Two Treatises on Government (1680-1690)

John Locke

Of Adam’s Title to Sovereignty by the Subjection of Eve

§ 44. The next place of scripture we find our A– builds his monarchy of Adam on, is Gen. 3:16. “And thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” Here we have (says he) “the original grant of government,” from whence he concludes, in the following part of the page O. 244, “That the supreme power is settled in the fatherhood, and limited to one kind of government, that is to monarchy.” For let his premises be what they will, this is always the conclusion, let rule in any text, be but once named, and presently absolute monarchy is by divine right established. If anyone will but carefully read our A–’s own reasoning from these words, O. 244, and consider among other things, “the line and posterity of Adam,” as he there brings them in, he will find some difficulty, to make sense of what he says; but we will allow this at present, to his peculiar way of writing, and consider the force of the text in hand. The words are the curse of God upon the woman, for having been the first and forwardest in the disobedience, and if we will consider the occasion of what God says here to our first parents, that he was denouncing judgment, and declaring his wrath against them both, for their disobedience, we cannot suppose that this was the time, wherein God was granting Adam prerogatives and privileges, investing him with dignity and authority, elevating him to dominion and monarchy: for though as a helper in the temptation, as well as a partner in the transgression, Eve was laid below him, and so he had accidentally a superiority over her, for her greater punishment, yet he too had his share in the Fall, as well as the sin, and was laid lower, as may be seen in the following verses, and it would be hard to imagine, that God, in the same breath, should make him universal monarch over all mankind, and a day labourer for his life; turn him out of “paradise, to till the ground,” ver. 23, and at the same time, advance him to a throne, and all the privileges and ease of absolute power.

§ 45. This was not a time, when Adam could expect any favours, any grant of privileges, from his offended Maker. If this be “the original grant of government,” as our A– tells us, and Adam was now made monarch, whatever Sir Robert would have him, it is plain, God made him but a very poor monarch, such an one, as our A– himself would have counted it no great privilege to be. God sets him to work for his living, and seems rather to give him a spade into his hand, to subdue the earth, than a scepter to rule over its inhabitants. “In the sweat of thy face thou shalt eat thy bread,” says God to him, ver. 19. This was unavoidable, may it perhaps be answered, because he was yet without subjects, and had nobody to work for him, but afterwards living as he did above 900 years, he might have people enough, whom he might command, to work for him; no, says God, not only whilst thou art without other help, save thy wife, but as long as thou livest, shalt thou live by thy labour. “In the sweat of thy face, shalt thou eat thy bread, till thou return unto the ground, for out of it wart thou taken, for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return,” v. 19. It will perhaps be answered again, in favour of our A–, that these words are not spoken personally to Adam, but in him, as their representative, to all mankind, this being a curse upon mankind, because of the Fall.

§ 46.God, I believe, speaks differently from men, because he speaks with more truth, more certainty: but when he vouchsafes to speak to men, I do not think, he speaks differently from them, in crossing the rules of language in use amongst them. This would not be to condescend to their capacities, when he humbles himself to speak to them, but to lose his design in speaking, what thus spoken, they could not understand. And yet thus must we think of God, if the interpretations of scripture, necessary to maintain our A–’s doctrine, must be received for good. For by the ordinary rules of language, it will be very hard to understand, what God says; if what he speaks here, in the singular number to Adam, must be understood to be spoken to all mankind, and what he says in the plural number, Gen. 1:26 and 28, must be understood of Adam alone, exclusive of all others, and what he says to Noah and his sons jointly, must be understood to be meant to Noah alone, Gen. 9.

§ 47. Farther it is to be noted, that these words here of Gen. 3:16 which our A– calls “the original grant of government,” were not spoken to Adam, neither indeed was there any grant in them made to Adam, but a punishment laid upon Eve: and if we will take them as they were directed in particular to her, or in her, as their representative to all other women, they will at most concern the female sex only, and import no more but that subjection they should ordinarily be in to their husbands: but there is here no more law to oblige a woman to such a subjection, if the circumstances either of her condition or contract with her husband should exempt her from it, then there is, that she should bring forth her children in sorrow and pain, if there could be found a remedy for it, which is also a part of the same curse upon her: for the whole verse runs thus, “Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children, and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” It would, I think, have been a hard matter for anybody, but our A– to have found out a grant of monarchical government to Adam in these words, which were neither spoke to, nor of him: neither will anyone, I suppose, by these words, think the weaker sex, as by a law so subjected to the curse contained in them, that it is their duty not to endeavour to avoid it. And will anyone say, that Eve, or any other woman, sinned, if she were brought to bed without those multiplied pains God threatens her here with? Or that either of our queens, Mary or Elizabeth, had they married any of their subjects, had been by this text put into a political subjection to him? or that he thereby should have had monarchical rule over her? God, in this text, gives not, that I see, any authority to Adam over Eve, or to men over their wives, but only foretells what should be the woman’s lot, how by his providence he would order it so, that she should be subject to her husband, as we see that generally the laws of mankind and customs of nations have ordered it so; and there is, I grant, a foundation in nature for it.

§ 48. Thus when God says of Jacob and Esau, “that the elder should serve the younger,” Gen. 25:23, nobody supposes that God hereby made Jacob Esau’s sovereign, but foretold what should de facto come to pass. But if these words here spoke to Eve must needs be understood as a law to bind her and all other women to subjection, it can be no other subjection than what every wife owes her husband, and then if this be the original grant of government and the foundation of monarchical power, there will be as many monarchs as there are husbands. If therefore these words give any power to Adam, it can be only a conjugal power, not political, the power that every husband hath to order the things of private concernment in his family, as proprietor of the goods and land there, and to have his will take place before that of his wife in all things of their common concernment; but not a political power of life and death over her, much less over anybody else.

§ 49. This I am sure: if our A– will have this text to be a grant, “the original grant of government,” political government, he ought to have proved it by some better arguments than by barely saying, that “thy desire shall be unto thy husband,” was a law whereby Eve and “all that should come of her,” were subjected to the absolute monarchical power of Adam and his heirs. “Thy desire shall be to thy husband,” is too doubtful an expression, of whose signification interpreters are not agreed, to build so confidently on, and in a matter of such moment, and so great and general concernment: but our A–, according to his way of writing, having once named the text, concludes presently without any more ado, that the meaning is, as he would have it. Let the words rule and subject be but found in the text or margin, and it immediately signifies the duty of a subject to his prince, the relation is changed, and though God says husband, Sir Robert will have it king; Adam has presently absolute monarchical power over Eve, and not only over Eve, but “all that should come of her,” though the scripture says not a word of it, nor our A– a word to prove it. But Adam must for all that be an absolute monarch, and so down to the end of the chapter. And here I leave my reader to consider, whether my bare saying, without offering any reasons to evince it, that this text gave not Adam that absolute monarchical power, our A– supposes, be not as sufficient to destroy that power, as his bare assertion is to establish it, since the text mentions neither prince nor people, speaks nothing of absolute or monarchical power, but the subjection of Eve to Adam, a wife to her husband. And he that would trace our A– so all through, would make a short and sufficient answer to the greatest part of the grounds he proceeds on, and abundantly confute them by barely denying; it being a sufficient answer to assertions without proof, to deny them without giving a reason. And therefore should I have said nothing but barely denied that by this text “the supreme power was settled and founded by God himself, in the fatherhood, limited to monarchy, and that to Adam’s person and heirs,” all which our A– notably concludes from these words, as may be seen in the same page, O. 244, it had been a sufficient answer; should I have desired any sober man only to have read the text, and considered to whom, and on what occasion it was spoken, he would no doubt have wondered how our A– found out monarchical absolute power in it, had he not had an exceeding good faculty to find it himself, where he could not show it others. And thus we have examined the two places of scripture, all that I remember our A– brings to prove Adam’s sovereignty, that supremacy, which he says, “it was God’s ordinance should be unlimited in Adam, and as large as all the acts of his will,” O. 245, viz. Gen. 1:28 and Gen. 3:16; one whereof signifies only the subjection of the inferior ranks of creatures to mankind, and the other the subjection that is due from a wife to her husband, both far enough from that which subjects owe the governors of political societies.