favour the tyranny, or at the least do not formally oppose it; let private men remember the saying of Job, "That for the sins of the people God permits hypocrites to reign," whom it is impossible either to convert or subvert, if men repent not of their ways, to walk in obedience to God's commandments; so that there are no other weapons to be used, but bended knees and humble hearts. Briefly, let them bear with bad princes, and pray for better, persuading themselves that an outragious tyranny is to be supported as patiently, as some exceeding damage done by the violence of tempests, or some excessive overflowing waters, or some such natural accidents unto the fruits of the earth, if they like not better to change their habitations, by retiring themselves into some other countries. So David fled into the mountains, and attempted nothing against the tyrant Saul, because the people had not declared him any public magistrate of the kingdom.
Jesus Christ, whose kingdom was not of this world, fled into Egypt, and so freed himself from the paws of the tyrant. Saint Paul, teaching of the duty of particular Christian men, and not of magistrates, teaches that Nero must be obeyed. But if all the principal officers of state, or divers of them, or but one, endeavour to suppress a manifest tyranny, or if a magistrate seek to free that province, or portion of the kingdom from oppression, which is committed to his care and custody, provided under colour of freedom he bring not in a new tyranny, then must all men with joint courage and alacrity run to arms, and take part with him or them, and assist with body and goods, as if God Himself from heaven had proclaimed wars, and meant to join battle against tyrants, and by all ways and means endeavour to deliver their country and commonwealth from their tyrannous oppression. For as God does oftentimes chastise a people by the cruelty of tyrants, so also does He many times punish tyrants by the hands of the people. It being a most true saying, verified in all ages: "For the iniquities, violences, and wickedness of princes, kingdoms are translated from one nation to another; but tyranny was never of any durable continuance."
The centurions and men at arms did freely and courageously execute the commandments of the high priest Jehoiada, in suppressing the tyranny of Athalia. In like manner all the faithful and generous
Israelites took part and joined with the Machabites, as well to re-establish the true service of God, as also to free and deliver the state from the wicked and unjust oppression of Antiochus, and God blessed with happy success their just and commendable enterprise. What then, cannot God when He pleases stir up particular and private persons, to ruin a mighty and powerful tyranny? He that gives power and ability to some even out of the dust, without any title or colourable pretext of lawful authority, to rise to the height of rule and dominion, and in it tyrannize and afflict the people for their transgressions; cannot He also even from the meanest multitude raise a liberator? He who enthralled and subjected the people of Israel to Jabin, and to Eglon, did he not deliver and enfranchise them by the hand of Ehud, Barack and Deborah, whilst the magistrates and officers were dead in a dull and negligent ecstasy of security? What then shall hinder? You may say the same God, who in these days sends us tyrants to correct us, that he may not also extraordinarily send correctors of tyrants to deliver us ? What if Ahab cut off good men, if Jezebel suborn false witnesses against Naboth, may not a Jehu be raised to exterminate the whole line of Ahab, to revenge the death of Naboth, and to cast the body of Jezebel to be torn and devoured of dogs? Certainly, as I have formerly answered, the Almighty is ever mindful of His justice, and maintains it as inviolably as His mercy.
But for as much as in these latter times, those miraculous testimonies by which God was wont to confirm the extraordinary vocation of those famous worthies, are now wanting for the most part: let the people be advised, that in seeking to cross the sea dry foot, they take not some impostor for their guide, who may lead them headlong to destruction (as we may read happened to the Jews); and that in seeking freedom from tyranny, he who was the principal instrument to disenthral them, become not himself a more insupportable tyrant than the former. Briefly, lest endeavouring to advantage the commonwealth, they introduce not a common misery upon all the undertakers participating therein with divers States of Italy, who, seeking to suppress the present evil, added an accession of greater and more intolerable servitude.
Finally, that we may come to some period of this third question; princes are chosen by God, and established by the people. As all particulars considered one by one, are inferior to the prince; so the whole body of the people and officers of state, who represent that body, are the princes' superiors. In the receiving and inauguration of a prince, there are covenants and contracts passed between him and the people, which are tacit and expressed, natural or civil; to wit, to obey him faithfully whilst he commands justly, that he serving the commonwealth, all men shall serve him, that whilst he governs according to law, all shall be submitted to his government, etc. The officers of the kingdom are the guardians and protectors of these covenants and contracts. He who maliciously or willfully violates these conditions, is questionless a tyrant by practice. And therefore the officers of state may judge him according to the laws. And if he support his tyranny by strong hands, their duty binds them, when by no other means it can be effected by force of arms to suppress him. Of these officers there be two kinds, those who have generally undertaken the protection of the kingdom; as the constable, marshals, peers, palatines, and the rest, every one of whom, although all the rest do either connive or consort with the tyranny, are bound to oppose and repress the tyrant; and those who have undertaken the government of any province, city, or part of the kingdom, as dukes, marquises, earls, consuls, mayors, sheriffs, etc., they may according to right, expel and drive tyranny and tyrants from their cities, confines, and governments. But particular and private persons may not unsheathe the sword against tyrants by practice, because they were not established by particulars, but by the whole body of the people. But for tyrants, who, without title intrude themselves for so much as there is no contract or agreement between them and the people, it is indifferently permitted all to oppose and depose them; and in this rank of tyrants may those be ranged, who, abusing the weakness and sloth of a lawful prince, tyrannously insult over his subjects. Thus much for this, to which for a more full resolution may be added that which has been formerly discoursed in the second question.
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