Two Treatises on Government (1680-1690)

John Locke

Of Adam’s Title to Sovereignty by Creation

§ 15. Sir Robert in his Preface to his Observations on Aristotle’s Politics, tells us, “A natural freedom of mankind cannot be supposed without the denial of the creation of Adam:” but how Adam’s being created, which was nothing but his receiving a being immediately from omnipotency, and the hand of God, gave Adam a sovereignty over anything, I cannot see, nor consequently understand, how a supposition of natural freedom is a denial of Adam’s creation, and would be glad anybody else (since our A– did not vouchsafe us the favour) would make it out for him. For I find no difficulty to suppose the freedom of mankind, though I have always believed the creation of Adam; he was created, or began to exist, by God’s immediate power, without the intervention of parents or the pre-existence of any of the same species to beget him, when it pleased God he should; and so did the lion, the kings of beasts before him, by the same creating power of God: and if bare existence by that power, and in that way, will give dominion, without any more ado, our A–, by this argument, will make the lion have as good a title to it as he, and certainly the ancienter. No; for Adam had his title “by the appointment of God,” says our A– in another place. Then bare creation gave him not dominion, and one might have supposed mankind free without denying the creation of Adam since it was God’s appointment made him monarch.

§ 16. But let us see, how he puts his creation and this appointment together. “By the appointment of God,” says Sir Robert, “as soon as Adam was created he was monarch of the world, though he had no subjects, for though there could not be actual government till there were subjects, yet by the right of nature it was due to Adam to be governor of his posterity: though not in act, yet at least in habit, Adam was a king from his creation.” I wish he had told us here what he meant by God’s appointment. For whatsoever Providence orders, or the law of nature directs, or positive revelation declares, may be said to be by God’s appointment, but I suppose it cannot be meant here in the first sense, i.e. by Providence; because that would be to say no more, but that as soon as Adam was created he was de facto monarch, because by right of nature it was due to Adam, to be governor of his posterity. But he could not de facto be by Providence constituted the governor of the world at a time, when there was actually no government, no subjects to be governed, which our A– here confesses. Monarch of the world is also differently used by our Author, for sometimes he means by it a proprietor of all the world exclusive of the rest of mankind, and thus he does in the same page of his preface before cited: “Adam,” says he, “being commanded to multiply and people the earth and to subdue it, and having dominion given him over all creatures, was thereby the monarch of the whole world, none of his posterity had any right to possess anything but by his grant or permission, or by succession from him.”

2. Let us understand then by monarch proprietor of the world, and by appointment God’s actual donation, and revealed positive grant made to Adam, Gen. 1:28 as we see Sir Robert himself does in this parallel place, and then his argument will stand thus, “by the positive grant of God: as soon as Adam was created, he was proprietor of the world, because by the right of nature it was due to Adam to be governor of his posterity.” In which way of arguing there are two manifest falsehoods. First, it is false that God made that grant to Adam, as soon as he was created, since though it stands in the text immediately after his creation, yet it is plain it could not be spoken to Adam till after Eve was made and brought to him, and how then could he be monarch by appointment as soon as created, especially since he calls, if I mistake not, that which God says to Eve, Gen. 3:16. The original grant of government, which not being till after the Fall, when Adam was somewhat, at least in time, and very much, distant in condition from his creation, I cannot see, how our A– can say in this sense, that “by God’s appointment, as soon as Adam was created he was monarch of the world.” Secondly, were it true that God’s actual donation appointed Adam monarch of the world as soon as he was created, yet the reason here given for it would not prove it, but it would always be a false inference, that God, by a positive donation “appointed Adam monarch of the world, because by right of nature it was due to Adam to be governor of his posterity:” for having given him the right of government by nature, there was no need of a positive donation, at least it will never be a proof of such a donation.

§ 17. On the other side the matter will not be much mended, if we understand by God’s appointment the law of nature, (though it be a pretty harsh expression for it in this place) and by monarch of the world, sovereign ruler of mankind; for then the sentence under consideration must run thus: “By the law of nature, as soon as Adam was created he was governor of mankind, for by right of nature it was due to Adam to be governor of his posterity,” which amounts to this, he was governor by right of nature, because he was governor by right of nature. But supposing we should grant, that a man is by nature governor of his children, Adam could not hereby be monarch as soon as created, for this right of nature being founded in his being their father, how Adam could have a natural right to be governor before he was a Father, when by being a father only he had that right, is, methinks, hard to conceive, unless he will have him to be a father before he was a father, and to have a title before he had it.

§ 18. To this foreseen objection, our A– answers very logically, “He was governor in habit, and not in act:” a very pretty way of being a governor without government, a father without children, and a king without subjects. And thus Sir Robert was an author before he writ his book, not in act it is true, but in habit, for when he had once published it, it was due to him by the right of nature, to be an author, as much as it was to Adam to be governor of his children when he had begot them; and if to be such a monarch of the world, an absolute monarch in habit, but not in act, will serve the turn, I should not much envy it to any of Sir Robert’s friends that he thought fit graciously to bestow it upon, though even this of act and habit, if it signified anything but our A–’s skill in distinctions, be not to his purpose in this place. For the question is not here about Adam’s actual exercise of government, but actually having a title to be governor: “Government,” says our A–, “was due to Adam by the right of nature.” What is this right of nature? A right fathers have over their children by begetting them; generatione jus acquiritur parentibus in liberos, says our A– out of Grotius, O. 223. The right then follows the begetting as arising from it, so that according to this way of reasoning or distinguishing of our A–, Adam, as soon as he was created, had a title only in habit, and not in act, which in plain English is, he had actually no title at all.

§ 19. To speak less learnedly, and more intelligibly, one may say of Adam, he was in a possibility of being governor, since it was possible he might beget children, and thereby acquire that right of nature, be it what it will, to govern them, that accrues from thence, but what connection has this with Adam’s creation, to make him say, That “as soon as he was created, he was monarch of the world?” For it may be as well said of Noah, that as soon as he was born, he was monarch of the world, since he was in possibility (which in our A–’s sense is enough to make a monarch, “a monarch in habit,”) to outlive all mankind but his own posterity. What such necessary connection there is betwixt Adam’s creation and his right to government, so that a “natural freedom of mankind cannot be supposed without the denial of the creation of Adam,” I confess for my part I do not see; Nor how those words, “by the appointment,” &c. O. 254, however explained, can be put together to make any tolerable sense, at least to establish this position, with which they end, viz. “Adam was a king from his creation;” a king, says our A–, “not in act, but in habit,” i.e. actually no king at all.

§ 20. I fear I have tired my reader’s patience, by dwelling longer on this passage than the weightiness of any argument in it, seems to require: but I have unavoidably been engaged in it by our A–’s way of writing, who huddling several suppositions together, and that in doubtful and general terms makes such a medley and confusion, that it is impossible to show his mistakes, without examining the several senses, wherein his words may be taken, and without seeing how, in any of these various meanings, they will consist together, and have any truth in them; for in this present passage before us, how can anyone argue against this position of his, that “Adam was a king from his creation,” unless one examine, whether the words, “from his creation,” be to be taken, as they may, for the time of the commencement of his government, as the foregoing words import, “as soon as he was created he was monarch,” or, for the cause of it, as he says, p. 11, “Creation made man prince of his posterity?” How farther can one judge of the truth of his being thus king, till one has examined whether king be to be taken, as the words in the beginning of this passage would persuade, on supposition of his private dominion, which was by God’s positive grant, “monarch of the world by appointment;” or king on supposition of his fatherly power over his offspring which was by nature, “due by the right of nature,” whether, I say, king be to be taken in both, or one only of these two senses, or in neither of them, but only this, that creation made him prince, in a way different from both the other? For though this assertion, that “Adam was king from his creation,” be true in no sense, yet it stands here as an evident conclusion drawn from the preceding words, though in truth it be but a bare assertion joined to other assertions of the same kind, which confidently put together in words of undetermined and dubious meaning, look like a sort of arguing, when there is indeed neither proof nor connection: a way very familiar with our A–, of which having given the reader a taste here, I shall, as much as the argument will permit me, avoid touching on hereafter, and should not have done it here, were it not to let the world see, how incoherencies in matter, and suppositions without proofs put handsomely together in good words and a plausible style, are apt to pass for strong reason and good sense, till they come to be looked into with attention.