Second Treatise of Government
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Second Treatise of Government

John Locke

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Second Treatise of Government

John Locke

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The Two Treatises of Government (or "Two Treatises of Government: In the Former, The False Principles, and Foundation of Sir Robert Filmer, and His Followers, Are Detected and Overthrown. The Latter Is an Essay Concerning The True Original, Extent, and End of Civil Government") is a work of political philosophy published anonymously in 1689 by John Locke. The First Treatise attacks patriarchalism in the form of sentence-by-sentence refutation of Robert Filmer's Patriarcha, while the Second Treatise outlines Locke's ideas for a more civilized society based on natural rights and contract theory. Two Treatises is divided into the First Treatise and the Second Treatise. The original title of the Second Treatise appears to have been simply "Book II, " corresponding to the title of the First Treatise, "Book I." Before publication, however, Locke gave it greater prominence by (hastily) inserting a separate title page: "An Essay Concerning the True Original, Extent and End of Civil Government." The First Treatise is focused on the refutation of Sir Robert Filmer, in particular his Patriarcha, which argued that civil society, was founded on a divinely sanctioned patriarchalism. Locke proceeds through Filmer's arguments, contesting his proofs from Scripture and ridiculing them as senseless, until concluding that no government can be justified by an appeal to the divine right of kings. The Second Treatise outlines a theory of civil society. John Locke begins by describing the state of nature, a picture much more stable than Thomas Hobbes' state of "war of every man against every man, " and argues that all men are created equal in the state of nature by God. From this, he goes on to explain the hypothetical rise of property and civilization, in the process explaining that the only legitimate governments are those that have the consent of the people. Therefore, any government that rules without the consent of the people can, in theory, is overthrown.

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Sect. 211. HE that will with any clearness speak of thedissolution of government, ought in the first place to distinguishbetween the dissolution of the society and the dissolution of thegovernment. That which makes the community, and brings men out ofthe loose state of nature, into one politic society, is theagreement which every one has with the rest to incorporate, and actas one body, and so be one distinct commonwealth. The usual, andalmost only way whereby this union is dissolved, is the inroad offoreign force making a conquest upon them: for in that case, (notbeing able to maintain and support themselves, as one intire andindependent body) the union belonging to that body which consistedtherein, must necessarily cease, and so every one return to thestate he was in before, with a liberty to shift for himself, andprovide for his own safety, as he thinks fit, in some othersociety. Whenever the society is dissolved, it is certain thegovernment of that society cannot remain. Thus conquerors swordsoften cut up governments by the roots, and mangle societies topieces, separating the subdued or scattered multitude from theprotection of, and dependence on, that society which ought to havepreserved them from violence. The world is too well instructed in,and too forward to allow of, this way of dissolving of governments,to need any more to besaid of it; and there wants not much argumentto prove, that where the society is dissolved, the governmentcannot remain; that being as impossible, as for the frame of anhouse to subsist when the materials of it are scattered anddissipated by a whirl-wind, or jumbled into a confused heap by anearthquake.
Sect. 212. Besides this over-turning from without, governmentsare dissolved from within.
First, When the legislative is altered. Civil society being astate of peace, amongst those who are of it, fromwhom the state ofwar is excluded by the umpirage, which they have provided in theirlegislative, for the ending all differences that may arise amongstany of them, it is in their legislative, that the members of acommonwealth are united, and combined together into one coherentliving body. This is the soul that gives form, life, and unity, tothe commonwealth: from hence the several members have their mutualinfluence, sympathy, and connexion: and therefore, when thelegislative is broken, or dissolved, dissolution and death follows:for the essence and union of the society consisting in having onewill, the legislative, when once established by the majority, hasthe declaring, and as it were keeping of that will. Theconstitution of the legislative is thefirst and fundamental act ofsociety, whereby provision is made for the continuation of theirunion, under the direction of persons, and bonds of laws, madebypersons authorized thereunto, by the consent and appointment of thepeople, without which no one man, or number of men, amongst them,can have authority of making laws that shall be binding to therest. When any one, or more, shall take upon them to make laws,whom the people have not appointed so to do, they make laws withoutauthority, which the people are not therefore bound to obey; bywhich means they come again to be out of subjection, and mayconstitute to themselves a new legislative, as they think best,being in full liberty to resist the force of those, who withoutauthority would impose any thing upon them. Every one is at thedisposure of his own will, when those who had, by the delegation ofthe society, the declaring of the public will, are excluded fromit, and others usurp the place, who have no such authority ordelegation.
Sect. 213.This being usually brought about by such in thecommonwealth who misuse the power they have; it is hard to considerit aright, and know at whose door to lay it, without knowing theform of government in which it happens. Let us suppose then thelegislative placed in the concurrence of three distinctpersons.
(1). A single hereditary person, having the constant, supreme,executive power, and with it the power of convoking and dissolvingthe other two within certain periods of time.
(2). An assembly of hereditary nobility.
(3). An assembly of representatives chosen, pro tempore, by thepeople. Such a form of government supposed, it is evident,
Sect. 214. First, That when such a single person, or prince,sets up his own arbitrary will in place of the laws, which are thewill of the society, declared by the legislative, then thelegislative is changed: for that being in effect the legislative,whose rules and laws are put in execution, and required to beobeyed; when other laws are set up, and other rules pretended, andinforced, than what the legislative, constituted by the society,have enacted, it is plain that the legislative is changed. Whoeverintroduces new laws, not being thereunto authorized by thefundamental appointment of the society, or subverts theold, disownsand overturns the power by which they were made, and so sets up anew legislative.
Sect. 215. Secondly, When the prince hinders the legislativefrom assembling in its due time, or from acting freely, pursuant tothose ends for which it was constituted, the legislative isaltered: for it is not a certain number of men, no, nor theirmeeting, unless they have also freedom of debating, and leisure ofperfecting, what is for the good of the society, wherein thelegislative consists: when these aretaken away or altered, so as todeprive the society of the due exercise of their power, thelegislative is truly altered; for it is not names that constitutegovernments, but the use and exercise of those powers that wereintended to accompany them; so that he, who takes away the freedom,or hinders the acting of the legislative in its due seasons, ineffect takes away the legislative, and puts an end to thegovernment.
Sect. 216. Thirdly, When, by the arbitrary power of the prince,the electors, or ways ofelection, are altered, without the consent,and contrary to the common interest of the people, there also thelegislative is altered: for, if others than those whom the societyhath authorizedthereunto, do chuse, or in another way than what thesociety hath prescribed, those chosen are not the legislativeappointed by the people.
Sect. 217. Fourthly, The delivery also of the people into thesubjection of a foreign power, either by the prince, or by thelegislative, is certainly a change of thelegislative, and so adissolution of the government: for the end why people entered intosociety being to be preserved one intire, free, independentsociety, to be governed by its own laws; this is lost, wheneverthey are given up into the power of another.
Sect. 218. Why, in such a constitution as this, the dissolutionof the government in these cases is to be imputed to the prince, isevident; because he, having the force, treasure and offices of thestate to employ, and often persuading himself, or beingflattered byothers, that as supreme magistrate he is uncapable of controul; healone is in a condition to make great advances toward such changes,under pretence of lawful authority, and has it in his hands toterrify or suppress opposers, as factious, seditious, and enemiesto the government: whereas no other part of the legislative, orpeople, is capable by themselves to attempt any alteration of thelegislative, without open and visible rebellion, apt enough to betaken notice of, which, when it prevails, produces effects verylittle different from foreign conquest. Besides, the prince in sucha form of government, having the power of dissolving the otherparts of the legislative, and thereby rendering them privatepersons, they can never in oppositionto him, or without hisconcurrence, alter the legislative by a law, his consent beingnecessary to give any of their decrees that sanction. But yet, sofar as the other parts of the legislative any way contribute to anyattempt upon the government, and doeither promote, or not, whatlies in them, hinder such designs, they are guilty, and partake inthis, which is certainly the greatest crime which men can partakeof one towards another.
Sec. 219.There is one way more whereby such a government may bedissolved, and that is: When he who has the supreme executivepower, neglects and abandons that charge, so that the laws alreadymade can no longer be put in execution. This is demonstratively toreduce all to anarchy, and so effectually to dissolve thegovernment: for laws not being made for themselves, but to be, bytheir execution, the bonds of the society, to keep every part ofthe body politic in its due place and function; when that totallyceases, the government visibly ceases, and the people become aconfused multitude, without order or connexion. Where there is nolonger the administration of justice, for the securing of men'srights, nor any remaining power within the community to direct theforce, or provide for the necessities of the public, therecertainly is no government left. Where the laws cannot be executed,it is all one as if there were no laws; and a government withoutlaws is, I suppose, a mystery in politics, unconceivable to humancapacity, and inconsistent with human society.
Sect. 220. Inthese and the like cases, when the government isdissolved, the people are at liberty to provide for themselves, byerecting a new legislative, differing from the other, by the changeof persons, or form, or both, as they shall find it most for theirsafety and good: for the society can never, by the fault ofanother, lose the native and original right it has to preserveitself, which can only be done by a settled legislative, and a fairand impartial execution of the laws made by it. But the state ofmankind is not so miserable that they are not capable of using thisremedy, till it be too late to look for any. To tell people theymay provide for themselves, byerecting a new legislative, when byoppression, artifice, or being delivered over to a foreign power,their old one is gone, is only to tell them, they may expect reliefwhen it is too late, and the evil is past cure. This is in effectno more than to bid them first be slaves, and then to take care oftheir liberty; and when their chains are on, tellthem, they may actlike freemen. This, if barely so, is rather mockery than relief;and men can never be secure from tyranny, if there be no means toescape it till they are perfectly under it: and therefore it is,that they have not only a right to get out of it, but to preventit.
Sect. 221. There is therefore, secondly, another way wherebygovernments are dissolved, and that is, when the legislative, orthe prince, either of them, act contrary to their trust.
First, The legislative acts against the trustreposed in them,when they endeavour to invade the property of the subject, and tomake themselves, or any part of the community, masters, orarbitrary disposers of the lives, liberties, or fortunes of thepeople.
Sect. 222. The reason why men enter intosociety, is thepreservation of their property; and the end why they chuse andauthorize a legislative, is, that there may be laws made, and rulesset, as guards and fences to the properties of all the members ofthe society, to limit the power, and moderate the dominion, ofevery part and member of the society: for since it can never besupposed to be the will of the society, that the legislative shouldhave a power to destroy that which every one designs to secure, byentering into society, and for whichthe people submitted themselvesto legislators of their own making; whenever the legislatorsendeavour to take away, and destroy the property of the people, orto reduce them to slavery under arbitrary power, they putthemselves into a state of war with the people, who are thereuponabsolved from any farther obedience, and are left to the commonrefuge, which God hath provided for all men, against force andviolence. Whensoever therefore the legislative shall transgressthis fundamental rule of society; andeither by ambition, fear,folly or corruption, endeavour to grasp themselves, or put into thehands of any other, an absolute power over the lives, liberties,and estates of the people; by this breach of trust they forfeit thepower the people had put into their hands for quite contrary ends,and it devolves to the people, who have a right to resume theiroriginal liberty, and, by the establishment of a new legislative,(such as they shall think fit) provide for their own safety andsecurity, which is theend for which they are in society. What Ihave said here, concerning the legislative in general, holds truealso concerning the supreme executor, who having a double trust putin him, both to have a part in the legislative, and the supremeexecution of thelaw, acts against both, when he goes about to setup his own arbitrary will as the law of the society. He acts alsocontrary to his trust, when he either employs the force, treasure,and offices of the society, to corrupt the representatives, andgain them to his purposes; or openly preengages the electors, andprescribes to their choice, such, whom he has, by sollicitations,threats, promises, or otherwise, won to his designs; and employsthem to bring in such, who have promised before-hand what tovote,and what to enact. Thus to regulate candidates and electors,and new-model the ways of election, what is it but to cut up thegovernment by the roots, and poison the very fountain of publicsecurity? for the people having reserved to themselves the choiceoftheir representatives, as the fence to their properties, could doit for no other end, but that they might always be freely chosen,and so chosen, freely act, and advise, as the necessity of thecommonwealth, and the public good should, upon examination, andmature debate, be judged to require. This, those who give theirvotes before they hear the debate, and have weighed thereasons onall sides, are not capable of doing. To prepare such an assembly asthis, and endeavour to set up the declared abettorsof his own will,for the true representatives of the people, and the law-makers ofthe society, is certainly as great a breach of trust, and asperfect a declaration of a design to subvert the government, as ispossible to be met with. To which, if one shall add rewards andpunishments visibly employed to the same end, and all the arts ofperverted law made use of, to take off and destroy all that standin the way of such a design, and will not comply and consent tobetray the liberties of their country, it will be past doubt whatis doing. What power they ought to have in the society, who thusemploy it contrary to the trust went along with it in its firstinstitution, is easy to determine; and one cannot but see, that he,who has once attempted any such thing as this, cannot any longer betrusted.
Sect. 223. To this perhaps it will be said, that the peoplebeing ignorant, and always discontented, to lay the foundation ofgovernment in the unsteady opinion and uncertain humour of thepeople, is to expose itto certain ruin; and no government will beable long to subsist, if the people may set up a new legislative,whenever they take offence at the old one. To this I answer, Quitethe contrary. People are not so easily got out of their old forms,as some areapt to suggest. They are hardly to be prevailed with toamend the acknowledged faults in the frame they have beenaccustomed to. And if there be any original defects, oradventitious ones introduced by time, or corruption; it is not aneasy thing to get them changed, even when all the world sees thereis an opportunity for it. This slowness and aversion in the peopleto quit their old constitutions, has, in the many revolutions whichhave been seen in this kingdom, in this and former ages, still keptus to,or, after some interval of fruitless attempts, still broughtus back again to our old legislative of king, lords and commons:and whatever provocations have made the crown be taken from some ofour princes heads, they never carried the people so far as toplaceit in another line.
Sect. 224. But it will be said, this hypothesis lays a fermentfor frequent rebellion. To which I answer,
First, No more than any other hypothesis: for when the peopleare made miserable, and find themselves exposed to the illusage ofarbitrary power, cry up their governors, as much as you will, forsons of Jupiter; let them be sacred and divine, descended, orauthorized from heaven; give them out for whom or what you please,the same will happen. The people generally ill treated, andcontrary to right, will be ready upon any occasion to easethemselves of a burden that sits heavy upon them. They will wish,and seek for the opportunity, which in the change, weakness andaccidents of human affairs, seldom delays long to offer itself. Hemust have lived but a little while in the world, who has not seenexamples of this in his time; and he must have read very little,who cannot produce examples of it in all sorts of governments inthe world.
Sect. 225. Secondly, I answer, such revolutions happen not uponevery little mismanagement in public affairs. Great mistakes in theruling part, many wrong and inconvenient laws, and all the slips ofhuman frailty, will be born by the people without mutiny or murmur.But if a long train of abuses, prevarications and artifices, alltending the same way, make the design visible to the people, andthey cannot but feel what they lie under, and see whither they aregoing; it is not to be wondered, that they should then rouzethemselves, and endeavour to put the rule into such hands which maysecure to them the ends for whichgovernment was at first erected;and without which, ancient names, and specious forms, are so farfrom being better, that they are much worse, than the state ofnature, or pure anarchy; the inconveniencies being all as great andas near, but the remedy farther off and more difficult.
Sect. 226. Thirdly, I answer, that this doctrine of a power inthe people of providing for their safety a-new, by a newlegislative, when their legislators have acted contrary to theirtrust, by invading their property, is the best fence againstrebellion, and the probablest means to hinder it: for rebellionbeing an opposition, not to persons, but authority, which isfounded only in the constitutions andlaws of the government; those,whoever they be, who by force break through, and by force justifytheir violation of them, are truly and properly rebels: for whenmen, by entering into society and civil-government, have excludedforce, and introduced lawsfor the preservation of property, peace,and unity amongst themselves, those who set up force again inopposition to the laws, do rebellare, that is, bring back again thestate of war, and are properly rebels: which they who are in power,(by the pretencethey have to authority, the temptation of forcethey have in their hands, and the flattery of those about them)being likeliest to do; the properest way to prevent the evil, is toshew them the danger and injustice of it, who are under thegreatest temptation to run into it.
Sect. 227. In both the fore-mentioned cases, when either thelegislative is changed, or the legislators act contrary to the endfor which they were constituted; those who are guilty are guilty ofrebellion: for if any one by force takesaway the establishedlegislative of any society, and the laws by them made, pursuant totheir trust, he thereby takes away the umpirage, which every onehad consented to, for a peaceable decision of all theircontroversies, and a bar to the state of war amongst them. They,who remove, or change the legislative, take away this decisivepower, which no body can have, but by the appointment and consentof the people; and so destroying the authority which the peopledid, and no body else can set up, and introducing a power which thepeople hath not authorized, they actually introduce a state of war,which is that of force without authority: and thus, by removing thelegislative established by the society, (in whose decisions thepeople acquiesced and united, asto that of their own will) theyuntie the knot, and expose the people a-new to the state of war,And if those, who by force take away the legislative, are rebels,the legislators themselves, as has been shewn, can be no lessesteemed so; when they, who were set up for the protection, andpreservation of the people, their liberties and properties, shallby force invade and endeavour to take them away; and so theyputting themselves into a state of war with those who made them theprotectors and guardians oftheir peace, are properly, and with thegreatest aggravation, rebellantes, rebels.
Sect. 228. But if they, who say it lays a foundation forrebellion, mean that it may occasion civil wars, or intestinebroils, to tell the people they are absolved from obedience whenillegal attempts are made upon their liberties or properties, andmay oppose the unlawful violence of those who were theirmagistrates, when they invade their properties contrary to thetrust put in them; and that therefore this doctrine is notto beallowed, being so destructive to the peace of the world: they mayas well say, upon the same ground, that honest men may not opposerobbers or pirates, because this may occasion disorder orbloodshed. If any mischief come in such cases, it is not tobecharged upon him who defends his own right, but on him that invadeshis neighbours. If the innocent honest man must quietly quit all hehas, for peace sake, to him who will lay violent hands upon it, Idesire it may be considered, what a kind of peacethere will be intheworld, which consists only in violence and rapine; and which isto be maintained only for the benefit of robbers and oppressors.Who would not think it an admirable peace betwix the mighty and themean, when the lamb, without resistance, yielded his throat to betorn by the imperious wolf? Polyphemus's den gives us a perfectpattern of such a peace, and such a government, wherein Ulysses andhis companions had nothing to do, but quietly to suffer themselvesto be devoured. And no doubtUlysses, who was a prudent man,preached up passive obedience, and exhorted them to a quietsubmission, by representing to them of what concernment peace wasto mankind; and by shewing the inconveniences might happen, if theyshould offer to resist Polyphemus, who had now the power overthem.
Sect. 229. The end of government is the good of mankind; andwhich is best for mankind, that the people should be always exposedto the boundless will of tyranny, or that the rulers should besometimes liable to be opposed, when they grow exorbitant in theuse of their power, and employ it for the destruction, and not thepreservation of the properties of their people?
Sect. 230. Nor let any one say, that mischief can arise fromhence, as often as it shall please a busyhead, or turbulent spirit,to desire the alteration of the government. It is true, such menmay stir, whenever they please; but it will be only to their ownjust ruin and perdition: for till the mischief be grown general,and the ill designs of the rulersbecome visible, or their attemptssensible to the greater part, the people, who are more disposed tosuffer than right themselves by resistance, are not apt to stir.The examples of particular injustice, or oppression of here andthere an unfortunate man,moves them not. But if they universallyhave a persuat...

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Locke, J. (2018). Second Treatise of Government ([edition unavailable]). Youcanprint. Retrieved from (Original work published 2018)
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Locke, John. (2018) 2018. Second Treatise of Government. [Edition unavailable]. Youcanprint.
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Locke, J. (2018) Second Treatise of Government. [edition unavailable]. Youcanprint. Available at: (Accessed: 15 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Locke, John. Second Treatise of Government. [edition unavailable]. Youcanprint, 2018. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.