John Locke (1634–1704)

John Locke was born into a middle-class family on August 28, 1634, in Somerset, England. His father worked as an attorney and in local government, and he owned properties that produced a modest income. Locke received an extraordinarily diverse education from early childhood on. His formal schooling began in 1647 at the prestigious Westminster School for Boys. Later, he studied a wide variety of literature, physical science, medicine, politics, and natural philosophy at Christ Church in Oxford, where he took up residence under a scholarship in 1652. Locke developed a particular interest in medicine and studied the works of René Descartes and Robert Boyle, the father of chemistry. Locke dabbled in chemistry using Boyle’s rules and wrote short essays containing theological arguments against both the Roman Catholic Church and Protestant reformers.

In 1665, Locke met and befriended Lord Ashley, a prominent statesman who had come to Oxford for medical treatment. The two became good friends, and Ashley invited Locke to join him in London at Exeter House as his personal physician. Locke agreed and left for London in 1667, where he lived for the next eight years. Locke’s political interests had already begun to take precedence over his experiments in science and medicine, and they deepened while he lived with Ashley, one of England’s most skilled politicians. Under Ashley’s influence, Locke made financial investments that would secure his future and took a job working for the British government researching the relationship between trade opportunities and colonization. He worked closely with early colonists who left to found Carolina in the New World, assisting in the drafting and revision of the Fundamental Constitution (the original frame of government for the Carolinas before they were split into North and South).

For the next several years, Locke worked in various government posts and received a hands-on education in public policy and politics while traveling extensively. When Locke returned to England in 1679, he found himself in the middle of political upheaval as Charles II struggled with Parliament for control. The threat of arrest spurred Locke to flee to Holland to join his friend Lord Ashley, now the Earl of Shaftesbury, and other political exiles. He returned to England when it became safe to do so in 1689. He lived with friends at Oates, held various government posts and civil service jobs, and published his philosophical works until his death on October 28, 1704.

Read more about Locke and the political uphevals that culminated in the Glorious Revolution of 1688.