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Political Theory
DOI: 10.1177/0090591708317899
2008; 36; 495 originally published online May 6, 2008; Political Theory
James Farr
Locke, Natural Law, and New World Slavery
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Political Theory
Volume 36 Number 4
August 2008 495-522
2008 Sage Publications
hosted at
Authors Note: For help or commentary, I would like to thank David Armitage, Robert
Bernasconi, Daniel Carey, Terrell Carver, Mary Dietz, Ruth Grant, Russell Hanson, Stephen
Leonard, Kirstie McClure, Christophe Miqueu, J. R. Milton, Mark Schemper, William
Uzgalis, Alden Vaughan, and Gene Waddell. I am also indebted to discussions with university
audiences at Oxford, Duke, Northwestern, Memphis, and the American Philosophical
Association in Portland.
Locke, Natural Law,
and New World Slavery
James Farr
Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois
This essay systematically reformulates an earlier argument about Locke and
new world slavery, adding attention to Indians, natural law, and Lockes
reception. Locke followed Grotian natural law in constructing a just-war theory
of slavery. Unlike Grotius, though, he severely restricted the theory, making it
inapplicable to America. It only fit resistance to absolute power in Stuart
England. Locke was nonetheless an agent of British colonialism who issued
instructions governing slavery. Yet they do not inform his theoryor vice
versa. This creates hermeneutical problems and raises charges of racism. If
Locke deserves the epithet racist, it is not for his having a racial doctrine
justifying slavery. None of this makes for a flattering portrait. Lockes
reputation as the champion of liberty would not survive the contradictions in
which new world slavery ensnared him. Evidence for this may be found in
Lockes reception, including by Southern apologists for slavery.
Keywords: Locke; slavery; America; natural law
n an 1819 letter, Thomas Jefferson paraphrased John Lockes definition
of a madman as someone who has a kink in his head on some partic-
ular subject, which neither reason nor fact can untangle.
Jefferson had
certain Calvinists in mind; Locke, those enthusiasts persuaded of divine
inspiration. But with respect to slavery, Locke as well as Jefferson had a
kink in his head and neither reason nor fact can untangle the contradic-
tion of his conduct and writings.
This essay engages persistent controversies that circulate around
Lockes practical role in and theorization about new world slavery. These
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496 Political Theory
controversies, since the eighteenth century, gained scholarly gravity in
1960 with the publication of the definitive edition of the Two Treatises of
Government by Peter Laslett, who connected Locke to new world slavery.
Recently, the colonial reading of Locke has made the fact of his involve-
ment in American affairs central to the interpretation of his writings.
is by now a sizeable literature arguing that Locke intended to justify new
world slavery or his role in it;
and an equally sizeable one that he did not.
Rejoining the latter, this essay offers a systematic reformulation of an ear-
lier argument that played a part in this controversial literature.
It provides
the occasion to respond to critics, clarify misunderstandings, and cast a
wider net across Lockes writings, both theoretical and colonial. In doing
so, it also pays closer attentionas few haveto American Indians, natural
law, and Lockes reception, as these bear on slavery.
The abstract provides a crib of the general argument. We begin with a
brief account of Lockes only theory of slaveryby just-warand some
biographical facts relevant to the colonial context. Then follow the kinks
and contradictions.
The Just-War Theory
and Lockes Colonial Context
In the Second Treatise, Locke developed a natural law theory that
explained and justified slavery as a consequence of just war. Slavery was
the condition of total servitude for an unjust aggressor taken captive in war.
Locke presented his just-war theory, with severe restrictions, in chapters 4
and 16Of Slavery and Of Conquestwith further glimpses in
chapters 3, 7, 15, and 18, from the state of war to the dissolution of govern-
ment. He defines slavery [as] nothing else, but the State of War continued,
between a lawful Conqueror, and a Captive. Slaves, then, are Captives
taken in a just War (2.24; 2.85).
By his unjust aggression, the captive has
forfeited his own Life, by some Act that deserves Death (2.23). Justly, his
captor may put him to service in lieu of death. His power and authority
his dominionover the captive-now-slave is absolute and arbitrary. The
slaves condition, when justified, contrasts dramatically with a person or a
people who deserve their rights and freedom under the law of nature or the
laws of civil society. At this level of abstractionand subject to severe
restrictions, belowslavery may exist, in principle, whenever hostilities
cease to the satisfaction of the aggressed party, whether in ancient Rome,
Saxon Britain, or wilderness America.
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Lockes intentions in forwarding his theory of slavery are not clear from
the Two Treatises alone. If the theory were to be applied to the new world,
Locke would have known everything relevant to its application. For he was
fully informed or involved in colonial slavery, the slave trade, and new
world conditions for Africans, Indians, and English colonists. This was due
to his long colonial service and personal interests which began in 1667
upon joining the household of Anthony Ashley Coopermerchant adven-
turer, Lord Proprietor of Carolina, and, in 1672, Earl of Shaftesbury and
Lord Chancellor. Besides serving as Ashleys personal secretary and coun-
selor (for fifteen years), Locke served as secretary to the Lords Proprietors
of Carolina (between 1671 and 1675) and the Council of Trade and Foreign
Plantations (from 1673 to 1674). He also gained financially from his
service under Ashley, investing alongside his patron in the Royal African
Company (400 in 1674 and 200 more in 1675) and in the Bahamas trade
(100 in 1675) which he liquidated at profit (in 1676).
Locke remained in
Shaftesburys colonial affairs until late 1682 when Shaftesbury fled to
Holland and fell mortally ill. To judge by reading and correspondence,
Locke never ceased to be informed about the new world, even during his
political exile between 1683 and 1690. He again accepted colonial service
from 1696 to 1700, under William III, as a leading commissioner of the
Board of Trade for colonial affairs.
As secretary, Locke read and often endorsed (with JL) sources of
intelligence about slavery in the new world, including colonists raids, cap-
ture, and trade of Indians.
Supplementing his official activities, Locke read
or owned the leading atlases, travelogues, and discoveries, with their
descriptions of African and Indian slaves.
Besides those by Jean de Lry
(1578), Joseph Acosta (1604), Gabriel Sagard (1632, 1636), and Garcilaso
de la Vega (1633, 1658)which Locke cited in his writingsthese works
included A Relation of a Discovery Lately Made on the Coast of Florida
(1664) by William Hilton, the atlas America (1671) by John Ogilby, and
Discoveries . . . from Virginia to the West of Carolina (1672) by John
Lederer and dedicated to Ashley. In Hilton, Locke found an early
Proposal from the Lords Proprietors of Carolina soliciting first settlers
with land grants; slave-owners were to receive twenty acres for every
Negro-man or Slave and ten for every Woman-Negro or Slave.
Ogilby, he read tales of Spanish cruelties toward slaves and other tales of
slaves having killed themselves, despairing of ever being released from
their slavery. He was also apprised of Negro Slaves grown Masterless in
Jamaica after the Spanish departed and before they submit[ted] themselves
to the English Government. For Ogilby, Locke likely wrote at least part if
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not all of the chapter on Carolina and confirmed the population count of
Negro slaves from Guinea in Barbados.
Locke further informed himselfand othersby cartography and corre-
spondence. He copied and improved the first (since lost) map of the Cape
Fear region.
In 1671, he drew a map of the whole of Carolina, naming many
prominent features. This map served as the basis for the official First Lords
Proprietors Map, printed in (some later copies of) Ogilbys America.
also corresponded with colonial agents, notably Sir Peter Colleton who inher-
ited his fathers proprietorship in Carolina and owned a large plantation in
Colleton kept Locke informed of the machinations of the other
leading colonists, including Sir John Yeamans who first brought African
slaves to Carolina.
Locke also corresponded with Dr. Henry Woodward,
surgeon and discoverer known to travel with younger Indian slaves and
who promised Shaftesbury skins and Indian slaves should he desire them.
Woodward informed Locke that the Westo Indians, with whom he had
opened trade relations, were a far more ingeneous people then our coast
Indiansdespite rumors of cannibalismfor believing in the immortality
of the soul and some notions of the deluge.
Locke even claimed to have had personal intelligence about Indians.
This has passed unnoticed by most commentators. But, in the Essay, Locke
openly refers to some Americans, I have spoken with.
To infer from his
memoranda and the careful researches of Alden Vaughan and Gene
Waddell, Locke spoke to Two Cassiques sonneseither to two sons of the
Emperor of Cofitachequi or a Kiawah cassique or possibly to sons of two
different cassiques in coastal Carolina. Upon the recommendation of
Woodward, the pair traveled to England in 1670 on the Lord Proprietors
ship Carolina via Barbados where they were clothed and civilly treated
as guests of Peter Colletons younger brother, Thomas. Before returning
home via Bermuda in 1672, they were kindly received by his Majesty
[Charles II], and received many rich presents from the King and Court.
Their native names were not recorded, though they were presented to the
King, Restoration dignitaries, and presumably Locke, then secretary to the
Lords Proprietors, as Honest and Just.
To judge by the Essay, Locke
spoke with them about numbers (and probably much else), estimating them
of quick and Rational parts. It is likely that Honest and Just were to him,
in a memorandum, envoys of honest just people.
They may have
been living exemplars of the ancient savage Americans whose natural
Endowments and native rustick Reason Locke noted in the Essay and
whose Decency and Civility in their Discourses and Conversations
merited attention in Some Thoughts concerning Education.
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Locke, then, was a surveyor of intelligence about Indians, Africans, and
English colonists. However, he was also an agent of empire who issued or
transcribed instructions that shaped the new world about which he knew
so much. The most important of these colonial instructions was the
Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina. While short-lived, this founding
document of the proprietary colony remains an important state paper in the
history of slavery and English colonization. Lockes role was later down-
played or denied when crediting Ashley as principal architect, even though
Colleton allowed at the time that Locke had played so great a hand in its
Recently, as a result of the painstaking labors of David
Armitage, Lockes contributions in writing the Fundamental Constitutions
in 1669, amending them in 1670, and amending them again in 1682 has
been more fully established.
The two instructions on slavery in the Fundamental Constitutions are
central to understanding Lockes writings and colonial conduct. Obliged by
charity, one made it lawful for slaves to be of what church any of them
shall think best. . . . But yet, no slave shall hereby be exempted from that
civil dominion his master has over him, but be in all other things in the
same state and condition he was in before. The other was far less charita-
ble, save to owners: Every freeman of Carolina shall have absolute power
and Authority over his Negro slaves, of what opinion or religion soever.
The additional emphasis on absolute <power and> authority was an early
revision that bolstered the phrase. While Locke did not make the revision,
he was presumably present when it was, raising no objection to it, as he did
to the prospects of an established church.
The addition was evocative of
the language of absolute power that Locke used in the Two Treatises
when decrying slavery and tyranny. But it was also simply consonant with
official declarations granting full and absolute Power and Authority to the
Lords Proprietors over the colonists in Carolina.
The notorious instruc-
tion on Negro slaves was directly followed in the 1670 version by one
which denied the legitimacy of landholding if purchased from the natives
or from any other person besides the Lords Proprietors.
The Fundamental
Constitutions also instructed that All the children of leet men shall be leet
men, and so to all generations, thereby creating hereditary tenancy or serf-
dom for poor whites. Hereditary nobility were also created in the form of
landgraves (borrowing from Germanic sources) and cassiques (gestur-
ing to the Latin original for South American Indian chiefs).
Lockes fortunes waxed and waned due to the Fundamental Constitutions
and slavery. At first, he fared well under their terms. The Lords Proprietors
nominated him their first landgrave in 1671, with a patent of four baronies
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of 12,000 acres each. This put him in line to become a Lord Proprietor him-
self, should one of the eight lifetime proprietors die without an heir or
assignee. Locke Island at the mouth of Ashley River was named for him
with plans for a plantation.
A few years later Locke fantasized about
establishing on his very fine island . . . an empire of repose and letters
with his friend Nicolas Toinard, as Emperor.
Locke reador wroteof
the Fundamental Constitutions as the best and Fairest Frame of govern-
ment in Ogilbys America. The Model and Form of Government, as well
as the provisions for liberty of conscience, were there praised, to lure set-
tlers crowded on Barbados and Bermuda.
No mention was made in the
chapter to the absolute power of the Lords Proprietors or over Negro
slaves. Several decades after his death in 1704 and certainly in our time,
Locke came to fare less well in the shadow of slavery and the Fundamental
Constitutions, as we shall see below.
Given the depth of his informed involvement in new world slavery,
Lockes hands are dirty. Knowing that those hands wrote the Two Treatises
and contributed to the Fundamental Constitutions, it is not unreasonable to
assume a connection between them and, more generally, between Lockes
political theory and colonial practice. As noted, some scholars believe
Locke intended precisely to justify African slavery in just-war terms. James
Tully has extended the reach of Lockes theory; it may also refer to
Amerindian slavery.
But the situation is more complicated and vexing in
light of Lockes adversaries and the severe restrictions he placed on the
just-war theory. In any case, if Locke intended his just war theory to justify
the execrable practices of new world slavery, about which he knew so
much, then he did a spectacularly bad job of it. But there are reasons to
believe that he did not so intend the theory, in whatever contradictions this
lands him. To appreciate this, let us return to Lockes theory and the natural
law tradition it followedand violated.
Locke on Filmer and Grotius
Not only was the First Treatise directed against Sir Robert Filmer, so too
was the chapter on slavery in the Second Treatise. Filmer was the only
adversary cited; and indeed it was the only place that Locke actually quoted
Filmer anywhere in the Second Treatise. The short passage came from
Observations Upon Aristotles Politiques Touching Forms of Government
(1652), where Filmer pronounced that for those who favor popular com-
monweals . . . true liberty is for every man to do what he list, or to live
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as he please, and not to be tied to any laws.
Within a paragraph, Filmer
drove home what he took to be the absurd conclusion from this view that
men are by nature free-born, namely, that it is not lawful for any govern-
ment but self-government to be in the world. He elaborated the absurdities,
as he saw them:
[I]f the Fathers will promise for themselves to be slaves, yet for their children
they cannot, who have always the same right to set themselves at liberty,
which their Fathers had to enslave themselves.
To this, Locke responded indignantly that Freedom of Men under Government
is, to have a standing Rule to live by or, if in a state of nature, to be gov-
erned by the Law of Nature (2.22). Moreover, he directly denied that a
father or any man can enslave himself to any one (2.23). This involved
more power than a man rightly has over himself, being the workmanship of
God; and Biblical examples indicated that men did sell themselves; but tis
plain, this was only to Drudgery, not to Slavery (2.24). Between quoting
Filmer and interpreting Scripture, Locke defined justified slavery as the
continued state of war between lawful conqueror and captive. Lockes
fourth chapter was and remains noteworthy for its brevity, presumption of
natural freedom, just-war doctrine, proscription of slavery by consent or
self-sale, and pointed criticism of Sir R. F. It is also noteworthy since
Locke introduced the prospect of the slaves suicide: For, whenever he
finds the hardship of his Slavery out-weigh the value of his Life, tis in his
Power, by resisting the Will of his Master, to draw on himself the Death he
desires (2.23).
Neither the scope of these issues nor the just-war theory itself was new with
Locke. They were part of the framework of modern natural law (encompass-
ing the law of nations). If Lockes theory of slavery surprises those enamored
of his account of natural rightsmuch less his so-called liberalismit
made perfect sense at the time in light of the law of nature and nations asso-
ciated with Hugo Grotius and his followers. The tradition of natural law (and
right) was by Lockes day long-standing. Within it, as Richard Tuck has
established, arguments that started with states of natural freedom or premises
concerning natural right and duty (often) ended up justifying absolute power
or just enslavement. Gerson, Mazzolini, Molina, Selden, Hobbes, and
Pufendorf all did so, in varying ways. Grotius, however, was especially
important because of the architectural grandeur of his theory and his influ-
ence on Locke. In Tucks estimation, the most faithfully Grotian theory
available from the presses of the late seventeenth century was that of
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While Locke was not in agreement with Grotius on crucial restric-
tions, his theory of slavery (and much else) was Grotian in form.
In The Rights of War and Peace (1625), Grotius elaborated upon a just
or solemn war in contrast to an unjust one. In book III, he considered what
was permitted in a just war, including killing enemies and taking or enslav-
ing prisoners. Contra Aristotle, Grotius reasoned:
There is no Man by Nature Slave to another . . . but it is not repugnant to nat-
ural Justice that Men should become Slaves by a human Fact, that is by Vertue
of some Agreement, or in Consequence of some Crime. . . . For if we consider
the Persons, not only they who surrender themselves, or submit by Promise to
Slavery, are reputed Slaves; but all Persons whatsoever taken in a solemn War,
as soon as they shall be brought into a Place whereof the Enemy is Master.
The general Right over Prisoners in a Just War extended broadly; indeed,
the Effects of this Right are infinite, so that there is nothing that the Lord
may not do to his Slave. Besides the general argument, Grotius used locu-
tions like a Crime that merited Death that echo in Locke. Even Lockes
observation about a slaves possible suicide is in Grotius. If a Prisoner of
War found the Condition of a Slave too hard, it was in his own Power to
avoid it, by . . . expos[ing] himself to the Effects of the Enemys
Resentment, and to the Loss of Life.
Given the historical practices of states since antiquity, Grotius rendered
as justor lodged no objection againstsome consequences from the con-
dition of slavery. Crucially, Locke rejected these, beginning with one
quoted in the paragraph above, namely, that slaves could consensually
promise themselves. Grotius went much further, however. He acknowl-
edged that conquerors enslave whole populationsthe whole Body,
whether it be a State, or part of a Stateincluding non-combatants,
women, and children. Moreover, as the Goods of every particular Prisoner,
by the Right of War, belong to the Captors, so the Goods of the People in
general belong to the Conquerors, if they please. This extended in partic-
ular to land. Most strikingly of all, neither do only they themselves
become Slaves, but their Posterity for ever; for whosoever is born of a
Woman after she is a Slave, is born a Slave.
These are the very consequences that Locke denied were justifiable,
especially in chapter 16, Of Conquest. That is, he restricted just war
enslavement to captive aggressors, and spoils sufficient to pay for the costs
and damages of war, however strange Doctrine (2.180) this appeared.
Lockes summary of his strange doctrine is telling, as are his examples of
the Yoke of unjust enslavement at the end.
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The short of the Case in Conquest is this. The Conqueror, if he have a just
Cause, has a Despotical Right over the Persons of all, that actually aided, and
concurred in the War against him, and a Right to make up his Damage and
Cost out of their Labour and Estates, so he injure not the Right of any other.
Over the rest of the People, if there were any that consented not to the War,
and over the Children of the Captives themselves, or the Possessions of either
he has no Power; and so can have, by Virtue of Conquest, no lawful Title him-
self to Dominion over them, or derive it to his Posterity; but is an Aggressor,
if he attempts upon their properties, and thereby puts himself in a state of War
against them; and has no better a Right of Principality, he, nor any of his
Successors, than Hingar, or Hubba the Danes had here in England; or
Spartacus, had he Conquered Italy would have had; which is to have their
Yoke cast off, as soon as God shall give those under their subjection Courage
and Opportunity to do it. (2.196)
Not to be missed is Lockes stricture against inheritance. The just con-
queror has no lawful title to dominion over innocents and children, nor can
he derive it to his Posterity.
The argument against inheritance cut the other
way, too. Locke was emphatic that the yoke not fall on the necks of slave
children, whether alive or not-yet-born at time of their fathers capture:
For since a Father hath not, in himself, a Power over the Life or Liberty of
his Child; no act of his can possibly forfeit it: So that the Children, whatever
may have happened to the Fathers, are Free-men, and the Absolute power of
the Conqueror reaches no farther than the Persons of the Men, that were sub-
dued by him, and dies with them. (2.189)
Not only does Locke here cross Grotiusand the practice of agesbut he
shows the incoherence of Filmers view. The point is not that children of
slaves have, as Filmer argued, the right to set themselves at liberty. They
were never by right slaves in the first place.
Filmer, Grotius, and their followers form a complex web for Locke.
Filmer did not argue for the absolute power of a monarch on the basis of
conquest, as opposed to Gods gift to Adam and his successors. Indeed, he
criticized just-war doctrine in Grotius for its failure to justify absolute
power, as Grotius alleged, and for its hidden message of popular resistance.
Wherefore it seems impossible, that there can be a just war, whereby a full right
of propriety may be gained, according to Grotius principles. . . . If it be admit-
ted, that he that attempts to conquer hath a title, and he that is in possession hath
none: here the conquest is but in nature of a possessory action, to put the con-
queror in possession of a primer right, and not to raise a title. . . . And thus upon
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the matter I cannot find in Grotius book De Jure Belli, how that any case can
be put wherein by a just war a man may become a King. . . . In effect he leaves
all people a right to plead in bar against the right of property of any prince.
Subsequent defenders of Filmerlike Edmund Bohun, author of A Defence
of Sir Robert Filmer, against Algernon Sidney (1684)did embrace the
argument from conquest. Bohun, Laslett says, approved of the justification
of William III as a conqueror in 1688 as a way of settling Tory doubts.
Grotius, further, is the only one of the great natural lawyers who even
approached the position which Locke demolishes.
Lockes restrictions
on just-war conquest not only thus demolish Grotius, but Bohun, as well;
and they make possible praise for the English people who saved the Nation
when it was on the very brink of Slavery and Ruine.
Theoretical Applications
and the Rhetoric of Slavery
What had any of thisespecially the restrictions painstakingly elaborated
in chapter 16 of the Second Treatiseto do with African and Indian slavery?
This is not a rhetorical question given those commentators who believe Locke
intended to justify new world slavery. But consider how difficult Locke has
made their belief. A simple endorsement of Grotius would have left in place
the enslavement of non-combatants, women, and children, the seizure of
land, and especially the intergenerational institution of hereditary bondage.
But, again, Locke placed restrictions on all these, the effect of which was to
make new world slavery a glaring exception to his theory. This misfit between
theory and reality has led William Uzgalis to speculate that Locke was actu-
ally condemning new world slavery, though evidence is wanting.
In any
case, those commentators who believe that Locke was justifying new world
slavery cannot venture that Locke himself did not know about the violations
to his restrictions. Locke knew virtually everything.
Save for one exception, furthermore, Locke did not mention the new
world when discussing slaveryor vice versa. In this, he was not unlike
Grotius and Filmer. This is all the more curious since, in the Second
Treatise, chapter 4 is on slavery and chapter 5 announces that in the begin-
ning all the World was America (2.49). Consider the many opportunities
he had when discussing Indians or America (e.g., 1.57, 142, 144, 153, 2.9,
14, 26, 30, 41, 43, 108). Africa and Africans are scarcely noticed, save in
the instance where the enslavers are Moors and the captives European
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Christians (2.210n). The exception occurs in the First Treatise where Locke
takes notice of slaves in the household of a Planter in the West Indies
who, with other members of his extended family, may be mustered and led
out against the Indians, to seek Reparation upon any Injury received from
them (1.130). The planter, that is, had the power to make war against
Indians when he has suffered injury, taking with him Sons of his own,
Friends, or Companions, Soldiers under Pay, or Slaves bought with Money
(1.131). The planter had this war powercontra Filmerwithout being
either Adams heir or an absolute monarch; and his title to the power over
his slaves was only from his purchase. This was analogous to Abraham
and the biblical patriarchs who, too, made war and bought Men and Maid
Servants (1.130) without enjoying the Absolute Dominion of a Monarch
or an Inheritance descended from Adam (1.130).
The exceptional example is significant, beyond assailing Filmer, for its
sociological portrait of martial, commercial, and familial relations in a colo-
nial setting, most likely of the English, French, Scotch, and Welsh that are
there Peopling Carolina (1.144). It is also significant for what Locke
leaves unsaid or unclear. Though he mentions titleand, by implication,
entitlement, as Jeremy Waldron notesthe effect of insisting on it being
only from purchase hardly makes it sound like an endorsement, much less
a justification.
Locke does not here (or anywhere) attempt to justify slavery
by purchase, treating it rather as colonial fact. Given what he says elsewhere
about just war and especially inheritance,
Locke was not in any case in a
position to justify slavery by purchase. He discusses the power not the right
of the planter over his slaves in a chapter that begins by bemoaning those
who, like Filmer, are engaged in dressing up Power with all the Splendor
and Temptation Absoluteness can add to it, without shewing who has a Right
to have it (1.106).
Moreover, Locke does not identify the race of the slaves,
the status of Maid Servants, or the reparations due from the Indians. He also
introduces further uncertainty into the example when he highlights the
planters Power in his Family over Servants, born in his House, and bought
with his Money (1.130). This makes it unclear what is bought from whom;
and it may elide the distinction between slaves and servants.
Invoking bib-
lical Abraham suggests that drudgery (2.24) not slavery may be in the bar-
gain, with natural law limits on the planters power. All told, the sole new
world exception in sections 1.130 and 1.131 raises more questions than it
answers, certainly about the reach of Lockes just-war theory.
Locke could have been explicit about tying new world slavery to just
wars, had he wanted or intended. Another Lockean theorist certainly
In his attack on Filmer, James TyrrellLockes confidante and the
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Ingenious and Learned Author of Patriarcha Non Monarcha (1.124)
deployed natural law and just-war reasoning. Like Lockeand perhaps due
to their conversationsTyrrell held that nothing but a lawful War can give
any man a Right over the person of another and that a slave taken in a just
War deserved captivity by his own act or fault.
Many of the same
restrictions held, especially exempting children, though Tyrrell (as had
Grotius) allowed for limited voluntary enslavement by adults. Tyrrell had
his sights on Filmer, theoretically, and the Stuarts, politically. But he used
new world examples to make points about conquest and slavery.
As for the rest of this argument [of Filmers against Grotius on conquest], it
is drawn from principles never laid down nor maintained by Grotius: For first
if a People, that have no absolute Governor (as the Brasilians, and Caraibees
have none, as I have already sayd) live peaceable and offend no body, I think
it unlawful to make war upon such a People (as the Spaniards did) without
any cause but to make them slaves. But if such a people will joyn together as
they often do, under a Corak or Captain created by themselves, and make an
offensive War upon their neighbors without just cause: I think they may justly
be Conquered, and become either slaves or subjects to the Conqueror, as well
as one single man in the same case, since both Grotius [citing book III, chap.
7] and all writers allow the taking of slaves in a just war, but none ever made
it alike reasonable, to make slaves of those that have done them no injury.
It is not to be lost that Tyrrell here not only imagined that Indians might
be taken slaves, but he judged the Spaniards unlawful conquerors in the
new world.
Tyrrell and 1.130-31 notwithstanding, Locke himself forged no explicit
links between his just-war theory and Africa or the new world. It would
have been so easy do so, I conjecture, had Locke intended a direct connec-
tion. All signs point toward England, however, as the site in mind. Laslett
editorializes that chapter 16 is a reflection on the origins, rights and power
of a monarchy which can only be English (2.175n). Locke names the
Norman Conquest (2.177) as an example of another restriction on a con-
queror: tis plain he gets no Power by his conquest over those that
Conquered with him. . . . And the conquering People are not . . . to be Slaves
by Conquest (2.177). Locke finishes the section in no uncertain terms as
to his referent: William Is conquest could reach no farther, than to the
Saxons and Britains that were then Inhabitants of this Country. The
Normans that came with him, and helped to conquer, and all descended
from them are Freemen and no Subjects by Conquest (2.177). If, as I
think, England is the primary, if not exclusive, site of Lockes intended
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application of his theoryin the context of Whig resistance to Stuart
absolutismthen this renders intelligible his restrictions on Grotius. As a
natural lawyer, Locke blocks Filmer and the likes of Bohun while taking
aim at the Stuarts, whether Charles II or James II.
Rhetoric about slaves and slavery in and out of the Two Treatises
further suggests Lockes English targets. He opened the First Treatise
shocked that Filmer, an Englishman much less a Gentleman, would per-
swade all Men, that they are Slaves and ought to be so. But, then, Filmers
were just One Slaves Opinions (1.51). Only servile Flatterers to
monarchy (like Filmer) would have all Men born to, what their mean
Souls fitted them for, Slavery (2.239).
The People of England, by con-
trast, saved the Nation from Slavery and Ruine (Preface) and dated
their delivery from popery and slavery to the arrival of William III.
Examples are legion. Exempting outliers like the slavery of sin and Satan
or the slavish temper in spoiled children,
Locke had his attention fixed
primarily, if not exclusively, on England and the stakes of resistance.
Earlier, new to Shaftesburys circle, Locke invoked the old-world example
of galley slaves who return from Turkey to make political points about
this island England.
Whereby we may see it would be an hazardous attempt, if any should design
it, to bring this island to the condition of a galley, whereby the greater part
shall be reduced to the condition of slaves, be forced with blows to row the
vessel, but share in none of the lading [cargo], nor have any privilege or pro-
tection, unless they will make chains to be used like Turks, and persuade
them to stand still whilst they put them on. For let divines preach duty as long
as they will, twas never known that men lay down quietly under the oppres-
sion and submitted their backs to the blows of others, when they thought they
had strength enough to defend themselves.
Slavery was a rhetorically powerful fear for Englishmenor radical
Whigs, at least. They associated it with monarchical absolute power that
might descend or had already descended upon the English nation. Filmer
was right in Patriarcha: the term slave was an invention to disgrace
monarchy in England.
Locke, whatever else, was making a case against slavery on his island,
not for slavery in the new world. And he was in no position, theoretically,
to justify slave practices as he knew themincluding Slaves bought with
Money in the West Indies (1.130).
This still leaves problematic the
Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina and other colonial instructions; and
we need to consider the charge of racism.
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Colonial Instructions
and the Charges of Racism
The Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina remains an important state
paper in the history of British colonization of America, despite its fitful
Lockes role in them was long suspected, running back to
the period of their composition. As Armitage has now shown, Locke was
even more intimately and doggedly involved, including in the revisions of
1682 when he was (probably) writing chapter 5 and revising chapters 4 and
16 of the Two Treatises.
As policy advisor and constitution writer, Locke
thus endorsed or made no objection to the notorious instruction that Every
Freeman of Carolina shall have absolute power and Authority over his
Negro slaves of what opinion or Religion soever. But what was the rela-
tion between it and the just-war theory? Was it a deduction from or on equal
footing with the principles or restrictions of the theory? An answer would
be relatively straightforward if it could be shown that the absolute power
over Negro slaves was justified because those slaves had been unlawful
combatants taken captive in a just war (in Africa or Carolina), subject to
Lockes restrictions. But these restrictions were utterly violated in the new
world, as Locke knew. In terms of his theory, Indian and African slaves suf-
fered unjust bondage. The hereditary institution clinched the matter, what-
ever one made of the justice of slave raids or the dominion of planters in the
West Indies.
The offending instruction is not unique in raising hermeneutic problems
for understanding Locke. These are not logical problems in any technical
sense. But they are puzzling and raise further questions because they make
even less clear Lockes considered judgmentsas political theorist or colo-
nial administratorabout colonial life and slavery. Why, if he allegedly
sought their enslavement or appropriation of their waste land, did he
counsel colonists not to molest . . . our neighbor Indians in their quiet pos-
Why, in 1671 after the visit of Honest and Just, did he draft a
Temporary Law for Carolina dictating that no Indian upon any occasion or
pretense whatsoever is to be made a slave?
Why, in 1698, did he instruct
Governor Francis Nicholson of Virginia to gett a law passd restraining of
Inhumane Severities . . . toward Slaves, and that Provision be made therein
that the willful killing of Indians and Negroes may be punished with Death,
and that a fit penalty be imposed for the maiming of them?
Was he, in
1671 or 1698, forgetful of the absolute power and Authority clause of the
Fundamental Constitutions or the severities allowed toward captive aggressors
in the Second Treatise? These questions and others like them will probably
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remain unanswered, at least to the satisfaction of all. But they invite the
conclusion that Lockes theoretical and colonial writings do not cohere as
a unified body.
Not all of Lockes commentators are bothered by these hermeneutic
problems, especially those who call him a racist. Consider the view of
Bernasconi and Mann:
It is impossible to defend Locke against the charge of racism by insisting that
he knew that many of the slaves in North America had not been legitimately
captured. . . . One needs an explanation of why Locke includes in the Second
Treatise a legitimation of slavery that gave the slaveowner the power of life
and death over his slaves. The fact that he had already sought to secure that
power for slaveowners in America suggests a reason. Throughout his life
Locke acted as if enslaving Africans was justified, but we find only one
attempted justification of slavery in his writings. . . . The fact that it is not a
good argument for the purpose does not establish that the argument was not
intended for that purpose, even when one is reading the works of a major
philosopher. Racists often use bad arguments: it is the only kind they have.
The question of Lockes racism is neither unimportant nor new nor deci-
sively answered. The specifically racialized reference to Negro slaves in
the Fundamental Constitutions is noteworthy. In our time, Locke has been
judged guilty of contributing to the philosophical foundations of racism.
Bernasconi and Mann go further. Admitting the contradiction between
Lockes conduct, colonial instructions, and just-war theory, they urge
nonetheless that philosophers should recognize [the contradiction] as evi-
dence of his racism.
If Locke was a racistan epithet his conduct and some colonial instruc-
tions warrantit was not because he offered doctrinal or theoretical rea-
sons explaining and justifying the hereditary institution of slavery on the
basis of race. Even Bernasconi and Mann admit the term racism is not a
precise one, particularly when applied to late seventeenth century England
when the notion of race did not yet have its modern meaning.
Locke had
little to say about race or races, in contrast to later developments. He spoke
generically of the Race of Men in all the corners of the World (2.36)
and made no objection to Filmers reference to the Norman Race.
Nowhere did he opine about (much less malign) Africans in terms of their
intellectual powers, moral qualities, or anything else. The Indians with
whom he spoke were Honest and Just, men of quick and Rational parts
whose limits were cultural or educational. Ignorant of metallurgy and math-
ematics, they nonetheless displayed natural endowments and provisions
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no way short of those of the most flourishing and polite nations
may be condescension in these remarks about Indians or contempt in his
silence about Africans. The fact that Lockes contemporaries were more
evidently condescending or contemptuous may prove little about Locke for
those readers who find racism in any sort of condescension or silence. But
the question regarding the legitimation of slavery is: did Locke articulate or
embrace a racial doctrine or theory that justified new world slavery given
the failure of the just-war theory to do so? This, surely, is what it means to
invoke philosophical racism. Such a theory need not have been as grand as
Grotian natural law, but it had to offer something doctrinally as justifica-
tion. Racism in this theoretical or doctrinal sense was not a question about
blind hatred, inchoate bigotry, or misanthropic passionhowever much
they gripped Locke, if in fact they did so.
A racist doctrine or theory, if Locke had articulated or embraced one,
would have had to explain, empirically, the racial inferiority of Africans or
Indians in comparison to other races. But this task was insufficient. Even a
Southern apologist for slavery like George Fitzhugh knew in 1857 that
inferiority of race is quite as good an argument against negro slavery as in
its favor.
One needed, therefore, a component of racial doctrine or theory
to justify, normatively, why racial inferiors deserved their bondage. But
nowhere did Locke attempt any such theory. He did not endorse or antici-
pate the two historically dominant empirical theoriespolygeny and
He was not a polygenist who explained racial differences in
terms of different species. He remained within the Christian worldview that
there was a single race of men descended from Adam. He also wrote noth-
ing that indicated that he embraced the degeneracy theory as if Africans or
Indians had been degraded over the course of time due to environmental
conditions and attested to by mental deficiency or skin color.
Nowhere in
his writings, moreover, did Locke sketch even the bare outlines of a norma-
tive justification of slavery on the basis of race. The only theory Locke
articulated was the restricted just-war theory, however far afield it proved
from the realities of the new world. In Lockes actual world, it applied to
England in the throes over absolute power. Ifas is logically or biograph-
ically possibleLocke thought new world slavery was justified on the
basis of raceor anything else, for that matterhe wrote not a word of it.
As legacy, he left subsequent commentators to wonder what, if anything,
made him feel that slavery or his own colonial activities were justified since
he wrote nothing about race and crafted a just war theory that made new
world slavery its most glaring exception.
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Lockes Reception
and Subsequent Reputation
The reception of Lockeas of any notable, complex figureholds out the
prospect of clarifying seeming contradictions by returning to understandings
closer in time to his own. However, in the case of slavery, the contradictions
are mirrored in the history of Lockes reception.
In the midst of his reception,
moreover, Lockes colonial instructions caught up with his reputation as the
champion of liberty and limited government. That reputation was usually
hailed for its support of liberal or radical causes, including revolution and
abolition. It was also long protected from much scrutiny by writers who
ignored or apologized for his theory of slavery or the Fundamental
Constitutions. Ignorance, if not apology, allowed for some ironic appropria-
tions of Locke, especially by Americans proclaiming their rights and eventu-
ally revolting against Britain. In 1726, for example, John Norris used Lockean
categories and rhetoric to defend his fellow South Carolinians in having
thrown off (in 1719) the governing structures of the Fundamental Constitutions.
There was no rebellion against Persons pretending the Authority of our
Lord Proprietors, only the return to government by compact among
Englishmen, averse to Tyranny, and not willing to be driven to the Slave-
Norris, in short, mobilized Lockean arguments and rhetoric to jus-
tify the overthrow of a colonial government that Locke helped create! In 1764,
James Otis asserted the rights of British colonists in America, quoting the
famous lead line of Mr. Locke that slavery is so vile and miserable an estate
of man. Using Lockes principles, as he took them, Otis insisted that the
Colonists are by the law of nature free born, as indeed all men are, white or
black. Enslaving those of any color was a shocking violation of the law of
Lockean arguments were race-neutral and anti-slavery, in other
words. In resistance to British taxation, John Dickinson quoted Locke on prop-
erty and used his rhetoric: We are thereforeI speak it with griefI speak
with indignationwe are Slaves.
Dickinson subsequently appealed to
such a friend to mankind as Mr. Locke who, under no circumstances,
thought absolute dominion just or legal or anything but inconsistent, as
slavery is with property.
As The Sinfulness of American Slavery became a
national issue, Locke was the ur-source for arguments about the liberty of
man, granted that slavery is so vile and miserable an estate.
When some
abolitionists reluctantly came to acknowledge that Locke introduced the
article on Negro slavery in the Fundamental Constitutions, accommoda-
tions were made: These sentiments of Locke did not lower him in the eyes
of our ancestors.
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Locke found more vigilant readers in those who wished to disgrace him
as the proxy for Americans. In the fateful year of 1776, Josiah Tucker put the
Fundamental Constitutions and the Two Treatises to work against each other
and the cause of Rebel Americans. He even invented, so as to ridicule, the
Excuse, or Apology that the Fundamental Constitutions was a product of
Lockes youth and service to Shaftesbury. In the concluding pages of his
antirepublican screed against Locke, Richard Price, Benjamin Franklin and
other Republican-ZealotsAnswers to Popular ObjectionsTucker cited
the notorious instruction on the absolute power and authority of freemen
over their Negro slaves. He snidely editorialized that Such is the
Language of the humane Mr. Locke! The great and glorious Assertor of the
natural Rights and Liberties of Mankind. To block the apology-from-youth,
he then quoted the mature revolutionarys reference in chapter 7 (2.85) to
slaves being Captives taken in a just War. Tucker argued no further and
paid no attention to Lockes restrictions on enslavement in chapter 16. That
was beside the point he was driving at. He dismissed any other appeal to the
Second Treatise: And if [Locke] has maintained Opinions in other distant
Parts of his Book, which seem to contradict this Position, I am not to be
answerable for his seeming Contradiction. Tucker ended his attack by
analogizing the condition of the Englishman taken prisoner in the present
War to that of the poor Negroes.
Polemical purposes notwithstanding,
Tucker tied the two texts together and implicated Locke in positions that
were neither humane nor consistent.
The American historian George Bancroft came to conclusions about
Locke not unlike Tuckers. Without polemic, he nonetheless brought to bear
on Locke and Carolina his democratic, nationalist, and anti-British histori-
ography. He paid most attention to the frame of government intended by the
Fundamental Constitutions. In framing constitutions for Carolina, Locke
forgot the fundamental principles of practical philosophy. There can be no
such thing as the creator of laws, so much as tending to actual arrange-
ments. And there was the rub:
The contrast between the magnificent model of a constitution and the hum-
ble settlements of Carolina, rendered the inappropriateness of the forms too
ludicrously manifest. Was there room for a palatine and landgraves, for
barons and lords of manor, for an admiralty court and a court of heraldry,
among the scattered cabins between the Chowan and the ocean?
Bancroft, however, thought he saw a connection between Lockes colonial
designs and his theoreticalor at least announced position on slavery in
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Two Treatises. He quoted Lockes definition of slavery as the state of war
continued between conqueror and captive, having noted that Locke . . .
sanctioned slavery in Carolina. To Bancrofts Locke, slavery seemed no
unrighteous institution. Aware that several American writers have attempted
to exonerate Locke from his share in the work which they condemn, the
historian insisted that slavery harmonizes with the principles of his philos-
ophy, and with his theories on government. The proof of harmony was not
to be found in or between the texts themselveswhich Bancroft barely
skimmedbut in the fact that to his late old age, he preserved with care
the evidence of his legislative labors.
The most intriguing receptors of Lockes writings on slavery were ante-
bellum Southern apologists. They are all the more intriguing because
Bernasconi and Mann, making their case against his racism, have asserted
that the defenders of slavery also cited Locke as one of their authorities.
But the examples they cite do not support their assertion.
Indeed, they
prove antithetical points about the reception of Locke among Southern
apologists. Those who fiercely and loyally defended slavery in the American
South rejected Lockes just war theory and pilloried the Fundamental
Constitutions. When antebellum defenders of the Southern race and its
peculiar institution cited or made reference to the Second Treatise, it was
to attack natural rights and the social contract as insufficient for social order
or the protection of dependants, including slaves. And they distanced their
(tendentious) apologies for slavery from the Fundamental Constitutions,
deeming its model of government an aristocratic, inhuman, and short-lived
This Southern pattern began with the first serious and sustained defense
of slavery in the antebellum periodThomas Dews Review of the Debate
in the Virginia Legislature of 1831 and 1832.
Dew began by itemizing his-
toric justifications of slavery, including war, listing natural law theorists
like Grotius and Vattel. Reflecting Lockes extant reputation as a theorist of
natural rights, Dew included him, in a slightly astonished tone:
Even Locke, who has so ably explored all the faculties of the mind, and who
so nobly stood forth against the monstrous and absurd doctrines of Sir Robert
Filmer and the passive submissionists of his day, admits the right to make
slaves of prisoners whom we might justly have killed.
Dew then quoted from Lockes chapter 6actually 2.23 of chapter 4
on using slaves for service without committing injury by it. However,
negro slavery in the United States was, Dew candidly admitted, the result
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of slave raids and a slave trade so shocking to the feelings of mankind
that it was a violation of the principles of humanity. Judging by its
effects, we must condemn it, and consequently agree that slavery in our
hemisphere was based upon injustice in the first instance. Leaving Locke
behind, Dew shifted the terms of argumentas did all later contributors to
pro-slavery propaganda. Captivity during warjust or notwas not the
issue. The hereditary institution of slavery was justifiable on other grounds,
mainly its beneficence to whites, masters, women, and slaves themselves.
A merrier being does not exist on the face of the globe, than the negro
slave of the United States. Lockean-styled arguments about natural equal-
ity amounted to quackery. If, Dew warned, colored men were freed,
they would still be virtually slaves; talent, habit and wealth, would make
the white the master still. Even if slavery began against the laws of man
and God, the South cannot now attempt its extirpation.
Locke came in for more criticism as apologists contrasted the social nature
of man and the beneficence of hereditary institutions, including slavery, with
Lockes account of the state of nature and the social contract. Aristotle was
deemed superior to Locke in these matters. This was the general position of
Albert T. Bledsoe in his influential Essay on Liberty and Slavery of 1856, and
strongly endorsed by George Frederick Holmes.
It was also repeatedly
articulated by that most iconoclastic of apologists and strident critics of
LockeGeorge Fitzhughwho believed the world needed many more
forms of slavery, beyond Negro slavery. On Fitzhughs telling, Locke was
a materialist and the father of all infidelity. He was the fount of the
pestiferous isms of the North after Jeffersons plagiarism of him in the
Declaration of Independence.
On such issues, the Southerners took aim at
the Locke whose reputation was secured by his liberal and radical principles.
However, they also took note of the Fundamental Constitutions. Fitzhugh
thought Lockes Carolina Republic was a tissue of absurdities, having
signally failed in practice; attesting the great truth that governments are
God-made, not man made.
Not to be outdone by Fitzhugh, a Virginian,
Carolinians were especially judgmental when remembering Lockes role in
their colonial past. For example, W. Duncan recounted:
At the request of one of the proprietors, the celebrated John Locke framed a
scheme of government for the whole province of Carolina. The Grand
Model, as it was called, though, complete of its kind, was too complicated,
if not too monarchical, for an infant colony; yet the proprietors adopted it as
the fundamental law of the province, and such, for twenty-three years, it
nominally remained. As a matter of fact, however, it was never brought into
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operation, though the governor of each district in the province strove hard to
comply with its requisitions, in spite of the continued and ultimately success-
ful opposition of the colonists.
William H. Trescott thought the colonial document embodied a too refined
and fanciful theory. While some provisions of Lockes constitution
deserved respectful notice, in comparison to it we have, so to speak,
democratized very aristocratic institutions.
DeBows Review was the literary vehicle for many of the apologetics and
attendant criticisms of Locke. Behind it lay the energies of the ardent seces-
sionist, J. D. B. de Bow. He, too, inveighed against Locke, in his namesake
Review, in Charters and Constitutions of South Carolina (1856).
Bancrofts history, as well as Thomas Coopers 10-volume Statutes at
Large of South Carolina, formed the basis of de Bows historical sketch. de
Bow thought (incorrectly) that he identified Lockes handwriting on the
copy of the Fundamental Constitutions in Charleston. Locke drafted them
on Shaftsburys principles, but these were consonant to the feelings of the
great metaphysician himself. de Bow noted the almost absolute power
they granted to the Lords Proprietors, as well as their design to establish
an order of nobility in America. Under Locke, they [the leetmen who
were in effect slaves] could never be emancipated; their descendants
must forever be as themselves.
With regard to the slaves proper of the constitutionthe negroesthe worst
feature of the Roman law was displayed, the masters power of life and death
over them. The present condition of the African slave, when contrasted with
this, ought forever to silence the wretched cry of abolitionism.
None of this was acceptable, even in the 1660s, because the freeholders
consent was never consulted. But it all came to naught: The constitu-
tions were ill-suited to colonial infancyand when power came, they were
rejected with indignation. Thus passed away the labors of Locke. . . . In
twenty-three years the immortal instrument was dead. So much, de Bow
concluded, for the exploded constitutions of John Locke.
In the end, the reception of Locke on new world slavery records a history
of contradictions, as if a mirror to those found in his texts and life. One fea-
ture of this reception history, however, fits the argument of this essay: no
one thought Locke succeeded in justifying slavery in America. Revolutionaries
and abolitionists ignored or invented apologies for his theory and practice
in relation to slavery. Antirepublican polemicists like Tucker and nationalist
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historians like Bancroft seized upon their incoherent failure. Southern apol-
ogists dismissed their falsity to the benignity of slavery and the glories of
the colonists. To this day, Locke inspires radically different receptions.
But whatever else may be said of the Two Treatises, the Fundamental
Constitutions and other colonial instructions explode the coherence of his
writings and the reputation he long held. There is glaring contradiction
between their mandate of absolute power and Lockes principles regarding
just-war and natural law. All this makes Locke if not a mystery at least a
very difficult figure to understand. How could Lockea philosopher of
such judgment and criticism and reflectionlive with such contradiction
and be so guilty of immoral evasion of the consequences of his labors
taken as a whole?
But he did. A kink in his head, he partook of the mad-
ness of American slavery. He not only held a strange Doctrine, he was
strangely indifferent to contradiction on so grave a matter and, worse, to the
lives and liberties of the persons made slaves in the new world.
1. Lenni Brenner, ed., Jefferson and Madison on Separation of Church and State (Fort Lee,
NJ: Barricade Books, 2004), 272.
2. Peter Laslett, Introduction, in Two Treatises of Government (Cambridge, UK:
Cambridge University Press, 1988 [1960]), especially 102, 105-6, 237n, 284n.
3. James Tully, An Approach to Political Philosophy: Locke in Contexts (Cambridge, UK:
Cambridge University Press, 1993), 137-76; Barbara Arneil, John Locke and America: The
Defence of English Colonialism (Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1996); Mark A. Michael, Lockes
Second Treatise and the Literature of Colonization, Interpretation 25 (1998): 407-27; Duncan
Ivison, Locke, Liberalism, and Empire, in The Philosophy of John Locke: New Perspectives,
ed. Peter R. Arnstey (London: Routledge, 2003), 86-105; Herman Lebovics, Imperialism and
the Corruption of Democracies (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006), chap. 5; and
David Armitage, John Locke, Carolina, and the Two Treatises of Government, Political
Theory 32 (2004): 602-27. Slavery, surprisingly, is not always discussed in this literature.
4. David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (Oxford, UK: Oxford
University Press, 1988 [1966]); Martin Seliger, The Liberal Politics of John Locke (London:
Allen and Unwin, 1968); H. M. Bracken, Essence, Accident, and Race, Hermathena 116
(1973): 81-96; Richard H. Popkin, The Philosophical Bases of Modern Racism, in
Philosophy and the Civilizing Arts, ed. Craig Walton and John P. Anton (Athens: Ohio
University Press, 1974), 126-65; Wayne Glausser, Three Approaches to Locke and the Slave
Trade, Journal of the History of Ideas 51 (1990): 199-216; Robert Bernasconi, Lockes
Almost Random Talk of Man: The Double Use of Words in the Natural Law Justification of
Slavery, Perspektiven der Philosophie 18 (1992): 293-318; Tully, An Approach; Jennifer
Welchman, Locke on Slavery and Inalienable Rights, Canadian Journal of Philosophy 25
(1995): 67-81; and Robert Bernasconi and Anika Maaza Mann, The Contradictions of
Racism: Locke, Slavery and the Two Treatises, in Race and Modern Philosophy, ed. Andrew
Valls (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005), 89-107.
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5. John Dunn, The Political Thought of John Locke: An Historical Account of the
Argument of the Two Treatises of Government (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University
Press, 1969), 108-10, 174-77; William Uzgalis, The Same Tyrannical Principle: Lockes
Legacy on Slavery, in Subjugations and Bondage: Critical Essays on Slavery and Social
Philosophy, ed. Tommy L. Lott (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998), 49-79; Jeremy
Waldron, God, Locke, and Equality: Christian Foundations in Lockes Political Thought
(Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 200-6; Douglas Lewis, Locke and the
Problem of Slavery, Teaching Philosophy 26 (2003): 261-82; Ian Shapiro, John Lockes
Democratic Theory, in Two Treatises of Government, ed. Ian Shapiro (New Haven, CT: Yale
University Press, 2003), 334; and Paul Sigmund, Selected Political Writings of John Locke
(New York: Norton, 2005), 371.
6. James Farr, So Vile and Miserable an Estate: The Problem of Slavery in Lockes
Political Thought, Political Theory 14 (May 1986): 263-89; and James Farr, Slaves Bought
with Money, Political Theory 17 (August 1988): 471-74.
7. Parenthetical references are to treatise and section number of Peter Laslett, ed., Two
Treatises of Government (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988 [1960]).
Emphases are Lockes.
8. Maurice Cranston, John Locke: A Biography (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press,
1957), 115n3; and Roger S. Woolhouse, Locke: A Biography (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2007), 111, 463.
9. See especially Langdon Cheves, ed., The Shaftesbury Papers and Other Records
Relating to Carolina (Columbia: South Carolina Historical Society, 1897).
10. John Harrison and Peter Laslett, Library of John Locke (Oxford, UK: Oxford
University Press, 1965).
11. The Lords Proprietors continued to solicit new settlers when Locke was secretary. See
Verner Crane, The Southern Frontier: 1670-1732 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press,
1929); M. Eugene Sirmans, Colonial South Carolina: A Political History, 1663-1763 (Chapel
Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1966); and Alan Gallay, The Indian Slave Trade: The
Rise of the English Empire in the American South, 1670-1717 (New Haven, CT: Yale
University Press, 2002).
12. John Ogilby, America (London: 1671), 317, 342, 377, 380.
13. Lockes map of Cape Fear is reprinted in Cornelius M. D. Thomas, James Forte
(Wilmington, NC: J. E. Hicks, 1959).
14. See William Patterson Cumming, Naming Carolina, North Carolina Historical
Review 22 (1945): 34-42; and Worthington Chauncey Ford, Early Maps of Carolina,
Geographical Review 16 (1926): 264-73. There is a partial reproduction of this map in
William P. Cumming, The Southeast in Early Maps, 3rd ed. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press, 1998), plate 35.
15. See E. S. de Beer, ed., Correspondence of John Locke, 8 vols. (Oxford, UK: Clarendon,
1976), #254 (where a map of Carolina is discussed), #270 (in which Locke intimates plans
of travel to Carolina), #275 (where herbal medicines used by Indians and Negroes are iden-
tified), #279 (on the success of cattle in Carolina), #287 (with reference to Lock Island), and
#289 (on inter-colonial trade and political intrigue in England). Other colonial correspondents
included Joseph West, Isaac Rush, Richard Lilburne, and Andrew Percival, who variously con-
veyed to Locke intelligence about the Indians Trade and a plan to send him some dressed
Deare Skinnes (#318).
16. K. H. D. Haley, The First Earl of Shaftesbury (Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1968), 349.
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17. This was reported by Woodward himself in a 1674 letter to Ashley, presumably cata-
logued by Locke as the latters secretary (now in Public Record Office 30/24/48, #96).
18. de Beer, Correspondence, #305. Locke refers to the Caribee and Westoe Tongues
when discussing translation in Peter Nidditch, ed., Essay concerning Human Understanding
(Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1975), III.v.8.
19. Essay, II.xvi.6. This passage dates to Draft B of the Essay (late 1671), where Locke
wrote of some Indians I have spoken with, in Peter Nidditch and G. A. J Rogers, eds., Drafts
of the Essay concerning Human Understanding (Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1990), 157.
20. Alden Vaughan, Transatlantic Encounters: American Indians in Britain, 1500-1776
(Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 104; and Gene Waddell, Indians of the
South Carolina Low Country, 1562-1751 (Columbia: South Carolina Historical Society,
1980), 235-36. Also see St. Julien Ravenal Childs, Honest and Just at the Court of Charles
II, South Carolina Historical Magazine 64 (1963): 27. Locke noted the Americans prior to
arrival in England in reference to a (now missing) letter of 1670 from Thomas Colleton:
Honest, Just Two Cassiques sonnes clothed and civily treated by him in Barbadoes, in
Cheves, Shaftesbury Papers, 249.
21. Cheves, Shaftesbury Papers, 258.
22. Essay, II.xiii.20, II.xvi.6, IV.iv.11, IV.xvii.4, IV.xvii.6; Ruth Grant and Nathan Tarcov,
eds., Some Thoughts concerning Education (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1996), sec. 145.
23. de Beer, Correspondence, #279.
24. Armitage, John Locke, Carolina, 613-15.
25. Mark Goldie, ed., Political Essays (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press,
1997), 179-80.
26. Armitage, John Locke, Carolina, 609, claims that Locke made the addition himself.
However, the ampersand used in the manuscript copy does not appear to be Lockes (see PRO
27. This locution figures in documents from August 20, 1671, April 25, 1674, and May 20,
1674, among others, in A. S. Salley, ed., Records in the British Public Record Office Relating
to South Carolina, 1663-1684 (Atlanta, GA: Foote and Davis, 1928). The Fundamental
Constitutions were also promulgated by we, the true and absolute lords and proprietors of the
province (Political Essays, 162).
28. Political Essays, 180. The Lords Proprietors not only wanted to control land, but the
Indian trade in all forms. This made them critical of the colonists conduct toward the Indians,
especially slave raids for transport to the Caribbean. See Gallay, Indian Slave Trade, 43-69.
29. Political Essay, 162, 166.
30. See April 4, 1671, and May 23, 1674 (in Salley, Records). Edisto Island is now its name.
31. de Beer, Correspondence, #475. Toinard responded agreeably (in #481), praising those
constitutions on religion and flattering Lockes illustriousness.
32. Ogilby, America, 512. Cumming, Naming Carolina, first speculated that Locke
wrote the propaganda chapter on Carolina, inferring from Colletons letter. de Beer
(Correspondence, v. 1, p. 356n1) doubts this.
33. Tully, An Approach, 143-44, 154. It is unclear whether Tully means that Locke
intended to refer to Indian slavery or that others might have read him this way. If the latter,
more reception history is needed. Anyway, Tully allows that Lockes theory of conquest was
written for another purpose, namely, the right to punish Charles II in an armed revolt.
34. Robert Filmer, Patriarcha and Other Political Writings, ed. Peter Laslett (Oxford, UK:
Basil Blackwell, 1949), 224. Locke quotes this inexactly but not misleadingly (at 2.22).
35. Filmer, Patriarcha, 225.
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36. Richard Tuck, Natural Rights Theories: Their Origin and Development (Cambridge,
UK: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 173.
37. Hugo Grotius, The Rights of War and Peace, book III, ed. Richard Tuck (Indianapolis:
Liberty Fund, 2005 [1625]), 1360f.
38. Grotius, Rights of War and Peace, 1360n, 1362, 1482, 1482n.
39. Grotius, Rights of War and Peace, 1362, 1374, 1378. For these views, Rousseau con-
demned Grotius and the rest.
40. Restrictions aside, they also differ in that Grotius thought slavery was a possible con-
clusion of war whereas Locke defined it as wars continuation (especially at 2.24).
41. Arguably, this crucial stricture also weighs against the justification of slavery by pur-
chase. It raises an obvious question about the alienation of property: if the conqueror cannot
pass title to his Posterity, how can he justly sell his slaves to anonymous others who are not
his heir(s) and are even further removed from the slaves original act that deserved death?
Neither heir nor buyer stands in relation to the slave as does the conqueror. Although Locke
nowhere argues directly about the justice of trade in slaves, this passage suggests that slaves
bought with money (1.131) were not justifiably enslaved.
42. Dies with them precludes any possibility that hereditary slavery is fundamental to
Lockes conception of right, as asserted by Welchman, Locke on Slavery, 81.
43. Filmer, Patriarcha, 270-71.
44. Laslett, Introduction, 385n.
45. Uzgalis, The Same Tyrannical Principle. Lockes intentions aside, Uzgalis rein-
forces the disjuncture between Lockes theory and African slavery in America.
46. Waldron, God, Locke, and Equality, 202, 206. Entitlement notwithstanding, Waldron
concludes that there is simply no possibility of reconciling Lockes very limited theory of
legitimate enslavement with the reality of the institution in the Carolinas or anywhere else in
the Americas.
47. See note 41 above.
48. Locke oftenthough not invariablydistinguished power from right. For example, he
responded to Filmers claim that fathers anciently had the power to sell or castrate their
children by saying, If this proves a right to do so, we may, by the same Argument, justifie
Adultery, Incest, and Sodomy (1.59). Later, he observes how the practice of the strong and
powerful . . . is seldom the rule of Right (2.180). cf. 1.59, 2.186, and 2.199 (where Tyranny
is the exercise of Power beyond Right, which nobody can have a Right to).
49. John A. Simmons, The Lockean Theory of Rights (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University
Press, 1992), 176. Simmons also notes the confusion between slave and servant (in 1.130),
adding perhaps Locke finds it hard to refer to those who are clearly unjustly enslaved (by his
own principles) as slaves, however contentedly he may have profited from the slave trade him-
self. Generally, see Richard Tuck, The Rights of War and Peace: Political Thought and the
International Order from Grotius to Kant (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1999), 169-70.
50. Tyrrell offered a theory of property in what Tuck (Natural Rights Theories, 154-55,
170) calls the Lockean section of Patriarcha Non Monarcha. Tuck speculates that Tyrrell
changed his mind because of Lockes intervention just prior to publication. David Wootton and
John Marshall deny this, arguing that Tyrrell was the innovator who influenced Locke. See
Wootton, ed., Political Writings of John Locke (New York: Penguin, 1993), 49-64; and
Marshall, John Locke: Resistance, Religion and Responsibility (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge
University Press, 1994), 234-37.
51. James Tyrrell, Patriarcha Non Monarcha (London, 1681), 62, 87, 113 (first pagination,
which ends at 136).
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52. Tyrrell, Patriarcha Non Monarcha, 118 (second pagination, which renumbers what
should have been 137 as 97 and proceeds from there).
53. This passage is read as Lockes endorsement of Sidneys argument that there are nat-
ural slaves by Ian Simmons, The Mind of John Locke: A Study of Political Thought in its
Intellectual Setting (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 172. But their
mean souls (emphasis added) is clearly a reference to royalist authors.
54. Locke, Political Essays, 307.
55. Locke, Political Essays, 26; Grant and Tarcov, Some Thoughts concerning Education,
sec. 50.
56. Locke, Political Essays, 154-5; also J. R. Milton and Philip Milton, eds., Essay con-
cerning Toleration (Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 2006), 294-95. Locke also refers here to fair
prisoners of war who deserve to be treated civilly in contrast to the cruel treatment of gal-
ley slaves. This opens a possible gap between the Second Treatise and the Essay concerning
57. With this passage in mind, Lockes theory, if intended to sanction the colonial slave
trade . . . could do so only by denying its own deepest premises argues Jerome Huyler, Locke
in America (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1995), 344n63. Locke is not unlike
Aristotle in this mismatch of theory and practice, despite their substantive differences about
natural slavery. In working out his theory [Aristotle] does not make the supposition that he is
describing contemporary slavery or even that what he is saying is applicable to it. The theory
does not explicitly or otherwise pretend to be a theory directly or indirectly concerned with
contemporary slavery. . . . Aristotle simply failed to allow his theory of ownership to exert any
pressure on his own practice while he lived. See Malcolm Schofield, Saving the City:
Philosopher-Kings and Other Classical Paradigms (New York: Routledge, 1999), 133.
58. The Constitutions never made much impact on the actual government of Carolina
(Goldie, ed. Political Essays, 161)as antebellum Southerners observed. For recent assess-
ments, see J. R. Milton, John Locke and the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina, Locke
Newsletter 21 (1990): 111-33; and Vicki Hsueh, Giving Orders: Theory and Practice in the
Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina, Journal of the History of Ideas 63 (2002), esp. 425-26.
59. Armitage, John Locke, Carolina; and J. R. Milton, Dating Lockes Second Treatise,
History of Political Thought 16 (1995): 356-90.
60. Cheves, Shaftesbury Papers, 327.
61. The temporary laws are in CO5/286/41, reprinted in Cheves, Shaftesbury Papers, 367.
62. These instructions are in CO5/1359/266-303. Laslett, Introduction, 284n, alleged
that the Instructions to Governor Nicholson . . . regard negro slaves as justifiably enslaved
because they were captives taken in a just war. But this is a serious misstatement that has mis-
led many subsequent scholars who have not consulted the originals. There is nothing in the
Instructions on captives taken in a just war, much less that they prove that Locke thought the
raids of the Royal African Company were just wars. This was previously observed in Farr,
So Vile and Miserable an Estate, 286n29; and later in Ruth Grant, John Lockes Liberalism
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 68n, who concludes that Lockes theory . . .
can in no way support that institution.
63. See Quentin Skinner on the myth of coherence in Meaning and Understanding in
the History of Ideas, History and Theory 8 (1969): 3-53; and Waldron, God, Locke, and
Equality, introduction.
64. Bernasconi and Mann, The Contradictions of Racism, 100-1.
65. For example, Bracken, Essence, Accident, and Race, 81-96; Popkin, Philosophical
Bases, 126-65; Bernasconi, Lockes Almost Random Talk of Man, 293-318; and chapters in
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Andrew Valls, ed., Race and Modern Philosophy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005).
On Lockes anti-essentialism, see Peter R. Anstey and Stephen A. Harris, Locke and Botany,
Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 37 (2006): 151-71.
66. Bernasconi and Mann, Contradictions of Racism, 90, 100. They concede, however,
the theorys unsuitableness for the task of justifying slavery.
67. Ibid., 101.
68. Filmer, Patriarcha, 94.
69. Locke, Essay, II.xvi.6; IV.xii.11. Similarly, Locke insists that the Americans are not
all born with worse understandings than the Europeans, in Ruth Grant and Nathan Tarcov,
eds., Conduct of the Understanding (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1996), 179.
70. George Fitzhugh, Southern Thought Again, DeBows Review 23 (1857): 451. It was
not necessary to denigrate the Negro race to defend slavery, argues Larry E. Tise, Proslavery:
A History of the Defense of Slavery in America, 1701-1840 (Athens: University of Georgia
Press, 1987), 12. That is, some pro-slavery arguments refused racism, Michael OBrien,
Conjectures of Order: Intellectual Life and the American South, 1810-1860, vol. 2 (Chapel
Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 960.
71. cf. Bracken, Essence, Accident, and Race; Farr, So Vile and Miserable an Estate;
Valls, ed., Racism and Modern Philosophy, chaps. 6, 7, 13; and William Uzgalis, An
Inconsistency Not to be Excused: On Locke and Racism, in Philosophers on Race, ed. Julie
K. Ward and Tommy L. Lott (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 2002), 81-100.
72. Locke, indeed, positively dissociates color from any conception of man in the Essay
(IV.vii.16) when he ridicules the English Child who can demonstrate to you that A Negro
is not a man, because Whiteness was one of the constant simple Ideas of the complex Idea he
calls Man. Similarly, in Draft B, a child who hath noe other Idea of a man, but a whiteish
colour of his face has an imperfect idea of man. Moreover, a child unused to the sight of
a More [Moor] & having had some such description of the devill would call a negro a devill
rather then a man & at the same time perhaps call a Dryll [mandrill] a man. See Nidditch and
Rogers, eds., Drafts, 202, 192. These passages (concerning childish impressions) undermine
those interpretations that Locke consciously or clearly advanced philosophical racism on the
basis of species-nominalism or anything else.
73. Mark Goldie, ed., The Reception of Lockes Politics, 6 vols. (London, 1999).
74. John Norris, The Liberty and Property of British Subjects (London: J. Roberts, 1726),
x, 22, 23, 27.
75. James Otis, Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved (Boston: Edes and Gill,
1764), 6, 29.
76. John Dickinson, Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania to the Inhabitants of the British
Colonies (Philadelphia: David Hall, 1768), 6, 38.
77. John Dickinson, An Essay on the Constitutional Power of Great Britain over the
Colonies in America (Philadelphia: William and Thomas Bradford, 1774), 103, 103n.
78. Charles Elliott, The Sinfulness of American Slavery (Cincinnati, OH: Swormstedt and
Power, 1850), 205-6.
79. Benjamin Ferris [Amicus], Slavery among the Puritans: A Letter to the Rev. Moses
Stuart (Boston: Little, Brown, 1850), 41.
80. Josiah Tucker, A Series of Answers to Certain Popular Objections, Against Separating
from the Rebellious Colonies (Gloucester, MA: R. Raikes, 1776), ix, xiii, 103, 104-5.
81. Later, Jeremy Bentham also mocked the liberty-champion for the Fundamental
Constitutions, a performance which from that day to this has never been more spoken of in any
other character than that of a failure (in Armitage, John Locke, Carolina, 620). Armitage
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claims that Tucker and Bentham were theoretically acute about Locke. This seems generous
given their polemic, brevity, and inattention to restrictions in chapter 16.
82. George Bancroft, History of the United States of America, from the Discovery of the
American Continent (Boston: Little, Brown, 1874 [1834]), 145, 150, 151, 171n.
83. Bernasconi and Mann, The Contradictions of Racism, 32, 105n32, referring to
W. Duncan, North Carolina, Part I, DeBows Review 11 (July 1851): 30-40; and J. D. B. de
Bow, Charters and Constitutions of South Carolina, Part 1, DeBows Review 20 (April 1856):
84. On Dew and Our Slavery Question, see OBrien, Conjectures of Order, chap. 18.
Also see Colin Kidd, The Forging of Races: Race and Scripture in the Protestant Atlantic
World, 1600-2000 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006).
85. Thomas R. Dew, Review of the Debate in the Virginia Legislature of 1831 and 1832
(Richmond, VA: T. W. White, 1832), 19. This passage was reprinted in Professor Dews
Essays on Slavery: Origin of Slavery, and its Effects on the Progress of Civilization, Chapter II,
DeBows Review 11 (July 1851): 24.
86. Dew, Professor Dews Essays, 20, 38, 42, 46, 97, 106, 111 (reprinting passages from
Dew, Review of the Debate).
87. Albert Taylor Bledsoe, Essay on Liberty and Slavery (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott,
1856), mostly reprinted in Liberty and Slavery: or, Slavery in the Light of Moral and Political
Philosophy, in Cotton is King!, ed. E. N. Elliott (Augusta, GA: Pritchard, Abbott, and
Loomis, 1860), 273ff. Approval came from George Frederick Holmes, Bledsoe on Liberty
and Slavery, DeBows Review 21 (August 1856): 138, 143.
88. George Fitzhugh, The Politics and Economics of Aristotle and Mr. Calhoun,
DeBows Review 27 (August 1857): 166; and The Revolutions of 1776 and 1861 Contrasted,
Southern Literary Messenger 37 (December 1863): 719. Also see Sociology for the South, or
the Failure of Free Society (Richmond, VA: A. Morris, 1854), 175, 187; Southern Thought
Again, 455; and C. Vann Woodward, ed., Cannibals All, or Slaves Without Masters,
(Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 1988 [1857]), 13, 71.
89. Fitzhugh, The Revolutions of 1776 and 1861 Contrasted, 721-23.
90. Duncan, North Carolina, 32.
91. W. H. Trescott, South CarolinaA Colony and State, DeBows Review 27 (December
1859): 682, 685.
92. de Bow, Charters and Constitutions of Carolina, reprinting the previously unidentified
article by de Bow, Carolina Political Annals, Southern Quarterly Review 7 (April 1845): 479-526.
93. de Bow, Charters and Constitutions of Carolina, 396, 398n, 399, 401-4, 406, 411.
94. Dunn, The Political Thought of John Locke, 174n.
James Farr is professor of political science and director of Chicago field studies at
Northwestern University, where he teaches topics in political theory and American studies. He
continues to research, among other things, Lockes colonial entanglements with American
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