Little Speech on Liberty

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John Winthrop

Little Speech on Liberty

Main Points:
The question addressed: how does the authority of the magistrates stand in relation to the liberty of the people?
When you see weakness in the leaders (magistrates) you have chosen, you should reflect upon your own weaknesses since you chose them.
The magistrates try to govern and judge as best they as can according to God’s laws, as well as our own.
If the magistrate’s error is clearly out of wickedness, he must be held accountable for his transgressions. However, if it is not clear that his error was due to evil intentions, then the people, who have a covenant with their leaders, need to bear the consequences of the error.
There are two kinds of liberty:

  1. Natural liberty: This is a liberty man shares in common with beasts. Man, as he stands in relation to man, has the liberty to do good or evil. The exercise of [natural] liberty makes men grow more evil, and in time to be worse than brute beasts…. This is that great enemy of truth and peace, that wild beast, which all the ordinances [authorities] of God are bend against, to restrain and subdue it.

  1. Civil or federal liberty: This liberty is in reference to the covenant between God and man, in the moral law, and the politic covenants and constitutions, amongst men themselves. This liberty is the proper end and object of authority…, it is a liberty to that only which is good, just, and honest. This liberty is maintained and exercised in a way of subjection to authority; it is of the same kind of liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free.

Analogy: women’s subjection to her husband’s authority makes her free.
Conclusion: The best way to preserve our civil liberties is to uphold and honor authority.

If we quietly and cheerfully subject ourselves to civil liberty, such as Christ allows us, it will be for our own good. If the magistrates fail honestly at any time, you should advise them. Since they are doing their best to follow God’s laws, the magistrates will hearken good advice. In this way, upholding and honoring the power of authority will preserve your liberties.

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