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Haeralis

Puritan Board Freshman
Algernon Sidney was a republican political theorist during the period of the English Civil War who was executed for his strident opposition to the theories of political absolutism propagated by heretical royalists like Robert Filmer (from a divine right perspective) and Thomas Hobbes (from an atheistic, liberal perspective). Sidney may be somewhat obscure today, but that has not always been the case. He was almost unparalleled in his influence on the American Founders, with only the Bible, Locke and perhaps Montesquieu being referenced more during the Revolutionary period. Thomas Jefferson listed Sidney as one of the primary inspirations for the Declaration of Independence, alongside Aristotle, Cicero, and John Locke.

On the subject of Sidney's religious views, I recently read through Dr. Michael Winship's essay, "The Calvinist Republicanism of Algernon Sidney," in the Journal of British Studies with great fascination. Sidney's religious views have been woefully under-explored. The recent rediscovery of his radical republican political tract, the Court Maxims has prompted renewed interest in Sidney's political theology. Much to the surprise of many scholars, who simply assumed with little evidence that he was heterodox or anti-Calvinist in his theology, Court Maxims reveals that Sidney was almost certainly a Calvinist Congregationalist who identified not only with the politics of the Puritan Republican Revolutionaries, but also with their theology. As Winship writes, Sidney:

"was, and acknowledged himself to be, a Calvinist. His theological assertions... mirror those of the orthodox Independent divines whose company he favoured (the Independents' congregationalism was an offshoot of Presbyterianism). Sidney was willing to call himself a "Puritan" and his religion was grounded [like Vane's] in the crowning creation of Puritanism: "experimental" Calvinism, the translation of the theology of predestination and absolute depravity into conversionist piety."

Straight from the mouth of Sidney himself, you can find whole pages of his wisdom on the subject of republicanism, the need for a virtuous citizenry, and the necessity of constitutionally limited government. But perhaps the best expression of his aspirations can be found in his last apology and testimony before his execution.

"Being ready to die under an accusation of many crimes, I thought it fit to leave this as a testimony unto the world, that, as I had from my youth endeavored to uphold the common rights of mankind, the laws of this land, and the true Protestant religion, against corrupt principles, arbitrary power; and Popery, I do now willingly lay down my life for the same; and having a sure witness within me, that God doth absolve, and uphold me, in the utmost extremities, am very little solicitous, though man doth condemn me... I believe that the people of God in England have, in these late years, generally grown faint: some, through fear, have deflected from the integrity of their principles; some have been too deeply plunged themselves in worldly cares, and, so as they might enjoy their trades and wealth, have less regarded the treasure that is laid up in heaven: but I think there are very many who have kept their garments unspotted; and hope that God will deliver them, and the nation for their sakes. God will not suffer this land, where the Gospel hath of late flourished more than any other part of the world, to become a slave of the world, he will not suffer it to become a land of graven images: he will stir up witnesses of the truth, and, in his own time, spirit his people to stand up for his cause, and deliver them. I lived in this belief, and am now about to die in it; I know that my Redeemer lives; and, as He hath in great measure upheld me in the day of my calamity, hope that He will still uphold me by his spirit in this last moment, and giving me grace to glorify Him in my death, receive me into the glory prepared for those that fear Him, when my body shall be dissolved. Amen."
 
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