James Harrington, an English political writer, born at Upton, Northamptonshire, in January, 1611, died in Westminster, Sept. 11, 1677. He entered Trinity college, Oxford, in 1629, and after leaving the university travelled on the continent, visiting France, Italy, and the Hague, where he entered Lord Craven's regiment, then quartered in that city. On his return to England he lived for a time in retirement, but in 1646 was appointed to wait upon Charles I. during his confinement. The king became strongly attached to him, and made him groom of the bedchamber; and Harrington, though a republican in theory, became loyal to the person of the monarch, following him even to the scaffold. After the death of Charles he composed his great work, the "Oceana," which was seized by order of Cromwell while in the press; but he was finally permitted to publish it in 1656, and even to dedicate it to Cromwell himself. The "Oceana" is a kind of political romance, like Plato's "Republic" and the "Utopia" of Sir Thomas More, in which Harrington describes an imaginary ideal republic.
It attracted much attention, and was answered by several persons, the principal work written in reply being Baxter's "Holy Commonwealth." In 1659 Harrington published an abridgment of his work, under the title of "The Art of Lawgiving," and instituted a club called the " Rota" for the propagation of his principles, which was dissolved in February, 1660. He was arrested on a charge of treason, Dec. 28, 1661, being suspected of an intent to overthrow the government and establish a republic. His health was impaired and his mind became deranged by his imprisonment, and after a time he was liberated through the intercession of the earl of Bath. He went to London, where he partially recovered his bodily health, but never regained the full vigor of his intellect. Besides the "Oceana," Harrington published "The Grounds and Reasons of Monarchy Considered," " The Prerogative of Popular Government," "A Model of Popular Government," several political tracts, and a number of minor works, among which is a translation of part of the works of Virgil. His political writings have been several times republished; an edition, with his life by Toland, in 1700, in 1 vol. fol.; the best by Thomas Brand Hollis in 1771.