John Locke and America: The Defence of English Colonialism

John Locke and America: The Defence of English Colonialism

John Locke and America: The Defence of English Colonialism

John Locke and America: The Defence of English Colonialism


This book considers the context of the colonial policies of Britain, Locke's contribution to them, and the importance of these ideas in his theory of property. It also reconsiders the debate about John Locke's influence in America, challenging a number of other interpretations. The author breaks new ground in her interpretation of Locke's writings about the Indians and English colonization of America--a subject largely overlooked in the past. The book argues that Locke's theory of property must be understood in connection with the philosopher's political concerns, as part of his endeavour to justify the colonialist policies of Lord Shaftesbury's cabinet, with which he was personally associated. The author maintains that traditional scholarship has failed to do justice to Locke by ignoring the implications of contemporary British imperial policy for the interpretation of his political thought. The book offers a new insight into Locke's theory of property, suggesting a solution to the problem of why Locke himself assigned such importance to property in the state of nature being based on labour while at the same time asserting that property in civil society is based on convention.


John Locke not only lived in a country on the threshold of establishing a global colonial empire, but, like Hugo Grotius, he was immersed in both the political and the intellectual questions raised by such colonization. in order to understand the impact this involvement had on his political thought, we must consider both the development of English colonialism in America as a whole, with particular reference to Carolina, and the colonial writings of Locke's day to draw the connections between his thought and the historical events and ideas which surrounded him.

English COLONIALISM: trade versus settlement

English exploration of America began in the sixteenth century, giving rise to the first attempts at colonization in the new world. Sir Walter Raleigh was granted the first charter in 1583, which, after repeated attempts, failed to establish any lasting settlement of Englishmen in America. This initial failure, however, was followed by the more successful endeavours of the Virginia Charter of 1606, the founding of Bermuda and Barbados, and the Pilgrims settling of Plymouth and Massachuetts, followed by the remainder of New England, and, latterly, Carolina. the reasons which lay behind the zeal for colonization which gradually emerged in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are numerous and change with the evolution of England's involvement in the new world.

Initially, and throughout much of the early colonial period, the penultimate reason given for colonizing America was religious. Thus Article 3 of the First Charter of Virginia calls for 'The propagating of Christian religion to such people as yet . . .

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