James Harrington and the Senate

  • M. N. S. Sellers
Part of the Studies in Modern History book series (SMH)


James Harrington was second on John Adams’s list of republican authors, ‘sneer[ed]’ at by ‘modern Englishmen’.1 He also rivalled Sidney as America’s most popular English pseudonym,2 and anticipated Sidney’s preference for a strong senate in the legislature. John Adams quoted from Harrington’s Commonwealth of Oceana at length in his Defence as a ‘specimen of that kind of reading and reasoning which produced the American constitutions’,3 and praised him again as the leading theorist of the interregnum4 whose ‘reasons’ and ‘judgment are often eternal, and unanswerable by any man’.5 Harrington wrote, like Cicero, before all hope for his republic had been lost, and he dedicated his Oceana to Oliver Cromwell, to guide England’s dictator towards establishing a purified Commonwealth in Britain. American colonists read Harrington in Toland’s eighteenth-century editions of Oceana which began with the same quotation from Cicero that Sidney had paraphrased in his Discourses and Adams quoted in his Defence.6


American Constitution American Colonist Roman Empire Roman Republic Equal Rotation 
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  1. 1.
    Adams, ‘Thoughts’ in Hyneman and Lutz, Political Writing at 403. For the political thought of James Harrington, see J. G. A. Pocock (ed.), The Political Works of James Harrington (Cambridge, England, 1977); Charles Blitzer, An Immortal Commonwealth: The Political Thought of James Harrington (New Haven, Conn., 1960); W. Calvin Dickinson, James Harrington’s Republic (Washington, DC, 1983); Hugh Francis Russell Smith, Harrington and His Oceana, a Study of a Seventeenth Century Utopia and its Influence on America (Cambridge, England, 1914).Google Scholar

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© M. N. S. Sellers 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. N. S. Sellers
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Baltimore School of LawUSA

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