13 AHMP: 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.
As you study the Founding period and the Founding Documents, you will hear about terms, concepts or ideas that were espoused by several philosophers of the Enlightenment period. Do your eyes glaze over when you hear someone talking about philosophy? It’s no doubt that for most people the idea of researching a particular line of reasoning can be about as interesting as watching paint dry. In my mind, it is important to not only understand those premises and ideas, but the context in which they were developed. Things often seem much simpler when you understand what was going on in the person’s life as those ideas were formed.
In this episode, we will study one such philosopher, John Locke, as well as the social context in which he wrote a document that was of particular interest to many of the Founding Fathers.
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. You may recall from the 12th episode of American History for the Modern Patriot that King Charles I believed in the divine right of kings and thought he could use his “royal prerogative” to impose customs duties and forced loans on his subjects and imprisoned them if they refused to obey his will. Being raised in the home of a jurist, as well as the fact that his father served in the effort against King Charles, undoubtedly planed seeds inside of Locke that influenced his views of government.
Locke received his early education at the Westminster School in London and went on to undergraduate studies at Christ Church, Oxford. During his undergraduate studies, Locke had already familiarized himself in the writings of philosophers such as Descartes. You might remember Descartes from geometry class because of his Cartesian coordinate system. You might also know him for his famous statement, “I think, therefore I am.” But he is also known for his theory of rationalism. This line of thought is very consistent with mathematics and believes 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 his own undergraduate education in 1656, Locke began to teach undergraduate courses himself. He then received a Master’s degree in 1658. He went on to study medicine at Oxford, and learned about natural philosophers, including Robert Boyle, along the way. Locke’s best known work, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, was obviously impacted by his interest in biology, and discussions of concept of the law of nature could be found even in his earliest works.
In 1666, Locke met the man who would most influence his life and perhaps his thoughts as well. His birth name was Anthony Ashley Cooper. It is important to understand some of the twists and turns of his life in order to be aware what John Locke experienced and to consider how it impacted his thought process.
The first, and foremost thing to know about Anthony Ashley Cooper is that from an early age he was led by his principles rather than just blindly following a person or a particular party affiliation. Let’s learn about the life of the man who so greatly impacted the thinking of John Locke and the lives of his fellow Englishmen as well.
Unlike Locke, Cooper’s family life was less than stable. Both of his parents died before his eighth birthday. He inherited his father’s title thus becoming a Baronet, and he was raised by several different nobles who controlled the holdings he inherited from his father.
Cooper married when he was 19 years old, and his father-in-law, a baron himself, facilitated Cooper’s election to a short-lived seat in Parliament. Rivals feared he would be sympathetic to King Charles I, a true tyrant, because of his marriage to the daughter of the keeper of the Great Seal of England. Indeed, he fought in support of the king when the Civil war first began in 1642. However, in the first of several “side changes,” Cooper distanced himself from Charles I and joined the Parliamentarian cause stating his concerns that the Catholics in Charles’ court had influenced the king to have little intent of preserving either the liberties of English people or the Protestant religion that was practiced by most of his subjects. Keep in mind that many of the battles in the Parliament during the second half of the 1600’s focused on whether the sovereign held his or her (yes, there will be a woman in this story) strongest allegiance to maintenance of the rule of law as established by documents such as the Magna Carta or to the Pope who had no interest in the coninuation of a strong and autonomous England.
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 strength of the army rather than by the rule of law and through the Parliament. He increasingly spoke out about Cromwell and sought to minimize the power of Cromwell’s son when he assumed his father’s position as Lord Protector. Although denying 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, Charles II named Cooper an English Lord and gave him the title of Baron Ashley of Wimborne St. Giles. Although Sir Ashley was indeed clearly favored by the King, breaks in his allegiance to Charles II could be seen in 1665 when he chose to support the “Irish Cattle Bill” which prevented the importation of cattle from Ireland to England. Here’s a hint about a real twist in this story: could this have been the beginning of the Ashley’s association with the name “Whig?”
John Locke met his patron, then Lord Ashley, in October of 1666. Ashley convinced him to become part of his household staff. Locke served as the tutor for Shaftesbury’s son who would someday become a philosopher in his own right. He would eventually serve as both Ashley’s personal physician and secretary. During that time, he furthered his practice as a physician by affiliating with the Royal Society of Medicine. He also formed associations with other physicians such as Thomas Sydenham. In 1668, Locke convinced Ashley to have a life saving operation for which further bonded the two men.
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 which was never ratified but known as Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina. While the document contained ideas such elections, courts, and a palatine (who was the great overseer of sorts for the king), Locke would be roundly critized later for the document’s acceptance of slavery by granting freemen absolute power over their slaves.
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 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. You see, Lord Shaftesbury, was also one of the founders of the Whig Movement in England. However, as we shall learn in a moment, Shaftesbury’s Whig leanings caused increasing conflict between him and Charles II. So much so that Charles may have eventually taken steps to see to it that Shaftesbury, and his compatriots, would lose favor in the government, if not their lives as well.
Before we go on with John Locke and Lord Shaftesbury, Let’s spend a few moments learning about the Whigs. Anyone who is interested in the Founding has heard of the Whigs. Those who seek to color Founders, such as Sam Adams, in a negative light, describe the Whigs as radicals. But let’s learn a bit about the origins of the Whig Party. The Whigs were spawned in English politics during the reign of Charles II in what was known as the “Exclusion Crisis.” We’ll talk more about that in a few minutes.
Actually, the name “Whig” grew out of a Scottish term for “cattle driver” or “mare driver.” Ah, this is where you might recall then Lord Ashley’s opposition to a bill about the import of cattle from Ireland.
The original whigs formed during the reign of Charles I. The entire word for their name is actually “whiggamor.” Initially, the group that formed in Scotland after Oliver Cromwell’s Model Army came in and crushed the dominant party during the war between England, Scotland, and Ireland. Their defeat resulted in a temporary union between England and Scotland. Out of the darkness of those times rose the Kirk Party, which was fervently focused on religious issues to the point that they purged members from their own group before a key battle with the New Model Army. After they were crushed, they joined with more moderate factions of the Covenanters to oppose the invasion of their country by English Parliamentarians such as Cromwell. 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.
As I mentioned earlier, after the monarchy was restored in 1660, and 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 who was next in line for the throne was a Roman Catholic. Anti-Catholic fears mounted because of the association with Charles I’s absolutist stance, his belief in the Divine Right of Kings, and his own marriage to a Roman Catholic.
In 1678, the controversy spread as to whether James, the Catholic brother of King Charles II, should succeed him onto the thrown. A crisis arose when it was revealed that James was a Catholic. Like his grandfather, Charles I, James believed n the Divine Right of Kings and also had sympathies toward France. A group, led by Lord Shaftesbury formed in opposition to James assensiion. This group was sometimes known as “The Country Party” and were opposed by those who favored James. Charles II repeatedly dissolved the Parliament in an effort to quell the rising tide in favor of those who passage of the Exclusion Bill. The Exclusion Bill would have prohibited James from taking the throne because he was a Roman Catholic. Those who supported petitions to Charles to reconvene Parliament were first dubbed “the Petitioners,” and later the “Whigs.” On the other side of the spectrum were those who were vehemently against the Exclusion Bil, and they l were known as the “Ahborers” and later known as the “Tories.” From the beginning the term “Whig” had a negative Connotation attached to it.
Both the Tories and the Whigs sought to sway public opinion. The Tories recalled the tyranny, and poor economic conditions that were suffered, during the reign of Oliver Cromwell. The Whigs were repeatedly portrayed to be subversive, and eventually public support for the Exclusion Bill dwindled. Interestingly, the Tories may have gone a bit too far in their negative portrayals. Their cause was not helped by the man they wanted to be their king. When James II assumed the throne he seemed to forget that his grandfather was beheaded. He began asserting his prerogative, as he saw it, because of the Divine Right of Kings. 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 Mary, James’ daughter, and her husband William, both of whom were protestants, assumed the throne. They also passed the Bill of Rights which limited the power of the monarch. It is to the credit of William and Mary that they attempted to involve both the Torries and Whigs in their Government.
Why did I say that the Whigs, rather than Lord Shaftesbury were responsible for the Bill of Rights? We jumped a head a bit…Let’s roll back time a bit and add just a few more details about Lord Shaftesbury.
Shaftesbury eventually fell completely from the king’s favor, and at one point was even held in the Tower of London for high treason. What had he done to enrage the king? Well, he repeatedly urged Charles to divorce and remarry a protestant wife who might provide him with an heir so as to prevent James from assuming the throne. He further estranged himself by introducing legislation that would require many, including James (otherwise known as the Duke of York) to renounce allegiance to the Pope. He then authored a bill requiring that James’ children be raised as protestants, as well as a third bill which would prevent any king or prince from marrying a Catholic without parliamentary consent. If such a marriage occurred, it would preclude succession to the throne. His actions so angered Charles II, that he was not only expelled from the privy council but ordered to leave London as well. Humorously, at one point James and Shaftesbury were aligned against a bill introduced by Charles II’s new advisor, the Thomas Osborne who also held the title the Earl of Danby.
In 1675, John Locke, well aware of the tension between Shaftesbury and the kid, chose to travel to France. He remained there for several years, and returned when the Earl of 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, another twist of fate impacted Locke’s life. A plot to assassinate both Charles and James, dubbed the “Rye House Plot,” was supposedly uncovered. The plot called for a group to ambush and kill the Royals on their way home from horse races in Newmarket. Many were executed or imprisoned because of their supposed association with the plot. Several historians have questioned whether it might have been Charles himself who concocted the story in an effort to sway public opinion Implicated in the plot, John Locke’s patron, Lord Shaftsbury fled to Holland.
Because of his close ties with Shaftesbury, Locke was scrutinized for possible participation in the Rye House Plot. He quickly chose to leave England in 1683, and spent five years in the Netherlands. During that time, his circle of friends included dissenting Protestants with beliefs similar to those who formed the Whigs. This most likely deepened his belief in tolerance of political differences and the need to separate out matters of religion from the state. It was during this period which he published both A Letter Concerning Toleration, as well as Two Treatises of Civil Government.
After the death of Lord Shaftesbury in Holland, and the enthronement of Mary and William, Locke returned to England. He spent the remaining years of his life writing theologically related works. He published one anonymously, and two additional writings were published after his death.
Through this journey, we have learned from that Locke produced his writings about government and religion after experiencing the persecution that is possible by a large and well developed governmental structure first hand. Is it any wonder that an empiricist, such as Locke, would derive his theories in no small part from his own personal experience?
Now, that we know something about Locke’s life, as well as those who influenced his thinking, Let’s learn about the theories that Locke developed.
Locke firmly believed in the idea of social contracts. Of course, a contract is something that is entered into by two or more parties. 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 if the government did not protect the individual’s rights….in particular those unalienable rights that had been given to the individual by God
That theory purported by Locke is often contrasted to that of another social contract theorist, Thomas Hobbes. In 1651, Hobbes published his most well known book: The Leviathan . In that work, Hobbes portrayed life for the individual in a very negative way. Individuals were “solitary” and “brutish” and lived in a state of nature that was seen as devoid of social order and structure. Rather than joining together for any positive purpose, the individual gave up some of his rights so that others would give up similar rights. Sort of an “I won’t hurt you if you won’t hurt me” agreement. In Hobbs mind, the state protected the individual, but the state was an all powerful entity overseen by an all powerful sovereign. From what we now know about English History, we might think that Hobbes’ sovereign looked quite like Charles I. I much prefer Locke’s view of the world to that of Hobbes, don’t you? We know that Locke had the benefit of reflecting those ideas suggested by Hobbes onto what happened to Lord Shaftesbury during his repeated political rise and falls.
Let’s learn about Locke’s primary work that relats to government and political structure: Two Treatises of Government. Locke’s first treatise focused on refuting a work of Robert Filmer entitled Patriarha which supported the idea of the Divine Right of Kings and an absolute monarchy. Filmer linked this “divine right” to his belief that Adam was the first king, a premise that was easily refutable by Locke.
It is Locke’s second treatise that was of interest to the Founding Fathers and for us today. It is from this essay that the phrase “the Civil Society” is often drawn In this essay, Locke discussed ideas such as the state of nature, property, liberty, tyranny and the right to revolt.
Let’s learn about several of these ideas as they were constructed by John Locke
In his thinking, which contrasted dramatically from Hobbes’ dark view of the world, Locke suggested that all men were free in the “state of nature. ” He said:
“To understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider, what state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.” (Section 4)
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. He said, “The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions: for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent, and infinitely wise maker; all the servants of one sovereign master, sent into the world by his order, and about his business.” (Section 6)
Locke believed that property was the fruit of a person’s labor: He said, “property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property. “
How did Locke define the concept of “liberty?” He differentiated “natural liberty” from “social liberty.” Natural liberty was an individual’s right to be under no other power 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. Of liberty, Locke said: “The natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority of man, but to have only the law of nature for his rule. The liberty of man, in society, is to be under no other legislative power, but that established, by consent, in the commonwealth; nor under the dominion of any will, or restraint of any law, but what that legislative shall enact, according to the trust put in it. Freedom then is not what Sir Robert Filmer tells us, Observations, A. 55. a liberty for every one to do what he lists, to live as he pleases, and not to be tied by any laws: but freedom of men under government is, to have a standing rule to live by, common to every one of that society, and made by the legislative power erected in it; a liberty to follow my own will in all things, where the rule prescribes not; and not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary will of another man: as freedom of nature is, to be under no other restraint but the law of nature.” (Section 22)
And how did Locke define the Civil Society? He said, “Those who are united into one body, and have a common established law and judicature to appeal to, with authority to decide controversies between them, and punish offenders, are in civil society one with another: (Section 87). Locke went on to say: “Where-ever therefore any number of men are so united into one society, as to quit every one his executive power of the law of nature, and to resign it to the public, there and there only is a political, or civil society. And this is done, where-ever any number of men, in the state of nature, enter into society to make one people, one body politic, under one supreme government; or else when any one joins himself to, and incorporates with any government already made: for hereby he authorizes the society, or which is all one, the legislative thereof, to make laws for him, as the public good of the society shall require; to the execution whereof, his own assistance (as to his own decrees) is due. And this puts men out of a state of nature into that of a commonwealth, by setting up a judge on earth, with authority to determine all the controversies, and redress the injuries that may happen to any member of the commonwealth; which judge is the legislative, or magistrates appointed by it. And where-ever there are any number of men, however associated, that have no such decisive power to appeal to, there they are still in the state of nature.” (Section 89)
We know that Locket rejected the idea of an absolute monarchy, but what of the legislative power? Listen closely: “The great end of men’s entering into society, being the enjoyment of their properties in peace and safety, and the great instrument and means of that being the laws established in that society; the first and fundamental positive law of all commonwealths is the establishing of the legislative power; as the first and fundamental natural law, which is to govern even the legislative itself, is the preservation of the society, and (as far as will consist with the public good) of every person in it.” (Section 134)
And what of Tyranny? Let’s listen in Locke’s own words: “ As usurpation is the exercise of power, which another hath a right to; so tyranny is the exercise of power beyond right, which no body can have a right to. And this is making use of the power any one has in his hands, not for the good of those who are under it, but for his own private separate advantage. When the governor, however intitled, makes not the law, but his will, the rule; and his commands and actions are not directed to the preservation of the properties of his people, but the satisfaction of his own ambition, revenge, covetousness, or any other irregular passion.(Section 199) Also,
As we heard in Samuel Adams’ reference to Locke in the episode of American History for the Modern Patriot about the Quartering Acts of 1765 and 1774. “Where-ever law ends, tyranny begins,” (Section 202)
Locke also had a fascinating chapter, which must have been relied on by the Founders as to when Government might be dissolved from within? We will go through them section by section:
Section 212: “When the legislative is altered… When any one, or more, shall take upon them to make laws, whom the people have not appointed so to do, they make laws without authority, which the people are not therefore bound to obey; by which means they come again to be out of subjection, and may constitute to themselves a new legislative, as they think best, being in full liberty to resist the force of those, who without authority would impose any thing upon them.”
Section 214: “That when such a single person, or prince, sets up his own arbitrary will in place of the laws, which are the will of the society, declared by the legislative, then the legislative is changed:
Section 215: “When the prince hinders the legislative from assembling in its due time, or from acting freely, pursuant to those ends for which it was constituted, the legislative is altered:”
Section 216: “When, by the arbitrary power of the prince, the electors, or ways of election, are altered, without the consent, and contrary to the common interest of the people, there also the legislative is altered:”
Section 219: “There is one way more whereby such a government may be dissolved, and that is: When he who has the supreme executive power, neglects and abandons that charge, so that the laws already made can no longer be put in execution.”
Sect. 220. “In these and the like cases, when the government is dissolved, the people are at liberty to provide for themselves, by erecting a new legislative, differing from the other, by the change of persons, or form, or both, as they shall find it most for their safety and good: for the society can never, by the fault of another, lose the native and original right it has to preserve itself, which can only be done by a settled legislative, and a fair and impartial execution of the laws made by it.
And we will close with something which sounds like the Declaration:
Sect. 225. “Secondly, I answer, such revolutions happen not upon every little mismanagement in public affairs. Great mistakes in the ruling part, many wrong and inconvenient laws, and all the slips of human frailty, will be born by the people without mutiny or murmur. 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; and without which, ancient names, and specious forms, are so far from being better, that they are much worse, than the state of nature, or pure anarchy; the inconveniencies being all as great and as near, but the remedy farther off and more difficult.”
I hope you have enjoyed this journey as much as I have. In the next episode, we will learn about the life of anther philosopher, the important concept of the separation of powers, and the thoughts of the Founders and about that concept.
Until next time, this is Dr. Susan Rempel encouraging you to remain motivated, informed, and engaged in the political process.