and Afro-American Slavery
Readings for this part of your journey
- Chapters 4 and 16 of the Second Treatise of Civil
- Equiano's Travels
- Popkin, "The Philosophical Basis of Modern Racism" in your course packet.
- Joseph Banneker, "Letter to Thomas Jefferson" in your course packet.
Locke 's theory of slavery in The Second
In this unit of the course we are going to focus on one aspect of
Locke's account of civil government -- his theory of slavery. Since
England was colonizing the eastern American seaboard during Locke's life
time, and Locke served as a colonial administrator, some scholars assume
that Locke's account of slavery is intended to justify the Afro-American
slave trade. We are going to explore Locke's theory of slavery, the nature
of the slave trade and the institutions and practices of Afro-American
slavery, to see if Locke's theory justifies of condemns Afro-American
slavery. We are also going to consider issues about race and racism.
Richard Popkin claims that Locke was the originator of one of the two
chief branches of modern racist theory -- the degeneracy theory. We will
explore Popkin's account of the philosphical basis of modern racism.
You have already been introduced to
John Locke (1632-1704) in the two preceeding units of this course. Locke
was an Oxford scholar and doctor who became involved with the governance
of the colonies and in the great political conflicts in England. Locke is
justly famous for writing An Essay Concerning Human
Understanding, which deals with the extent and limts of human
understanding. Locke is also famous for writing the Two Treatises of
Civil Government and the Letters Concerning Toleration which
deal with conflicts in English politics.
At this point we are focusing on Locke's activities as the secretary of
the Board of Trade and Plantations under Lord Shaftsbury and later; his
role as Secretary of the Lords Proprietors of the Carolinas, and in
general in his role as a colonial administrator, and investor in companies
involved in the slave trade. We want to determine in what ways these
activities intersect with and effect Locke's philosophy. Did Locke, for
example, hold that all men were equal and had the natural rights to life,
liberty and property, but that this doctrine did not apply to peoples of
Locke became involved with English trade and colonies through his
relationship with Anthony Ashley Cooper, later the First Earl of
Shaftsbury. As a colonial administrator, Locke came to know a great deal
about Afro-American slavery and the trans-Atlantic slave trade. It is the
connection between Locke, racism and slavery that we are going to explore
in this unit of the course.
The Earl of
|The First Earl|
Besides Locke, you have
arlready encountered Anthony Ashley Cooper, Locke's parton. Cooper was a very
rich commoner, who became involved in government under the Commonwealth.
When that government began to collapse after the death of Oliver Cromwell,
Cooper became involved in the consultations and negotiations which led
to the restoration of Charles II. After the Restoration in 1660 Anthony
Ashley Cooper played a major role both in the English government and in opposition to the government.
Locke met Anthony Ashley Cooper in 1666 and moved to London the next
year to become his personal physician, secretary researcher, political
operative and friend. Living with him Locke found himself at the very
heart of the storm in English politics in the 1670s and 1680s. In 1668
Locke oversaw an operation in which a superating cyst was removed from his
patron's liver. Miraculously Cooper survived the operation. (Remember
this was a time before the theory of germs!) The family gave Locke all the
credit for the success of the operation.
Shaftsbury held a number of important posts and eventually became Lord
Chancellor of England. At that point he became the First Earl of
Shaftsbury. Shaftsbury eventually had a falling out with the King (who
probably never trusted him since he had been part of the Commowealth
government). He was dismissed as Lord Chancellor in 1672 and became the
leader of the opposition to the government. He was the leader of the
Country Party (which shortly became the Whig party) in opposition to the
Court party (which became the Tories). The Country Party sought to pass a
bill excluding James, Duke of York, an avowed Catholic, from the throne.
This led to the party engaging in several populist political campaigns in
which they succeeded in gaining a powerful majority in the House of
Commons which passed The Exclusion Bill by a huge majority. The Exclusion
Bill died in the House of Lords because of opposition from King Charles
II. Some of the Country Party gave up and went home, while some of its
leaders, including Shaftsbury, began plotting armed insurrection and the
assisination of the King and his brother. Shaftsbury had earlier been
arrested and tried but found not quilty by a London Whig jury. The
government, having gained control of the grand jury process was after him
again. He was now a hunted man, moving from safe house to safe house.
Eventually, the insurrection have been postponed too long, he could wait
no longer, and slipped out of the country and into exile in Holland. He
died soon after arriving there, leaving when the fortunes of his party
were at their lowest ebb.
We are going to return to the time in the late 1660s just after Locke
moved to London to become Shaftsbury's personal physician. While he was
in government, Shaftsbury was enormously interested in trade and the
colonies. Shaftsbury was a thoughtful patriot. He considered trade
crucial to the strength of the country. Shaftsbury was also instrumental
in founding the Carolina colonies. At Shaftsbury's behest, Locke served
as secretary to the Lords Proprietors of the Carolinas and as Secretary to
the Board of Trade and Plantations. As Secretary of the Board of Trade
and Plantations, Locke collected information from all over the world about
the colonies and trade for the English government . As Secretary to the
Lords Proprietors of the Carolinas he was involved in a commercial
enterprise which may have influenced Locke's views about colonies,
economics and government. We will come presently to the ways in which
these activities also involved Locke with the slave trade. Before doing
so, however we should consider that trade.