James Harrington. The Commonwealth of Oceana (1656)


The Council of Legislators

OF this piece, being the greater half of the whole work, I shall be able at this time to give no further account, than very briefly to show at what it aims.

My Lord Archon, in opening the Council of legislators, made it appear how unsafe a thing it is to follow fancy in the fabric of a commonwealth; and how necessary that the archives of ancient prudence should be ransacked before any councillor should presume to offer any other matter in order to the work in hand, or toward the consideration to be had by the Council upon a model of government. Wherefore he caused an urn to be brought, and every one of the councillors to draw a lot. By the lots as they were drawn,

The Commonwealth of Fell to

Israel...... Phosphorus de Auge
Athens..... Navarchus de Paralo
Lacedaemon..... Laco de Scytale
Carthage.. Mago de Syrtibus
The Achaeans, AEtolians, and Lycians....Aratus de Isthmo
The Switz Alpester de Fulmine
Holland and the United Provinces Glaucus de Ulna
Rome...... Dolabella de Enyo
Venice..... Lynceus de Stella

These contained in them all those excellencies whereof a commonwealth is capable; so that to have added more had been to no purpose. Upon time given to the councillors, by their own studies and those of their friends, to prepare themselves, they were opened in the order, and by the persons mentioned at the Council of legislators, and afterward by order of the same were repeated at the council of the prytans to the people; for in drawing of the lots, there were about a dozen of them inscribed with the letter P, whereby the councillors that drew them became prytans.

The prytans were a committee or council sitting in the great hall of Pantheon, to whom it was lawful for any man to offer anything in order to the fabric of the commonwealth; for which cause, that they might not be oppressed by the throng, there was a rail about the table where they sat, and on each side of the same a pulpit; that on the right hand for any man that would propose anything, and that on the left for any other that would oppose him. And all parties (being indemnified by proclamation of the Archon) were invited to dispute their own interests, or propose whatever they thought fit (in order to the future government) to the council of the prytans, who, having a guard of about two or three hundred men, lest the heat of dispute might break the peace, had the right of moderators, and were to report from time to time such propositions or occurrences as they thought fit, to the Council of legislators sitting more privately in the palace called Alma.

This was that which made the people (who were neither safely to be admitted, nor conveniently to be excluded in the framing of the commonwealth) verily believe, when it came forth, that it was no other than that whereof they themselves had been the makers.

Moreover, this Council sat divers months after the publishing and during the promulgation of the model to the people; by which means there is scarce anything was said or written for or against the said model but you shall have it with the next impression of this work, by way of oration addressed to and moderated by the prytans.

By this means the Council of legislators had their necessary solitude and due aim in their greater work, as being acquainted from time to time with the pulse of the people, and yet without any manner of interruption or disturbance.

Wherefore every commonwealth in its place having been opened by due method ” that is, first, by the people; secondly, by the Senate; and, thirdly, by the magistracy-the Council upon mature debate took such results or orders out of each, and out of every part of each of them, as upon opening the same they thought fit; which being put from time to time in writing by the clerk or secretary, there remained no more in the conclusion, than putting the orders so taken together, to view and examine them with a diligent eye, that it might be clearly discovered whether they did interfere, or could anywise come to interfere or jostle one with the other. For as such orders jostling or coming to jostle one another are the certain dissolution of the commonwealth, so, taken upon the proof of like experience, and neither jostling nor showing which way they can possibly come to jostle one another, they make a perfect and (for aught that in human prudence can be foreseen) an immortal commonwealth.

And such was the art whereby my Lord Archon (taking council of the Commonwealth of Israel, as of Moses; and of the rest of the commonwealths, as of Jethro) framed the model of the Commonwealth of Oceana.