Two Treatises on Government (1680-1690)

John Locke

Of the Heir to Adam’s Monarchical Power

§ 104. Our A– tells us, O. 253, “That it is a truth undeniable, that there cannot be any multitude of men whatsoever, either great or small, though gathered together from the several corners. and remotest regions of the world, but that in the same multitude considered by itself, there is one man amongst them, that in nature hath a right to be king of all the rest, as being the next heir to Adam, and all the other subject to him, every man by nature is a king or a subject.” And again, p. 20, “If Adam himself were still living, and now ready to die, it is certain that there is one man, and but one in the world who is next heir.” Let this multitude of men be, if our A– pleases, all the princes upon the earth, there will then be by our A–’s Rule, “one amongst them, that in nature hath a right to be king of all the rest, as being the right heir to Adam;” an excellent way to establish the thrones of princes, and settle the obedience of their subjects, by setting up an hundred, or perhaps a thousand titles (if there be so many princes in the world) against any king now reigning, each as good upon our A–’s grounds, as his who wears the crown. If this right of heir carry any weight with it, if it be the ordinance of God, as our A– seems to tell us, O. 244, must not all be subject to it, from the highest to the lowest? Can those who wear the name of princes, without having the right of being heirs to Adam, demand obedience from their subjects by this title, and not be bound to pay it by the same law? Either governments in the world are not to be claimed and held by this title of Adam’s heir, and then the starting of it is to no purpose, the being or not being Adam’s heir signifies nothing as to the title of dominion; or if it really be, as our A– says, the true title to government and sovereignty, the first thing to be done, is to find out this true heir of Adam, seat him in his throne, and then all the kings and princes of the world ought to come and resign up their crowns and scepters to him, as things that belong no more to them, than to any of their subjects.

§ 105. For either this right in nature, of Adam’s heir, to be king over all the race of men, (for altogether they make one multitude) is a right not necessary to the making of a lawful king, and so there may be lawful kings without it, and then kings’ titles and power depend not on it, or else all the kings in the world but one are not lawful kings, and so have no right to obedience: either this title of heir to Adam is that whereby kings hold their crowns, and have a right to subjection from their subjects, and then one only can have it, and the rest being subjects can require no obedience from other men, who are but their fellow subjects, or else it is not the title whereby kings rule, and have a right to obedience from their subjects, and then kings are kings without it, and this dream of the natural sovereignty of Adam’s heir is of no use to obedience and government. For if kings have a right to dominion, and the obedience of their subjects, who are not, nor can possibly be, heirs to Adam, what use is there of such a title, when we are obliged to obey without it? If kings, who are not heirs to Adam, have no right to sovereignty, we are all free till our A– or anybody for him, will show us Adam’s right heir. If there be but one heir of Adam, there can be but one lawful king in the world, and nobody in conscience can be obliged to obedience till it be resolved who that is; for it may be anyone who is not known to be of a younger house, and all others have equal titles. If there be more than one heir of Adam, every one is his heir, and so every one has regal power. For if two sons can be heirs together, then all the sons are equally heirs, and so all are heirs, being all sons, or sons’ sons of Adam. Betwixt these two the right of heir cannot stand: for by it either but one only man, or all men are kings. Take which you please, it dissolves the bonds of government and obedience: since if all men are heirs, they can owe obedience to nobody; if only one, nobody can be obliged to pay obedience to him, till he be known and his title made out.