Machiavelli describes the different kinds of states, arguing that all states are either republics or principalities. Principalities can be divided into hereditary principalities and new principalities. New principalities are either completely new or new appendages to existing states. By fortune or strength, a prince can acquire a new principality with his own army or with the arms of others.
Chapter II is the first of three chapters focusing on methods to govern and maintain principalities. Machiavelli dismisses any discussion of republics, explaining that he has “discussed them at length on another occasion”—a reference to Book 1 of his Discourses.
Machiavelli notes that it is easier to govern a hereditary state than a new principality for two main reasons. First, those under the rule of such states are familiar with the prince’s family and are therefore accustomed to their rule. The natural prince only has to keep past institutions intact, while adapting these institutions to current events. Second, the natural disposition of subjects in a hereditary state is to love the ruling family, unless the prince commits some horrible act against his people. Even if a strong outsider succeeds in conquering a prince’s hereditary state, any setback the outsider encounters will allow the prince to reconquer the state.
[M]en must be either pampered or annihilated.See Important Quotations Explained
Machiavelli explains why maintaining a new principality is more difficult than maintaining a hereditary state. In the first place, people will willingly trade one recently arrived ruler for another, hoping that a new ruler will be better than the present one. This expectation of improvement will induce people to take up arms against any relatively unestablished prince. Although the people may quickly realize that their revolt is ineffective, they will still create great disorder. Furthermore, when a prince takes over another prince’s domain, he finds himself in a tricky situation with regard to the people who put him in power. He cannot maintain the support of these people because he cannot fulfill all of their expectations that their situation will improve. But he also cannot deal too harshly with them because he is in their debt. Immediately after taking power, the prince is in danger of losing his newly gained principality.
When a prince successfully suppresses a revolt, however, the ruler can easily prevent further revolt by harshly punishing the rebels and decimating his opposition. The ruler can deal more harshly with his subjects in response to the revolt than he would be able to normally.
It is much easier to maintain control over a new principality if the people share the same language and customs as the prince’s own country. If this is the case, the prince has to do only two things: destroy the family of the former prince, and maintain the principality’s laws and taxes. People will live quietly and peacefully so long as their old ways of life are undisturbed.