Two Treatises on Government (1680-1690)

John Locke

Of Monarchy, by Inheritance from Adam

§ 81. Though it be never so plain that there ought to be government in the world, nay, should all men be of our A–’s mind, that divine appointment had ordained it to be monarchical, yet since men cannot obey anything, that cannot command, and ideas of government in the fancy, though never so perfect, though never so right, cannot give laws, nor prescribe rules to the actions of men; it would be of no behoof for the settling of order, and establishment of government in its exercise and use amongst men, unless there were a way also taught how to know the person, to whom it belonged to have this power, and exercise this dominion over others. It is in vain then to talk of subjection and obedience, without telling us whom we are to obey. For were I never so fully persuaded, that there ought to be magistracy and rule in the world, yet I am nevertheless at liberty still, till it appears who is the person that hath right to my obedience: since if there be no marks to know him by, and distinguish him, that hath right to rule from other men, it may be myself, as well as any other. And therefore though submission to government be everyone’s duty, yet since that signifies nothing but submitting to the direction and laws of such men, as have authority to command, it is not enough to make a man a subject, to convince him that there is regal power in the world, but there must be ways of designing, and knowing the person to whom this regal power of right belongs, and a man can never be obliged in conscience to submit to any power, unless he can be satisfied who is the person, who has a right to exercise that power over him. If this were not so, there would be no distinction between pirates and lawful princes, he that has force is without any more ado to be obeyed, and crowns and scepters would become the inheritance only of violence and rapine. Men too might as often and as innocently change their governors, as they do their physicians, if the person cannot be known, who has a right to direct me, and whose prescriptions I am bound to follow. To settle therefore men’s consciences under an obligation to obedience, it is necessary that they know not only that there is a power somewhere in the world, but the person who by right is vested with this power over them.

§ 82. How successful our A– has been in his attempts, to set up a monarchical absolute power in Adam, the reader may judge by what has been already said: but were that absolute monarchy as clear as our A– would desire it, as I presume it is the contrary, yet it could be of no use to the government of mankind now in the world, unless he also make out these two things.

First, that this power of Adam was not to end with him, but was upon his decease conveyed entire to some other person, and so on to posterity.

Secondly, that the princes and rulers now on earth, are possessed of this power of Adam, by a right way of conveyance derived to them.

§ 83. If the first of these fail, the power of Adam, were it never so great, never so certain, will signify nothing to the present governments and societies in the world, but we must seek out some other original of power for the government of polities than this of Adam, or else there will be none at all in the world. If the latter fail, it will destroy the authority of the present governors, and absolve the people from subjection to them, since they having no better a claim then others to that power, which is alone the fountain of all authority, can have no title to rule over them.

§ 84. Our A– having fancied an absolute sovereignty in Adam, mentions several ways of its conveyance to princes, that were to be his successors, but that which he chiefly insists on, is, that of inheritance, which occurs so often in his several discourses, and I having in the foregoing chapter quoted several of these passages, I shall not need here again to repeat them. This sovereignty he erects, as has been said upon a double foundation, viz. that of property, and that of fatherhood. One was the right he was supposed to have in all creatures, a right to possess the earth with the beasts, and other inferior ranks of things in it for his private use, exclusive of all other men. The other was the right he was supposed to have, to rule and govern men, all the rest of mankind.

§ 85. In both these rights, there being supposed an exclusion of all other men, it must be upon some reason peculiar to Adam, that they must both be founded.

That of his property our A– supposes to arise from God’s immediate donation, Gen. l:28, and that of fatherhood from the act of begetting: now in all inheritance, if the heir succeed not to the reason, upon which his father’s right was founded, he cannot succeed to the right which followeth from it. For example, Adam had a right of property in the creatures, upon the donation and grant of God Almighty, who was lord and proprietor of them all, let this be so as our A– tells us, yet upon his death his heir can have no title to them, no such right of property in them, unless the same reason, viz. God’s donation, vested a right in the heir too. For if Adam could have had no property in, nor use of, the creatures without this positive donation from God, and this donation, were only personally to Adam, his heir could have no right by it, but upon his death, it must revert to God the lord and owner again: for positive grants give no title farther than the express words convey it, and by which only it is held. And thus, if as our A– himself contends, that donation, Gen. 1:28, were made only to Adam personally his heir could not succeed to his property in the creatures and if it were a donation to any but Adam, let it be shown, that it was to his heir in our A–’s sense, i.e. to one of his children exclusive of all the rest.

§ 86. But not to follow our A– too far out of the way, the plain of the case is this. God having made man, and planted in him, as in all other animals, a strong desire of self-preservation, and furnished the world with things fit for food and raiment and other necessaries of life, subservient to his design, that man should live and abide for some time upon the face of the earth, and not that so curious and wonderful a piece of workmanship by its own negligence, or want of necessaries, should perish again, presently after a few moments continuance: God, I say, having made man and the world thus, spoke to him, (that is) directed him by his senses and reason, as he did the inferior animals by their sense, and instinct, which he had placed in them to that purpose, to the use of those things, which were serviceable for his subsistence, and given him as means of his preservation. And therefore I doubt not, but before these words were pronounced, Gen. 1:28, 29 (if they must be understood literally to have been spoken) and without any such verbal donation, man had a right to a use of the creatures, by the will and grant of God. For the desire, strong desire of preserving his life and being having been planted in him, as a principle of action by God himself, reason, “which was the voice of God in him,” could not but teach him and assure him, that pursuing that natural inclination he had to preserve his being, he followed the will of his maker, and therefore had a right to make use of those creatures, which by his reason or senses he could discover would be serviceable thereunto. And thus man’s property in the creatures, was founded upon the right he had, to make use of those things, that were necessary or useful to his being.

§ 87. This being the reason and foundation of Adam’s property gave the same title, on the same ground, to all his children, not only after his death, but in his lifetime: so that here was no privilege of his heir above his other children, which could exclude them from an equal right to the use of the inferior creatures, for the comfortable preservation of their beings, which is all the property man hath in them: and so Adam’s sovereignty built on property, or as our A– calls it, private dominion comes to nothing. Every man had a right to the creatures, by the same title Adam had, viz. by the right every one had to take care of, and provide for their subsistence: and thus men had a right in common, Adam’s children in common with him. But if anyone had began, and made himself a property in any particular thing, (which how he, or anyone else, could do, shall be shown in another place) that thing, that possession, if he disposed not otherwise of it by his positive grant, descended naturally to his children, and they had a right to succeed to it, and possess it.

§ 88. It might reasonably be asked here, how come children by this right of possessing, before any other, the properties of their parents upon their decease. For it being personally the parents, when they die, without actually transferring their right to another, why does it not return again to the common stock of mankind? It will perhaps be answered, that common consent hath disposed of it, to the children. Common practice, we see indeed does so dispose of it but we cannot say, that it is the common consent of mankind; for that hath never been asked, nor actually given: and if common tacit consent hath established it, it would make but a positive and not natural right of children to inherit the goods of their parents: but where the practice is universal, it is reasonable to think the cause is natural. The ground then, I think, to be this: the first and strongest desire God planted in men, and wrought into the very principles of their nature being that of self preservation, that is the foundation of a right to the creatures, for the particular support and use of each individual person himself. But next to this, God planted in men a strong desire also of propagating their kind, and continuing themselves in their posterity, and this gives children a title, to share in the property of their parents, and a right to inherit their possessions. Men are not proprietors of what they have merely for themselves, their children have a title to part of it, and have their kind of right joined with their parents, in the possession which comes to be wholly theirs, when death having put an end to their parents use of it, hath taken them from their possessions, and this we call inheritance. Men being by a like obligation bound to preserve what they have begotten, as to preserve themselves, their issue come to have a right in the goods they are possessed of. that children have such a right is plain from the laws of God, and that men are convinced, that children have such a right, is evident from the law of the land, both which laws require parents to provide for their children.

§ 89. For children being by the course of nature, born weak, and unable to provide for themselves, they have by the appointment of God himself, who hath thus ordered the course of nature, a right to be nourished and maintained by their parents, nay a right not only to a bare subsistence but to the conveniences and comforts of life, as far as the conditions of their parents can afford it. Hence it comes, that when their parents leave the world, and so the care due to their children ceases, the effects of it are to extend as far as possibly they can, and the provisions they have made in their lifetime, are understood to be intended as nature requires they should, for their children, whom after themselves, they are bound to provide for, though the dying parents, by express words, declare nothing about them, nature appoints the descent of their property to their children, who thus come to have a title, and natural right of inheritance to their fathers goods, which the rest of mankind cannot pretend to.

§ 90. Were it not for this right of being nourished, and maintained by their parents, which God and nature has given to children, and obliged parents to, as a duty, it would be reasonable, that the father should inherit the estate of his son, and be preferred in the inheritance before his grandchild. For to the grandfather, there is due a long score of care and expenses laid out upon the breeding and education of his son, which one would think in justice ought to be paid. But that having been done in obedience to the same law, whereby he received nourishment and education from his own parents, this score of education received from a man’s father, is paid by taking care, and providing for his own children; is paid, I say, as much as is required of payment by alteration of property, unless present necessity of the parents require a return of goods for their necessary support and subsistence. For we are not now speaking of that reverence, acknowledgment, respect and honour that is always due from children to their parents, but of possessions and commodities of life valuable by money. But though it be incumbent on parents to bring up and provide for their children, yet this debt to the children does not quite cancel the score due to the parents, but only is made by nature preferable to it. For the debt a man owes his father, takes place, and gives the father a right to inherit the son’s goods, where for want of issue, the right of children doth not exclude that title. And therefore a man having a right to be maintained by his children where he needs it, and to enjoy also the comforts of life from them, when the necessary provision due to them, and their children will afford it, if his son die without issue, the father has a right in nature to possess his goods, and inherit his estate (whatever the municipal laws of some countries, may absurdly direct otherwise,) and so again his children and their issue from him, or for want of such, his father and his issue. But where no such are to be found, i.e. no kindred, there we see the possessions of a private man revert to the community, and so in politic societies come into the hands of the public magistrate: but in the state of nature become again perfectly common, nobody having a right to inherit them: nor can anyone have a property in them, otherwise then in other things common, by nature, of which I shall speak in its due place.

§ 91. I have been the larger in chewing upon what ground children have a right to succeed to the possession of their fathers properties, not only because by it, it will appear, that if Adam had a property (a titular insignificant useless property; for it could be no better, for he was bound to nourish and maintain his children and posterity out of it) in the whole earth and its product, yet all his children coming to have by the law of nature and right of inheritance a joint title, and right of property in it after his death, it could convey no right of sovereignty to anyone of his posterity over the rest: since every one having a right of inheritance to his portion, they might enjoy their inheritance, or any part of it in common, or share it, or some parts of it by division, as it best liked them. But no one could pretend to the whole inheritance, or any sovereignty supposed to accompany it, since a right of inheritance gave every one of the rest, as well as anyone, a title to share in the goods of his father. Not only upon this account, I say, have I been so particular in examining the reason of children’s inheriting the property of their fathers, but also because it will give us farther light in the inheritance of rule and power, which in countries where their particular municipal laws give the whole possession of land entirely to the first-born, and descent of power has gone so to men by this custom, some have been apt to be deceived into an opinion, that there was a natural or divine right of primogeniture, to both estate and power, and that the inheritance of both rule over men and property in things, sprang from the same original, and were to descend by the same rules.

§ 92. Property, whose original is from the right a man has to use any of the inferior creatures, for the subsistence and comfort of his life, is for the benefit and sole advantage of the proprietor, so that he may even destroy the thing, that he has property in by his use of it, where need requires: but government being for the preservation of every man’s right and property, by preserving him from the violence or injury of others, is for the good of the governed. For the magistrate’s sword being for a “terror to evildoers,” and by that terror to enforce men to observe the positive laws of the society, made conformable to the laws of nature, for the public good, i.e. the good of every particular member of that society, as far as by common rules, it can be provided for; the sword is not given the magistrate for his own good alone.

§ 93. Children therefore, as has been showed, by the dependence they have on their parents for subsistence, have a right of inheritance to their father’s property, as that which belongs to them for their proper good and behoof, and therefore are fitly termed goods, wherein the first-born has not a sole or peculiar right by any law of God and nature, the younger children having an equal title with him founded on that right they all have to maintenance, support and comfort from their parents, and nothing else. But government being for the benefit of the governed, and not the sole advantage of the governors (but only for theirs with the rest, as they make a part of that politic body, each of whose parts and members are taken care of, and directed in its peculiar functions for the good of the whole, by the laws of the society) cannot be inherited by the same title that children have to the goods of their father. The right a son has to be maintained and provided with the necessaries and conveniences of life out of his father’s stock, gives him a right to succeed to his father’s property for his own good, but this can give him no right to succeed also to the rule, which his father had over other men. All that a child has right to claim from his father is nourishment and education, and the things nature furnishes for the support of life: but he has no right to demand rule or dominion from him: he can subsist and receive from him the portion of good things, and advantages of education naturally due to him, without empire and dominion. That (if his father hath any) was vested in him, for the good and behoof of others, and therefore the son cannot claim or inherit it by a title, which is founded wholly on his own private good and advantage.

§ 94. We must know how the first ruler, from whom anyone claims, came by his authority, upon what ground anyone has empire, what his title is to it, before we can know who has a right to succeed him in it, and inherit it from him. If the agreement and consent of men first gave a scepter into anyone’s hand, or put a crown on his head, that also must direct its descent and conveyance. For the same authority, that made the first a lawful ruler, must make the second too, and so give right of succession: in this case inheritance or primogeniture, can in itself have no right, no pretense to it, any farther then that consent, which established the form of the government, hath so settled the succession. And thus we see the succession of crowns, in several countries places it on different heads, and he comes by right of succession, to be a prince in one place, who would be a subject in another.

§ 95. If God by his positive grant and revealed declaration, first gave rule and dominion to any man, he that will claim by that title, must have the same positive grant of God for his succession. For if that has not directed the course of its descent and conveyance down to others, nobody can succeed to this title of the first ruler; children have no right of inheritance to this; and primogeniture can lay no claim to it, unless God the author of this constitution hath so ordained it. Thus we see the pretensions of Saul’s family, who received his crown from the immediate appointment of God, ended with his reign; and David by the same title that Saul reigned, viz. God’s appointment, succeeded in his throne, to the exclusion of Jonathan, and all pretensions of paternal inheritance. And if Solomon had a Right to succeed his father, it must be by some other title, then that of primogeniture. A cadet, or sister’s son, must have the preference in succession, if he has the same title the first lawful prince had: and in dominion that has its foundation only in the positive appointment of God himself, Benjamin the youngest, must have the inheritance of the crown, if God so direct as well as one of that tribe had the first possession.

§ 96. If paternal right, the act of begetting, give a man rule and dominion, inheritance or primogeniture can give no title. For he that cannot succeed to his father’s title, which was begetting, cannot succeed to that power over his brethren, which his father had by paternal right over them. But of this I shall have occasion to say more in another place. This is plain in the meantime, that any government, whether supposed to be at first founded in paternal right, consent of the people, or the positive appointment of God himself, which can supersede either of the other, and so begin a new government upon a new foundation, I say, any government began upon either of these, can by right of succession come to those only, who have the title of him, they succeed to. Power founded on contract, can descend only to him, who has right by that contract: power founded on begetting, he only can have that begets: and power founded on the positive grant or donation of God, he only can have by right of succession, to whom that grant directs it.

§ 97. From what I have said, I think this is clear, that a right to the use of the creatures, being founded originally in the right a man has to subsist and enjoy the conveniences of life, and the natural right children have to inherit the goods of their parents, being founded in the right they have to the same subsistence and commodities of life, out of the stock of their parents, who are therefore taught by natural love and tenderness to provide for them, as a part of themselves: and all this being only for the good of the proprietor, or heir; it can be no reason for children’s inheriting of rule and dominion, which has another original and a different end. Nor can primogeniture have any pretense to a right of solely inheriting either property or power, as we shall, in its due place, see more fully. It is enough to have showed here, that Adam’s property, or private dominion, could not convey any sovereignty or rule to his heir, who not having a right to inherit all his father’s possessions, could not thereby come to have any sovereignty over his brethren: and therefore if any sovereignty on account of his property, had been vested in Adam, which in truth there was not; yet it would have died with him.

§ 98. As Adam’s sovereignty, if by virtue of being proprietor of the whole world, he had any authority over men, could not have been inherited by any of his children over the rest, because they had the same title to divide the inheritance, and every one had a right to a portion of his father’s possessions: so neither could Adam’s sovereignty by right of fatherhood, if any such he had, descend to anyone of his children. For it being in our A–’s account, a right acquired by begetting to rule over those he had begotten, it was not a power possible to be inherited, because the right being consequent to, and built on, an act perfectly personal, made that power so too, and impossible to be inherited. For paternal power, being a natural right rising only from the relation of father and son, is as impossible to be inherited as the relation itself, and a man may pretend as well to inherit the conjugal power the husband, whose heir he is, had over his wife, as he can to inherit the paternal power of a father over his children. For the power of the husband being founded on contract, and the power of the father on begetting, he may as well inherit the power obtained by the conjugal contract, which was only personal, as he may the power obtained by begetting, which could reach no farther then the person of the begetter, unless begetting can be a title to power in him, that does not beget.

§ 99. Which makes it a reasonable question to ask, whether Adam, dying before Eve, his heir (suppose Cain or Seth) should have had, by right of inheriting Adam’s fatherhood, sovereign power over Eve his mother? For Adam’s fatherhood being nothing but a right he had to govern his children, because he begot them, he that inherits Adam’s fatherhood, inherits nothing, even in our A–’s sense, but the right Adam had to govern his children, because he begot them: so that the monarchy of the heir would not have taken in Eve, or if it did, it being nothing but the fatherhood of Adam descended by inheritance, the heir must have right to govern Eve, because Adam begot her; for fatherhood is nothing else.

§ 100. Perhaps it will be said with our A–, that a man can alien his power over his child, and what may be transferred by compact, may be possessed by inheritance. I answer, a father cannot alien the power he has over his child, he may perhaps to some degrees forfeit it, but cannot transfer it: and if any other man acquire it, it is not by the father’s grant, but by some act of his own.. For example, a father, unnaturally careless of his child, sells or gives him to another man; and he again exposes him: a third man finding him, breeds up, cherishes and provides for him as his own. I think in this case, nobody will doubt but that the greatest part of filial duty and subjection was here owing, and to be paid to this foster-father: and if anything could be demanded from the child, by either of the other, it could be only due to his natural father: who perhaps might have forfeited his right to much of that duty comprehended in the command, “Honour your parents,” but could transfer none of it to another. He that purchased, and neglected, the child, got by his purchase and grant of the father, no title to duty or honour from the child, but only he acquired it, who by his own authority, performing the office and care of a father, to the forlorn and perishing infant, made himself by paternal care, a title to proportionable degrees of paternal power. This will be more easily admitted upon consideration of the nature of paternal power, for which I refer my reader to the second book.

§ 101. To return to the argument in hand: this is evident, that paternal power arising only from begetting; for in that our A– places it alone, can neither be transferred, nor inherited: and he that does not beget, can no more have paternal power which arises from thence, than he can have a right to anything who performs not the condition, to which only it is annexed. If one should ask, by what law has a father power over his children? It will be answered, no doubt, by the law of nature, which gives such a power over them, to him that begets them. If one should ask likewise, by what law does our A–’s heir come by a right to inherit? I think it would be answered, by the law of nature too. For I find not that our A– brings one word of scripture to prove the right of such an heir he speaks of: why then the law of nature gives fathers paternal power over their children, because they did beget them, and the same law of nature gives the same paternal power to the heir over his brethren, who did not beget them: whence it follows, that either the father has not his paternal power by begetting, or else that the heir has it not at all: for it is hard to understand how the law of nature, which is the law of reason, can give the paternal power to the father over his children, for the only reason of begetting, and to the first-born over his brethren without this only reason, i.e. for no reason at all: and if the eldest, by the law of nature, can inherit this paternal power, without the only reason that gives a title to it, so may the youngest as well as he, and a stranger as well as either; for where there is no reason for anyone, as there is not, but for him that begets, all have an equal title. I am sure our A– offers no reason, and when anybody does, we shall see whether it will hold or no.

§ 102. In the meantime it is as good sense to say, that by the law of nature a man has right to inherit the property of another, because he is of kin to him, and is known to be of his blood, and therefore by the same law of nature, an utter stranger to his blood, has right to inherit his estate: as to say that by the law of nature he that begets them, has paternal power over his children, and therefore by the law of nature the heir that begets them not, has this paternal power over them: or supposing the law of the land gave absolute power over their children, to such only who nursed them, and fed their children themselves, could anybody pretend that this law gave anyone, who did no such thing, absolute power over those, who were not his children?

§ 103. When therefore it can be showed, that conjugal power can belong to him that is not an husband, it will also I believe be proved, that our A–’s paternal power acquired by begetting, may be inherited by a son, and that a brother as heir to his fathers power, may have paternal power over his brethren, and by the same rule conjugal power too, but till then, I think we may rest satisfied, that the paternal power of Adam, this sovereign authority of fatherhood, were there any such, could not descend to, nor be inherited by, his next heir. Fatherly power I easily grant our A– if it will do him any good, can never be lost, because it will be as long in the world as there are fathers: but none of them will have Adam’s paternal power, or derive theirs from him, but every one will have his own, by the same title Adam had his, viz. by begetting, but not by inheritance or succession, no more then husbands have their conjugal power by inheritance from Adam. And thus we see as Adam had no such property, no such paternal power, as gave him sovereign jurisdiction over mankind; so likewise his sovereignty built upon either of these titles, if he had any such, could not have descended to his heir, but must have ended with him. Adam therefore, as has been proved, being neither monarch, nor his imaginary monarchy hereditable, the power which is now in the world, is not that which was Adam’s, since all that Adam could have upon our A–’s grounds, either of property or fatherhood, necessarily died with him, and could not be conveyed to posterity by inheritance. In the next place we will consider whether Adam had any such heir, to inherit his power, as our A– talks of.