Home  »  A Library of American Literature  »  The Anglo-Saxon Hatred of Arbitrary Power

Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Anglo-Saxon Hatred of Arbitrary Power

By John Wise (1652–1725)

[Born in Roxbury, Mass., 1652. Died at Ipswich, Mass., 1725. The Churches’ Quarrel Espoused. 1710.]

ENGLISHMEN hate an arbitrary power (politically considered) as they hate the devil.

For that they have, through immemorial ages, been the owners of very fair enfranchisements and liberties, that the sense, favor or high esteem of them are (as it were) extraduce, transmitted with the elemental materials of their essence from generation to generation, and so ingenate and mixed with their frame, that no artifice, craft or force used can root it out. Naturam expellas furca licet usque recurrit. And though many of their incautelous princes have endeavored to null all their charter rights and immunities, and aggrandize themselves in the servile state of the subjects, by setting up their own separate will for the great standard of government over the nations, yet they have all along paid dear for their attempts, both in the ruin of the nation, and in interrupting the increase of their own grandeur, and their foreign settlements and conquests.

Had the late reigns, before the accession of the great William and Mary to the throne of England, but taken the measures of them, and her present majesty, in depressing vice, and advancing the union and wealth, and encouraging the prowess and bravery of the nation, they might by this time have been capable to have given laws to any monarch on earth; but spending their time in the pursuit of an absolute monarchy (contrary to the temper of the nation, and the ancient constitution of the government) through all the meanders of state craft, it has apparently kept back the glory and dampened all the most noble affairs of the nation. And when under the midwifery of Machiavelian art, and cunning of a daring prince, this monster, tyranny, and arbitrary government, was at last just born, upon the holding up of a finger! or upon the least signal given, on the whole nation goes upon this hydra.

The very name of an arbitrary government is ready to put an Englishman’s blood into a fermentation; but when it really comes, and shakes its whip over their ears, and tells them it is their master, it makes them stark mad; and being of a mimical genius, and inclined to follow the court mode, they turn arbitrary too.

That some writers, who have observed the governments and humors of nations, thus distinguish the English:

The emperor (say they) is the king of kings, the king of Spain is the king of men, the king of France the king of asses, and the king of England the king of devils; for that the English nation can never be bridled and rid by an arbitrary prince. Neither can any chains put on by dispotic and arbitrary measures hold these legions.