John Locke and America: The Defence of English Colonialism

By Barbara Arneil | Go to book overview

Introduction

Thus in the beginning all the World was Ametica.1

AMERICA as it appears in these famous words from the Two Treatises of Government is John Locke's political Genesis. For Locke, America is the beginning of civilization, to the extent that it reveals civil society's natural origins. But Locke's vision of the new world is a 'beginning' for the old world in a different, although equally profound, sense. Steeped in the colonial zeal of his patron, the Earl of Shaftesbury,2 John Locke saw America as the second Garden of Eden; a new beginning for England should it manage to defend its claims in the American continent against those of the Indians3 and other European powers. America, like the world described in the original Genesis, is England's second chance at paradise, providing the colonial masters of the old world with a land full of all the promise known in that first idyllic state. America thus

____________________
1
John Locke, Two Treatises of Government, ed. Peter Laslett, ( Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought; Cambridge, 1988), Treatise II, para. 49. Unless otherwise stated, all future references to the Two Treatises will be from this edition.
2
For ease of reference Anthony Ashley Cooper, first Baron Ashley, then Lord Ashley, afterwards the Earl of Shaftesbury and Lord High Chancellor of England, shall be referred to throughout this book as the Earl of Shaftesbury.
3
There is a problem of terminology with respect to the aboriginal peoples of the Americas. To use the term 'Indian' to describe members of over 800 nations, some of whom would be offended by the term, is inappropriate. However, and this is an important aspect of my arguments, historically both colonists and philosophers like Locke often portrayed the aboriginal peoples of America as an undifferentiated mass of men still in the state of nature. After some thought, I have decided therefore to use the terms Amerindians and aboriginal peoples, terms used in the United States and Canada respectively, whenever possible. On occasion I also use the term Indian, always in italics, where the historical nature of that word, and all of its related connotations, are important. I have also chosen 'man' and the male pronoun specifically because Locke and his contemporary seventeenth-century thinkers were writing about men.

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John Locke and America: The Defence of English Colonialism
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Locke's Travel Books 21
  • 2 - Colonialism and Natural Law 45
  • 3 - English Colonialism 65
  • 4 - Colonialism: Economic and Ethical Debates 88
  • 5 - Carolina: a Colonial Blueprint 118
  • 6 - Colonialism: Locke's Theory of Property 132
  • 7 - Locke, Jefferson, and the Amerindian 168
  • 8 - Conclusion 201
  • Bibliography 212
  • Index 223
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