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Jonathan Mayhew: Conservative Revolutionary
Unformatted Document Text:  point of his sermon the difference between civil liberty and slavery. Civil liberty was a voluntary state “made by common consent & choice,” in which people are governed by laws that they or their representatives have made. The “essence of slavery,” on the other hand, “consists in being subjected to the arbitrary pleasure of others.” People are slaves, he explained, “if they approve neither the persons nor the laws, by which they are governed, but are obliged to submit to them contrary to their will.” This reasoning, he added, was approved by “English writers on liberty” even before the 1688 Revolution, “tho’ contrary to Hobbs, Filmer, and suchlike betrayers of the liberties & rights of their country, into the hands of arbitrary princes.” 35 Mayhew’s reference to princely power points to additional thematic links between his August 1765 sermon and his Discourse. While government is ordained by God, it is left to people to determine which form of government to adopt. More, “God does not interpose, in a miraculous way, to point out the persons who shall bear rule and to whom subjection is due.” That decision, Mayhew contends, is made by compact; even the hereditary succession to the throne is based on compact (Discourse, 221). Yet hereditary monarchy is a lawful form of government. It is, he writes, “of no consequence at all what the particular form of government is. . . . If the end be attained, it is enough” (Discourse, 233-34). 36 Mayhew acknowledges that some forms of government are better suited to preserving civil liberty. Absolute monarchy, which places the legislative and executive powers “in one and the same person,” is most “unlikely to accomplish” the end of government, that of making and executing laws to promote “the common felicity of the governed” (Discourse, 233-34). Still, “people may enjoy civil liberty, tho governed by a single person, provided it is by their own choice, and they delegate the 35 Mayhew, “Memorandum,” 142-143. 36 Fifteen years later he repeated this position. “The essence of civil liberty does not consist in, or depend upon, the number of persons, by whom a nation is governed; but in their being governed by such persons & laws, as they approve of.” Mayhew, “Memorandum,” 142. 13

Authors: Lubert, Howard.
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point of his sermon the difference between civil liberty and slavery. Civil liberty was a
voluntary state “made by common consent & choice,” in which people are governed by laws that
they or their representatives have made. The “essence of slavery,” on the other hand, “consists
in being subjected to the arbitrary pleasure of others.” People are slaves, he explained, “if they
approve neither the persons nor the laws, by which they are governed, but are obliged to submit
to them contrary to their will.” This reasoning, he added, was approved by “English writers on
liberty” even before the 1688 Revolution, “tho’ contrary to Hobbs, Filmer, and suchlike
betrayers of the liberties & rights of their country, into the hands of arbitrary princes.”
Mayhew’s reference to princely power points to additional thematic links between his
August 1765 sermon and his Discourse. While government is ordained by God, it is left to
people to determine which form of government to adopt. More, “God does not interpose, in a
miraculous way, to point out the persons who shall bear rule and to whom subjection is due.”
That decision, Mayhew contends, is made by compact; even the hereditary succession to the
throne is based on compact (Discourse, 221). Yet hereditary monarchy is a lawful form of
government. It is, he writes, “of no consequence at all what the particular form of government
is. . . . If the end be attained, it is enough” (Discourse, 233-34).
Mayhew acknowledges that
some forms of government are better suited to preserving civil liberty. Absolute monarchy,
which places the legislative and executive powers “in one and the same person,” is most
“unlikely to accomplish” the end of government, that of making and executing laws to promote
“the common felicity of the governed” (Discourse, 233-34). Still, “people may enjoy civil
liberty, tho governed by a single person, provided it is by their own choice, and they delegate the
35
Mayhew, “Memorandum,” 142-143.
36
Fifteen years later he repeated this position. “The essence of civil liberty does not consist in, or depend upon, the
number of persons, by whom a nation is governed; but in their being governed by such persons & laws, as they
approve of.” Mayhew, “Memorandum,” 142.
13


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