Two Treatises on Government (1680-1690)
§ 1. Slavery is so vile and miserable an estate of man, and so directly opposite to the generous temper and courage of our nation; that it is hardly to be conceived, that an Englishman, much less a gentleman, should plead for it. And truly, I should have taken Sir Robert Filmer’s Patriarcha as any other treatise, which would persuade all men, that they are slaves, and ought to be so, for such another exercise of wit, as was his who writ the Encomium of Nero, rather than for a serious discourse meant in earnest, had not the gravity of the title and epistle, the picture in the front of the book, and the applause that followed it, required me to believe, that the author and publisher were both in earnest. I therefore took it into my hands with all the expectation, and read it through with all the attention due to a treatise, that made such a noise at its coming abroad, and cannot but confess myself mightily surprised, that in a book, which was to provide chains for all mankind, I should find nothing but a rope of sand, useful perhaps to such, whose skill and business it is to raise a dust, and would blind the people, the better to mislead them, but in truth not of any force to draw those into bondage, who have their eyes open, and so much sense about them as to consider, that chains are but an ill wearing, how much care soever hath been taken to file and polish them.
§ 2. If anyone think I take too much liberty in speaking so freely of a man, who is the great champion of absolute power, and the idol of those who worship it; I beseech him to make this small allowance for once, to one, who, even after the reading of Sir Robert’s book, cannot but think himself, as the laws allow him, a freeman: and I know no fault it is to do so, unless anyone better skilled in the fate of it, than I, should have it revealed to him, that this treatise, which has lain dormant so long, was, when it appeared in the world, to carry by strength of its arguments, all liberty out of it; and that from thenceforth our author’s short model was to be the pattern in the mount, and the perfect standard of politics for the future. His system lies in a little compass, it is no more but, this,
And the ground he builds on, is this,
§ 3. In this last age a generation of men has sprung up among us, who would flatter princes with an opinion, that they have a divine right to absolute power, let the laws by which they are constituted, and are to govern, and the conditions under which they enter upon their authority, be what they will, and their engagements to observe them never so well ratified by solemn oaths and promises. To make way for this doctrine they have denied mankind a right to natural freedom, whereby they have not only, as much as in them lies, exposed all subjects to the utmost misery of tyranny and oppression, but have also unsettled the titles, and shaken the thrones of princes: (for they too, by these men’s systems, except only one, are all born slaves, and by divine right, are subjects to Adam’s right heir); as if they had designed to make war upon all government, and subvert the very foundations of human society, to serve their present turn.
§ 4. However we must believe them upon their own bare words, when they tell us, “we are all born slaves, and we must continue so;” there is no remedy for it: life and thraldom we entered into together, and can never be quit of the one, till we part with the other. Scripture or reason I am sure do not anywhere say so notwithstanding the noise of divine right, as if divine authority hath subjected us to the unlimited will of another. An admirable state of mankind, and that which they have not had wit enough to find out till this latter age. For however Sir Robert Filmer seems to condemn the novelty of the contrary opinion, Patr. p. 3. yet I believe it will be hard for him to find any other age or country of the world, but this which has asserted monarchy to be jure divino. And he confesses, Patr. p. 4, that “Heyward, Blackwood, Barclay, and others, that have bravely vindicated the right of kings in most points, never thought of this, but with one consent admitted the natural liberty and equality of mankind.”
§ 5. By whom this doctrine came at first to be broached, and brought in fashion amongst us, and what sad effects it gave rise to, I leave to historians to relate, or to the memory of those who were contemporaries with Sibthorp and Manwering to recollect. My business at present is only to consider what Sir R. F. who is allowed to have carried this argument farthest, and is supposed to have brought it to perfection, has said in it; for from him every one, who would be as fashionable as French was at court, has learned, and runs away with this short system of politics, viz. “men are not born free, and therefore could never have the liberty to choose either governors, or forms of government.” Princes have their power absolute, and by divine right, for slaves could never have a right to compact or consent. Adam was an absolute monarch, and so are all princes ever since.