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13 QCAHMP John Locke and the Whigs

13 QCAHMP John Locke and the Whigs

Who was John Locke? Which English Lord was Locke’s patron, and why did the events of his life impact the development of Locke’s theories? Which party in Parliament was led by Locke’s patron, and why was the name given to that party so derogatory? What are some of the ideas from Locke’s Second Treatise of Civil Government  that impacted the Founding Fathers and were echoed in documents such as the Declaration of Independence? We address those questions in this episode.

Let’s learn about John Locke’s life and the social context in which many of his ideas were developed.

John Locke, who was born in 1632 and died in 1704, is amongst the most well-known philosophers of the Enlightenment.  It is because of Locke that we think about concepts such as “natural law,” “the civil society,” and “consent of the governed.”

Locke’s father was a self-trained attorney and legal clerk for several Justices of the Peace near Somerset, England. Locke’s father also served on the Parliament’s side in the fight against King Charles I during the English Civil War. Undoubtedly these aspects of his childhood planed seeds inside of Locke that influenced his views of government.

During his undergraduate studies at Christ Church, Oxford, Locke had already familiarized himself in the writings of philosophers such as Descartes. Descartes was a rationalist and believed that deductive reasoning is a better path to the truth than any type of sensory or hands-on experience.  Locke ultimately rejected this line of thinking and believed in the importance of observation and experience. He was one of most prominent of the “British empiricists,” formulated the concept of the “Tabula Raza,” and his line of thinking led to the development of the scientific method.

After completing a Master’s degree in 1658. He went on to study medicine at Oxford. He was influenced by natural philosophers and formed ideas such as the law of nature which  could be found even in his earliest works.

In 1666, Locke met the man whose birth name was Anthony Ashley Cooper. It is he who most influenced Locke’s life and thoughts, and the context of Cooper’s life can be heard filtering through Locke’s ideas.

Cooper was a man who was led by his principles rather than just blindly following a person or a particular party affiliation. Both of his parents died before his eighth birthday. He inherited his father’s title of Baronet. He was raised by several different nobles who controlled the holdings he inherited from his father.

Cooper’s father-in-law, the keeper of the Great Seal of England, facilitated Cooper’s election to a short-lived seat in Parliament. Rivals feared he would be sympathetic to King Charles I, and  he did support of the king when the Civil War first began. However, in the first of several “side changes,” Cooper distanced himself from the king and joined the Parliamentarian cause over his concerns that the Catholics in Charles’ court had influenced the king to have little intent of preserving either the liberties of the English people or the Protestant religion that was practiced by most of his subjects.

Now on the side of the Parliamentarians, led by Oliver Cromwell, Cooper returned to Parliament in 1653. He assumed a prominent position in the Council of State. However, within two years he had broken with Cromwell because of his fear that Cromwell’s lust for power might well cause him to rule with the power of the army rather than by the rule of law. Although he denied  increasing sympathy toward restoration of the crown, when the time came Cooper was one of only 12 members of Parliament who traveled to the Hauge to invite Charles II to assume the throne in England in 1661.

In thanks for his loyalty, the king named Cooper an English Lord and gave him the title of a Baron. Although the now “Sir Ashley” was indeed clearly favored by the King, breaks in his allegiance to Charles II could be seen only a few years later.

John Locke met his patron in October of 1666. Ashley convinced him to become part of his household staff. Locke served as the tutor for Ashley’s  son and  would eventually serve as both Ashley’s personal physician and secretary.

In 1669, Lord Ashley, was one of eight men who served as Lord Proprietors for the Province of Carolina. John Locke helped Ashley draft a document known as Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina.

In 1672, Charles II named Ashley both the Earl of Shaftesbury and Baron Cooper of Paulet.  He then named Shaftesbury the Lord Chancellor (which is akin to the Prime minister).  Through his connection with the newly created Earl of Shaftesbury, Locke  secured a series of jobs in the government which related to the colonies in the Caribbean and North America.

As time passed, Lord Shaftesbury would make another change that would impact Locke’s life, and must have impacted his view of the world. He became one of the founders of the Whig Movement in England.

Shaftesbury’s Whigs were spawned in English politics during what was known as the “Exclusion Crisis.”  but, the original whigs formed during the reign of Charles I in Scotland, and they became known as the Kirk Party. The Kirks were branded with the name “Whiggamores” by other Scotts,  after a particularly nasty battle,  because their views were thought to be too extreme.

But what does this have to do with Lord Shaftesbury and John Locke? Let’s get back to our story.

After Charles II assumed the throne, fears by Protestants in England that Charles, himself, was too close to Catholic rulers in France and elsewhere in Europe.  Although Charles labeled himself an Anglican, it was revealed in 1673 that his brother, James,  who was next in line for the throne was a Roman Catholic. Anti-Catholic fears mounted because of James’ known belief in the Divine Right of Kings, and Charles marriage to a Roman Catholic.

A group, led by Lord Shaftesbury formed in opposition to James assensiion.  This group was first known as  “The Country Party”  and later the “Whigs.” The Whigs favored The Exclusion Bill which would have prohibited James from taking the throne because he was a Roman Catholic. Those who were against the bill were known as the “Ahborers” and later known as the “Tories.” From the beginning the Torries actively sought to have the public view the “Whigs in a highly negative light.

When James II assumed the throne he seemed to forget that his grandfather was beheaded. Again, the people rose up against an increasingly despotic monarch in what was known as the Glorious Revolution. James II fled the country to escape his grandfather’s dire fate. It was then that the Whigs saw to it that the Bill of Rights  was passed which guaranteed individual rights limited the power of the monarch. They also enthroned James’ daughter, Mary and her husband, who were both protestants.

Why did I say that the Whigs, rather than Lord Shaftesbury were responsible for the Bill of Rights? We jumped a head a bit…by that time Shaftesbury had fallen from favor and even spent a bit of time in the Tower of London. John Locke, well aware of the tension between Shaftesbury and the king, chose to travel to France. He remained there for several years, and returned when Shaftesbury regained some political strength. It was at this time that he composed Two Treatises Concerning Government, but the work remained unpublished for several years.

In 1683, a plot to assassinate both Charles and James surfaced,  and dubbed the “Rye House Plot.” It caused many of those who opposed the king were jailed or executed. Although Charles himself may have concocted the story in an effort to sway public opinion both Locke and Shaftsbury fled to Holland. This experience, as well as the lengthy debate about the monarch’s religion, likely deepened Locke’s belief in tolerance of political differences and the need to separate out matters of religion from that of the state.

Locke eventually returned to England  and spent the remaining years of his life writing theologically related works.


Now that you know Locke produced his writings about government and religion after experiencing life under a tyrant and an all-encompassing governmental structure, is it any wonder that an empiricist, such as Locke, would develop the following ideas?

Locke firmly believed in the idea of social contracts. Social contract theory argues that the individual enters into a contact, if you will, with the state. Governmental structure is a creation of humans and does not exist by itself in nature. Therefore, the power that the government has only exists because a collective group of individuals has willingly agreed to it for their mutual benefit. With the protection of individual liberty and property ensured by the government, individuals could live their lives freely. The idea of “consent of the governed” is spawned from the notion that the individual gives up a portion of his liberty in exchange for the government providing protection for himself and his property. Because Locke viewed this relationship as manmade, and in fulfillment of a contract, he believed that this consent could also be withdrawn.

In the full length version of this thirteenth episode, I read extensive quotes from Locke’s work. However, for our purposes here, I will continue to summarize his views instead.

It is Locke’s Second Treatise of Government  that was of interest to the Founding Fathers and for us today. It is in this essay that we find deas such as the state of nature, property, liberty, tyranny, the civil society and the right to revolt.

Locke suggested that all men were free in the “state of nature.” While Locke viewed men as free and equal, he posited that they are only able to be so within the confines of the law of nature. Locke believed that property was the fruit of a person’s labor:” He differentiated liberty between “natural liberty” from “social liberty.” Natural liberty was an individual’s right to be under no other power other than the laws of nature. However, social liberty called for the individual to be under the power of the legislature, but only that legislature to which has been formed by the consent of the commonwealth, as well as functioning for the benefit thereof. The civil society were those individuals, united in one body, with a common law, and a judiciary to decide controversies and punish offenders. Tyranny was the exercise of power beyond the law, not for the good of the people, and for separate advantage.

Locke also discussed when Government might be dissolved from within. Listen to this quote which sounds very much like the Declaration: “But if a long train of abuses, prevarications and artifices, all tending the same way, make the design visible to the people, and they cannot but feel what they lie under, and see whither they are going; it is not to be wondered, that they should then rouze themselves, and endeavour to put the rule into such hands which may secure to them the ends for which government was at first erected”

In the next episode, we will learn about the life of Montesquieu, the separation of powers, and the thoughts of the Founders and about that important concept.

Until next time, this is Dr. Susan Rempel encouraging you to remain motivated, informed, and engaged in the political process.





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