Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
The Right to Change Rulers
By Algernon Sidney (16231683)
From Discourses on Government
HE doubts who shall judge of the lawful cause of changing the government; and says, it is a pestilent conclusion to place that power in the multitude. But why should this be esteemed pestilent? or to whom? If the allowance of such a power to the senate was pestilent to Nero, it was beneficial to mankind; and the denial of it, which would have given to Nero an opportunity of continuing in his villainies, would have been pestilent to the best of men, whom he endeavoured to destroy, and to all others that received benefit from them. But this question depends upon another: for if governments are constituted for the pleasure, greatness, or profit of one man, he must not be interrupted: the opposing of his will is to overthrow the institution. On the other side, if the good of the government be sought, care must be taken that the end be accomplished, though it be with the prejudice of the governor. If the power be originally in the multitude, and one or more men, to whom the exercise of it, or a part of it, was committed, had no more than their brethren, till it was conferred on him or them, it cannot be believed that rational creatures would advance one, or a few of their equals above themselves, unless in consideration of their own good; and then I find no inconvenience in leaving to them a right of judging, whether this be duly performed or not. We say in general:he that institutes, may also abrogate; more especially when the institution is not only by, but for himself. If the multitude therefore do institute, the multitude may abrogate; and they themselves, or those who succeed in the same right, can only be fit judges of the performance of the ends of the institution. Our author may perhaps say, the public peace may be hereby disturbed: but he ought to know, there can be no peace, where there is no justice; nor any justice, if the government instituted for the good of a nation be turned to its ruin.