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James Harrington

James HarringtonBorn: 7-Jan-1611
Birthplace: Upton, Northamptonshire, England
Died: 11-Sep-1677
Location of death: London, England
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Philosopher

Nationality: England
Executive summary: Oceana

English political philosopher, born in January 1611 of an old Rutlandshire family. He was son of Sir Sapcotes Harrington of Rand, Lincolnshire, and great-nephew of the first Lord Harington of Exton (d. 1615). In 1629 he entered Trinity College, Oxford, as a gentleman commoner. One of his tutors was the famous Chillingworth. After several years spent in travel, and as a soldier in the Dutch army, he returned to England and lived in retirement until 1646, when he was appointed to the suite of Charles I, at that time being conveyed from Newcastle as prisoner. Though republican in his ideas, Harrington won the king's regard and esteem, and accompanied him to the Isle of Wight. He roused, however, the suspicion of the parliamentarians and was dismissed: it is said that he was for a short time put in confinement because he would not swear to refuse assistance to the king should he attempt to escape. After Charles's death Harrington devoted his time to the composition of his Oceana, a work which pleased neither party. By order of Oliver Cromwell it was seized when passing through the press. Harrington, however managed to secure the favor of the Protector's favorite daughter, Mrs. Claypole; the work was restored to him, and appeared in 1656, dedicated to Cromwell. The views embodied in Oceana, particularly that bearing on vote by ballot and rotation of magistrates and legislators, Harrington and others (who in 1659 formed a club called the "Rota") endeavored to push practically, but with no success. In November 1661, by order of Charles II, Harrington was arrested, apparently without sufficient cause, on a charge of conspiracy, and was thrown into the Tower of London. Despite his repeated request no public trial could be obtained, and when at length his sisters obtained a writ of habeas corpus he was secretly removed to St. Nicholas Island off Plymouth. There his health gave way owing to his drinking guaiacum on medical advice, and his mind appeared to be affected. Careful treatment restored him to bodily vigor, but his mind never wholly recovered. After his release he married -- at what date does not seem to be precisely known. He died on the 11th of September 1677, and was buried next to Sir Walter Raleigh in St. Margaret's, Westminster.

Harrington's writings consist of the Oceana, and of papers, pamphlets, aphorisms, even treatises, in defense of the Oceana. The Oceana is a hard, prolix, and in many respects heavy exposition of an ideal constitution, "Oceana" being England, and the lawgiver Olphaus Megaletor, Oliver Cromwell. The details are elaborated with infinite care, even the salaries of officials being computed, but the main ideas are two in number, each with a practical corollary. The first is that the determining element of power in a state is property generally, property in land in particular; the second is that the executive power ought not to be vested for any considerable time in the same men or class of men. In accordance with the first of these, Harrington recommends an agrarian law, limiting the portion of land held to that yielding a revenue of 3000, and consequently insisting on particular modes of distributing landed property. As a practical issue of the second he lays down the rule of rotation by ballot. A third part of the executive or senate are voted out by ballot every year (not being capable of being elected again for three years). Harrington explains very carefully how the state and its governing parts are to be constituted by his scheme. Oceana contains many valuable ideas, but it is irretrievably dull.

His Works were edited with biography by John Toland in 1700; Toland's edition, with additions by Birch, appeared in 1747, and again in 1771. Oceana was reprinted by Henry Morley in 1887. Harrington has often been confused with his cousin Sir James Harrington, a member of the commission which tried Charles I, and afterwards excluded from the acts of pardon.

Father: Sir Sapcotes Harrington

    University: Trinity College, Oxford University (1629-)

    Conspiracy 1661 (arrest)



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