Up@dawn 2.0

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Locke in American Government (Part 2)

My first installment was an introduction on some of Locke's philosophy and how American government has followed those notions. A little disclaimer on my report. I am in no way defending Locke's ideas as the correct ones. Obviously, some are very outdated and time tested to be inadequate. BUT I am in no way making assumptions about these principles and their applications either. Every quote and idea are ones derived straight from primary documents, including Locke's, Second Treastise of Government, Hobbe's Leviathan, Letters from Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Stephens, "Cornerstone Address", newspaper articles from the early 1800's and many more. This is purely an analysis of our use of Locke's ideas and if our country is truly as based on them as we are supposed to be. Many of my points have valid arguments on both sides and this is simply a closer look at those conflicts.

This issue of slavery also brings up another flaw in the American system according to Locke: labor. Locke claims that God left the world to mankind in common, not the individual, but also suggests that with that, God gave the reason to use it for the best advantage of life and convenience. In contrast, he also says that every man has a right to his own body and the labor of his own hand remain exclusively his. Therefore, any work that an individual puts in with his labor to remove something from the state in which nature provided it to the common, he makes it his own property. This comes with the limitation of only making something property if it becomes more advantageous to one for his own life than it would be to be left for the common. One should also not meddle in common that has already been improved by another’s labor. Slavery was a violation to the all of these concepts in conjunction with forcibly subjecting African Americans to the political power of another without his/her consent. In taking away all the previously mentioned human rights, it cannot be overlooked that a man’s labor itself is included with that lack of liberty. Slave labor forced enslaved people to work day in and day out for their white owner, who, because he owned the slaves as people also subsequently owned their labor and its fruits. The owner would exploit the slave’s property, by nature, and use it to his own advantage. This advantage was also much more than was needed by the slave owner to better his quality of life or convenience, as Locke said was all a man truly had a right to. He specifically states, “Nothing was made by God for a man to spoil and destroy.” This fell against not only the nature of humanity in relation to property, but also the intentions of God. This is an idea that Thomas Jefferson had tried to establish in the Constitution but was later reworded. This is perhaps where the “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” can be derived from, as Locke originally believed in “life, liberty, and the pursuit of property”.

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               This conflict carries over not only in slave labor, but the entire labor system of America that had emerged from the rising industry of the 1800’s. Locke strictly states that “for it is labor indeed that puts the difference of value on everything.” In the earlier colonial times, our system fared well with this principle. The master/apprentice relationship was based out of family, love, and responsibility. Children learned the skills and trades they would need from their parents directly and the value of their production was based on the labor in which they put into it. However, when new innovations in technology and production technique increased the labor demand to meet growing demand for mass produced goods, this concept started to change. This meant that many people could no longer meet their needs by only working with a few apprentices. This created an entirely new relationship by replacing the master/apprentice with employer/employee. This new relationship challenged these values during this time and permanently changed the idea of labor, skill, and responsibility. Instead of a master of a specific skill taking in one or two close relatives to train and take care of for years, an employer could now hire any stranger to do the work, with or without skill and training. The employer had no responsibility or care for his employee’s well-being or morals. The employee could quit at any time and seek new employment elsewhere. There was no personal relationship associated anymore, it was merely a business transaction of labor for wages. This lack of love and responsibility goes back to demonstrate the same problems created when America lost the personal investment of family ties between the government and the people; this time it was just a reflection of that same issue in the business world. Many of these factories had dangerous and even deadly conditions because of lack of regulation and worker rights in the workplace. The employees would work 14 to 16 hour days, with few breaks. Many times they were locked in their work stations and not allowed to leave until work was done, all for meager wages. These conditions often left most people ill or injured. Locke stated that in future ages, when luxury and ambition would be the driving force of power, the people must examine the rights of the system in order to restrain such acts and prevent abuse of power. Again, this is what the citizens were seeking to do throughout the Jacksonian democracy, in order to shift the power back to the people, and make sure the government was looking out for the common man, and not corporate interest. This shift in labor based relationship and where government policy interest lies can be traced back to this issue of the value being moved from the addition of labor itself to capital. When money is what is being of value as opposed to the quality of labor and the time taken to improve something with your own hands, the values of society will change to match those new virtues. Workers may not want to speak up against bad working conditions or poor quality product because they need to keep their job to remain competitive in a market where one is easily replaced by an immigrant worker who will be less trouble for less wages. Government may not necessarily be directly concerned with regulating business for the benefit of the people, if those businesses are bringing them in more money. Society in areas where free labor was prominent became more economically class based, with higher wages equating to more luxury and more social status. Locke warned specifically about this as he says, “Find out something that hath the use and value of money amongst his neighbors, you shall see the same man will begin presently to enlarge his possessions…”

               With these arising change in status of what Americans conceive as valuable being a very direct contradiction of Locke’s thoughts on value, a more secondary but perhaps simpler conflict is brought to question. Locke’s philosophy is based primarily on the Christian morals and values, as evident by his reference to God in creation of mankind and human nature. With children no longer being taught trade under their parents, who was to teach the youth of these Christian values upon which this entire system is supposed to be based? Wealth had a forcefulness in America unlike that of any other country, and it was debasing moral character and the Christian values they had once stood firmly upon. Many people believed that the urban industrial areas that has a system of free labor were too inaccessible and ignorant to be taught these ideas. The northerners made some attempt to deal with this new problem. Factories attempted to still set up the discipline and guidance the girls would get from being at home in order to ensure they were still being taught how to behave. Horace Mann headed up the universal public education movement, as he believed that in order to instill Christian values into people and teach them how to manage their selfish nature that they must be taught as children. They were trying to mold their old values into this new system, but without the true love and compassion for a person’s best interest that they get from their parents, these efforts would fall short of maintaining Christian values. Within the system of slave labor, parents usually weren’t the ones teaching the children, rather it was nannies. With a lifestyle surrounded by human slavery that completely contradicts the fundamental Christian values that Locke reasoned with, it was unlikely that they were able to comprehend these ideas in the fullest sense to understand their meaning and depth. Actions speak louder than words, so they were more likely to adopt the views of the society in which they saw around them rather than hear detached words about a different time and place. They may have also found ways to bend these Christian teachings in order to support slavery or other behaviors that southerners engaged in. According to Locke, the principles that he attempted to guide us by were very Christian based, and without a solid education and application of these principles to everyday life, it would be very hard to implement his ideas to create a well-rounded society.

               Conflict in various policies of the republic have been going on since it was first established in 1776. It is evident that all of these struggles can be traced back to disregarding the ideas that Locke held to be necessary in order to hold the perfect Union America was designed to be. His philosophy was designed with regard to human nature itself, as well as the intentions of God, which in a Christian based country, should have been held to the highest of standards. Each time the republic has strayed farther away from his philosophy, the trenches that divide the people from the government or even divide the people amongst themselves become deeper, and harder to repair over time. This should be a wake-up call that perhaps Locke was on to something about how society would work best by conforming to human nature and the desire of God. Every struggle America has had throughout the sectional crisis had deep-seated roots in these founding principles. Perhaps this would explain why over 200 years later, America keep circling back around to more issues that could be solved if the republic had conformed to Locke’s policy from the start.

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Final Word Count: 3,030


  1. We can't have it both ways: we can't be truly committed to separation of church & state and freedom of individual conscience, AND insist on a national Christian identity. Recommended reading for all Americans: "Nature's God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic" by Matthew Stewart, which argues that Deism is the deeper root of our American identity. "In origin and substance, deism was neither British nor Christian, as the conventional view supposes, but largely ancient, pagan, and continental, and it spread in America far beyond the educated elite.”

    1. And: “Of the many attributes that seem to mark America’s founders as residents of a foreign time and place, probably none is more astonishing today than their unapologetic confidence in the power of books—and in particular the books of the philosophers."