Historic Treatises on Resistance to Tyranny



Westminster Divines on Armed Resistance to Tyranny



Order of Contents

1500’s  15
1600’s  9
1700’s  7




The Magdeburg Confession  Buy  (1550)

The Magdeburg Confession is the first known document in the history of man to formally set forth the Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates.  The Lesser Magistrate Doctrine teaches that when a superior authority makes unjust laws or decrees, the lesser authority has a God-given right and duty to resist those unjust laws or decrees.

In 1548, Charles V imposed his infamous Augsburg Interim which was an attempt to smash the Protestant Reformation.  While all of Protestant Germany conformed to his decree, one city decided to take a stand and resist his authority – the city of Magdeburg.

Ponet, John – ‘Whether it be Lawful to Depose an Evil Governor & Kill a Tyrant?’  27 paragraphs, being chapter 6 of A Short Treatise on Political Power, and of the true obedience which subjects our to kings and other civil governors  ([Strasbourg,] 1556)

The Geneva Bible Notes, 1557-1644, Here is a summary by Lewis Lupton of the notes against tyranny, including: Gen. 6:4; Gen. 10:9; Deut. 17:20; Esth. 10:3; 1 Sam. 11:2; Jud. 9:54; 1 Sam. 26:9; 2 Kings 9:33

Knox, John

The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, with A Summary of the Proposed Second Blast of the Trumpet appended, 1558, 91 & 2 paragraphs respectively, the Summary the Second Blast (only 2 paragraphs) is about two-thirds the way down on the page

Letter to the Regent Queen of Scotland, 1558, 44 paragraphs

The Appellation to the Nobility and to the Estates, 1558, 83 paragraphs

Letter to the Commonality of Scotland, 1558, 25 paragraphs

Goodman, Christopher – How Superior Powers Ought to be Obeyed of Their Subjects, PDF, 1558, 148 pages

Francis Hotman – Franco-Gallia: Or an Account of the Ancient Free State of France and most other Parts of Europe before the Loss of their Liberties, 1573

Hotman (1524–90) was a Huguenot jurist that wrote this in the late 1560’s, though it was only published after St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (the treacherous Roman Catholic slaughter of Protestants) in 1572.  See R.H. Murray on this work.

From the Translator’s Preface:

“Tis certainly as much a Treason and Rebellion against this constitution, and the known Laws, in a Prince to endeavour to break through them, as ’tis in the People to rise against him, whilst he keeps within their Bounds and does his Duty.  Our Constitution is a Government of Laws, not of Persons. Allegiance and Protection are Obligations that cannot subsist separately; when one fails, the other falls of Course.  The true Etymology of the word ‘Loyalty’ (which has been so strangely wrested in the late Reigns ) is an entire Obedience to the Prince in all his Commands according to Law; that is, to the Laws themselves, to which we owe both an active and passive Obedience.

By the old and true Maxim, that the King can do no Wrong, no body is so foolish as to conclude, that he has not strength to murder, to offer violence to women, or power enough to dispossess a man wrongfully of his Estate, or that whatever he does (how wicked soever) is just: but the meaning is, he has no lawful Power to do such things; and our Constitution considers no power as irresistible, but what is lawful.”

Beza, Theodore – Concerning the Rights of Rulers Over Their Subjects and the Duty Of Subjects Towards Their Rulers, HTML, 1574, 117 paragraphs  Kindle  See especially ch. 5.

See R.H. Murray on this work.

Buchanan, George – Concerning the Rights of the Crown in Scotland,  1579, 78 pp.  with a 18 page Forward by Charles Arrowood, introducing the book’s historical context and significance.

Brutus, Junius (DuPlessis-Mornay, Philippe) – A Defence of Liberty Against Tyrants  1579  71 pp.

DuPlessis-Mornay (1549 –1623).  Here is Wiki on the work.  See especially R.H. Murray on this piece.

The Dutch Declaration of Independence  (1581) 12 paragraphs  in The Library of Original Sources, vol. 5  ed. Thatcher  (NY: 1907), pp. 189-197

Oliver Thatcher: “The declaration… — the first in modern times — brings forward prominently the great idea that rulers are responsible to the people and can be deposed by them. The growth of this idea is center of the development of constitutional and republican government.”

Bullinger, Henry – On the Duties of Rulers and Subjects, 1587, beginning on p. 15, 20 pp.  ch. 2 from Edmund Morgan’s Edmund Morgan’s Puritan Political Ideas: 1558-1794

Goulart, Simon – Essays  (1595)  Here is a one page abstract of a dissertation on Goulart’s work.

Goulart was an eminent pastor at Geneva who revised Michel de Montaigne‘s Essays on politics and other matters.




Althusius, Johannes – Tyranny & its Remedies, HTML, 1614, 19 paragraphs, from section 38 of his Politica

British Parliament – Declaration to Justify Their Proceedings & Resolutions to Take Up Arms, 1642, these selections comprise about 6 paragraphs, the whole 20 paragraphs can be read here 

The British Parliament, already engaged in a civil war with King Charles I, issued this declaration, which has sometimes been referred to as the Puritan Declaration of Independence.  It was directly influential upon the 1775 Second Continental Congress.

Prynne, William – The Sovereign Power of Parliaments & Kingdoms, Divided into 4 Parts, together with an Appendix…  (London, 1643)  Written in the same year that the Solemn League & Covenant was written.

Prynne (1600–1669) was a puritan pamphleteer and Erastian.

“Even Prynne, who dealt with biblical and natural-law arguments in some detail, had focused primarily on legal and historical precedents, and Rutherford probably felt that the theological case needed a fuller treatment [and hence wrote Lex Rex].”  “…only Prynne’s sprawling four-part Soveraigne Power of Parliaments (1643) compared with Rutherford’s in style [compared with Parker, Hunton and Goodwin].” – Coffey, Politics, Religion, p. 148

Rutherford, Samuel – Lex Rex: The Law and the Prince,  Buy  1644  318 pp.  see especially Questions 9, 12, 13, 14, 16, 18, 22, 23, 25, 29, 30, 40.  See Questions 20 & 36 for the Doctrine of Interposition.  See Questions 28, 31, 32, & 33 regarding the Doctrine of the Lawfulness of Armed Resistance Against Tyrants.

“the most comprehensive justification of resistance (which summed up two years of resistance theorizing).” – John Sanderson

Goodwin, John – Right & Might Well Met, 1649, this is a selection from the work, being 21 paragraphs.

This treatise vindicates the British Parliament and its army against charges of rebellion in its resistance to King Charles I.

Milton, John – The Tenure of Kings & Magistrates: proving that it is lawful, and hath been held so through the ages, for any, who have the Power, to call to account a Tyrant, or wicked King, and after due conviction, to depose, and put him to death; if the ordinary MAGISTRATE have neglected, or deny’d to do it. And that they, who of late so much blame Deposing, are the Men that did it themselves  (1650)  For an introduction and background info, see here.

Cotton, John – On Limitation of Government, 1655, beginning on p. 173, 3 pp.  from Edmund Morgan’s Puritan Political Ideas: 1558-1794

Anon. – The Mystery of Magistracy Unveiled, or God’s Ordinance of Magistracy Asserted, Cleared and Vindicated from Heathenish Dominion, Tyrannous & Anti-Christian Usurpation, Despisers of Dignities & Contemners of Authorities  (London, 1663)

ch. 12, ‘Of the Judgment & Curse Attending No Rule, or an Evil Ruler’

ch. 13, ‘Of the People’s Duty Under Wicked Rulers, Both Towards God & Them’  This section contains numerous historic, reformed quotes on Rom. 13 and resistance to tyranny.

Shields, Alexander – A Hind Let Loose, 1687, 878 pages, see particularly Part III, Head II, “Concerning Owning a Tyrant’s Authority” and Head V, “Defensive Arms Vindicated.”

“In A Hind Let Loose, Shields justified the Camerionian resistance to royal absolutism and the divine right of kings. He argued that government is divinely ordained, but the people are entitled to bring a king to judgement for wrongdoing. Parliament is commissioned by the people to oversee the nation’s affairs, but the compact between the people and their rulers does not entail a forfeiture of the people’s power to depose tyrants and confer authority on someone else. Government is by consent, and must justify itself to the consciences of the people. God has given men the right of self defence, and this extends to a a right not only passively to resist, but also to kill relentless persecutors,”  from Rev. Sherman Isbell’s article in the Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology, p. 773.




Mayhew, Jonathan – A Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission & Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers: With some Reflections on the Resistance made to King Charles I  (1750)  55 pp.  Mayhew was liberal both in his religion and politics.  This famous sermon was credited by John Adams with being greatly influential in leading to the commencement of the War of American Independence.

The University of Nebraska abstract:

“After the Restoration of the English monarchy in the person of Charles II in 1660, the new king and his first Parliament declared the anniversary of the beheading of his father Charles I (January 30, 1649) a religious holiday with a special commemoration in the Book of Common Prayer, naming the late monarch a saint and martyr. This holiday was not generally celebrated in Massachusetts until the emergence of several Anglican churches there in the early eighteenth century.  In 1750, Jonathan Mayhew, the twenty-nine-year old pastor of the West (Congregational) Church in Boston, took occasion to dispute the first Charles’ credentials to saintship, martyrdom, and even his kingship as well. Mayhew’s Discourse is an extremely interesting bridge between the radical Puritan past and the American Revolutionary future.

His sermon contains the language, rhetoric, symbolism, typology, and religious and philosophical arguments that would be used extensively in the agitation for American independence twenty-five years later.  Mayhew (1720-1766) would subsequently take a leading role in the resistance to the Stamp Act of 1765, and his sermons and writings had an enormous impact on the evolution of New England Puritanism into American republican ideology.”

The Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence  (1775)  6 resolutions each a few lines each.

Although its authenticity has been questioned by some, this declaration was signed by the citizens of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, making it the first declaration of independence issued within the British colonies.

The Charlotte Town Resolves, May 31, 1775, 20 resolves each a sentence or two long.  These resolves were issued by the Mecklenburg County, North Carolina Committee of Safety.

The Second Continental Congress – Declaration of the Causes & Necessity of Taking up ArmsJuly 6, 1775, 13 paragraphs

This document was prepared by the Second Continental Congress to explain to the world why the British colonies had taken up arms against Great Britain. It is a combination of the work of Thomas Jefferson and Colonel John Dickinson.

The Declaration of Independence, July 4th, 1776

Mather, Moses – America’s Appeal to the Impartial World. Wherein the Rights of the Americans, as Men, British Subjects & as colonists; the Equity of the Demand & of the Manner in which it is made upon them by Great-Britain, are stated & considered. And the opposition made by the Colonies to Acts of Parliament, their Resorting to Arms in their Necessary Defense, against the military armaments, employed to enforce them vindicated  (1776)  75 pp.

Mather (1719-1806) was a New England, puritan minister.

Keteltas, Abraham – God Arising & Pleading His People’s Cause; or the American War in Favor of Liberty, Against the Measures & Arms of Great Britain, Shown to Be the Cause of God  (Newbury-Port, 1777)  28 pp.  on Ps. 74:22

Keteltas (1732-98) was raised by Protestant parents in New York and New Rochelle, where he spent much of his time among the communities of Huguenots in the area.  He later studied theology at Yale.  Keteltas supplied the pulpit of the Presbyterian church in Elizabethtown, New Jersey. He then served as an itinerant preacher to the Dutch and Huguenot parishes in Jamaica and Long Island, New York.  By 1776, Keteltas was elected to the Provincial Congress and became such a vociferous defender of the American cause that he feared for reprisals when British troops landed on Long Island.  During the Revolution, he served as preacher to a number of Presbyterian churches in Massachusetts and Connecticut until his retirement in 1782. He died in 1798 and was buried on Long Island.




Related Pages

Resistance to Tyranny

Historic Quotes on Resistance to Tyranny