Note: I wrote this paper in college a while back and thought to post it in this forum. Tell me what you think and if positive I will look at posting some more. It's a comparison to the works of Locke and the Declaration of Independence.
The Two Treatises of Government and the Legacy of John Locke
Freedom has never existed in as large of an extent as it has throughout the past 200 years. Since the dawn of civilized man, people have largely been ruled by kings, dictators, aristocrats, and other groups of elites. Wherever pure democracy was attempted it always resulted in the rule of the majority as their attempts to gain privileges over the minority created tyrannical rule and second class citizens. Whatever the time, people have largely lived in servitude, whether it be the feudal system where people worked the land for the benefit of their lords, or the patron client system in Rome where people could only advance so as long as they gained favor from the wealthy ruling class who bribed them for their support. It was in this spirit that John Locke wrote the Two Treatise’s of Government.
John Locke wrote his famous essay in the midst of political turmoil. Suspected of being involved in the Rye House Plot of 1683, a conspiracy to assassinate King Charles II and the Duke of York who would later become King James II, Locke fled to Holland. There he revised and completed his essay, and in the aftermath of The Glorious Revolution, where parliament convinced William of Orange to invade England and overthrow King James II, he travelled back to England with Mary II of England in 1688, wife of the new King William III. From then on Locke would grow in fame and fortune as one of England’s great thinkers and political philosophers (John Locke Biography).
Building on the foundation of previous natural law philosophers, such as Richard Hooker who he cites in chapter two, section five, of his essay, John Locke anonymously published this now historic text in 1689 as refutation of Sir Robert Filmer who advocated for the divine right of absolute monarchy in his Patriarcha 1680. Aside from Hooker, Locke also observes, critiques, criticizes, and references the theories of Thomas Hobbs who is among the earliest of those who adhered to a theory of a social contract, and to a limited extent, the rights of the individual in his 1651 publication of Leviathan. John Milton, perhaps best known for his famous work, Paradise Lost, where he writes about Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden, is also noted in Locke’s publication. In his mind, Lock would put to rest the absolutist ideas of Hobbs and Filmer that power must be vested in a central authority at the cost of human liberty in order to control the selfish nature of man.
Locke began his essay in support of the newly crowned King William III of England to which he wrote in his essay, “These which remain I hope are sufficient to establish the throne of our great restorer, our present king William; to make good on his title in else consent of the people; ...” He then immediately attacked the ideas Sir Robert Filmer in his first chapter by summarizing the divine right as, “by these men’s system, except only one, are all born slaves, and by divine right are subjects to Adam’s heir…” In fact, Locke’s first book of his Two Treatises, titled The False Principles and Foundation of Sir Robert Filmer and His Followers, Are Detected and Overthrown, is a convincing criticism and comparison of how the divine right is no different than placing everyone in a constant state of slavery. This may have been a radical view before, but in light of the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution, the English had grown tired and skeptical of highly centralized power in a king of divine right.
In the second book, titled Concerning the True Original Extent and End of Civil Government, he starts out, as many epistemologists and philosophers on political philosophy had done before, at the creation of Adam. From there he moves in to his second chapter titled, Of the State of Nature, where he immediately lays out the idea that all men a created equally free writing,
“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 bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.”
As he wrote on, he claimed that all men are created by God in an equal state of nature and unless direct divine intervention dictates otherwise, no man should be subjugated to the will of another. This is the key to understanding Locke’s philosophy. He believed in the freedom of the individual.
Further summarizing his second treatise, he wrote of the consent of the governed, separation of powers, and the proper role of government; that is to defend the natural state of liberty for every man. He also sees war as justified only in the event of defending liberty and speaks out strongly against slavery in chapters III and IV. In his final chapter, chapter XIX, Of the Dissolution of Government, he advocates for the dissolution of government if the people feel that it is not in keeping with their will or the defense of their natural state of freedom. Though this publication gained him great notoriety, he couldn’t possibly predict the influence that he would have on so many.
On July 4th 1776, the Continental Congress in Philadelphia Pennsylvania officially adopted the Declaration of Independence. In fact, the similarities to John Locke’s essay fit the modern college standards of plagiarism. For example, the Declaration speaks of “the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and natures God” entitle us. This is strikingly similar to the thesis of Locke’s second chapter, Of the State of Nature. Moreover, the Declaration states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Whereas Locke also writes in his second chapter, “This equality of men by nature, the judicious Hooker looks upon as so self-evident in itself, and beyond all question, that he makes it the foundation of that obligation to mutual love amongst men,” and also, “being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.” Finally, though there are many other similarities, the texts of both documents speak of “a long train of abuses,” specifically, in Locke’s final chapter concerning the dissolution of government.
Thomas Jefferson, the original drafter of the Declaration of Independence, in his May 8, 1825 letter to Henry Lee, stated that,
“All it’s (the Declaration of Independence) authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, &c. The historical documents which you mention as in your possession, ought all to be found, and I am persuaded you will find, to be corroborative of the facts and principles advanced in that Declaration.”
Cont to next post ....