Colonial (State) Papers

John Locke – Colonial State Papers Excerpts


In 1696, William III appointed Locke as a member [governor?] of the Board of Trade, a revamped committee to manage colonial affairs for the empire.  Locke was the secretary of its predecessor, the Council on Trade and Foreign Relations, in the 1670s under Charles II.  Locke was one of several whigs that William III placed into prominent positions managing the nation and empire.  The Glorious Revolution offered an opportunity for whigs to deploy their ideas about limits on executive power and the protection of individual liberty.  The English Bill of Rights, crafted in 1689, embodied the spirit of the whig reforms, and acquiescence to them was part of the settlement Parliament offered William and Mary in exchange for crowning them, king and queen.  William oscillated support between the tory and whig factions, attempting to keep balance in the political landscape, but by 1694 he favored the whigs.   

What role do you see Locke playing in the entries below?  How is this similar or different to his position with the Council of Trade and Foreign Plantations under Charles II?  What concerns do Locke and the other board members have about colonial governance?  How do the concerns and observations here compare to Locke’s Virginia Plan and Queries?

Lauren Michalak

Further Reading
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Title: Commission Date: May 15, 1696 Calendar Reference: Item 1, Vol 15 (1696-1697), p.1. 

Summary/Transcript: appointing John, Earl of Bridgewater, Ford, Earl of Tankerville, Sir Philip Meadows, knight, William Blathwayt, John Pollexfen, John Locke, Abraham Hill, and John Methven, together with the Lord Chancellor, the Lord President, the First Lords of the Treasury and Admiralty, the Principal Secretary of State and the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the time being, to be Commissioners for promoting the trade of the Kingdom and for inspecting and improving the Plantations. Any three or more of them are to consider methods of employing the poor; any five of them are to be a quorum. The ex officiomembers are to be called in only when their particular attendance is requisite. The question of obtaining naval stores from the Colonies is particularly commended to their attention.

Title: Order of the Lords Justices of England in Council Date: Sept 10, 1696 Calendar Reference: Item 198, Vol 15 (1696-1697), p.98-99.

Summary/Transcript: Referring a Representation of the Council of Trade, concerning Attorneys-General for the Colonies, to the Attorney-General for report. Signed, Rich. Colinge. ½ p. Annexed,

Enclosure 1: [198 i, Council of Trade to the Lords Justices of England, 7 September, 1696]

In obedience to your order of 23 July last, concerning the appointment of Attorneys-General in the Colonies, we have advised with Mr. Edward Randolph, who reports as follows. William Randolph, the present Attorney-General of Virginia, is wholly unacquainted with the laws and practice of the Courts in England; George Plater, the Attorney-General of Maryland, is a favourer of illegal trade; David Lloyd, Attorney-General of Pennsylvania, has refused to put forfeited bonds in suit; Anthony Checkley, Attorney-General of Massachusetts, is not only ignorant of the laws of England but has been himself an illegal trader. We therefore think these persons unfit for their places, however fit they may be deemed by the Proprietors, and we would recommend the following appointments, viz. Edward Chilton to be the King’s Attorney-General for Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and West Jersey; Thomas Newton to be the same for Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire, and James Graham for New York, East Jersey and Connecticut. Signed, J. Bridgewater, Ph. Meadows, John Pollexfen, John Locke, Abr. Hill. Copy. 1½ pp.

The King to the Governors and Companies of Connecticut and Rhode Island. Kensington

William III, King of England (William of Orange)The Calendar of State Papers, Colonial: North America and the West Indies 1574-1739, 15.(Apr 22, 1697).

Notwithstanding the laws for prevention of frauds in the Plantation-trade, it is evident that great abuses have been and continue to be practised, which must needs arise either from the insolvency of the persons admitted for security or from the remissness of Governors, past and present, who ought to take care that those who give bond shall be prosecuted in case of non-performance. If we shall be hereafter informed of failure in the observance of the laws within your provinces by any wilful fault or neglect on your part, we shall look upon it as an infraction of the laws, tending to the forfeiture of your charters. Countersigned, Shrewsbury.

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