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Vox Populi, Vox Dei

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a Whig tract of 1709, titled after a Latin phrase meaning "the voice of the people is the voice of God". It was expanded in 1710 and later reprintings as The Judgment of whole Kingdoms and Nations: Concerning the Rights, Power, and Prerogative of Kings, and the Rights, Privileges, and Properties of the People. The author is unknown but was probably either Robert Ferguson or Thomas Harrison.[1][2] There is no evidence for the persistent attribution to Daniel Defoe or John Somers as authors.

Argument about the equality of humans[edit]

The most cited section of the revised (1710) version of the pamphlet read:

There being no natural or divine Law for any Form of Government, or that one Person rather than another should have the sovereign Administration of Affairs, or have Power over many thousand different Families, who are by Nature all equal, being of the same Rank, promiscuously born to the same Advantages of Nature, and to the Use of the same common Faculties; therefore Mankind is at Liberty to choose what Form of Government they like best.

Political meaning of the title[edit]

The 1709 tract's use of the Latin phrase was consistent with earlier usage of vox populi, vox Dei in English political history since at least as early as 1327 when the Archbishop of Canterbury Walter Reynolds brought charges against King Edward II in a sermon "Vox populi, vox Dei".[3]

From Reynolds onwards, English political use of the phrase was favorable, not referencing an alternative context of the usage by Alcuin (c. 735 – 804) who in a letter advised the emperor Charlemagne to resist such a dangerous democratic idea on the grounds that "the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness".[4]


Vox Populi, Vox Dei: being true Maxims of Government was the next year, 1710, republished under the title of The Judgment of whole Kingdoms and Nations, with considerable alterations.[5]

The 10th printing of the revised tract was in 1771.[6]

Other works[edit]

The title Vox Populi, Vox Dei was also borrowed in a Jacobite pamphlet to argue against the Whigs in 1719, resulting in the hanging of the young printer John Matthews.[7][8]


  1. ^ William Gibson. Enlightenment Prelate: Benjamin Hoadly, 1676-1761, 2004, p.90. "Hoadly's assize sermons had a strong influence, and provided the foundation for Whigs like Thomas Harrison, the probable author of the 1709 tract Vox Populi Vox Dei: or True Maxims of Government, which was reprinted eight times in the first .."
  2. ^ J. P. Kenyon. Revolution Principles: The Politics of Party 1689-1720, 1990, p.209. "The author of Vox Populi Vox Dei is unknown. Some nineteenth-century bibliographers gave the honour to Somers, others to Defoe, but neither attribution is very plausible. ...It was signed 'R. F.', and there seems no reason to challenge the accepted attribution to Robert Ferguson. But long before 1709 Ferguson had turned Jacobite, and it is unlikely that he turned back. As for Political Aphorisms, this was signed ...Thomas Harrison"
  3. ^ Philip Hamburger. Law and Judicial Duty, 2009, Page 74. "At the meeting of this high court early in 1327, Archbishop of Canterbury Walter Reynolds brought charges against the king, ... homage to the prince, and Archbishop Reynolds — the son of a baker — preached on the text Vox populi, vox Dei
  4. ^ David Lagomarsino, Charles T. Wood. The Trial of Charles I: A Documentary History, 2000. "As far back as 1327, in pronouncing the deposition of Edward II, the Archbishop of Canterbury Walter Reynolds had taken as his justifying text the old Carolingian adage Vox populi, vox Dei, “The voice of the people is the voice of God."
  5. ^ Whitmore and Fenn. An Alphabetical catalogue of an extensive collection of the extensive writings of Daniel Defoe, 1829, p.23. "Vox Populi, Vox Dei : being true Maxims of Government, proving — That all, Kings, Governours, and Forms of Government ..." was afterwards published under the title of " The Judgment of whole Kingdoms, .., with considerable alterations."
  6. ^ Caroline Winterer (2016). "Treasures from the Stanford University Libraries: The American Enlightenment". Spotlight at Stanford. Stanford University Libraries. Retrieved October 5, 2019.
  7. ^ Netta Murray Goldsmith. Alexander Pope: the evolution of a poet, 2002, p.102. "Until the 1750s men were flogged and imprisoned if convicted of spreading propaganda in support of the Stuart cause, while in 1719, a young printer John Matthews, who published a Jacobite pamphlet, Vox Populi, Vox Dei, was hanged. In these circumstances Jacobites learned to write ... "
  8. ^ Kathleen Wilson. The Sense of the People: Politics, Culture and Imperialism, 1998, p.115. "The pamphlet Vox Populi, Vox Dei was perhaps the most notorious instance of this tactic, borrowing its title from a radical Whig tract of 1709 to argue that by the Whigs' own principles of. ."