|James Harrington (1611–1677)|
Note: This is part of the Leveller Collection of Tracts and Pamphlets.
T.314 [1659??] James Harrington, The humble Petition of divers well-affected Persons delivered the 6th of July 1659, with the Parliament’s Answer thereto (1659).
This HTML version comes from the 1771 edtiion edited by John Toland: The Oceana and Other Works of James Harrington, with an Account of His Life by John Toland (London: Becket and Cadell, 1771).
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THAT your petitioners have for many years observ’d the breathings and longings of this nation after rest and settlement, and that upon mistaken grounds they have bin ready even to sacrifice and yield up part of their own undoubted right, to follow after an appearance of it.
And your petitioners do daily see the bad effects of long continu’d distractions, in the ruins and decays of trade foren and domestic: and in the advantages that are taken to make consederacys to involve the nation in blood and confusion, under pretence of procuring a settlement.
That it has bin the practice of all nations, on the subversion of any form of government, to provide inimediatly a new constitution suitable to their condition; with certain successions and descents, that so both their lawgivers and magistrats might use their several trusts, according to the establish’d constitution; and the people’s minds be settl’d secure, and free from attemts of introducing several forms of government, according to the variety of their fancys, or corrupt interests.
That God has preserv’d this nation wonderfully without example many years, since the dissolution of the old form of government by king, lords and commons; there having bin no fundamental constitutions of any kind duly settl’d, nor any certain succession provided for the legislative power; but even at this instant, if by any sudden sickness, design, or force, any considerable numbers of your persons should be render’d incapable of meeting in parlament, the commonwealth were without form of successive legislature or magistracy, and left to the mercy of the strongest faction. Yet we have reason to remember in these years of unsettlement, the inexpressible sufferings of this nation in their strength, wealth, honor, liberty, and all things conducing to their well-being; and we have like reason now sadly to apprehend the impending ruin. And we cannot discern a possibility of your honors unanimous and expeditious proceedings towards our country’s preservation, and relief from its heavy pressures, while your minds are not settl’d in any known constitution of government or fundamental orders; according to which, all laws should be made: but divers or contrary interests may be prosecuted on different apprehensions of the justice and prudence of different forms of government, tho all with good intentions.
YOUR petitioners therfore conceiving no remedy so effectual against the present dangers, as the settlement of the peoples minds, and putting them into actual security of their propertys and libertys, by a due establishment of the constitution under which they may evidently apprehend their certain enjoyment of them; and therupon, a return of their trade and free commerce, without those continual fears that make such frequent stops in trade, to the ruin of thousands.
AND your petitioners also observing, that the interest of the late king’s son is cry’d up, and promoted daily, upon pretence, that there will be nothing but confusion and tyranny, till he com to govern; and that such as declare for a commonwealth, are for anorchy and confusion, and can never agree among themselves, what they would have.
UPON serious thoughts of the premises, your petitioners do presume with all humility, and submission to your wisdom, to offer to your honors their principles and proposals concerning the government of this nation: wherupon, they humbly conceive, a just and prudent government ought to be establish’d, viz.
1. That the constitution of the civil government of England by king, lords, and commons, being dissolv’d, whatever new constitution of government can be made or settl’d according to any rule of righteousness, it can be no other than a wise order or method, into which the free people’s deputys shall be form’d for the making of their laws, and taking care for their common safety and welfare in the execution of them: for, the exercise of all just authority over a free people, ought (under God) to arise from their own consent.
2. That the government of a free people ought to be so settl’d, that the governors and govern’d may have the same interest in preserving the government, and each other’s propertys and libertys respectively; that being the only sure foundation of a commonwealth’s unity, peace, strength, and prosperity.
3. That there cannot be a union of the interests of a whole nation in the government, where those who shall somtimes govern, be not also somtimes in the condition of the govern’d; otherwise the governors will not be in a capacity to feel the weight of the government, nor the govern’d to injoy the advantages of it: and then it will be the interest of the major part to destroy the government, as much as it will be the interest of the minor part to preserve it.
4. That there is no security that the supreme authority shall not fall into factions, and be led by their privat interest to keep themselves always in power, and direct the government to their privat advantages, if that supreme authority be settl’d in any single assembly whatsoever, that shall have the intire power of propounding, debating and resolving laws.
5. That the soverain authority in every government, of what kind soever, ought to be certain in its perpetual successions, revolutions, or descents; and without possibility (by the judgment of human prudence) of a death or failure of its being, because the whole form of the government is dissolv’d if that should happen, and the people in the utmost imminent danger of an absolute tyranny, or a war among themselves, or rapin and confusion. And therfore where the government is popular, the assemblys in whom reside the supreme authority, ought never to dy or dissolve, tho the persons be annually changing: neither ought they to trust the soverain care of the strength and safety of the people out of their own hands, by allowing a vacation to themselves, lest those that should be trusted be in love with such great authority, and aspire to be their masters, or else fear an account, and seek the dissolution of the commonwealth to avoid it.
6. That it ought to be declar’d as a fundamental order in the constitution of this commonwealth, that the parlament being the supreme legislative power, is intended only for the exercise of all those acts of authority that are proper and peculiar to the legislative power; and to provide for a magistracy, to whom should appertain the whole executive power of the laws: and no case either civil or criminal to be judg’d in parlament, saving that the last appeals in all cases, where appeals shall be thought fit to be admitted, be only to the popular assembly; and also that to them be refer’d the judgment of all magistrats in cases of maladministrations in their offices.
AND in prosecution of these principles,
YOUR petitioners humbly propose for the settlement of this commonwealth, that it be ordain’d,
1. THAT the parlament or the supreme authority of England, be chosen by the free people, to represent them with as much equality as may be.
2. THAT a parlament of England shall consist of two assemblys, the lesser of about three hundred, in whom shall reside the intire power of consulting, debating, and propounding laws: the other, to consist of a far greater number, in whom shall rest the sole power of resolving all laws so propounded.
3. THAT the free people of England, in their respective divisions at certain days and places appointed, shall for ever annually chuse one third part to each assembly, to enter into their authority, at certain days appointed: the same days, the authority of a third of each of the said assemblys to cease, only in the laying the first foundation in this commonwealth’s constitution: the whole number of both the assemblys to be chosen by the people respectively, viz. one third of each assembly to be chosen for one year, one third for two years, and one third for three years.
4. THAT such as shall be chosen, having serv’d their appointed time in either of the said assemblys of parlament, shall not be capable to serve in the same assembly during som convenient interval or vacation.
5. THAT the legislative power do wholly refer the execution of the laws to the magistracy, according to the sixth principle herein mention’d.
6. THAT in respect to religion and Christian liberty, it be ordain’d that the Christian religion by the appointment of all succeding parlaments, be taught, and promulgated to the nation, and public preachers therof maintain’d: and that all that shall profess the said religion, tho of different persuasions in parts of the doctrin, or disciplin therof, be equally protected in the peaceable profession, and public exercise of the same; and be equally capable of all elections, magistracys, preferments in the commonwealth, according to the order of the same. Provided always, that the public exercise of no religion contrary to Christianity be tolerated; nor the public exercise of any religion, tho professedly Christian, grounded upon, or incorporated into the interest of any foren state or prince.
These your petitioners humbly conceive to be the essentials of the form of a free commonwealth, which if they were made fit for practice by your honors appointing the numbers, times, places, and all other necessary circumstances, and settl’d as the fundamental orders of the commonwealth, would naturally dispose those that should hereafter be chosen into the parlaments, from the love of their own interest to seek the common good, being oblig’d by the constitutions here humbly offer’d to partake with the whole body of the people, of the good or evil that shall happen to the commonwealth, having no probable temtations or means left to compass any privat or factious ends in matters religious or civil. And your petitioners cannot imagin a greater security for the cause and interest contended for with such effusion of blood, than by disposing the free people into this kind of order, wherby the same cause would becom their common interest. Yet if your honors should think it necessary or convenient for securing the minds of such as are doubtful and jealous that the people may betray their own libertys, there may be inserted into the fundamental orders of the commonwealth, these following expedients, viz.
1. That for securing the government of this commonwealth, and of the religious and civil freedom of the good people therof, it may be for ever esteem’d and judg’d treason against the commonwealth, for any member of either assembly of parlament, or any other person whatsoever, to move or propose in either of the said assemblys, the restitution of kingly government, or the introduction of any single person to be chief magistrat of England, or the alteration of that part of the fundamental order herein contain’d that concerns the equal freedom and protection of religious persons of different persuasions.
2. That about the number of twelve persons of the most undoubted fidelity and integrity may be authoriz’d and impower’d, for som certain number of years next ensuing, to seize, apprehend, and in safe custody to detain any person or persons whatsoever, till he or they be in due form of law deliver’d, as is hereafter specify’d, that shall move or propose in either of the said assemblies of parlament the restitution of kingly governmeut, or the introduction of any single person to be chief magistrate of this commonwealth, or the alteration of that part of the fundamental order herein contain’d, that concerns the equal freedom and protection of religious persons of different persuasions; but for no other matter or cause whatsoever. And when it shall happen, that any person or persons shall be arrested or seiz’d for any of the causes aforesaid, in manner aforesaid, then a commission of oyer and terminer may issue forth in due form of law to the said twelve, or any six of them, to proceed in due form of law, within one month after the apprehension of any such person or persons, to the arraignment and publick trial of every such person or persons; and upon the legal conviction of him or them by the testimony of two sufficient witnesses of any of the treasons herein declar’d, to condemn to the pains of death, and to cause the same judgment to be duly executed: and the keeper or keepers of the great seal of England that shall be for the time being, may be authoriz’d and requir’d from time to time during the term of [ ] years, to issue out commissions to the said twelve, or any six of them, authorizing them to proceed as aforesaid.
And if your honours shall further judge it convenient, the fundamental orders of the government may be consented to or subscrib’d by the people themselves, if their express pact shall be esteem’d any additional security; other nations, upon the like occasions of expulsion of their kings, having taken the people’s oaths against their returning: and the same may be proclaim’d as often as our ancestors provided for the proclaiming of magna charta; and any further security also added, if any can be found among men, that has a foundation in justice.
Now your petitioners having, with humble submission to your grave wisdoms, thus declar’d their apprehensions of the present condition of this distracted nation, and the only effectual means under God to prevent the impending mischiefs; they do most humbly pray,
That such speedy considerations may be had of the premises as the condition of this nation requires; and that such a method may be settled for the debating and consulting about the government, that your wise results may be seasonable for the healing all the breaches of the commonwealth, and establishing the sure foundations of freedom, justice, peace, and unity.
And your petitioners shall always pray, &c.
Wednesday July the 6th, 1659.
THE house being inform’d, that divers gentlemen were at the door with a petition, they were call’d in, and one of the petitioners in behalf of himself and the rest said, We humbly present you a petition, to which we might have had many thousand hands, but the matter rather deserves your serious consideration than any public attestation; and therfore we do humbly present it to this honourable house. Which, after the petitioners were withdrawn, was read, and was intitl’d, The humble petition of divers well affected persons.
THAT the petitioners have the thanks of the house.
THE petitioners were again call’d in, and Mr. Speaker gave them this answer:
THE house has read over your petition, and find it without any private end, and only for the public interest, and I am commanded to let you know, that it lies much upon them to make such a settlement as may be most for the good of posterity: and they are about that work, and intend to go forward with it with as much expedition as may be. And for your parts, they have commanded me to give you thanks; and in their names I do give you the thanks of this house accordingly.
Tho. St. Nicholas, Clerc of the Parliament.