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Algernon Sidney and the Republican Heritage in England and America

Algernon Sidney and the Republican Heritage in England and America

Alan Craig Houston
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zvt40
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    Algernon Sidney and the Republican Heritage in England and America
    Book Description:

    Alan Houston introduces a new level of rigor into contemporary debates over republicanism by providing the first complete account of the range, structure, and influence of the political writings of Algernon Sidney (1623-1683). Though not well known today, Sidney's Discourses Concerning Government influenced radicals in England and America throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. To many, it was a "textbook of revolution." Houston begins with a masterful intellectual biography tracing the development of Sidney's ideas in the political and intellectual context of Stuart England, and he concludes with a detailed study of the impact of Sidney's writings and heroic martyrdom on revolutionary America. Documenting the interdependence of what have previously been regarded as distinctly "liberal" and "republican" theories, the author provides a new perspective on Anglo-American political thought. Many scholars have assumed that the republican language of virtue is distinct from and in tension with the liberal logic of rights and interests. By focusing on the contemporary meaning of concepts like freedom and slavery or virtue and corruption, Houston demonstrates that Sidney's republicanism and Locke's liberalism were not rivals but frequently complemented each other.

    Originally published in 1991.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6245-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 3-12)

    THE CONCEPT of republicanism is at the heart of a number of important debates in history and political theory. To many historians, it has provided a useful tool for understanding main currents in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century English and American politics; to many political theorists, it has provided the basis for a coherent and attractive theory of citizenship.¹ The relationship between these two projects has been particularly strong in America. As historians have discovered the republican character of the American Revolution and traced it to its seventeenth-century English roots, political theorists have envisioned the rejuvenation of America’s seemingly torpid public life...

  2. PART ONE: BACKGROUND

    • ONE BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH
      (pp. 15-67)

      IT WOULD be gratifying to learn that Algernon Sidney “had set up Marcus Brutus for his pattern” and that the “firmness and simplicity of [his] character resembled that first of Romans.”¹ Unfortunately, Sidney’s life did not always match his posthumous reputation. Though Sidney was possessed of a strong sense of integrity and the firm conviction that his causes were righteous, his commitment to republicanism was intermittent and inconsistent. The course of his life was deeply influenced by private concerns, by violent family conflicts and recurrent financial crises. When he did turn to political action, it was with baroque complexity, not...

    • TWO ENGLISH ROYALISM AND THE PLACE OF SIR ROBERT FILMER
      (pp. 68-98)

      THE RADICAL doctrines of theDiscourses Concerning Governmentwere designed to justify rebellion against the illegitimate actions of Charles II. But Sidney’s immediate target was Sir Robert Filmer’sPatriarcha, a royalist tract first published in 1680. The core of Filmer’s argument was the concept of patriarchy: “I see not,” he wrote, “how the children of Adam, or of any man else, can be free from subjection to their parents. And this subordination of children is the fountain of all regal authority, by the ordination of God himself.” As Adam had had the power of a “Father, King and Lord over...

  3. PART TWO: SIDNEY’S ARGUMENT

    • THREE FREEDOM AND SLAVERY
      (pp. 101-145)

      SIR ROBERT FILMER placed men and women within a dense, interlocking network of hierarchical relationships. Sons were subject to fathers, wives and servants were subject to husbands and masters, and everyone was subject to the king. Patriarchal authority was the God-given glue that held together the social and political universe. Algernon Sidney rejected this vision of natural subjection, replacing it with an ethic of individual freedom and a politics of consent. Where Filmer saw the natural and legitimate exercise of power, Sidney saw force and coercion; where Filmer saw subjects integrated into a coherent social whole, Sidney saw slaves dependent...

    • FOUR VIRTUE AND CORRUPTION
      (pp. 146-178)

      WHY DO free nations fall into slavery? This deceptively simple question was at the heart of Algernon Sidney’s analysis of virtue and corruption. While virtuous behavior helped to sustain nations in their freedom, corruption slowly but surely reduced them to slavery. Without virtue, in fact, freedom was not possible.²

      The pivotal role of virtue and corruption in the moral psychology of republicanism has been the focus of several recent and influential studies in the history of political thought. Contemporary scholars have emphasized two distinct but related theses: that the defining characteristic of republicanism is a classical theory of virtue; and...

    • FIVE CONSTITUTIONALISM AND REVOLUTION
      (pp. 179-220)

      MAN IS naturally free,” and consequently “a general consent … is the ground of all just Governments.”² These two claims provided the moral foundation for Sidney’s theory of government. But what political superstructure corresponded to that foundation? To what form of government would free men consent?

      Sidney was adamant that there were no natural or universally valid forms of government. It simply was not true that “God and Nature have put us into a way from which we are not to swerve.”³ At the same time, the differences between the various forms of government visible throughout the world were not...

  4. PART THREE: THE RADICAL HERITAGE

    • SIX ALGERNON SIDNEY AND THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION
      (pp. 223-267)

      THROUGHOUT the eighteenth century Algernon Sidney was revered by radicals in Europe and America as a martyr to liberty.² He was “the British Brutus,” a man who had selflessly devoted his life to the cause of freedom. Perhaps nowhere was Sidney’s fame and influence more strongly felt than in revolutionary America.³ Writing in a London newspaper in 1765, Benjamin Franklin proclaimed that the Americans’ refusal to accept the Stamp Act was motivated by “a strong sense of liberty, a public spirit that despises all selfish private considerations, and thence a determination to risque everything rather than submit voluntarily to what...

  5. EPILOGUE
    (pp. 268-278)

    AFTER THE ratification of the Constitution, the men who had fomented the American Revolution found relatively few occasions on which to refer to Algernon Sidney. Benjamin Franklin decried the decline of English in favor of Greek and Latin in the Academy of Philadelphia and renewed his commitment to the teaching of English through the writings of “Tillotson, Addison, Pope, Algernon Sidney, Cato’s Letters, &c.”¹ Benjamin Rush was led to the conclusion that war with England was preferable to the continuation of vice-ridden “funding systems, banks, embargoes, and non-intercourse laws” after reflecting on Sidney’s maxim that slavery was worse than civil...

  6. APPENDIX I SIDNEY FAMILY TREE
    (pp. 279-279)
  7. APPENDIX II SIDNEY’S PARLIAMENTARY ACTIVITY
    (pp. 280-284)