by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Ten years before the American Revolution, Charles Pratt, the chief justice of Common Pleas in Great Britain, took to the floor of the House of Lords to argue that members of the British Parliament “have no right to tax the Americans.”
Although the government had repealed the Stamp Act in March 1766, it immediately proposed the Declaratory Act, which insisted that Parliament had “full power and authority” to pass laws binding on the colonies. Pratt, also known as Lord Camden, saw a backhanded attempt to violate the “fundamental laws” of nature and of the English constitution by continuing to deny Americans representation in Parliament. At the heart of his argument was the political thought of one of Britain’s most celebrated philosophers: John Locke.
“So true are the words of that consummate reasoner and politician Mr. Locke,” Camden said. “I before have alluded to his book. I have again consulted him; and finding what he writes so applicable to the subject in hand, and so much in favor of my sentiments, I beg your lordships’ leave to read a little of this book.”
The book in question was Locke’s Two Treatises of Government (1689), the political tract that demolished the case for absolute monarchy and helped to set colonial hearts on fire. Indeed, the American Revolution was a Lockean Revolution: The Americans declared, for the first time, that a nation was coming into existence based upon a belief in human equality, freedom, and universal rights. Upon this foundation alone could government by consent be sustained. Wrote Locke: “The supreme power cannot take from any man, any part of his property, without his own consent.” …
… The American revolutionaries found in this English theorist a political-theological ally. Governments preserve their legitimacy only by fulfilling the purpose for which they were instituted: the protection of our God-given rights and freedoms.