The Carolinian Context of John Locke’s Theory of Slavery

POLITICAL THEORY 41.4 (2013): 562-590

Abstract: The debate over Locke’s theory of slavery has focused on his involvement with the Royal African Company and other institutions of African slavery, as well as his rhetorical use of slavery in opposing absolutism. This overlooks Locke’s deep involvement with the Carolina colony, and in particular that colony’s Indian slave trade, which was largely justified in just-war terms. Evidence of Locke’s participation in the 1682 revisions to the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina, which removed the infamous “absolute power and authority” clause, and his knowledge of colonial affairs, when examined alongside textual evidence of the timing of the composition of Locke’s theory of slavery, indicates a significant connection between the colony and Locke’s work. In light of this evidence, this article suggests an interpretation of Locke’s theory that stresses its character as a response to the conditions he encountered in Carolina.