Guest Essayist: Professor Joerg Knipprath, Professor of Law at Southwestern Law School

Algernon Sidney, the author of the Discourses, was a man of the 17th century’s Age of Reason. He was skeptical of organized religion though not by that measure doubting of God. He was firmly convinced of the inherent rationality of the human will and the essential equality of all humans as children of God, from which he deduced the ultimate sovereignty of individuals and the basis of the ethical state in the consent of the governed. That made him a foundational figure in the emerging English Whig republicanism, but one about whom history has given a divided verdict.

He was executed in 1683 for plotting to instigate rebellion against Charles II. Many historians believe that the evidence for that particular charge was procured. It is clear, however, that for many years he was supported in his machinations and plotting against the English government by generous support from the French king, Louis XIV. Read more

Involved in some of the same anti-monarchical causes as John Locke, Sidney was caught up in the conspiracy to oust King Charles II. He was beheaded on December 7, 1683, a martyr to the English Whig cause. Fifteen years after his death, his Discourses Concerning Government was published. A hero to John Adams and widely read in the American colonies, Sidney famously inscribed the following in the Visitor’s Book at the University of Copenhagen: “This hand, enemy to tyrants, by the sword seeks peace under liberty.” This inscription later inspired the state motto of Massachusetts.


Chapter One

Section 17. God having given the Government of the World to no one Man, nor declared how it should be divided, left it to the Will of Man. Read more