PP 06 English Political Thought in Colonial America

GHIST 225: US History
Kevin R. Hardwick
Spring 2012
Eighteenth-Century English Political Thought in
Colonial America
Part One: English Political Thought in the Colonies: A
Case Study
Part Two: The “Rights of Englishmen” and the Colonial
1. John Wise, “A Vindication of New England
Churches,” (1717) in CAPCT, Vol. 1, pp. 80-84
2. John Adams, Clarendon No. 3, (1766), in CAPCT, Vol.
1, pp. 182-185
3. Sir John Randolph, Re-election Speech, (1736), in
CAPCT, Vol. 1, pp. 96-97
English Political Thought in the Colonies
• Natural Law and natural rights;
• The faculty psychology, with its elevation of human
rationality as approaching the divine;
• Social contract theory, especially as explained by
John Locke, with its emphasis on popular
• The celebration of the English Constitution as
established by the Glorious Revolution, with its
“mixed” and “balanced” elements of Monarchy,
Aristocracy, and Democracy.
A Case Study: John Wise, “A Vindication of New
England Churches,” 1717
“Wise's most important political writings, The Churches Quarrel Espoused
(1710) and A Vindication of the Government of New-England Churches
(1717), were contributions to a protracted battle in the early eighteenth
century over the governance of New England's established
Congregational church. Led by Cotton Mather and Increase Mather, the
more conservative ministers sought to establish a Presbyterian church
polity, in which consociations of clergy would rule on doctrine and the
acceptability of neighboring ministers instead of the congregations
William Pencak. "Wise, John";
American National Biography Online Feb. 2000.
The condition of humans in a state of nature: “a FreeBorn Subject under the Crown of Heaven, and owing
Homage to none but God himself.”(p. 80)
Natural rights: “Invesitutres and Immunitites which
properly belong to Man separately considered.”(p. 80)
Reason: “That which is to be drawn from Man’s Reason,
flowing from the true Current of that Faculty, when
unperverted, may be said to be the Law of Nature; on
which account, the Holy Scriptures declare it written on
Mens hearts.” (p. 80)
“Reason is Congenate with Nature, wherein by a Law of
Immutable, Instampt upon his Frame, God has provided
a Rule for Men in all their Actions; obliging each one to
the performance of that which is Right.” (p. 80)
“A principle of Self-Love, and Self-Preservation,” (p. 81)
“It follows as a fundamental Law of Nature, that Man is
not so Wedded to his own Interest, but that he can make
the Common good the mark of his Aim; and hence he
becomes Capacitated to enter into a Civil State by the
Law of Nature; for without this property in Nature, viz.
Sociableness, which is for Cementing of parts, every
Government would soon molder and dissolve.” (p. 81)
“An Original Liberty Instampt upon [Man’s] Rational
Nature.” (p. 81)
“An equality among Men; Which is not to be denyed by
the Law of Nature, till Man has Resigned himself with all
his Rights for the sake of a Civil Society.”(p. 82)
And in a peculiar manner to gratify the necessity he is in
of a publick Rule and Order, he is impelled to enter into a
Civil Community, and Divests himself of his Natural
Freedom, and puts himself under Government; which
amongst other things, Comprehends the Power of Life
and Death over Him.” (p. 83)
The first Humane Subject and Original of Civil Power is
the People. For as they have a Power every Man over
himself in a Natural State, so upon a Combination they
can and do bequeath this Power unto others, and settle
it according as their united discretion shall Determine.
(p. 83)
A Vote or Decree must then nextly pass to set up some
Particular species of Government over them. And if they
are joyn in their first Compact upon absolute Terms, to
stand to the Decision of the first Vote concerning the
species of Governent: Then all are bound by the Majority
to acquiesce in that particular Form thereby settled,
thought their own private Opinion, incline them to some
other Model. (p. 83)
“Mixt Governments, which are various and of divers
kinds [not now to be Enumerated] yet possibly the
fairest in the World is that which has a Regular
Monarchy; [in Distinction to what is Dispotick] settled
upon a Noble Democracy as its Basis. And each part of
that Government is so adjusted by Pacts and Laws that
renders the whole Constitution an Elisium. It is said of
the British Empire, that it is such a Monarchy, as that by
the necessary subordinate Concurrence of the Lords and
Commons in the Making and Repealing all Statutes or
Acts of Parliament; it hath the main Advantages of an
Aristocracy, and of a Democracy, and yet free from the
Disadvantages and Evils of either.” (p. 84)
John Adams, “Clarendon No. 3,”
January, 1766:
What a fine reflection and consolation is
it for a man to reflect that he can be
subjected to no laws, which he does not
make himself, or constitute some of his
friends to make for him: his father,
brother, neighbour, friend, a man of his
own rank, nearly of his own education,
fortune, habits, passions, prejudices,
one whose life and fortune and liberty
are to be affected like those of his
constituents, by the laws he shall
consent to for himself and them. [p.185]
John Adams, “Clarendon No. 3,”
January, 1766:
The meanest and lowest of the people,
are by the unalterable indefeasible
laws of God and nature, as well intitled
to the benefit of the air to breath, light
to see, food to eat, and clothes to wear,
as the nobles or the king. All men are
born equal: and the drift of the British
Constitution is to preserve as much of
this equality as is compatible with the
people’s security against foreign
invasions and domestic usurpation. [p.
John Adams, “Clarendon No. 3,”
January, 1766:
A limited monarchy, or a mixture
of the three forms of government
commonly known in the schools,
reserving as much of the
monarchial splendor, the
aristocratical independence, and
the democratical freedom, as are
necessary, that each of these
powers may have a control both in
legislation and execution, over the
other two, for the preservation of
the subject’s liberty. [p. 184]
Sir John Randolph, Re-election Speech, (1736), in
CAPCT, Vol. 1, pp. 96:
“We are no more than the representative body of a
colony, naturally and justly dependent upon the Mother
“All we pretend to, is to be of some importance to those
who sent us hither, and to have some share in their
protection, and the security of their lives, liberties, and
The 1621 Charter commanded the House of Burgesses
“to imitate and follow the policy, form of government,
laws, customs, manner of trial, and other administration
of justice used in England.”

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