Event—Scholarly Seminars

Claire Arcenas, University of Montana


Why John Locke’s Mistakes Mattered in the Early United States, Claire Arcenas

Today, John Locke’s contributions to American political thought are understood almost entirely in terms of his Second Treatise (1690). Prior to the Cold War, however, Locke influenced Americans in a variety of important, but hitherto underappreciated, ways. In this paper, I address a particularly interesting aspect of Locke’s changing influence: late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth-century Americans’ preoccupation with his involvement in creating a set of Fundamental Constitutions (1669) for the English colony of Carolina. I show that, against the political backdrop of the early national period, Americans exhumed Locke’s unsuccessful attempt at drafting a constitution for Carolina and interpreted it as a striking example of the perils of governments born of abstraction rather than practical experience.