Algernon Sydney
Algernon Sidney or Sydney (14 or 15 January 1623 – 7 December 1683) was an English
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

A politician, political leader, or political figure is an individual who is involved in influencing public policy and decision making...

, republican political theorist, colonel, and opponent of King Charles II of England
Charles II of England
Charles II was monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland.Charles II's father, King Charles I, was executed at Whitehall on 30 January 1649, at the climax of the English Civil War...

, who became involved in a plot against the King and was executed for treason.

Early life

Sidney's father was Robert Sidney, 2nd Earl of Leicester
Robert Sidney, 2nd Earl of Leicester
Robert Sidney, 2nd Earl of Leicester was an English aristocrat and diplomat.-Life:He was the son of Robert Sidney, 1st Earl of Leicester, and his first wife, Barbara Gamage...

, a direct descendant of John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland
John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland
John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland, KG was an English general, admiral, and politician, who led the government of the young King Edward VI from 1550 until 1553, and unsuccessfully tried to install Lady Jane Grey on the English throne after the King's death...

 and the great-nephew of Sir Philip Sidney
Philip Sidney
Sir Philip Sidney was an English poet, courtier and soldier, and is remembered as one of the most prominent figures of the Elizabethan Age...

. His mother was Dorothy Percy
Dorothy Sidney, Countess of Leicester
Dorothy Sidney, Countess of Leicester was the eldest daughter of Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland and the former Lady Dorothy Devereux. In 1615, she married Robert Sidney, 2nd Earl of Leicester...

, daughter of Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland
Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland
Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland KG was an English aristocrat. He was a grandee and one of the wealthiest peers of the court of Elizabeth I. Under James I, Henry was a long-term prisoner in the Tower of London. He is known for the circles he moved in as well as for his own achievements...

. Sidney was born at Baynard's Castle
Baynard's Castle
Baynard's Castle refers to buildings on two neighbouring sites in London, between where Blackfriars station and St Paul's Cathedral now stand. The first was a Norman fortification constructed by Ralph Baynard and demolished by King John in 1213. The second was a medieval palace built a short...

, London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, and was raised at Penshurst Place
Penshurst Place
Penshurst Place is a historic building near Tonbridge, Kent, south east of London, England. It is the ancestral home of the Sidney family, and was the birthplace of the great Elizabethan poet, courtier and soldier, Sir Philip Sidney. The original medieval house is one of the most complete examples...

 in Kent
Kent is a county in southeast England, and is one of the home counties. It borders East Sussex, Surrey and Greater London and has a defined boundary with Essex in the middle of the Thames Estuary. The ceremonial county boundaries of Kent include the shire county of Kent and the unitary borough of...

. His mother wrote to her husband in November 1636 that she had heard her son "much comended by all that comes from you...[for] a huge deall of witt and much sweetness of nature". After spending time in Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

 after his father was appointed Lord Lieutenant of that country, Sidney returned to England in 1643.

English Civil War and Republic

Despite having earlier vowed that only "extreame necessity shall make me thinke of bearing arms in England", he served in the Army of the Eastern Association
Eastern Association
The Eastern Association of counties was a Parliamentarian or 'Roundhead' army during the English Civil War. It was formed from a number of pro-Parliamentary militias in the east of England in 1642, including a troop of cavalry led by Oliver Cromwell...

, becoming Lieutenant Colonel of the Earl of Manchester's
Edward Montagu, 2nd Earl of Manchester
Edward Montagu, 2nd Earl of Manchester KG, KB, FRS was an important commander of Parliamentary forces in the First English Civil War, and for a time Oliver Cromwell's superior.-Life:...

 regiment of horse (cavalry). He fought at the Battle of Marston Moor
Battle of Marston Moor
The Battle of Marston Moor was fought on 2 July 1644, during the First English Civil War of 1642–1646. The combined forces of the Scottish Covenanters under the Earl of Leven and the English Parliamentarians under Lord Fairfax and the Earl of Manchester defeated the Royalists commanded by Prince...

 in 1644, where an observer wrote: "Colonel Sidney charged with much gallantry in the head of my Lord Manchester's regiment of horses, and came off with many wounds, the true badges of his honour". He was later appointed Colonel of the regiment when it was transferred to the New Model Army
New Model Army
The New Model Army of England was formed in 1645 by the Parliamentarians in the English Civil War, and was disbanded in 1660 after the Restoration...

, but relinquished the appointment due to ill health.

In 1645 he was elected to the Long Parliament
Long Parliament
The Long Parliament was made on 3 November 1640, following the Bishops' Wars. It received its name from the fact that through an Act of Parliament, it could only be dissolved with the agreement of the members, and those members did not agree to its dissolution until after the English Civil War and...

 as Member of Parliament
Member of Parliament
A Member of Parliament is a representative of the voters to a :parliament. In many countries with bicameral parliaments, the term applies specifically to members of the lower house, as upper houses often have a different title, such as senate, and thus also have different titles for its members,...

 for Cardiff
Cardiff (UK Parliament constituency)
Cardiff was a parliamentary constituency centred on the town of Cardiff in South Wales which returned one Member of Parliament to the House of Commons from 1542 until it was abolished for the 1918 general election.- MPs 1542-1645 :- MPs 1645–1832 :...

 where he opposed compromising with the King, Charles I
Charles I of England
Charles I was King of England, King of Scotland, and King of Ireland from 27 March 1625 until his execution in 1649. Charles engaged in a struggle for power with the Parliament of England, attempting to obtain royal revenue whilst Parliament sought to curb his Royal prerogative which Charles...

, and in 1648 opposed the purge of moderates which formed the Rump Parliament
Rump Parliament
The Rump Parliament is the name of the English Parliament after Colonel Pride purged the Long Parliament on 6 December 1648 of those members hostile to the Grandees' intention to try King Charles I for high treason....

. Despite being a commissioner for the trial of Charles, Sidney also opposed the decision to have him executed due to the questionable lawfulness and wisdom of the decision. This led to the famous exchange:

First, the King could be tried by noe court; secondly, that noe man could be tried by that court. This being alleged in vaine, and Cromwell using these formall words (I tell you, wee will cut off his head with the crowne upon it) I...immediately went out of the room, and never returned.

However by 1659 Sidney had changed his opinion, declaring the king's execution as "the justest and bravest act...that ever was done in England, or anywhere".

In 1653 when Cromwell's army entered Parliament to dissolve it after a Bill was introduced that would have made elections freer, Sidney refused to leave the House until threatened with physical removal. He regarded Cromwell as a tyrant. In retirement, Sidney was bold enough to outrage the Lord Protector by allegedly putting on a performance of Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar (play)
The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, also known simply as Julius Caesar, is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1599. It portrays the 44 BC conspiracy against...

, with himself in the role of Brutus
Brutus is the cognomen of the Roman gens Junia, a prominent family of the Roman Republic. The plural of Brutus is Bruti, and the vocative form is Brute, as immortalized in the quotation "Et tu, Brute?", from Shakespeare's play, Julius Caesar....

. He was for a time the lover of Lucy Walter
Lucy Walter
Lucy Walter or Lucy Barlow was a mistress of King Charles II of England and mother of James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth. She is believed to have been born in 1630 or a little later at Roch Castle near Haverfordwest, Wales into a family of middling gentry...

, later the mistress of Charles, Prince of Wales
Charles II of England
Charles II was monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland.Charles II's father, King Charles I, was executed at Whitehall on 30 January 1649, at the climax of the English Civil War...

. However Sidney regarded the Republic as vigorously pursuing England's national interests (in contrast to the Stuart's record of military failure), writing in his Discourses Concerning Government:

...such was the power and wisdom and integrity in those that sat at the helm, and their diligence in chusing men only for their merit was blessed with such success, that in two years our fleets grew to be as famous as our land armies; the reputation and power of our nation rose to a greater height, than when we possessed the better half of France, and the kings of France and Scotland were our prisoners. All the states, kings and potentates of Europe, most respectfully, not to say submissively, sought our friendship; and Rome was more afraid of Blake
Robert Blake (admiral)
Robert Blake was one of the most important military commanders of the Commonwealth of England and one of the most famous English admirals of the 17th century. Blake is recognised as the chief founder of England's naval supremacy, a dominance subsequently inherited by the British Royal Navy into...

 and his fleet, than they had been of the great king of Sweden, when he was ready to invade Italy with a hundred thousand men.

Baltic Ambassador

After Cromwell's death in 1658, the army abolished the Protectorate in 1659 and reconvened the Rump Parliament, with Sidney taking up his seat in the Commons. During 1659–1660 he was part of a delegation to help arbitrate peace between Denmark and Sweden, as war would threaten England's naval supplies, as well as those of the Dutch. The delegation was commanded by Edward Montagu
Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich
Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich, KG was an English Infantry officer who later became a naval officer. He was the only surviving son of Sir Sidney Montagu, and was brought up at Hinchingbrooke House....

, with Sidney and Sir Robert Honeywood. The third planned plenipotentiary, Bulstrode Whitelocke
Bulstrode Whitelocke
Sir Bulstrode Whitelocke was an English lawyer, writer, parliamentarian and Lord Keeper of the Great Seal of England.- Biography :...

, declined because: "I knew well the overruling temper and height of Colonel Sydney".

Sidney discarded conventional diplomatic norms ("a few shots of our cannon would have made this peace") in order to impose a peace favourable to England. Due to the Swedish king Charles X
Charles X Gustav of Sweden
Charles X Gustav also Carl Gustav, was King of Sweden from 1654 until his death. He was the son of John Casimir, Count Palatine of Zweibrücken-Kleeburg and Catherine of Sweden. After his father's death he also succeeded him as Pfalzgraf. He was married to Hedwig Eleonora of Holstein-Gottorp, who...

 being unable to immediately receive them, the delegation negotiated with the Dutch on forming a joint fleet to impose peace terms. Charles X complained that the English "wish to command all, as if they were masters". Sidney in person handed Charles the treaty proposal (already accepted by Denmark), threatening military action. He recorded that Charles "in great choler... told us, that we made projects upon our fleets, and he, laying his hand upon his sword, had a project by his side". Sidney would not back down and an observer wrote: "Everyone is amazed how Sidney stood up to him". However Montague planned to go back to England with the fleet, leading Sidney to give "his opinion, [that] for sending away the whole fleet he thought he should deserve to lose his head".

Despite this curtailment of England's influence, a treaty was signed on 27 May 1660 by Denmark, Sweden, France, England and Holland. It was during this period that Sidney signed the visitor's book at the University of Copenhagen
University of Copenhagen
The University of Copenhagen is the oldest and largest university and research institution in Denmark. Founded in 1479, it has more than 37,000 students, the majority of whom are female , and more than 7,000 employees. The university has several campuses located in and around Copenhagen, with the...

 with: "PHILIPPUS SIDNEY MANUS HAEC INIMICA TYRANNIS EINSE PETIT PLACIDAM CUM LIBERTATE QUIETEM" ("This hand, enemy to tyrants, by the sword seeks peace with liberty"). This expression was incorporated into the Great Seal of Massachusetts by act of legislature in 1780.


Sidney was abroad when the monarchy was restored
English Restoration
The Restoration of the English monarchy began in 1660 when the English, Scottish and Irish monarchies were all restored under Charles II after the Interregnum that followed the Wars of the Three Kingdoms...

 in 1660. His first reaction to the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy was to write:

Since the Parliament hath acknowledged a king, I knowe... I owe him duty and the service that belongs unto a subject, and will pay it. If things are carried in a legall and moderate way, I had rather be in employment, than without any.

However in light of his defence of the execution of Charles I, which was now unpopular in England, Sidney thought it wise to remain in exile in Rome. While he was prepared to submit he would not, he wrote, countenance "acknowledgement of our faults, in having bin against this king, or his father... I shall be better contented with my fortune, when I see theare was noe way of avoiding it, that is not worse than ruine". Here he was saved by a stranger from an assassination attempt. In 1663 during a trip to the Calvinist academy at the University of Geneva
University of Geneva
The University of Geneva is a public research university located in Geneva, Switzerland.It was founded in 1559 by John Calvin, as a theological seminary and law school. It remained focused on theology until the 17th century, when it became a center for Enlightenment scholarship. In 1873, it...

, Sidney wrote in the visitor's book: "SIT SANGUINIS ULTOR JUSTORUM" ("Let there be revenge for the blood of the just"). In Augsburg
Augsburg is a city in the south-west of Bavaria, Germany. It is a university town and home of the Regierungsbezirk Schwaben and the Bezirk Schwaben. Augsburg is an urban district and home to the institutions of the Landkreis Augsburg. It is, as of 2008, the third-largest city in Bavaria with a...

 in April 1665 he was the target of another assassination attempt. When in Holland, Gilbert Burnet
Gilbert Burnet
Gilbert Burnet was a Scottish theologian and historian, and Bishop of Salisbury. He was fluent in Dutch, French, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Burnet was respected as a cleric, a preacher, and an academic, as well as a writer and historian...

 records, Sidney and other republicans:

... came to De Witt
Johan de Witt
Johan de Witt, heer van Zuid- en Noord-Linschoten, Snelrewaard, Hekendorp and IJsselveere was a key figure in Dutch politics in the mid 17th century, when its flourishing sea trade in a period of globalization made the United Provinces a leading European power during the Dutch Golden Age...

, and pressed him to think of an invasion of England and Scotland, and gave him great assurances of a strong party: and they were bringing many officers to Holland to join in the undertaking. They dealt also with some in Amsterdam, who were particularly sharpened against the king, and were for turning England again into a commonwealth. The matter was for some time in agitation at the Hague: but De Witt was against it, and got it to be laid aside. He said, their going into such a design would provoke France to turn against them: it might engage them in a long war, the consequences of which could not be forseen: and, as there was no reason to think that, while the parliament was so firm to the king, any discontents could be carried so far as to a general rising, which these men undertook for, so, he said, what would the effect be of turning England into a commonwealth, if it could possibly be brought about, but the ruin of Holland? It would naturally draw many of the Dutch to leave their country, that could not be kept and maintained but at a vast charge, and to exchange that with the plenty and security that England afforded. Therefore all that he would engage in was, to weaken the trade of England, and to destroy her fleet; in which he succeeded the following year beyond all expectation.

In mid-1666 Sidney was in Paris, where he negotiated with the king, Louis XIV
Louis XIV of France
Louis XIV , known as Louis the Great or the Sun King , was a Bourbon monarch who ruled as King of France and Navarre. His reign, from 1643 to his death in 1715, began at the age of four and lasted seventy-two years, three months, and eighteen days...

. Louis subsequently wrote that Sidney "promised me to produce a great uprising...but the proposition he put to me to advance him 100,000 ecus...was more than I wished to expose on the word of a fugitive [so] I offered him [initially] only 20,000". He remained in France until 1677, when he returned to England.

Court Maxims

During 1665–66 Sidney wrote Court Maxims, in which he argued for a reversal of the Restoration of the monarchy: "... as death is the greatest evil that can befall a person, monarchy is the worst evil that can befall a nation". Sidney also claimed that an English republic would have a natural "unity of interest" with the Dutch Republic in "extirpat[ing] the two detested families of Stuart and Orange". Court Maxims was not published until 1996.

Restoration Crisis: 1677–1683

Sidney arrived in England in early September 1677. Upon his father's death Sidney inherited £5000 but had to gain the remaining £5000 through chancery courts, staying at Leicester House
Leicester House
There have been two mansions in London, England called Leicester House:*A house in the Strand near the Temple: Leicester House, Strand. This existed in the Tudor period, and possibly earlier ....

 in London. Here he became involved in politics, with the French Ambassador Barillon writing on 6 October:

At the moment my most intimate liaison is with Mr. Algernon Sidney; he is the man in England who seems to me to have the greatest understanding of affairs; he has great relations with the rest of the Republican party; And nobody in my opinion is more capable of rendering service than him.

Due to his helping the fall of Lord Danby in December 1678, Sidney received 500 guineas from the French, getting another 500 guineas the next year. Sidney wished for an alliance of English and Dutch republicans against the Stuart-Orange alliance and told Barillon "that it is an old error to believe that it is against the interest of France to suffer England to become a republic". Sidney believed that it was a "fundamental principle that the House of Stuart and that of Orange are inseparably united".

After the dissolution of Charles II's last Parliament in 1681, Sidney, according to Burnet, helped write the answer to the king's declaration, entitled A Just and Modest Vindication of the Proceedings of the Two Last Parliaments: "An answer was writ to the king's declaration with great spirit and true judgment. It was at first penned by Sidney. But a new draught was made by Somers, and corrected by Jones
William Jones
-Academics and authors:* William Jones , Welsh mathematician who proposed the use of the symbol π* Sir William Jones , English philologist who proposed a relationship among Indo-European languages...


Sidney united with Lord Shaftesbury
Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury
Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury PC , known as Anthony Ashley Cooper from 1621 to 1631, as Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper, 2nd Baronet from 1631 to 1661, and as The Lord Ashley from 1661 to 1672, was a prominent English politician during the Interregnum and during the reign of King Charles...

 and others in plotting against the perceived royal tyranny, of a 'force without authority.' Sidney was later to be implicated in the Rye House Plot
Rye House Plot
The Rye House Plot of 1683 was a plan to assassinate King Charles II of England and his brother James, Duke of York. Historians vary in their assessment of the degree to which details of the conspiracy were finalized....

, a scheme to assassinate Charles and his brother James, who later became King James II
James II of England
James II & VII was King of England and King of Ireland as James II and King of Scotland as James VII, from 6 February 1685. He was the last Catholic monarch to reign over the Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland...


Trial and execution

On 25 June 1683 Sidney's arrest warrant was issued. During his arrest his papers were confiscated, including the draft of the Discourses. Lord Howard was the only witness but the law stated that two witnesses were necessary so the government used the Discourses as its second witness. Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys ruled: "Scribere est agere" ("to write is to act").

"An argument for the people", said the Solicitor General of the Discourses, "to rise up in arms against the King". In response, Sidney said that it was easy to condemn him by quoting his words out of context: "If you take the scripture to pieces you will make all the penmen of the scripture blasphemous; you may accuse David of saying there is no God and of the Apostles that they were drunk." Sidney was found guilty of treason and sentenced to death on 26 November. In The Apology of Algernon Sydney, in the Day of his Death, Sidney declared his life's work to:

... uphold the Common rights of mankind, the lawes of this land, and the true Protestant religion, against corrupt principles, arbitrary power and Popery... I doe now willingly lay down my life for the same; and having a sure witness within me, that God doth... uphold me... am very littell sollicitous, though man doth condemne me.

Neither denying nor affirming the charge of treason for which he had been condemned, Sidney emphasized his principles while declaring on the scaffold: "We live in an age that makes truth pass for treason."

He was beheaded on 7 December 1683 and his remains were buried at Penshurst.

Discourses Concerning Government

For Sidney absolute monarchy
Absolute monarchy
Absolute monarchy is a monarchical form of government in which the monarch exercises ultimate governing authority as head of state and head of government, his or her power not being limited by a constitution or by the law. An absolute monarch thus wields unrestricted political power over the...

, in the form practiced by Louis XIV
Louis XIV of France
Louis XIV , known as Louis the Great or the Sun King , was a Bourbon monarch who ruled as King of France and Navarre. His reign, from 1643 to his death in 1715, began at the age of four and lasted seventy-two years, three months, and eighteen days...

, was a great political evil. His Discourses Concerning Government (the text for which Sidney lost his life) was written during the Exclusion Crisis, as a response to Robert Filmer
Robert Filmer
thumbnail|150px|right|Robert Filmer Sir Robert Filmer was an English political theorist who defended the divine right of kings...

's Patriarcha, a defence of divine right
Divine Right of Kings
The divine right of kings or divine-right theory of kingship is a political and religious doctrine of royal and political legitimacy. It asserts that a monarch is subject to no earthly authority, deriving his right to rule directly from the will of God...

 monarchy, first published in 1680. Sidney was quite opposed to the principles espoused by Filmer and believed that the Sovereign's subjects had the right and duty to share in the government of the Realm by giving advice and counsel. It was Filmer's business, he wrote, "to overthrow liberty and truth." Patriarchial government was not 'God's will', as Filmer and others contended, because the "Civil powers are purely human ordinances."

In countering the Hobbesian argument that the coercive power of the monarchy was necessary to prevent the return of the Civil Wars
English Civil War
The English Civil War was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians and Royalists...

, Sidney invoked Tacitus
Publius Cornelius Tacitus was a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire. The surviving portions of his two major works—the Annals and the Histories—examine the reigns of the Roman Emperors Tiberius, Claudius, Nero and those who reigned in the Year of the Four Emperors...

, the Roman historian, saying that the pax Romana, the Imperial peace, was the 'peace of death.' Rebellion may have dangerous consequences but

They who are already fallen into all that is odious, and shameful and miserable, cannot justify fear... Let the dangers never be so great, there is the possibility of safety while men have life, hands, arms and courage to use them but that people must surely perish who tamely suffer themselves to be oppressed.


After his death, Sidney was revered as the "whig patriot–hero and martyr". Burnet said of Sidney:

... a man of the most extraordinary courage, a steady man, even to obstinacy, sincere, but of a rough and boisterous temper, that could not bear contradiction, but would give foul language upon it. He seemed to be a Christian, but in a particular form of his own. He thought it was to be like a divine philosophy in the mind, but he was against all public worship, and every thing that looked like church. He was stiff to all republican principles, and such an enemy to every thing that looked like monarchy, that he set himself in a high opposition against Cromwell when he was made protector. He had indeed studied the history of government in all its branches beyond any man I ever knew.

Sidney's influence on political thought in eighteenth-century Britain and Colonial America was probably second only to that of John Locke
John Locke
John Locke FRS , widely known as the Father of Liberalism, was an English philosopher and physician regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers. Considered one of the first of the British empiricists, following the tradition of Francis Bacon, he is equally important to social...

 among seventeenth-century political theorists. In his study of political theory in Britain from 1689 to 1720, J. P. Kenyon  said that Sidney's Discourses "were certainly much more influential than Locke
John Locke
John Locke FRS , widely known as the Father of Liberalism, was an English philosopher and physician regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers. Considered one of the first of the British empiricists, following the tradition of Francis Bacon, he is equally important to social...

's Two Treatises
Two Treatises of Government
The Two Treatises of Government is a work of political philosophy published anonymously in 1689 by John Locke...

". The poet James Thomson
James Thomson
James Thomson may refer to:-Politicians:* James Thomson , 19th century political figure* James William Thomson , New Zealand politician...

, in his poem The Seasons, praised Sidney as "the British Cassius
Gaius Cassius Longinus
Gaius Cassius Longinus was a Roman senator, a leading instigator of the plot to kill Julius Caesar, and the brother in-law of Marcus Junius Brutus.-Early life:...

", the hero "warmed" by "ancient learning to the enlightened love/Of ancient freedom".

Sidney's reputation suffered a blow when Sir John Dalrymple
Sir John Dalrymple, 4th Baronet
Sir John Dalrymple, 4th Baronet was a Scottish lawyer and historian. He is best known for his Memoirs of Great Britain and Ireland from the dissolution of the last parliament of Charles II until the sea battle of La Hogue, first published in 1771...

 published his Memoirs of Great Britain and Ireland in 1771, which exposed him as a pensioner of Louis XIV.

The Whig MP Charles James Fox
Charles James Fox
Charles James Fox PC , styled The Honourable from 1762, was a prominent British Whig statesman whose parliamentary career spanned thirty-eight years of the late 18th and early 19th centuries and who was particularly noted for being the arch-rival of William Pitt the Younger...

 described Sidney and Lord Russell as "two names that will, it is hoped, be ever dear to every English heart" and predicted that "when their memory shall cease to be an object of respect and veneration... English liberty will be fast approaching its final consummation".

Sidney had a significant impact on the American conception of liberty. He was a hero of John Trenchard
John Trenchard (writer)
John Trenchard , English writer and Commonwealthman, belonged to the same Dorset family as the Secretary of State Sir John Trenchard.Trenchard was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and became a lawyer...

 and Thomas Gordon
Thomas Gordon (writer)
Thomas Gordon was a Scottish writer and Commonwealthman.Along with John Trenchard, he published The Independent Whig, which was a weekly periodical. From 1720 to 1723, Trenchard and Gordon, wrote a series of 144 essays entitled Cato's Letters, condemning corruption and lack of morality within the...

, "the best-read and most widely regarded pamphleteers of prerevolutionary times," whose "Cato's Letters
Cato's Letters
Cato's Letters were essays by British writers John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon, first published from 1720 to 1723 under the pseudonym of Cato , the implacable foe of Julius Caesar and a famously stubborn champion of republican principles....

(after which the modern libertarian
Libertarianism, in the strictest sense, is the political philosophy that holds individual liberty as the basic moral principle of society. In the broadest sense, it is any political philosophy which approximates this view...

 think tank
Think tank
A think tank is an organization that conducts research and engages in advocacy in areas such as social policy, political strategy, economics, military, and technology issues. Most think tanks are non-profit organizations, which some countries such as the United States and Canada provide with tax...

 the Cato Institute
Cato Institute
The Cato Institute is a libertarian think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C. It was founded in 1977 by Edward H. Crane, who remains president and CEO, and Charles Koch, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the conglomerate Koch Industries, Inc., the largest privately held...

 is named)" adopted Sidney's argument that "free men always have the right to resist tyrannical government." Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

 believed Sidney and Locke to be the two primary sources for the Founding Fathers
Founding Fathers of the United States
The Founding Fathers of the United States of America were political leaders and statesmen who participated in the American Revolution by signing the United States Declaration of Independence, taking part in the American Revolutionary War, establishing the United States Constitution, or by some...

' view of liberty. John Adams
John Adams
John Adams was an American lawyer, statesman, diplomat and political theorist. A leading champion of independence in 1776, he was the second President of the United States...

 wrote to Jefferson in 1823 on the subject of Sidney:

I have lately undertaken to read Algernon Sidney on government. ... As often as I have read it, and fumbled it over, it now excites fresh admiration [i.e., wonder] that this work has excited so little interest in the literary world. As splendid an edition of it as the art of printing can produce—as well for the intrinsic merit of the work, as for the proof it brings of the bitter sufferings of the advocates of liberty from that time to this, and to show the slow progress of moral, philosophical, and political illumination in the world—ought to be now published in America.

The Whig historian Thomas Babington Macaulay said of Sidney in 1828:

Never was there less of national feeling among the higher orders than during the reign of Charles the Second. That Prince, on the one side, thought it better to be the deputy of an absolute king than the King of a free people. Algernon Sydney, on the other hand, would gladly have aided France in all her ambitious schemes, and have seen England reduced to the condition of a province, in the wild hope that a foreign despot would assist him to establish his darling republic".

However in 1848 Macaulay wrote of the Whig opposition to Charles II:

It would be unjust to impute to them the extreme wickedness of taking bribes to injure their country. On the contrary, they meant to serve her: but it is impossible to deny that they were mean and indelicate enough to let a foreign prince pay them for serving her. Among those who cannot be acquitted of this degrading charge was one man who is popularly considered as the personification of public spirit, and who, in spite of some great moral and intellectual faults, has a just claim to be called a hero, a philosopher, and a patriot. It is impossible to see without pain such a name in the list of the pensioners of France. Yet it is some consolation to reflect that, in our time, a public man would be thought lost to all sense of duty and of shame, who should not spurn from him a temptation which conquered the virtue and the pride of Algernon Sidney.

The libertarian philosopher Friedrich Hayek
Friedrich Hayek
Friedrich August Hayek CH , born in Austria-Hungary as Friedrich August von Hayek, was an economist and philosopher best known for his defense of classical liberalism and free-market capitalism against socialist and collectivist thought...

 quoted Sidney's Discourses on the title page of his The Constitution of Liberty
The Constitution of Liberty
The Constitution of Liberty is a book by Austrian economist and Nobel Prize recipient Friedrich A. Hayek. The book was first published in 1960 by the University of Chicago Press and it is an interpretation of civilization as being made possible by the fundamental principles of liberty, which the...

: "Our inquiry is not after that which is perfect, well knowing that no such thing is found among men; but we seek that human Constitution which is attended with the least, or the most pardonable inconveniences".

Algernon Sidney is one of the namesakes for Hampden-Sydney College
Hampden-Sydney College
Hampden–Sydney College is a liberal arts college for men located in Hampden Sydney, Virginia, United States. Founded in 1775, Hampden–Sydney is the oldest private charter college in the Southern U.S., the last college founded before the American Revolution, and one of only three four-year,...

 in Virginia. The College formerly used the original spelling of Sydney. He was chosen because of the role his ideas played in molding the beliefs of the American Revolutionary thinkers.


  • Sidney, Algernon: Discourses Concerning Government (London, 1698, and later editions);
  • Sidney, Algernon: Apology in the Day of His Death;
  • Sidney, Algernon: The Administration and the Opposition. Addressed to the Citizens of New-Hampshire (Concord, Jacob B. Moore, 1826, ASIN B000IUQ14Q)
  • Sidney, Algernon: Algernon Sidneys Betrachtungen über Regierungsformen (Leipzig, Weygand, 1793: German translation of Discourses Concerning Government)
  • Sidney, Algernon: Discourses Concerning Government, ed. Thomas G. West (Indianapolis, 1996, ISBN 0-86597-142-0)
  • Sidney, Algernon: Court Maxims, Cambridge University Press, in series Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought, 1996, ISBN 978-0-521-46175-7)
  • Sidney, Algernon: Discourses on Government. To Which is Added, An Account of the Author's Life (The Lawbook Exchange, New York, 2002 reprint, ISBN 1-58477-209-3)

And see Literature from and about Algernon Sidney published

Further reading

  • Blackburne, Algernon Sidney (London, 1885).
  • J. P. Carswell
    J. P. Carswell
    John Patrick Carswell CB FRSL was an English civil servant and author who served as Secretary of the British Academy from 1978 to 1983. Professionally and as an author, he was known as J. P...

     The Porcupine: The Life of Algernon Sidney (London: John Murray, 1989). ISBN 0-7195-4684-2;
  • James Conniff, 'Reason and History in Early Whig Thought: The Case of Algernon Sidney', Journal of the History of Ideas, No. 43 (1982), pp. 397–416.
  • A.C. Ewald, Life and times of Algernon Sidney (London, 1872).
  • Alan Craig Houston, Algernon Sidney and the Republican Heritage in England and America (Princeton University Press, 1991). ISBN 0-691-07860-2
  • J. J. Jones, The First Whigs: The Politics of the Exclusion Crisis 1678–1683 (Oxford University Press, 1961). ISBN 978-0-19-713124-4
  • George W. Meadley, Memoirs of Algernon Sidney (London: Cradock and Joy, 1813).
  • Scott A. Nelson, The Discourses of Algernon Sidney (London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1993). ISBN 978-0-8386-3438-7
  • J. G. A. Pocock, 'England's Cato: The virtues and fortunes of Algernon Sidney', The Historical Journal, Vol. 37, No. 4, 1994, S. 915–935.
  • George van Santvord, Life Of Algernon Sidney: With Sketches Of Some Of His Contemporaries And Extracts From His Correspondence And Political Writings (Kessinger Publishing, 2007). ISBN 978-1-4304-4449-7
  • Blair Worden, 'The Commonwealth Kidney of Algernon Sidney', The Journal of British Studies/The Historical Journal, Vol. 24, No. 1, 1985, pp. 1–40.

External links

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