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by Gary Galles | Malibu
In this year’s presidential campaign, some have used Barack Obama’s middle name—Hussein—to fan fears. But if we are looking to names for guidance, John McCain’s middle name—Sydney—would be better. The reason is that Algernon Sydney, put to death for treason 325 years ago for insisting that the British king was not above the law, was a major influence on America’s founders. His trial (which so blatantly violated his rights that Parliament later overturned his conviction) and his arguments defending the rights of British subjects against government tyranny--published posthumously as Discourses Concerning Government-- helped inspire America’s revolutionaries. Thomas G. West wrote that "His death as a martyr to liberty provided them with a model in their own risky enterprise against the force of British arms." At a time when liberties are again under siege, we should reconsider Sydney’s insights.

“[O]ur rights and liberties are innate, inherent...from God and nature, not from Kings. “

“[H]e who enjoys [liberty] cannot be deprived of it, unless by his own consent, or by force...”

“[I]n relation to my house, land, or estate; I may do what I please with them, if I bring no damage upon others... the state takes no other cognizance...[but] to oblige me to perform the contracts I make...”

“[M]an is naturally free... he does not resign it, or any part of it, unless it be in consideration of a greater good which he proposes for himself. “

“[T]he liberty of one man cannot be limited or diminished by one or any number of men...none can give away the right of another...”

“[S]uch as take it upon them to govern...[must] preserve the lives, lands, liberties and goods of every one of their subjects...

“[G]overnments...in which every man's liberty is least restrained...prove to be the most just, rational and natural... “

“[T]he supreme law...consist[s] in the preservation of [the people’s] liberties, goods, lands and lives...all laws must be subservient and subordinate to it. [G]overnment is not the master, but the servant of the commonwealth...”

“If there be no other law...than the will of [government], there is no such thing as liberty. Property is also an appendage to liberty; and 'tis...impossible for a man to have a right to lands or goods, if he has no liberty... “

“[L]iberty is overthrown by those who...ought with the utmost industry and vigor to have defended it.”

“[I]s not the invasion of [liberty] the most outrageous injury ...to the nation that is enslaved by it?

“[O]ur natural liberty...is of so great importance that from thence only can we know whether we are freemen or slaves...”

“[W]e are free-men...no man has a power over us, which is not given...the ends for which they are given...can be no other than to defend us from all manner of arbitrary power... “

“[D]etract nothing from the public liberty, which the law principally intends to preserve.”

“[T]he people... cannot but have a right to preserve their liberty... “

“[N]othing can be more absurd than to say that one man has...power above law to govern according to his will, for the people's good, and the preservation of their liberty: For no liberty can subsist where there is such a power...”

“Shall it be lawful for [rulers] to usurp a power over the liberty of others, and shall it not be lawful for an injured people to resume their own?“

Algernon Sydney saw that it was not enough to just focus on the logic of liberty while it was being actively eroded. He helped inspire the American Revolution, because "a people from all ages in love with liberty and desirous to maintain their own privileges could never be brought to resign them." If we paid him more attention again, Americans who have lapsed from their heritage of liberty might begin to love it once more, and act appropriately, rather than assisting in, or even demanding, its further erosion. CRO copyright 2008 Gary Galles Mr. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University.

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