Two Treatises of Government: Disrupting Patriarchy
Though Locke was no feminist, neither did he believe husbands had absolute rights over their wives, nor fathers over their children.
Anthony Comegna, PhD
Assistant Editor for Intellectual History
For his next stop along the way to completely dismantling Sir Robert Filmer’s absolutist system, John Locke considers the supposed title of sovereignty granted to Adam by God through “the subjection of Eve.” Filmer claimed that “the original grant of government” came from God to Adam when God stated that Eve should be obedient to her husband and Adam would rule over her. Locke first delivers a linguistic blow: certainly we should not conflate a rather benign and nebulous word “rule” with the very specific concept Filmer was advancing—absolute monarchy. Yes, yes, Locke grants, Eve was first and forwardest in the Fall, but Adam, too, ate the fruit and suffered the consequences. If God made him into a king, he was a pretty shockingly poor king. Once expelled from Paradise, Adam labored for his sustenance like everyone else, and he was lucky to scratch a living from the earth. Moreover, God spoke his words as a condemnation to Eve—a personal scolding and punishment—not as a positive grant of power to Adam. Eve’s subjection to the whims of the stronger sex was part of her curse for disobeying the Lord (part of her natural condition as a woman), but God was obviously not about to reward Adam’s own disobedience with absolute power over his fellow creatures. Plainly, he could not handle the authority. Rather, Locke concludes that God’s grant of power to Adam over Eve was merely that of a husband over his wife. If Filmer wants to construe this as an absolute monarchical dominion, then Locke says so be it!—it would mean a world where householders govern themselves and their families, and that is better than a world overrun by a handful of great tyrants.
Turning, then, to the power of fathers over their households, Locke interrogates Filmer’s claim that monarchs’ authorities came from Adam’s ultimate fatherhood. The theory was that Adam possessed near absolute power and authority over his sons by virtue of being their father (of having begat them, in the document’s wording). On down the line, every descendent of Adam inherited his original grant of power from God, and through history up to the present, monarchs have inherited this very same authority. Rather than dwell on the essentially unproveable set of stories about how exactly modern day monarchs inherited fatherly powers directly from Adam, Locke sets about a more devastating sort of critique: once again, even within the factual lines Filmer has drawn for us, the logic of his argument is inconsistent and spurious. For example, Locke argues that parents do not and indeed cannot have absolute power over their children and follow God’s commandments. They cannot at once act as absolute masters over the life and death of a child and respect God as the one true authority. Absolutism—even of a father over a child—is inconsistent with the very idea of a supreme God. To finish with a flourish, Locke gives us a long list of inconsistencies in Filmer’s own descriptions of legitimate kingly authority. In the end, so long as something was trotted out as a convincing reason to hold onto the throne, it worked for the monarch and lickspittle court devotionists like Filmer.
By John Locke Thomas Hollis Edition. (London: A. Millar et. al.) 1764.
Two Treatises of Civil Government
Book I: Of Government
Chapter 5: Of Adam’s Title to Sovereignty by the Subjection of Eve.
THE next place of scripture we find our author builds his monarchy of Adam on, is…And thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. Here we have (says he) the original grant of government, from whence he concludes…That the supreme power is settled in the fatherhood, and limited to one kind of government, that is, to monarchy. For let his premises be what they will, this is always the conclusion; let rule, in any text, be but once named, and presently absolute monarchy is by divine right established. If any one will but carefully read our author’s own reasoning from these words, and consider, among other things, the line and posterity of Adam, as he there brings them in, he will find some difficulty to make sense of what he says; but we will allow this at present to his peculiar way of writing, and consider the force of the text in hand. The words are the curse of God upon the woman, for having been the first and forwardest in the disobedience; and if we will consider the occasion of what God says here to our first parents, that he was denouncing judgment, and declaring his wrath against them both, for their disobedience, we cannot suppose that this was the time, wherein God was granting Adam prerogatives and privileges, investing him with dignity and authority, elevating him to dominion and monarchy: for though, as a helper in the temptation, Eve was laid below him, and so he had accidentally a superiority over her, for her greater punishment; yet he too had his share in the fall, as well as the sin, and was laid lower, as may be seen in the following verses; and it would be hard to imagine, that God, in the same breath, should make him universal monarch over all mankind, and a day‐labourer for his life; turn him out of paradise to till the ground, and at the same time advance him to a throne, and all the privileges and ease of absolute power.
This was not a time, when Adam could expect any favours, any grant of privileges, from his offended Maker. If this be the original grant of government, as our author tells us, and Adam was now made monarch, whatever Sir Robert would have him, it is plain, God made him but a very poor monarch, such an one, as our author himself would have counted it no great privilege to be. God sets him to work for his living, and seems rather to give him a spade into his hand, to subdue the earth, than a sceptre to rule over its inhabitants. In the sweat of thy face thou shalt eat thy bread, says God to him. This was unavoidable, may it perhaps be answered, because he was yet without subjects, and had nobody to work for him; but afterwards, living as he did above 900 years, he might have people enough, whom he might command, to work for him; no, says God, not only whilst thou art without other help, save thy wife, but as long as thou livest, shalt thou live by thy labour, In the sweat of thy face, shalt thou eat thy bread, till thou return unto the ground, for out of it wast thou taken, for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. It will perhaps be answered again in favour of our author, that these words are not spoken personally to Adam, but in him, as their representative, to all mankind, this being a curse upon mankind, because of the fall.
God, I believe, speaks differently from men, because he speaks with more truth, more certainty: but when he vouchsafes to speak to men, I do not think he speaks differently from them, in crossing the rules of language in use amongst them: this would not be to condescend to their capacities, when he humbles himself to speak to them, but to lose his design in speaking what, thus spoken, they could not understand. And yet thus must we think of God, if the interpretations of scripture, necessary to maintain our author’s doctrine, must be received for good: for by the ordinary rules of language, it will be very hard to understand what God says, if what he speaks here, in the singular number, to Adam, must be understood to be spoken to all mankind, and what he says in the plural number, must be understood of Adam alone, exclusive of all others, and what he says to Noah and his sons jointly, must be understood to be meant to Noah alone.
Farther it is to be noted, that these words here…which our author calls the original grant of government, were not spoken to Adam, neither indeed was there any grant in them made to Adam, but a punishment laid upon Eve: and if we will take them as they were directed in particular to her, or in her, as their representative, to all other women, they will at most concern the female sex only, and import no more, but that subjection they should ordinarily be in to their husbands: but there is here no more law to oblige a woman to such a subjection, if the circumstances either of her condition, or contract with her husband, should exempt her from it, than there is, that she should bring forth her children in sorrow and pain, if there could be found a remedy for it, which is also a part of the same curse upon her: for the whole verse runs thus, Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children, and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. It would, I think, have been a hard matter for any body, but our author, to have found out a grant of monarchical government to Adam in these words, which were neither spoke to, nor of him: neither will any one, I suppose, by these words, think the weaker sex, as by a law, so subjected to the curse contained in them, that it is their duty not to endeavour to avoid it. And will any one say, that Eve, or any other woman, sinned, if she were brought to bed without those multiplied pains God threatens her here with? or that either of our queens, Mary or Elizabeth, had they married any of their subjects, had been by this text put into a political subjection to him? or that he thereby should have had monarchical rule over her? God, in this text, gives not, that I see, any authority to Adam over Eve, or to men over their wives, but only foretels what should be the woman’s lot, how by his providence he would order it so, that she should be subject to her husband, as we see that generally the laws of mankind and customs of nations have ordered it so; and there is, I grant, a foundation in nature for it.
Thus when God says of Jacob and Esau, that the elder should serve the younger, no body supposes that God hereby made Jacob Esau’s sovereign, but foretold what should de facto come to pass.
But if these words here spoke to Eve must needs be understood as a law to bind her and all other women to subjection, it can be no other subjection than what every wife owes her husband; and then if this be the original grant of government and the foundation of monarchical power, there will be as many monarchs as there are husbands: if therefore these words give any power to Adam, it can be only a conjugal power, not political; the power that every husband hath to order the things of private concernment in his family, as proprietor of the goods and land there, and to have his will take place before that of his wife in all things of their common concernment; but not a political power of life and death over her, much less over any body else.
This I am sure: if our author will have this text to be a grant, the original grantof government, political government, he ought to have proved it by some better arguments than by barely saying, that thy desire shall be unto thy husband, was a law whereby Eve, and all that should come of her, were subjected to the absolute monarchical power of Adam and his heirs. Thy desire shall be to thy husband, is too doubtful an expression, of whose signification interpreters are not agreed, to build so confidently on, and in a matter of such moment, and so great and general concernment: but our author, according to his way of writing, having once named the text, concludes presently without any more ado, that the meaning is as he would have it. Let the words rule and subject be but found in the text or margent, and it immediately signifies the duty of a subject to his prince; the relation is changed, and though God says husband, Sir Robert will have it king; Adam has presently absolute monarchical power over Eve, and not only over Eve, but all that should come of her, though the scripture says not a word of it, nor our author a word to prove it. But Adam must for all that be an absolute monarch, and so down to the end of the chapter. And here I leave my reader to consider, whether my bare saying, without offering any reasons to evince it, that this text gave not Adam that absolute monarchical power, our author supposes, be not as sufficient to destroy that power, as his bare assertion is to establish it, since the text mentions neither prince nor people, speaks nothing of absolute or monarchical power, but the subjection of Eve to Adam, a wife to her husband. And he that would trace our author so all through, would make a short and sufficient answer to the greatest part of the grounds he proceeds on, and abundantly consute them by barely denying; it being a sufficient answer to assertions without proof, to deny them without giving a reason. And therefore should I have said nothing but barely denied, that by this text the supreme power was settled and founded by God himself, in the fatherhood, limited to monarchy, and that to Adam’s person and heirs, all which our author notably concludes from these words…it had been a sufficient answer: should I have desired any sober man only to have read the text, and considered to whom, and on what occasion it was spoken, he would no doubt have wondered how our author found out monarchical absolute power in it, had he not had an exceeding good faculty to find it himself, where he could not shew it others. And thus we have examined the two places of scripture, all that I remember our author brings to prove Adam’s sovereignty, that supremacy, which he says, it was God’s ordinance should be unlimited in Adam, and as large as all the acts of his will,…one whereof signifies only the subjection of the inferior ranks of creatures to mankind, and the other the subjection that is due from a wife to her husband, both far enough from that which subjects owe the governors of political societies.
Chapter 6: Of Adam’s Title to Sovereignty by Fatherhood.
THERE is one thing more, and then I think I have given you all that our author brings for proof of Adam’s sovereignty, and that is a supposition of a natural right of dominion over his children, by being their father: and this title of fatherhood he is so pleased with, that you will find it brought in almost in every page; particularly he says, not only Adam, but the succeeding patriarchs had by right of fatherhood royal authority over their children. And in the same page, this subjection of children being the fountain of all regal authority, &c. This being, as one would think by his so frequent mentioning it, the main basis of all his frame, we may well expect clear and evident reason for it, since he lays it down as a position necessary to his purpose, that every man that is born is so far from being free, that by his very birth he becomes a subject of him thatbegets him, so that Adam being the only man created, and all ever since being begotten, no body has been born free. If we ask how Adam comes by this power over his children, he tells us here it is by begetting them: and so again, this natural dominion of Adam, says he, may be proved out of Grotius himself, who teacheth, that generatione jus acquiritur parentibus in liberos. And indeed the act of begetting being that which makes a man a father, his right of a father over his children can naturally arise from nothing else.
Grotius tells us not here how far this jus in liberos, this power of parents over their children extends; but our author, always very clear in the point, assures us, it is supreme power, and like that of absolute monarchs over their slaves, absolute power of life and death. He that should demand of him, how, or for what reason it is, that begetting a child gives the father such an absolute power over him, will find him answer nothing: we are to take his word for this, as well as several other things; and by that the laws of nature and the constitutions of government must stand or fall. Had he been an absolute monarch, this way of talking might have suited well enough; proratione voluntas might have been of force in his mouth; but in the way of proof or argument is very unbecoming, and will little advantage his plea for absolute monarchy. Sir Robert has too much lessened a subject’s authority to leave himself the hopes of establishing any thing by his bare saying it; one slave’s opinion without proof is not of weight enough to dispose of the liberty and fortunes of all mankind. If all men are not, as I think they are, naturally equal, I am sure all slaves are; and then I may without presumption oppose my single opinion to his; and be confident that my saying, that begetting of children makes them not slaves to their fathers, as certainly sets all mankind free, as his affirming the contrary makes them all slaves. But that this position, which is the foundation of all their doctrine, who would have monarchy to be jure divino, may have all fair play, let us hear what reasons others give for it, since our author offers none.
The argument, I have heard others make use of, to prove that fathers, by begetting them, come by an absolute power over their children, is this; that fathers have a power over the lives of their children, because they give them life and being, which is the only proof it is capable of: since there can be no reason, why naturally one man should have any claim or pretence of right over that in another, which was never his, which he bestowed not, but was received from the bounty of another. 1. I answer, that every one who gives another any thing, has not always thereby a right to take it away again. But 2. They who say the father gives life to his children, are so dazzled with the thoughts of monarchy, that they do not, as they ought, remember God, who is the author and giver of life: it is in him alone we live, move, and have our being. How can he be thought to give life to another, that knows not wherein his own life consists? Philosophers are at a loss about it after their most diligent enquiries; and anatomists, after their whole lives and studies spent in dissections, and diligent examining the bodies of men, confess their ignorance in the structure and use of many parts of man’s body, and in that operation wherein life consists in the whole. And doth the rude plough‐man, or the more ignorant voluptuary, frame or fashion such an admirable engine as this is, and then put life and sense into it? Can any man say, he formed the parts that are necessary to the life of his child? or can he suppose himself to give the life, and yet not know what subject is fit to receive it, nor what actions or organs are necessary for its reception or preservation?
To give life to that which has yet no being, is to frame and make a living creature, fashion the parts, and mould and suit them to their uses, and having proportioned and fitted them together, to put into them a living soul. He that could do this, might indeed have some pretence to destroy his own workmanship. But is there any one so bold, that dares thus far arrogate to himself the incomprehensible works of the almighty? Who alone did at first, and continues still to make a living soul, he alone can breathe in the breath of life. If any one thinks himself an artist at this, let him number up the parts of his child’s body which he hath made, tell me their uses and operations, and when the living and rational soul began to inhabit this curious structure, when sense began, and how this engine, which he has framed, thinks and reasons: if he made it, let him, when it is out of order, mend it, at least tell wherein the defects lie. Shall he that made the eye not see? says the Psalmist. See these men’s vanities! the structure of that one part is sufficient to convince us of an all‐wise contriver, and he has so visible a claim to us as his workmanship, that one of the ordinary appellations of God in scripture is, God our Maker, and the Lord our Maker. And therefore though our author, for the magnifying his fatherhood, be pleased to say. That even the power which God himself exerciseth over mankind is by right of fatherhood, yet this fatherhood is such an one as utterly excludes all pretence of title in earthly parents; for he is king, because he is indeed maker of us all, which no parents can pretend to be of their children.
But had men skill and power to make their children, it is not so slight a piece of workmanship, that it can be imagined, they could make them without designing it. What father of a thousand, when he begets a child, thinks farther than the satisfying his present appetite? God in his infinite wisdom has put strong desires of copulation into the constitution of men, thereby to continue the race of mankind, which he doth most commonly without the intention, and often against the consent and will of the begetter. And indeed those who desire and design children, are but the occasions of their being, and when they design and wish to beget them, do little more towards their making, than Deucalion and his wife in the fable did towards the making of mankind, by throwing pebbles over their heads.
But grant that the parents made their children, gave them life and being, and that hence there followed an absolute power. This would give the father but a joint dominion with the mother over them: for no body can deny but that the woman hath an equal share, if not the greater, as nourishing the child a long time in her own body out of her own substance: there it is fashioned, and from her it receives the materials and principles of its constitution: and it is so hard to imagine the rational soul should presently inhabit the yet unformed embrio, as soon as the father has done his part in the act of generation, that if it must be supposed to derive any thing from the parents, it must certainly owe most to the mother. But be that as it will, the mother cannot be denied an equal share in begetting of the child, and so the absolute authority of the father will not arise from hence. Our author indeed is of another mind; for he says, We know that God at the creation gave the sovereignty to the man over the woman, as being the nobler and principal agent in generation. I remember not this in my Bible; and when the place is brought where God at the creation gave the sovereignty to man over the woman, and that for this reason, because he is the nobler and principal agent in generation, it will be time enough to consider, and answer it. But it is no new thing for our author to tell us his own fancies for certain and divine truths, tho’ there be often a great deal of difference between his and divine revelations; for God in the scripture says, his father and his mother that begot him.
They who alledge the practice of mankind, for exposing or selling their children, as a proof of their power over them, are with Sir Robert happy arguers; and cannot but recommend their opinion, by founding it on the most shameful action, and most unnatural murder, human nature is capable of. The dens of lions and nurseries of wolves know no such cruelty as this: these savage inhabitants of the desert obey God and nature in being tender and careful of their off‐spring: they will hunt, watch, fight, and almost starve for the preservation of their young; never part with them; never forsake them, till they are able to shift for themselves. And is it the privilege of man alone to act more contrary to nature than the wild and most untamed part of the creation? doth God forbid us under the severest penalty, that of death, to take away the life of any man, a stranger, and upon provocation? and does he permit us to destroy those, he has given us the charge and care of; and by the dictates of nature and reason, as well as his revealed command, requires us to preserve? He has in all the parts of the creation taken a peculiar care to propagate and continue the several species of creatures, and makes the individuals act so strongly to this end, that they sometimes neglect their own private good for it, and seem to forget that general rule, which nature teaches all things, of self‐preservation; and the preservation of their young, as the strongest principle in them, over‐rules the constitution of their particular natures. Thus we see, when their young stand in need of it, the timorous become valiant, the fierce and savage kind, and the ravenous tender and liberal.
But if the example of what hath been done, be the rule of what ought to be, history would have furnished our author with instances of this absolute fatherly power in its height and perfection, and he might have shewed us in Peru, people that begot children on purpose to fatten and eat them. The story is so remarkable, that I cannot but set it down in the author’s words. “In some provinces, says he, they were so liquorish after man’s flesh, that they would not have the patience to stay till the breath was out of the body, but would suck the blood as it ran from the wounds of the dying man; they had public shambles of man’s flesh, and their madness herein was to that degree, that they spared not their own children, which they had begot on strangers taken in war: for they made their captives their mistresses, and choicely nourished the children they had by them, till about thirteen years old they butchered and eat them; and they served the mothers after the same fashion, when they grew past child bearing, and ceased to bring them any more roasters,” Garcilasso de la Vega hist. des Yncas de Peru.
Thus far can the busy mind of man carry him to a brutality below the level of beasts, when he quits his reason, which places him almost equal to angels. Nor can it be otherwise in a creature, whose thoughts are more than the sands, and wider than the ocean, where fancy and passion must needs run him into strange courses, if reason, which is his only star and compass, be not that he steers by. The imagination is always restless, and suggests variety of thoughts, and the will, reason being laid aside, is ready for every extravagant project; and in this state, he that goes farthest out of the way, is thought fittest to lead, and is sure of most followers: and when fashion hath once established what folly or craft began, custom makes it sacred, and it will be thought impudence, or madness, to contradict or question it. He that will impartially survey the nations of the world, will find so much of their religions, governments and manners, brought in and continued amongst them by these means, that he will have but little reverence for the practices which are in use and credit amongst men; and will have reason to think, that the woods and forests, where the irrational untaught inhabitants keep right by following nature, are fitter to give us rules, than cities and palaces, where those that call themselves civil and rational, go out of their way, by the authority of example. If precedents are sufficient to establish a rule in this case, our author might have found in holy writ children sacrificed by their parents, and this amongst the people of God themselves: the Psalmist tells us, They shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and of their daughters, whom they sacrificed unto the idols of Canaan. But God judged not of this by our author’s rule, nor allowed of the authority of practice against his righteous law; but as it follows there, the land was polluted with blood; therefore was the wrath of the Lord kindled against his people, insomuch that he abborred his own inheritance. The killing of their children, though it were fashionable, was charged on them as innocent blood, and so had in the account of God the guilt of murder, as the offering them to idols had the guilt of idolatry.
Be it then, as Sir Robert says, that anciently it was usual for men to sell and castrate their children. Let it be, that they exposed them; add to it, if you please, for this is still greater power, that they begat them for their tables, to fat and eat them: if this proves a right to do so, we may, by the same argument, justify adultery, incest and sodomy, for there are examples of these too, both ancient and modern; sins, which I suppose have their principal aggravation from this, that they cross the main intention of nature, which willeth the increase of mankind, and the continuation of the species in the highest perfection, and the distinction of families, with the security of the marriage bed, as necessary thereunto.
In confirmation of this natural authority of the father, our author brings a lame proof from the positive command of God in scripture: his words are, To confirm the natural right of regal power, we find in the Decalogue, that the law which enjoins obedience to kings, is delivered in the terms, Honour thy father. Whereas many confess, that government only in the abstract, is the ordinance of God, they are not able to prove any such ordinance in the scripture, but only in the fatherly power; and therefore we find the commandment, that enjoins obedience to superiors, given in the terms, Honour thy father; so that not only the power and right of government, but the form of the power governing, and the person having the power, are all the ordinances of God. The first father had not only simply power, but power monarchical, as he was father immediately from God. To the same purpose, the same law is cited by our author in several other places, and just after the same fashion; that is, and mother, as apochryphal words, are always left out; a great argument of our author’s ingenuity, and the goodness of his cause, which required in its defender zeal to a degree of warmth, able to warp the sacred rule of the word of God, to make it comply with his present occasion….
For had our author set down this command without garbling, as God gave it, and joined mother to father, every reader would have seen, that it had made directly against him; and that it was so far from establishing the monarchical power of the father, that it set up the mother equal with him, and enjoined nothing but what was due in common, to both father and mother: for that is the constant tenor of the scripture…The rule is, Children, obey your parents; and I do not remember, that I any where read, Children, obey your father, and no more: the scripture joins mother too in that homage, which is due from children; and had there been any text, where the honour or obedience of children had been directed to the father alone, it is not likely that our author, who pretends to build all upon scripture, would have omitted it: nay, the scripture makes the authority of father and mother, in respect of those they have begot, so equal, that in some places it neglects even the priority of order, which is thought due to the father, and the mother is put first, from which so constantly joining father and mother together, as is found quite through the scripture, we may conclude that the honour they have a title to from their children, is one common right belonging so equally to them both, that neither can claim it wholly, neither can be excluded.
One would wonder then how our author infers from the 5th commandment, that all power was originally in the father; how he finds monarchical power of government settled and fixed by the commandment, Honour thy father and thy mother. If all the honour due by the commandment, be it what it will, be the only right of the father, because he, as our author says, has the sovereignty over the woman, as being the nobler and principler agent in generation, why did God afterwards all along join the mother with him, to share in his honour? can the father, by this sovereignty of his, discharge the child from paying this honour to his mother? The scripture gave no such licence to the Jews, and yet there were often breaches wide enough betwixt husband and wife, even to divorce and separation: and, I think, no body will say a child may with‐hold honour from his mother, or, as the scripture terms it, set light by her, though his father should command him to do so; no more than the mother could dispense with him for neglecting to honour his father: whereby it is plain, that this command of God gives the father no sovereignty, no supremacy.
I agree with our author that the title to this honour is vested in the parents by nature, and is a right which accrues to them by their having begotten their children, and God by many positive declarations has confirmed it to them: I also allow our author’s rule, that in grants and gifts, that have their original from God and nature, as the power of the father, (let me add and mother, for whom God hath joined together, let no man put asunder) no inferior power of men can limit, nor make any law of prescription against them. so that the mother having, by this law of God, a right to honour from her children, which is not subject to the will of her husband, we see this absolute monarchical power of the father can neither be founded on it, nor consist with it; and he has a power very far from monarchical, very far from that absoluteness our author contends for, when another has over his subjects the same power he hath, and by the same title: and therefore he cannot forbear saying himself that he cannot see how any man’s children can be free from subjection to their parents, which, in common speech, I think, signifies mother as well as father, or if parents here signifies only father, it is the first time I ever yet knew it to do so, and by such an use of words one may say any thing.
By our author’s doctrine, the father having absolute jurisdiction over his children, has also the same over their issue; and the consequence is good, were it true, that the father had such a power: and yet I ask our author whether the grandfather, by his sovereignty, could discharge the grandchild from paying to his father the honour due to him by the 5th commandment. If the grandfather hath, by right of fatherhood, sole sovereign power in him, and that obedience which is due to the supreme magistrate, be commanded in these words, Honour thy father, it is certain the grandfather might dispense with the grandson’s honouring his father, which since it is evident in common sense he cannot, it follows from hence, that Honour thy father and mother, cannot mean an absolute subjection to a sovereign power, but something else. The right therefore which parents have by nature, and which is confirmed to them by the 5th commandment, cannot be that political dominion, which our author would derive from it: for that being in every civil society supreme somewhere, can discharge any subject from any political obedience to any one of his fellow subjects. But what law of the magistrate can give a child liberty, not to honour his father and mother? It is an eternal law, annexed purely to the relation of parents and children, and so contains nothing of the magistrate’s power in it, nor is subjected to it.
Our author says, God hath given to a father a right or liberty to alien his power over his children to any other. I doubt whether he can alien wholly the right of honour that is due from them: but be that as it will, this I am sure, he cannot alien, and retain the same power. If therefore the magistrate’s sovereignty be, as our author would have it, nothing but the authority of a supreme father, it is unavoidable, that if the magistrate hath all this paternal right, as he must have if fatherhood be the fountain of all authority; then the subjects, though fathers, can have no power over their children, no right to honour from them: for it cannot be all in another’s hands, and a part remain with the parents. So that, according to our author’s own doctrine, Honour thy father and mother cannot possibly be understood of political subjection and obedience; since the laws both in the Old and New Testament, that commanded children to honour and obey their parents, were given to such, whose fathers were under civil government, and fellow subjects with them in political societies; and to have bid them honour and obey their parents, in our author’s sense, had been to bid them be subjects to those who had no title to it; the right to obedience from subjects, being all vested in another; and instead of teaching obedience, this had been to foment sedition, by setting up powers that were not. If therefore this command, Honour thy father and mother, concern political dominion, it directly overthrows our author’s monarchy; since it being to be paid by every child to his father, even in society, every father must necessarily have political dominion, and there will be as many sovereigns as there are fathers: besides that the mother too hath her title, which destroys the sovereignty of one supreme monarch. But if Honour thy father and mother mean something distinct from political power, as necessarily it must, it is besides our author’s business, and serves nothing to his purpose.
The law that enjoins obedience to kings is delivered, says our author, in the terms, Honour thy father, as if all power were originally in the father: and that law is also delivered, say I, in the terms, Honour thy mother, as if all power were originally in the mother. I appeal whether the argument be not as good on one side as the other, father and mother being joined all along in the Old and New Testament where‐ever honour or obedience is injoined children. Again our author tells us, that this command, Honour thy father, gives the right to govern, and makes the form of government monarchical. To which I answer, that if by Honour thy father be meant obedience to the political power of the magistrate, it concerns not any duty we owe to our natural fathers, who are subjects; because they, by our author’s doctrine, are divested of all that power, it being placed wholly in the prince, and so being equally subjects and slaves with their children, can have no right, by that title, to any such honour or obedience, as contains in it political subjection: if Honour thy father and mother signifies the duty we owe our natural parents, as by our Saviour’s interpretation, and all the other mentioned places, it is plain it does, then it cannot concern political obedience, but a duty that is owing to persons, who have no title to sovereignty, nor any political authority as magistrates over subjects. For the person of a private father, and a title to obedience, due to the supreme magistrate, are things inconsistent; and therefore this command, which must necessarily comprehend the persons of our natural fathers, must mean a duty we owe them distinct from our obedience to the magistrate, and from which the most absolute power of princes cannot absolve us. What this duty is, we shall in its due place examine.
And thus we have at last got thro’ all, that in our author looks like an argument for that absolute unlimited sovereignty described, which he supposes in Adam; so that mankind ever since have been all born slaves, without any title to freedom. But if creation, which gave nothing but a being, made not Adam prince of his posterity: if Adam was not constituted lord of mankind, nor had a private dominion given him exclusive of his children, but only a right and power over the earth, and inferiour creatures in common with the children of men; if also God gave not any political power to Adam over his wife and children, but only subjected Eve to Adam, as a punishment, or foretold the subjection of the weaker sex, in the ordering the common concernments of their families, but gave not thereby to Adam, as to the husband, power of life and death, which necessarily belongs to the magistrate: if fathers by begetting their children acquire no such power over them; and if the command, Honour thy father and mother, give it not, but only enjoins a duty owing to parents equally, whether subjects or not, and to the mother as well as the father; if all this be so, as I think, by what has been said, is very evident; then man has a natural freedom, notwithstanding all our author confidently says to the contrary; since all that share in the same common nature, faculties and powers, are in nature equal, and ought to partake in the same common rights and privileges, till the manifest appointment of God, who is Lord over all, blessed for ever, can be produced to shew any particular person’s supremacy; or a man’s own consent subjects him to a superiour. This is so plain, that our author confesses, that Sir John Hayward, Blackwood and Barclay, the great vindicators of the right of kings, could not deny it, but admit with one consent the natural liberty and equality of mankind, for a truth unquestionable. And our author hath been so far from producing any thing, that may make good his great position, that Adam was absolute monarch, and so men are not naturally free, that even his own proofs make against him; so that to use his own way of arguing, the first erroneous principle failing, the whole fabric of this vast engine of absolute power and tyranny drops down of itself, and there needs no more to be said in answer to all that he builds upon so false and frail a foundation….
Here then are two absolute unlimited powers existing together, which I would have any body reconcile one to another, or to common sense. For the salvo he has put in of subordination, makes it more absurd: to have one absolute, unlimited, nay unlimitable power in subordination to another, is so manifest a contradiction, that nothing can be more. Adam is absolute prince with the unlimited authority of fatherhood over all his posterity; all his posterity are then absolutely his subjects; and, as our author says, his slaves, children, and grand‐children, are equally in this state of subjection and slavery; and yet, says our author, the children of Adam have paternal, i. e. absolute unlimited power over their own children: Which in plain English is, they are slaves and absolute princes at the same time, and in the same government; and one part of the subjects have an absolute unlimited power over the other by the natural right of parentage.
If any one will suppose, in favour of our author, that he here meant, that parents, who are in subjection themselves to the absolute authority of their father, have yet some power over their children; I confess he is something nearer the truth: but he will not at all hereby help our author: for he no where speaking of the paternal power, but as an absolute unlimited authority, cannot be supposed to understand any thing else here, unless he himself had limited it, and shewed how far it reached….For it cannot be but that paternal power does, or does not, give royal authority to them that have it: if it does not, then Adam could not be sovereign by this title, nor any body else; and then there is an end of all our author’s politics at once: if it does give royal authority, then every one that has paternal power has royal authority; and then, by our author’s patriarchal government, there will be as many kings as there are fathers.
And thus what a monarchy he hath set up, let him and his disciples consider. Princes certainly will have great reason to thank him for these new politics, which set up as many absolute kings in every country as there are fathers of children. And yet who can blame our author for it, it lying unavoidably in the way of one discoursing upon our author’s principles? For having placed an absolute power in fathers by right of begetting, he could not easily resolve how much of this power belonged to a son over the children he had begotten; and so it fell out to be a very hard matter to give all the power, as he does, to Adam, and yet allow a part in his life‐time to his children, when they were parents, and which he knew not well how to deny them. This makes him so doubtful in his expressions, and so uncertain where to place this absolute natural power, which he calls fatherhood. Sometimes Adam alone has it all.
Sometimes parents have it, which word scarce signifies the father alone.
Sometimes children during their fathers life‐time.
Sometimes fathers of families.
Sometimes fathers indefinitely.
Sometimes the heir to Adam.
Sometimes the posterity of Adam.
Sometimes prime fathers, all sons or grand‐children of Noah.
Sometimes the eldest parents.
Sometimes all kings.
Sometimes all that have supreme power.
Sometimes heirs to those first progenitors, who were at first the natural parents of the whole people.
Sometimes an elective king.
Sometimes those, whether a few or a multitude, that govern the common‐wealth.
Sometimes he that can catch it, an usurper.
Thus this new nothing, that is to carry with it all power, authority, and government; this fatherhood, which is to design the person, and establish the throne of monarchs, whom the people are to obey, may, according to Sir Robert, come into any hands, any how, and so by his politics give to democracy royal authority, and make an usurper a lawful prince. And if it will do all these fine feats, much good do our author and all his followers with their omnipotent fatherhood, which can serve for nothing but to unsettle and destroy all the lawful governments in the world, and to establish in their room disorder, tyranny, and usurpation.