Strangers

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Constitution Constitution Map courtesy of National Archives

John Locke (continued)

While Locke claimed in the preface that his treatise was a justification of the recent “Glorious Revolution,” against King James II, it’s far more likely that he had been working on it at least a decade earlier. It is also important to note that Locke’s insistence on the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of property” was not the selfish, justification of Capitalism of which Locke has been accused. Rather, Locke, being born and raised in the British Isles where land is scarce, was most likely referring to a right to acquire property to trade for food. As all of the land was claimed, one had to be able to acquire material goods (property) and have a real claim on them in order to exchange for the necessities of life. When Jefferson referred back to this writing nearly a century later, the situation would be quite different and “property” would be replaced with “happiness.”

Author’s note: I find myself wondering whether the Puritan Pilgrims of Plymouth, if faced with the same statement, would have claimed that all men have a right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of holiness?” This would fit perfectly with their worldview, though the pursuit would almost certainly have been a “Puritan” pursuit.