From the right of personal self‐defense against a criminal, a collective right of self‐defense against criminal governments necessarily followed. To be subject to a tyrant was little different from being under the power of a pirate. Philo of Alexandria, Cicero and Augustine had said the same.
Thus, “those arms were just and pious that were necessary, and necessary when there was no hope of safety by any other way. This is the voice of mankind, and is disliked only” by princes who fear deserved punishments, and their flatterers and servants who share the princes’ guilt.
The necessary corollary of the right of self‐defense against tyrants was the possession of arms: “he is a fool who knows not that swords were given to men, that none might be slaves, but such as know not how to use them.”
England’s situation in the 1680s worried Sidney, for the old checks and balances were vanishing: “That which might have easily been performed when the people were armed, and had a great, strong, virtuous and powerful nobility to lead them, is made difficult, now they are disarmed, and that nobility abolished.” (Noble ranks still existed; Sidney meant that the nobles had much less ability to check a lawless king.)
The English were not obliged to live under the same system of government as their ancestors, because human understanding had increased. So “if it be lawful for us by the use of that understanding to build houses, ships, and forts better than our ancestors, to make such arms as are most fit for our defence, and to invent printing, with an infinite number of other arts beneficial to mankind, why have we not the same right in matters of government …”
While parts of the New Testament (especially, Romans 13) had urged submission to government, “those precepts were merely temporary, and directed to the person of the apostles, who were armed only with the sword of the spirit; that the primitive Christians used prayers and tears only no longer than whilst they had no other arms.” By becoming Christians, men “had not lost the rights belonging to all mankind.” So “when God had put means into their hands of defending themselves,” then “the Christian valour soon became no less famous and remarkable than that of the pagans.”
Sidney disputed Filmer’s claim that God “caused some to be born with crowns upon their heads, and all others with saddles upon their backs.” A few days before Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, he wrote his final letter, which echoed Sidney’s words from a century and a half before: