Early Modern Futures

John Milton, Proposals...for the preventing of a civill war

Recorded by Milton's secretary, the "Proposalls of certain expedients" are an unpublished draft. They were likely written in November of 1659 during a period of political chaos after the resignation of Richard Cromwell and the forced dissolution of Parliament, just as the armies led by George Monck and John Lambert seemed poised to initiate a further phase of civil war. The "Proposalls" make ten suggestions for new forms of republican government, in part to avoid a possible "speedy invasion of this Island" by Spain and France (11r). The proposals include several surprising suggestions, for example renaming parliament the "Grand and supreme Counsell" (11v) and making membership a permanent appointment. Milton also addresses the controversial question of whether public lands ought to be privatized. In language that seems to rebut the kind of agrarian popular sovereignty envisioned by figures like Gerrard Winstanley, Milton proposes "the just division of wast Commons, whereby the nation would become much more industrious, rich & populous" (12r). Maintaining insular integrity against foreign encroachment thus involves, in part, the continued disintegration of public lands in service of increased industry; a new economic future is necessary to ensure the continuation of an English present.

Just as the "Proposalls" call for permanent and durable forms of republican government, they occur in the midst of a collection of letters that participates in a related form of administrative durability. The brief "Proposalls" stand out in a collection otherwise comprising Milton's copies of letters to foreign leaders in his capacity as Secretary for Foreign Tongues. Those letters--records that anticipate future use as points of comparison for the replies they receive--belong both to Milton and to his post, and so contribute to emergent conceptions of civil service.

Milton's sketch for a possible form of government in the "Proposalls," soon eclipsed by subsequent events and so not published, also anticipated a different trajectory of crisis than what actually ensued. Since armed conflict did not actually resume, and since the terms of debate shifted as the restoration of Charles II became likelier, the ideas in the "Proposalls" were supplanted by the newly timely concerns published as TheReady and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth (1660) several months later.

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