Defending the glorious Revolution

James Tyrell – Bibliotheca Politica (1692-1702)

Having ridded England of an absolutist monarchial threat, various writers went to work to defend the actions of those who, once again, overthrew a king. Tyrell, writing over ten years, presented his own defense of a mixed government and limited monarchy.

Introduction by Rachel Edmonston

This excerpt is but one of fourteen dialogues that were written and compiled by James Tyrrell (1642-1718) between the years 1692 and 1702. The completed work, entitled Bibliotheca Politica, was a piece of Whig political doctrine that was framed as a dialogue between “Mr. Meanwell, a civilian, and Mr. Freeman, a gentleman.” The first edition of the dialogues appeared in 1692, roughly four years after the Glorious Revolution of 1688-1689 had replaced the Catholic monarch James II of England with his Protestant nephew and son-in-law William of Orange, and his daughter, Mary as the king and queen of England. Tyrrell, a Whig political theorist and close friend of John Locke, wrote Bibliotheca Politica in defense of the Revolution and devoted each of the dialogues to various political discourses. Within Bibliotheca Politica Tyrrell refuted the legitimacy of absolute monarchy and the divine right of kings, defended mixed monarchy and contested the beliefs of Tory authors Robert Filmer and Robert Brady. Within Bibliotheca Politica, Tyrrell also publicized his friend Locke’s Two Treatises of Government.

The following excerpt from Bibliotheca Politica is the third dialogue, wherein Mr. Meanwell and Mr. Freeman debate if it is acceptable to take up arms against a monarch, and if so, when and under what circumstances. In the dialogue Tyrrell uses the voice of Freeman to advocate for a subject’s right to rise against a tyrant, refusing to believe that men are slaves under a monarch. Tyrell first published the work anonymously and likely framed his ideas as a dialogue to avoid outright criticism of monarchy, an offense which had been severely punishable during the reign of James II. Given Tyrrell’s Whig beliefs, the dialogue can be understood as a thinly veiled defense of the Glorious Revolution.

Further Reading

Tyrrell and Bibliotheca Politica:

Also by Tyrrell:

  • Patriarcha non monarcha. The patriarch unmonarch’d: being observations on a late treatise and divers other miscellanies, published under the name of Sir Robert Filmer baronet. In which the falseness of those opinions that would make monarchy jure divino are laid open: and the true principles of government and property (especially in our kingdom) asserted. By a lover of truth and of his country, 1681
  • A brief disquisition of the law of nature, according to the principles laid down in the reverend Dr. Cumberland’s (now Lord Bishop of Peterborough’s) Latin treatise on that subject. As also his considerations of Mr. Hobbs’s principles put into another method, 1692
  • The General History of England, both Eccesiastical and Civil (5 volumes, published between 1700 and 1704)



Advertisement to the READER

THE Author in relation to this, as well as the subsequent Dialogue, desires you to be so Candid as to believe, that tho’ under the Name, of Free-man, he hath argued against an Opinion, now, or lately much in vogue, viz. That an absolute Irresistibility, is an insepable Prerogative of all Soveraign Powers, as well Monarchies, as Common-Wealths. Yet no man more abhors all unnecessary Resistance, or Rebellion against Supream Civil Magistrates, and is more for an Absolute Sub∣mission by all particular Persons, whether Private, or Publick in case of the highest Injuries and Oppressions done to themselves alone, and where the Common Good of the Community is not immediately concerned, than himself: And this he owns to be their duty, not only out of a generous re∣gard to the Peace, & Tranquillity of the Common-Wealth, whereof they are Members, (& which ought not to be disturbed to revenge, or redress a few Private Injuries,) but also from the express Command of Gods Will Reveal’d in the Holy SS. expresly forbidding, not only all Re∣venge, but self-defence too, whilst the Supream Powers act legally, tho’ perhaps contrary to the Strict Rules of Justice, and Equity, in such Particular cases. Yet for all this, the Author must still declare, he doubts whether those Precepts do extend to all Resistance whatever, viz of any whole Nation, or great Body of Men, whose Preservation or Freedom from an intolerable slavery, and Oppression may render it necessary for the good of the Common Wealth, and is no other way to be procured but by a Vigorous Resistance, or else joyning with some power∣ful Neighbour Prince, or State, who shall interpose for their deliverance; So that if such a Resistance be ever Lawful, it can be upon no less mo∣mentous an• account, than that of a General Invasion, either of the Lives, Liberties, Religion, or Properties of a whole, or major part of a Nation, as they are established by the Law of Nature, or the Funda∣mental Constitutions, and municpial Laws of those particular Kingdoms, and Common-Wealths, where such an Insupportable Tyranny and Op∣pressions are then exercised: And if this be not Lawful in such extra∣ordinary cases, it would seem as if God had preferred the unjust Power, or Force, and the outward Grandeur of the Governours before the good and Happiness of the Governed, which is contrary to the main ends of all Civil Government, viz. the common good & Happiness of Mankind, even as those who are most against all Resistance what∣ever must allow.

But whether such Resistance be not in these Cases a Lawful (nay only means) for the safeguard; and deliverance of such assaulted, or Oppressed Nations, the Author leaves it to the Iudgment of the Im∣partial Reader to determine, upon the perusal of this, and the subsequent Discourse (since all that could be urged on both sides in this important. Question, could not be comprised, within the limits of one Evenin•• conversation which the Author had prescribed to himself) yet will he not be much concerned on which side you give your sentence.

Since however Criminal some Men have endeavoured to render the Doctrine of Resistance even in the cases proposed; yet the Author must believe (till he is better convinced to the contrary) that the Que∣stion being only Moral, or Political, and not about any point of Faith, or Law, may be safely maintained by either party, without any guilt, either of Heresie, or Treason.

The Author farther desires you to take notice, that tho’ he hath in both these subsequent Dialogues, made one of his Disputants to make use, not only of the Arguments, but the very expressions of two Learned, and Reverend Divines, in some late Treatises on this Subject, yet that he hath not acted thus, out of any design of Writing against them, or those Opinions there laid down, as they are theirs, (since it is well known the same Arguments, and Texts of Scripture have been made use of by other Writers on this Subject long before). But as it must be confessed that none have managed this controversie with better Reason, and greater Eloquence, so he hopes that neither they, nor any friend of theirs, will take it amiss, if out of a just value of their Learned Wri∣tings, he hath put that part of the Controversy in their Works, as the best be could meet with, and which he dares not pretend to alter, and as for the Answers, he hath put them, either in his own, or else in the ex∣pressions of one or two late Writers, who have undertaken to answer what they formerly had Written on this Question.

To conclude, since the Author does not take all that those have lay∣ed down on either side, for clear, and unquestionable demonstrations, (for then there would be no need of publishing any more than the Arguments of one side) he hopes neither party will take it ill, if he hath here fairly represented the strongest and most plausible Arguments, that are brought on both sides for what Doctrine soever is true, such Truth will not look the worse, or lose ground if it appears in its true natural dress) tho’ set against its opposite Errour: But if a great deal of what hath been layed down by Persons too Violent on either side, appear upon a strict examination to be meer Precarious Opinions; whose best Authority is the great Names of some that have broacht them; He hopes no indifferent Person can take it ill, if he endeavours to discover these mistakes, since all men are liable to Errours, and as none can be more sensible of this, than himself, so whenever either of those Learned, and Reverend Persons, or any other shall convince him of any weak or false reasonings in this discourse, he promises to retract them, with the first Opportunity.

F: It will, I think, be convenient for me to look back, and see what I have already proved, at our two former Conferences:

  1. That Adam had not, either by Natural Right of Fatherhood, or by Positive Donation from God, any such Authority over his Children, or Dominion over the World, as you pretended.
  2. That if he had, yet his Sons, or Heirs, had no Right to it.
  3. That if his Heirs had, there being no Law of Nature, nor Positive Law of God, that determines who is the Right Heir in all Cases that may arise, the Right of Succession, and consequently of bearing Rule, could not have been certainly determined, without the Judgment of the rest of the Children, or Descendants of Adam.
  4. That the knowledge of the Right Heir of Adam, (supposing still there was one,) being now long since lost, no Prince or Monarch in the World can graft any Title upon this Paternal Dominion of Adam or Noah.
  5. That all Authority of inflicting Punishments of Life and Death, or other less Penalties for the Breach of the Laws of Nature, or the Transgression of the Civil Laws of the Common-wealth is originally derived from God, as being that Power with which God in the State of Nature hath intrusted, all Masters, or Heads of separate Families, and this not as Fathers, but as Masters.
  6. That since all Kingdoms and Commonwealths at this day do owe their Original either to the Election of the People, or to Usurpation, or Conquest; God doth not now by the ordinary Course of his Providence confer this Divine Authority on any Persons whatsoever, so as to give them a Right to the People’s Allegiance without the People’s Consent first had, or else an Owning of their Titles by a Subsequent voluntary Submission to them….

F: “I shall then in the first place lay it down for a Principle, (which I suppose you will not deny) that all Civil Power being from God, it was principally instituted by him, for the Peace, Happiness and Safety of Mankind; that is, of all the Subjects who are to live together in a Commonwealth, or Civil Society.

2: That all Kings, or Supream Magistrates, are likewise secured by Gods Authority in those due Rights and Prerogatives which are necessary, for their well discharging this great Trust or Duty which God requires of them, and in Consideration of which the People at first Elected, or Submitted themselves to them.

If therefore you grant, as I suppose you will, these two reasonable Propo∣sitions, the Question will amount to no more than this, whether, if the Supream Power in any Kingdom, or Commonwealth, so far abuses this Trust, which God by the People hath committed to them, and instead of pre∣serving and defending the Lives, Liberties, and Estates of their Subjects, they manifestly go about to destroy, or grievously to oppress them, by ma∣king them, instead of Subjects, meer Slaves, and Vassals; the Question, I say then, is, whether, if such violence or oppressions be committed upon the whole People, or so considerable a part of it, as that the safety and well-being of the whole Commonwealth cannot in any likelihood subsist without it, the People, or such a considerable part of them, may not, (in Case their Lives, Li∣berties and Persons are unjustly assaulted, and oppress’t by the Officers or standing Armies of the Prince, or other Supream Powers) for their own de∣fence take up Arms to defend their Lives, Liberties and Estates against such an armed force, and violence. Where, by the way, I desire you to take no∣tice, that I do here asolutely disclaim all Resistance of, or Self defence against Civil Authority, or the Officers Commissioned by it, by any private single Person, whether such Power be exerted according to Law or not, or else abused in some cases to the hurt or destruction of such single Person only: So that I suppose this Resistance to be lawful only in case of a general Destruction, or intolerable oppression of the whole People, or at least a very considerable part of them, and those that are in the chiefest places of the Administration.

I suppose you will not deny, but that there may be such a thing as a Tyrant, and that that part of Mankind who live under him may be sensible of his Tyranny, or else the Definition which King Iames I▪ gives us of a Tyrant in a Speech which he made to the Parliament in 1603, would be altogether in vain. But the words are so fit for this purpose, that I will read them to you out of his Works. I do acknowledge, that the special, and greatest point of difference that is between a Rightful King, and an Usurping Tyrant, is this: That whereas the Proud, and Ambitious Tyrant doth think his Kingdom, and People are only ordained for the satisfaction of his desires, and unreasonable Appetites, the Righteous and Iust King doth by the contrary acknowledge himself to be ordained for the procuring of the Wealth and Prosperity of his People. And so likewise in another Speech he made to the Parliament, he hath this memorable passage, That a King governing in a settled Kingdom, leaves to be a King, and degenerates into a Tyrant, so soon as he ceases to rule according to the Law. So that since it is plain, that the People may judge, when they have a Tyrant, instead of a King to rule over them; and that under such a Tyrant, the Condition of the People may be very deplorable; the Question still remains, what is best for them to do in this Case: Whether it be better for them, or they be obliged, by the Laws of Reason, and Nature, patiently to submit to it, or else, if they can, either by their own force, or the Assistance of a Forreign Prince, to cast off the Yoke. And I think I may still maintain, that they may do it….”

F: “To this it may easily be answered, that Self-defence, which is of Natural Right, ought not to be denyed to the People: And therefore if the King doth not only exert his hatred against some Single persons, but also shall go about to destroy the bo∣dy of the Common-Wealth, of which he is Head, that is, shall exert his Hatred a∣gainst the whole People, or some considerable part of them by an horrid, and in∣tolerable Cruelty, or Tyranny, There is a Power in the People in this Case, only of Defending it self, but not of Invading the Prince, or of Revenging the Injury given, neither of departing from their due Reverence, because of the Injury receiv∣ed; in short it hath Right only of repelling a Present force, but not of revenging a past injury, for one of them indeed is from Nature, that we should defend our lives, and Persons from injury, and therefore the People may be able to prevent an Evil before it be done, but cannot revenge it upon the King after it is done. Therefore the People hath this Right more than a Private Man, that he hath no other Remedy left him but Patence; Whereas the People, if the Tyranny be intolerable, may still resist, tho’ with Respect…

when a Prince once Goeth about to destroy, and make War upon his People, he doth not act then, as a Monarch, but like a Cut-throat, and Enemy to the Common-Wealth; And no man can imagine, a Will to destroy, and to protect the people, can at once subsist in the same Person.”

M: “when a Man sells, or grants himself for a Slave to another by his own Consent; who when he hath once put himself into this Condition, his Master hath an absolute Property in his Person, and an indefesible Right for ever to his Service. So that notwith∣standing all the Cruel, Harsh, and unreasonable Usage, he may meet with from his Master, he can never regain his Freedom without the Consent of his Lord. And this I take to be an uncontested Truth agreed on by the Law; of Nations, and established by the Law of God. Thus St. Peter chargeth those, who are in this State of Servitude: *To be subject to their Masters with all Fear, not only to the Good, and Gentle, but also to the Froward. So likewise St. Paul in both his Epistles to the Ephesians, and Colossians,Commands Servants to be obedient to them that are their Masters according to the Flesh, &c. And that this particularly respects Slaves, appears by the 8. verse of the 6. Chapter of the former of these Epistles.

So that if a Man may thus make himself a Slave, or perpetual Servant to another by his own consent, I cannot see any Reason why a whole Nation may not do the same, and deliver themselves up to one Man, or more to be Go∣verned, and treated both for their Lives, Liberties, and Fortunes, at his or their Discretion. So that, tho’ he may perhaps abuse this Power to the severest Tyranny, or Oppression: Yet have they no Right to shake off this Yoak, or to resist him; since their Lives, and Fortunes are wholly at his disposal, by their own Act, and Consent.”

F: “I see no reason, why even Slaves, if their Masters go about to take away their Lives for no other Cause, but to satisfie their own humour, or passion, may not, (if they cannot otherwise escape) resist their Masters, and save their Lives if they can. For all Writers agree, that if a Master doth so inhumanely abuse his Slave; that he can no longer en∣dure it without danger of his Life, he may in that Case Lawfully run away, and escape from him; and why he may not as well resist him to save his Life, when his Master goeth about thus unjustly, and without any Cause to take it away; I can see no reason to the contrary: Since it was only for the saving his Life, that such a Man could ever be supposed to yield himself a Slave to another; and which Condition being broken on the Masters part, the Servant is again in the State of Nature, and the relation of Master and Servant so far ceases; or is at least suspended, during that Violence.

This being the state of particular Men, I cannot think that God hath put whole Nations in a worse Condition; nor can I ever imagine, that any whole Nation, unless urged by some extream necessity, would ever give up themselves so absolutely for Slaves, as not to have any Right to defend their own Lives, or a Property in any thing they can enjoy; and if ever they could be supposed to have done so, I think I may boldly affirm, that such a Nation are not Subjects, but Slaves, and the Prince not a Monarch or Civil Governour, but only a Lord of a Great Family, or Master of a publick Work-house.

For I take the difference betwixt Subjects, or Slaves, and Princes and Masters of Families to consist in this, that the Power of a Prince, is chiefly ordained for the Good, and Preservation of his Subjects, tho’ I grant his own may likewise be included in it, as an Encouragement, and Reward for his Labour; yet not as the principal End of his Institution: Whereas in a Family of Slaves, they are chiefly ordained for his profit, or Benefit that maintains them; but their Happiness, and Preservation is only accidental, and as it may conduce to that. The main End also of Civil Government is to institute and maintain a distinct Property in men’s Estates, and which the Prince, or Common-wealth can have no Right to take away. And therefore, tho’ I grant that in those Despotik Monarchies you mention, the Monarchs do exercise an Absolute, Arbitrary Power over the Lives, Liberties, and Estates of their Subjects: Yet that this is by Divine Right, or Institution I utterly deny, or that it was always so in all of them from the beginning; for most of those Empires you mention can no otherwise subsist than by a Constant maintaining vast standing Armies, or Guards to keep their Sub∣jects in Obedience.”

M: “And therefore whatsoever People or Nation have thus Subjected themselves to the Absolute Power, or Dominion of one Man, they have no more Right to Regain their Natural Liberty, than I should have of taking away any thing by Force which I had before given or granted to another: For this Sort of Civil Servitude, is not so Repugnant to Nature as some Imagine, or that because Subjects were forced to consent to it for the avoiding of some Greater Evil, they can afterwards have any Right to shake it off again when ever they will. For, tho’ I grant, that God hath not Instituted any such Servitude, yet when once it is introduced in any Country, Men are not at Liberty to cast off the Yoke when ever they please, but to observe St. Paul‘s Rule, If thou art a Servant, care not for it, but if thou are free, chuse it rather, That is, Freedom is to be preferred before Servitude or Subjection. But where Providence hath made Men Absolute Srvants, or Subjects; they are bound to continue in that State, unless the Supream Powers, they are under, think fit to Release them from it. And therefore this can be no good Pretence under Absolute Monarchies for Subjects to take up Arms against their Prince, for such a State of Liberty which they never enjoyed.”

F: And yet even in these Despotick Monarchies, tho’ the Prince may pick out here and there some of his Subjects to sell for Slaves, or else to use them as such himself…I say, I do much question whether these People would be so Convinced of your Principles of Passive Obedience, and Non-Resistance, as to let their Monarch’s Guards drive them into Slavery, like Sheep to the Market, but would, if they were able, make a Vigorous Resistance, and knock their Drivers on the Head. Whether Iure, vel injuria, I shall not dis∣pute.

But for all this, even in Absolute Monarchies, where the People have a Setled Legal Property in their Lands, and Estates, and consequently where their Persons are free, I doubt not, if their Princes should go about to make all his Subjects Slaves; but that they might Lawfully Resist him, or those he im∣ploys in so doing. And tho’ it be true, he could not make all his People Slaves at once, Yet if he asserted it as a part of his Royal Prerogative, and also exerci∣sed it on particular Persons, as often as he thought sit, or could, I doubt not but the People might make it a common cause; Since none can know whose turn it may be next: For sure Liberty from Servitude is as necessary to Man’s Happiness and Well-being, as Life is to his Existence: Which would seem no great Benefit to those.* who being Born Free, were reduced to Slavery; it being well said by the Poet, Non est vivere, Sed-valere vita.”

F: “But if such a Monarch, hath remitted any thing of this Right; and hath Instituted a Legal Hereditary Property in Estates; such a Law being once made, I do not think it is in the Prince’s Power to revoke it, any more than it is for a Master to Reduce his Slaves again to Servitude after he hath once set them free; Since both Men’s Liberties, or a Setled or Hereditary Property an Estates do equally conduce to the Happiness and Propagation of Mankind, and the Good of that People, or Nation, wherein it is introduced.”

F: “And Mr. Hobbs himself, as much a Friend as he was to the Arbitrary Power of Monarchs, and an Enemy to the Natural Rights of Subjects, yet is forced in his Leviathan to confess, that the Riches, Power, and Honour of a Monarch, arises only from the Riches, Strength, and Reputation of his Subjects, for no King can be Rich,*nor Glorious, nor Secure, whose Subjects are •••her poor, or contemptible.”

M: “I take Civil Government to be an Authority conferred by God, on one, or more Persons, to make Laws for the benefit, and Protection of the Subjects, and to inflict such Punishments for their Transgression, as they shall think fit, and by the Subjects Obedience, and Assistance to protect them against Forreign Enemies, and also to appoint what share of Civil Property each Person in that Common-Wealth shall enjoy.”

F: Sir, Tho’ your Definition be somewhat lame, yet I am pretty well content∣ed with it, only I will shew you by and by wherein it is deficient: The first and therefore chiefest Branch, or Office of Civil Magistrate, to make Laws for the Benefit, and Protection of the Subjects: Is it then a Branch of this Power, to send Souldiers, or Dragoons, to take away their Liberties, Lives or Estates▪ This sure is directly contrary to their Duty, and that Trust which God hath conferred upon them. Let us go on to the next Branch: The inflection of Punishments for the transgr•ssion of such Laws; Is this a part of Civil Government not only to send their Souldiers, and other Officers to take away their Subjects Lives and Estates, but also to let the most Capital Offenders or Robbers pass unpunish’d when they have done; if you maintain these to be the Prerogatives of Civil Government, or that to be Civil Government where these things are commonly practised, you may, even with Mr. Hobbs set the great Leviathan Free from all obligation to his Subjects, any further than he shall think fit for his own interest, and make them always in a State of Nature, that is, (as he sup∣poses) of War with them, and then pray tell me, whether such a State, can be the Ordinance of God, or not? But to come to the last Branch of your Definition (and in which alone I think it deficient) the appointing what share of Property each per∣son in that Common-Wealth shall enjoy; Tho’ I grant it may be the Prerogative of Civil Governments to appoint this at first, Yet are they likewise ob∣liged to maintain this Property when it is once Instituted; and the People have as much Right to it as any King can have to his Crown, viz. the Civil Law of that Country, or Consent of the whole Nation: And therefore, if, according to King Iames the First his Rule, a King of a Setled, (or limited) Kingdom will break all the Laws thereof, and Degenerate into a Tyrant; unless such Tyrant be the Ordinance of God, he may certainly be so far Opposed, for what can Pirates, or Robbers do more than his Officers, and Guards by his Commission? The for∣mer can but Murder Men, Ravish their Wives, burn their Houses, and take away their Estates; and if the latter may do so too, pray where is the Diffe∣rence? Or what satisfaction is it to me, that I am Ruined by one Man having the King’s Commission, or by another that Ruins me without it? Since I am sure, God hath given the one no more Authority to do it, than the other; if then this unlimited Power be neither conferred by God, nor Man upon the Civil Magistrates, I would fain know any Reason, why Thieves, and Pirates may be Resisted, but their Instruments may not, that do the same things; And why, when Civil Authority exceeds its utmost Bounds, the State of Nature, or Self-defence, may not take place; Since the Civil Government is as much Dissolved by such Violent Actions, as if a Forreign Enemy had broke in, and Conquered the Country?

But to Answer your Query, whether I think a Civil Government may not be, where there is no Setled Property in Estates, and whether the Eastern Monar∣chies are not Civil Governments? To this I answer, that I have Aristotle on my Side, who, not without Reason Affirms, that the Government of one Man, where there is no Civil Property, and where all Men are Slaves, is not Civil Government, but that of a Master of a Great Family over his Slaves: And tho’ I grant, that they may have some shew of Civil Government among them, as in a Plantation, where one of the Slaves may complain to the Master against another for any Injury or Wrong done him, yet is not this Property Civil Government any more than that of the Master of a Separate Family who looks upon himself as Absolute Lord over all his Slaves, and they allowed him by God, only for his Benefit, and Grandeur, and not he instituted, (as all Civil Powers are) for the Good, and Preservation of the Subjects.”


EARLY ACCESS:  Transcription is under editorial review and may contain errors.
Please do not cite or otherwise reproduce without permission.