Short Treatise on Political Power

In the Reformation, Protestants repeatedly changed the world—including by arguing that kings were no longer sacred. To be of any use, they must serve the people.

John Ponet (ca. 1514-1556) was the Anglican Bishop of Winchester at a raucous and revolutionary time in English history. King Henry VIII had recently inaugurated the English Reformation and established the Anglican Church, staffed in part at least with emerging radicals like Ponet. When the Catholic Queen Mary I determined to roll back Protestantism, Ponet and hundreds of others fled to Europe. During his exile, Ponet wrote a Short Treatise on Political Power (1556), which argued that the people can and should punish—perhaps even execute— wicked monarchs. Ponet’s tract anticipated great liberal thinkers for centuries to come. By 1776, the Short Treatise rested (well-worn) on many Patriots’ bookshelves.