John Locke (1632 - 1704) was an English philosopher and physician, who was an associate of Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper. He is best known for his Two Treatises of Government during the Exclusionary Crisis, A Letter on Toleration, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, and The Reasonableness of Christianity. He is commonly called the Father of Liberalism.
John Locke was born to a Calvinistic Protestant family on August 29th, 1632, in Wrington, Somerset England. As a child, Locke was close to his father (also named John), learning much from the senior, and would develop quite a friendship with him later in life. Within days of Locke’s tenth birthday in 1642, Civil War broke out between the Parliamentary army and Charles I, causing Locke’s father to be employed as a Captain in the conflict for the Parliamentarian Alexander Popham. Despite Locke’s father taking severe material losses, Locke attended Westminster School in London under the sponsorship of Popham. After finishing his studies at Westminster, Locke went to Oxford in 1752 to study medicine and experimental philosophy, where he met Robert Boyle, Robert Hooke, and Anthony Ashley Cooper.
Locke as an Advisor
In 1666, Cooper went to Oxford seeking treatment for a liver infection and was impressed with Locke, asking him to become an advisor and his physician. While working under Cooper, Locke served as Secretary of the Board of Trade and Plantations and Secretary to the Lords Proprietors of Carolina, by which he participated in drafting the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina. When Cooper became Lord Chancellor in 1672 and the first Earl of Shaftesbury in 1673, Locke became involved in one of the contested political debates of his generation, competing with very influential thinkers who supported strong authoritative rule. However, Shaftesbury would lose favor in 1675, causing Locke to move abroad to find work as a tutor and a medical attendant.
Locke would travel across France for a time but would return to England in 1779 following Shaftesbury’s political resurgence and the Exclusion Crisis. During this crisis, Locke began writing his Two Treatises of Government, but would be forced to flee England again in 1683 after being suspected of being involved with the Rye House Plot to assassinate King Charles II and his brother James. Locke would find himself in the Netherlands, where he spent the next decade writing some of his most influential works and becoming close friends with many freethinkers. Locke would publish his Two Treatises of Government in 1689, which argued for a more civilized society based on natural and civil rights, and included ideals such as government being legitimized through the consent of the governed and the dissolution of a government when it fails to protect its citizen’s rights.
Later Life and Death
Locke returned to England following the Glorious Revolution in 1689 and published his Two Treatises of Government and Letter on Toleration the same year. His Letter on Toleration would argue for religious toleration and freedom of conscience as a response to the European wars of religion. The following year Locke published his influential Essay Concerning Human Understanding which argued for Tabula rasa, or the blank slate of the mind, and the importance of experience on the mind’s formation. Finally, Locke published his Reasonableness of Christianity in 1695, which argued that individuals can comprehend the duty to achieve salvation through scripture. Locke would be plagued with asthma attacks and would pass on October 28th, 1704.
Ashcraft, Richard and JSTOR Evidence Based Acquisition. Revolutionary Politics & Locke's Two Treatises of Government. 1st ed. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1986; 2021;. doi:10.1515/9781400823420.