Two Treatises on Government (1680-1690)

John Locke

Of the Conveyance of Adam’s Sovereign Monarchical Power

§ 78. Sir Robert, having not been very happy in any proof he brings for the sovereignty of Adam, is not much more fortunate in conveying it to future princes, who, if his politics be true, must all derive their titles from that first monarch. The ways he has assigned, as they lie scattered up and down in his writings, I will set down in his own words: in his preface he tells us, that “Adam being 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.” here he makes two ways of conveyance of anything Adam stood possessed of, and those are grant or succession. Again he says, “All kings either are, or are to be reputed, the next heirs to those first progenitors, who were at first the natural parents of the whole people,” p. 19 — “there cannot be any multitude of men whatsoever, but that in it, considered by itself, there is one man amongst them, that in nature hath a right to be the king of all the rest, as being the next heir to Adam,” O. 253. Here in these places inheritance is the only way he allows of conveying monarchical power to princes. In other places he tells us O. 155, “All power on earth is either derived or usurped from the fatherly power,” O. 158. “All kings that now are, or ever were, are or were either fathers of their people, or the heirs of such fathers or usurpers of the right of such fathers,” O. 253. And here he makes inheritance or usurpation the only ways whereby kings come by this original power: but yet he tells us, “this fatherly empire, as it was of itself hereditary, so it was alienable by patent, and seizable by an usurper,” O. 190. So then here Inheritance, grant or usurpation will convey it. And last of all, which is most admirable, he tells us, p. 100, “It skills not which way kings come by their power, whether by election, donation, succession, or by any other means, for it is still the manner of the government by supreme power, that makes them properly kings, and not the means of obtaining their crowns.” which I think is a full answer to all his whole hypothesis, and discourse about Adam’s royal authority, as the fountain from which all princes were to derive theirs: and he might have spared the trouble of speaking so much, as he does, up and down of heirs and inheritance, if to make anyone properly a king, needs no more but “governing by supreme power, and it matters not by what means he came by it.”

§ 79. By this notable way, our A– may make Oliver as properly king, as anyone else he could think of: and had he had the happiness to live under Massaniello’s government, he could not by this his own rule have forborne to have done homage to him, with “O King live for ever,” since the manner of his government by supreme power, made him properly king, who was but the day before properly a fisherman. And if Don Quixote had taught his squire to govern with supreme authority, our A– no doubt could have made a most loyal subject in Sancho Pancha’s island: and he must needs have deserved some preferment in such governments, since I think he is the first politician, who, pretending to settle government upon its true basis, and to establish the thrones of lawful princes, ever told the world, that he was “properly a king, whose manner of government was by supreme power, by what means soever he obtained it;” which in plain English is to say, that regal and supreme power is properly and truly his, who can by any means seize upon it: and if this be, to be properly a king, I wonder how he came to think of, or where he will find, an usurper.

§ 80. This is so strange a doctrine, that the surprise of it hath made me pass by, without their due reflection, the contradictions he runs into, by making sometimes inheritance alone, sometimes only grant or inheritance, sometimes only inheritance or usurpation, sometimes all these three, and at last election, or any other means, added to them, the ways whereby Adam’s royal authority, that is, his right to supreme rule, could be conveyed down to future kings and governors, so as to give them a title to the obedience and subjection of the people. But these contradictions lie so open, that the very reading of our A–’s own words, will discover them to any ordinary understanding: and though what I have quoted out of him (with abundance more of the same strain and coherence which might be found in him) might well excuse me from any farther trouble in this argument, yet having proposed to myself, to examine the main parts of his doctrine, I shall a little more particularly consider how inheritance, grant, usurpation or election, can any way make out government in the world upon his principles; or derive to anyone a right of empire, from this regal authority of Adam, had it been never so well proved, that he had been absolute monarch, and lord of the whole world.