Historic Treatises (26, in chronological order)
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, and Kill a Tyrant, 1556, 27 paragraphs, being chapter 6 of his larger work A Short Treatise on Political Power, and of the true obedience which subjects our to kings and other civil governors
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
Knox, John – Letter to the Regent Queen of Scotland, 1558, 44 paragraphs
Knox, John – The Appellation to the Nobility and to the Estates, 1558, 83 paragraphs
Knox, John – 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
Hotpman (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.
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 Buy Kindle for 99¢, see especially chapter 5.
Brutus, Junius – A Defence of Liberty Against Tyrants, 1579, 71 pages
The Dutch Declaration of Independence, 1581, 12 paragraphs
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 pages, chapter 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.
Althusius, Johannes – Tyranny and its Remedies, HTML, 1614, 19 paragraphs, from section 38 of his Politica
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.
Rutherford, Samuel – Lex Rex: The Law and the Prince, Buy 1644, 318 pages, see especially Questions 9, 12, 13, 14, 16, 18, 22, 23, 25, 29, 30, 40. See Qustions 20 & 36 for the Doctrine of Interposition. See Questions 28, 31, 32, & 33 regarding the Doctrine of the Lawfulness of Armed Resistance Against Tyrants.
Goodwin, John – Right and 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 and 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 pages, from Edmund Morgan’s Puritan Political Ideas: 1558-1794
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.
Jonathan Mayhew – A Discourse concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers: With some Reflections on the Resistance made to King Charles I, 1750, 55 pages, 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-yearold 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 and Necessity of Taking up Arms, July 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