Jonah Bennett

Palladium Magazine editor/entrepreneur/graduate student

The Evil Consequences Arising from the Propagation of Mr Locke’s Democratical Principles

[Editor’s note: The original a) from Google Books was modified to create a readable and OCR error-free copy of this 1783 work by Josiah Tucker. I substituted Tucker’s use of the asterisk for footnotes to make references clearer. Everything else is left untouched. Please contact me if you notice any errors.]

Original source:


Letter IV.

The evil consequences arising from the Propagation of Mr. Locke’s democratical Principles.

My Lord,

The destructive Civil Wars of 1641 to 1648, which ended in the Tyranny of a single Despote, set many Persons on considering the Nature, and Ends of Government. But they could agree in nothing, except in one Point; namely, that Aristotle’s political Animal, the People, was such a capricious, restless, thoughtless, and unreasonable Animal, that it must be governed and controuled by some superior Power, for the Sake of preventing it from doing Mischief to itself, and to other Beings. Mr. Hobbs, in consequence of this Position, maintained with some Degree of Plausibility, that any Man, or Set of Men, who could get into the Saddle, and seize the Bridle, had a Right to ride this fiery, high-spirited, skittish Horse, and to break and manage him as they could.—Sir Robert Filmer opposed this Doctrine with all his Might, boldly asserting, that there was an hereditary, indefeasible Right, divinely appointed to fit in this political Seat; and that none but a right-lined Rider had, or could have, a Right Divine to hold the Reins. Mr. Sidney fiercely opposed such a slavish Tenet, calling the Author of it impudent Liar an hundred Times. His Position was, that Noblemen, and those of noble Families, such as himself, were the only fit Persons to be the State-Riders; and he bewailed the Degeneracy of the Times, which had abolished the honourable Distinction of Baron and Vassal, when each illustrious Chief led to Battle a brave and chosen Band of his own Tenants and Dependants.—Such was his Scheme for propagating Liberty and Equality, and for vindicating the Rights of human Nature. Mr. Harrington, who was himself a Gentleman of a very antient Family, maintained it as his Opinion, that Gentlemen by Birth [such as the Rulers of the State of Venice, which Government was his favourite Model] were the fittest of all others to be Riders. And therefore, in order to appear consistent with himself, he discovered, that his darling Megaletor, Oliver Cromwell, was descended from an antient Gentleman’s Family. Thus had his Highness, the Lord Protector, a clearer Title, founded on Antiquity, to the vacant Throne;—than I believe had himself had thought of, when he sportingly and jeeringly signed the King’s Death-Warrant. [Here my Lord, will you pardon me in making one short Digression? This very Man, Mr. Harrington, whose Authority jointly with that of the great Sidney and Locke, has been urged both in Prose and Verse against the poor Dean of Glocester, modestly wished, that your own Country Panopea, (Ireland) had been leased out to the Jews in Perpetuity.—What to the Jews? Yes, my Lord, to them; who were to employ the miserable Natives in any Service, or Drudgery they pleased, for the Benefit of their Lords and Masters of Oceana, or Old England: And the Reason which he assigns is equally curious; ‘It is because Panopea (Ireland) is the soft Mother of a slothful and pusillanimous People, antiently subjected by the Arms of Oceana, since almost depopulated for shaking the Yoke, and at length replanted with a new Race. But (thro’ what Virtues of the Soil, or Vice of the Air soever it be) they come still to degenerate. Wherefore, seeing it is neither likely to yield Men fit for Arms, nor necessary it should; it had been the Interest of Oceana—to have leased it to the Jews.’ And now, my Lord, after such Authorities as these, (all Champions for the Rights and Liberties of Mankind) what can this paultry Scribler of Glocester say? How dares he to hold up Head?—But to return.]

The celebrated Mr. Richard Baxter (whom I most sincerely believe to be a very honest, and well intentioned Man, tho’ sometimes greatly mistaken) answered both Hobbs and Harrington in a set Treatise; wherein he discovered a much sounder Judgment than either, and laid down such Maxims of Government, as would have made a very good System;–had he not marred it all by endeavouring to introduce a Theocracy into an English Government and Constitution. This capital Error led him of Course to maintain intolerant Principles in Religion; Principles, which could not be justified any where, except in Judea: which little[1] Territory was possessed by one peculiar People, holding the same by such a peculiar Tenure, as never did extend to any other People, or Country; and which could not have been obligatory even up the Jews [I mean the Law for the Exterpation of Idolaters] any longer than during the Continuance of the Mosaic Theocracy.

As yet, my Lord, we have heard nothing of Mr. Locke. He first distinguished himself as a political Writer, by his famous Laws of Carolina. In this System he was so far from supposing, that the People was the only Fountain of Power, that he goes into an opposite Extreme;–not indeed of absolute Monarchy, but of that which is rather worse, a tyrannical Aristocracy; such as Mr. Sidney had been recommending. I do not pretend to know what Connections were subsisting between these two great Men: But a completer System of Baronage and Vassage never yet appeared in the World, than is comprised in this little Code of fundamental Laws. Nay, Mr. Locke carries the Matter of Slavery so far, and grants such Powers to Masters to put their Slaves to Death, whenever they please, as exceeds even the Tyranny of Poland. And Poland was the Country to which Mr. Sidney was often turning his Eyes with Sorrow and Regret, that the like Power over Tenants and Vassals, did not still remain in England. Respecting this Treatise, or these Laws of Carolina, I will mention an Anecdote or two, which may serve to confirm the Notion, that Mr. Locke and Mr. Sidney had one, and the same Point once in View; how widely soever they might differ afterwards. A Tradition has been handed down among the Descendants of Mr. Locke’s Friends and intimate Acquaintance; that they always considered these Laws of Carolina, as a Plan for new modelling the Government and Constitution of England; and that they used frequently to tell him so in Conversation. To which he evaded giving a direct Answer; but left them to guess what they pleased from his Silence.

The other Anecdote is, [according to an Information I received some Time ago, but out of Tenderness to his Character, did not publish ‘till compelled by the Virulence of my Adversaries to do it in my own Defence] that Mr. Locke was deeply engaged in Monmouth’s Rebellion; and that there are Proofs thereof still extant.[2] Supposing this to be the Case, [which perhaps cannot be positively proved at this Distance of Time; but which nevertheless is very probably] his Conduct and Behaviour can be no otherwise accounted for, than on one, or other of the following Hypotheses:–Either, that he thought with Mr. Hobbs, that as the People was an unruly Beast, which must have a Rider, it did not signify who got into the Saddle, Monmouth, or any other; the Rights of all Men being equal, provided their Attempts were crowned with Success:–Or he must have embraced Mr. Sidney’s Opinion, who supposed, that Barons or Noblemen were the only Persons fit to manage this fiery Courser. The Tenor of the Laws of Carolina seem to favour the latter Conjecture. For they gave as little Power to the Crown, as to the People, making all to centre in the Men of landed Property. Moreover, if he really assisted Monmouth, it is impossible that he could have done it with any other View than to have used him as a Tool during the Struggle, and to have set him aside after the Enterprize had succeeded;–or at most, to have compelled him to have accepted of the mere Shadow and Name of Royalty, without any Power, like a Polish King, or a Doge of Venice. For as to any legal Right or Title, Monmouth could have no Pretentions of any Sort. And respecting the private Character of the Man, moral or religious, or even his Zeal for Civil Liberty, and for granting a religious Toleration, there are no Traces of these Virtues to be found in the Life and Character of the Duke of Monmouth. Therefore, if Mr. Locke espoused his Cause, it must have been not upon the best of Motives.

But after the Revolution, Mr. Locke veered about, and ran into an Extreme quite opposite to his Laws of Carolina;–yet without publicly renouncing his former Opinions. The People then, and not the Barons, or the Men of landed Property because his sole Fountain of Power. In his Tract on Government, (the 2d Part of which is nothing more than the Resolves of the Cromwellian Levellers, worked up into a System) he maintains such Principles, as must necessarily destroy every Government upon Earth, without erecting, or establishing any. His Error, and Sir Robert Filmer’s, though seemingly arising from opposite Schemes, tend to the same Centre, and rest on the same Foundation; namely, A false Idea of the present (supposed) Perfections and Excellences of Human Nature. Sir Robert’s System must suppose (whether intended it, or not) that a mortal Man, by being exalted into the highest Station of all, and invested with arbitrary Sway over his Fellow-Mortals, becomes so much the better, and wiser, and fitter to govern, than he was before: Whereas the very Reverse to this is nearer to the Truth. Mr. Locke’s System is much alike; for it supposes, that Mankind, taken in their aggregate or collective Capacity, are so much the less positive and dogmatical in their Opinions, the less liable to perverted in their Judgments, the more humane and candid in their Decisions, and the more discreet and dispassionate in their Resolves, than otherwise they would have been. Whereas every Title of this is false. In short, if Experience shall be allowed to decide this Question, it will almost universally tell us, that when a Multitude are invested with the Power of governing, they prove the very worst of Governors. They are rash and precipitate, giddy and inconstant, and ever the Dupes of designing Men, who lead them to commit the most atrocious Crimes, in order to make them subservient to their own Purposes. Besides, a democratic Government is despotic in its very Nature; because it supposes itself to be the only Fountain of Power, from which there can be no Appeal. Hence, therefore, it comes to pass, that this many headed Monster, an absolute Democracy, has all the Vices and Imperfections of its Brother-Tyrant, an absolute Monarchy, without any of the shining Qualities of the latter to hide its Deformity. And what is still worse, it feels no Remorse of Conscience; and it never blushes.

If therefore both these Species of Government are generally so bad, that they ought to be avoided as much as possible;–perhaps your Lordship might here be apt to ask, ‘Is there any that is good according to your present Description? For Government of some Sort or other there must be, notwithstanding its manifold Imperfections.’ To this I answer, that that Government may be denominated good, in this relative or comparative Sense, which grants sufficient Liberty both civil and[3] religious, to the Governed to do what is right, agreeably to the Dictates of sound Reason; and yet retains Power and Authority enough to restrain the ill-intentioned, and to punish the wrong Doers.—Doubtless many Checks may be introduced into every Government, for preventing an Abuse of Power to a great Degree;–and many Expedients may be devised for giving Energy to a weak and impotent Constitution:–Yet, after all, I think it must be allowed, that the very best Form of Government for answering those good Purposes, seems to be the Mixt—so mixt, as to partake of the Firmness of a regal Form, and Credit or Reputation of a popular one. For by such an happy Temperament, many of the Advantages of both may be obtained, and their chief Inconveniences be avoided. But in order to ensure this good End, and to make it permanent, by keeping a due Medium between both Extremes, the Regal and the Popular, a Third Power should intervene:–A Power, whose peculiar Interest it is, to maintain the Balance even between the opposite and contending Parties, and to prevent either of them getting such an Ascendency, as would render the other useless or unnecessary. And such a Power can be no other than an hereditary Nobility invested with Privileges of a peculiar Nature, for erecting a Counter-poise. This Institution here in England is honourably distinguished by the Title of an House of Lords; and is so constituted, as to partake of the Qualities both of the regal and of the popular State; because it would inevitably lose by the Loss or Destruction of either of the other two, and yet be no Gainer by its Exaltation. Therefore such a balancing Power will of Course,–I might say, it will through Necessity, throw its Weight into the opposite Scale, if either of the other Powers should be found to preponderate too much.

And, my Lord, it was this very Circumstance, and no other, which produced the glorious Revolution of 1688. King James attempted to be arbitrary: His Designs of engrossing all Power to himself, were too apparent to be denied; and no Remonstrances, however full of Duty and Respect, could stop his Proceedings. Then he was opposed, most justly opposed,–not by the People only, but by the Nobility also. Nay, I might add with the strictest Truth, that the Nobility were the foremost, because they led the Way in this Affair. For it cannot be denied, but that they had originally a much greater Share in bringing about this Event, than most Commoners, though afterwards they seemed rather tardy.—Many Proofs and Evidences might be adduced; but they are needless.

Let us now see what Use has Mr. Locke made of this Matter; and how far, or how well, doth his System comport with this plain Narration of interesting Facts. In the 2d Part of his Treatise on Government, instead of mentioning the three balancing Powers of the Constitution, and of the good Consequences resulting from the Junction of two of them against the third, if it should attempt to predominate; which he ought to have done;–he ascribes all Authority, Power, and Pre-eminence to the People only, as Cromwell’s Levellers had done before him. And he sinks the Nobility into a total Insignificance,–never ascribing to them any Right or Privilege, or even so much as an Existence in the State, any otherwise than as they make a Part, and a very small one too, of the Mass of the People. Nay, in his 19th Chapter, of the Dissolution of Government, he lays down such a Position, as annihilates the House of Lords at once, absolutely forbiding us to acknowledge them, as a Branch of the Legislature, distinctfrom the People. His Words are these: “When any one, or more, shall take upon them to make Laws [whether conjunctively with the other Branches, or solely by themselves, he doth not say, but shall take upon them to make Laws] whom the people have not appointed [or elected] so to do, they make Laws without Authority, which the People are not therefore bound to obey,–and may constitute a new Legislative, as they think best.” The necessary Consequence of which is, That an House of Lords, unless they will acknowledge, that they are appointed by, and the Creatures of the People, are a Pack of Usurpers, who ought at least to be set aside, if not to be punished for daring thus to infringe the Prerogatives of their Superiors. A fine Lesson this for your Lordship, and the whole Body of the Peerage!

But what is still more extraordinary is, That this same Power of the People, though Lord Paramount over all, is nevertheless the most fleeting and unsettled Thing upon Earth. For the Son is not bound by the Act of the Father, though it should be ever so necessary for the Safety and Preservation of the State. The young Man, it seems, is no Subject of that Government under which he was born, and which continued to protect him: No, he is still as free and independent a Being, as Robinson Crusoe in his desert Island,–and will ever so remain, till he himself shall honour some Government or other with his Choice, by a personal and express Agreement with it. [Compare §. 116, and §. 122, of the 2d. Part of Mr. Locke together. See also my Confutation thereof, Pages 43 and 48.] An implied Contract in this Case, or what the Civilians term a Quasi-Contract, is, it seems, no Contract at all. And a virtual Representation is to be hooted and scouted at.—But why? And for what Reason are a Quasi-Contract, and a virtual Representation to be treated with Derision and Disdain? For a very plain and obvious one, which Mr. Locke has suggested, namely, That were these Things to be allowed, it would then follow, that Men might be bound in Conscience to obey such Laws, to the framing of which they had no actually or personally consented, and to submit to those Law Givers and Magistrates, whom they had not elected. And then farewell to the grand Principle of all, The Unalienable Rights Of Human Nature!—Babylon is fallen! is fallen!

But however strange these Positions are, I can assure your Lordship, that there are stranger yet to come. For these same Rights, unalienable and untransferable as they are, and the very Pillars of the Lockian Cause, will vanish in a Moment, and disappear at once, [like the baseless Fabric of a Vision] as soon as ever the Majority of a single Vote shall appear against them. For we are told by the same Author, and by all his Disciples, that the Majority is to decide against the Sense of the Minority in all Cases of Civil Concerns, and to compel an Obedience. Now this I called a palpable Contradiction: And I do not scruple to give it still the same Apellation. But what say his Advocates and Defenders? Do they assert that these Points are not Contradictions? No;–at least not as yet. Or do they so much as attempt to prove, that they are reconcileable with each other? No: In no wise: Instead thereof, they have [at least hitherto] only said, “That Mr. Locke did allow, that the Majority have a Right to command the Minority to obey its Decisions in Civil Causes.” And they blame the Dean of Glocester for having suppressed these Passages, which were explanatory of Mr. Locke’s Meaning.

Now, my Lord, I was so far from suppressing these Passages, that I quoted them at full Length in the 6th and 10th Pages of my Answer:–And I insisted on them, I appealed to them, I laid all possible Stress upon them in many places of my Treatise [See particularly Pages 31,–36] And I now do make them the capital Article of my Charge against his Doctrine, as what overturns itself, and destroys his whole System of unalienable Rights. Either, therefore, these boasted Rights are alienable, or unalienable.—Let Mr. Locke’s Defenders chuse, which Side of this Question they will please to maintain; and I am content;–provided they will adhere to it, and not shift about, and be guilty of those Tergiversations which have hitherto appeared in all their Writings. A Searcher after Truth, and a Practitioner of Legerdemain, are very different Characters. I envy not the latter his Success.

As to Mr. Locke, considered as a Man, it is impossible for me to have any personal Ill-will against him. And considered as a Writer, I freely own, that when I was young and unexperienced, about 20 Years of Age, I esteemed him as a kind of Oracle both in Metaphysics, and Politics, paying him all Kinds of Deference short of implicit Faith. But when I arrived at thirty, I began to find, that he was not that original Author, enriching the World with new Discoveries, which my unexperienced Youth had imagined, and which very many still supposed to be the Case. Afterwards, at the Age of 40, 50, 60, and upwards, I was more and more convinced from the Labours of many learned Men, whose Writings had served to open mine Eyes—and also from mine own Reflection on the natural Tendency of his distinguished Tenets, that his Works had done more Harm, than Good in the World;–and that there is a Mixture of Error in the very best of them, which disguises the Truth, and prevents it from having its proper Effect. Mr. Locke is now the Idol of the Freethinkers, or les Philosophes de France; because he suggested the Hint, that Matter is capable of thinking:–On which very Foundation they build all their Superstructure of atheistical Materialism. Hence, as I was informed by a Person who ought to know, they consider him as the Head and Founder of their Sect. This is undoubtedly doing him no Honour, but great Injustice: For he never intended, that any such Inference should be drawn from the Premises. Nevertheless though the Man ought to be absolved from any Guilt on that Account; this cannot amount to a Vindication of his Doctrine. Therefore, while Charity leads us to acquit the one, Justice as necessarily obliges us to condemn the other.

Mr. Locke is also now the Idol of the Levellers of England.—And if your Lordship should ask, Why? Or for what Reason?—I will frankly tell you:–In the 2d. Part of his Treatise on Government, he supplies them with such Materials, as put it in their Power (were his Scheme to take Effect) to call for thousands and thousands of Alterations in the Forms and Modes, Management and Administration of every Government upon Earth, and to unsettle every Thing. In short, his Principles or Positions [whatever were his Intentions] give them a perpetual Right to shift and change, to vary and alter, without End; That is, without coming to any solid Establishment, Permanence, or Duration. Add to all this, that as the rising Generation are not bound, (according to Mr. Locke’s System) to acknowledge the Validity of the Acts of their Fathers, Grandfathers, &c. they must of course have a new Set of unalienable Rights of their own; for they are perfectly their own Masters, absolutely free, and independent of that very Government, under which they were born. In Consequence of this, they also have a Right to demand as many new Arrangements and Alterations, as they please, agreably to their own Taste and Humour: And if they are not gratified therein, have a Right to stir up new Commotions, and to bring about another and another Revolution, &c. What could the most enthusiastic Republican wish for more?

For these Reasons, my Lord, I cannot subscribe to the modern Notion, that Mr. Locke’s System of Politics has any Tendency to promote either genuine Liberty, real Safety, or social Happiness. On the contrary, it is my firm Opinion, that it can produce nothing better than Anarchy and Confusion in every Country, where it is suffered to operate to its full Extent. And Experience alas! but too truly justifies this Observation, wherever his System has had any considerable Influence. The poor Inhabitants of North America, of Geneva, &c. will have Cause to wish, that the Lockian System had never been known among them.—But though I am an Infidel in regard to the Merit of Mr. Locke’s Notion or Maxim of unalienable Rights, for making perpetual Changes;–yet there is another Author, formerly of some Reputation in the World, whose Maxim I most cordially adopt; and if an old Plebeian in his 70th Year, dared to advise a young Nobleman and Prime Minister, not much more than Half as old, I would earnestly beg Leave to recommend it to your Lordship to do the same;–namely, to fear God,–and honour the King,–and not meddle with those who are given to (unnecessary) Changes.

With these Sentiments I take Leave of your Lordship at present;

And have the Honour to subscribe myself;

Your Lordship’s

Most faithful humble Servant,

  1. Tucker.

[1] Many Places in the Writings of Moses refer to this very singular Institution; particularly Levit. Xxv. 24. The Land [of Canaan] is mine; for ye are Strangers and Sojourners with me [your King Jehovah, who gave you this Land.] And then it follows of Course, that this Circumstance created, as it were, a distinct Right to bind the Children of Israel to such Terms of Loyalty and Obedience, as were not laid on other Nations, who were not under a like form of temporal Government, nor had a Country given them to hold on the same Conditions.

[2] The Information given me was in the following Words. In the Harleyan Library, No. 6845, there is a Manuscript, which, from Page 251, contains a Collection of Papers, relative to Monmouth’s Invasion, and other Intrigues. Inter alia it appears, that Mr. Locke paid Money at two different Times, towards the Equipment of that Expedition.

[3] It is remarkable, that the famous Republics of Antiquity, both of Greece and Rome, never allowed Liberty of Conscience, or the Rights of private Judgment in Matters of religious Worship.—All were obliged either to conform to the nonsensical Superstitions, the gross Immoralities, cruel and shocking Idolatries of the Religion of the State, or to undergo the most grievous Persecutions, in Case of Non-compliance. This I insist on as a Fact: And let our modern Republicans disprove it, if they can.