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Few figures have so powerfully represented the entanglements of early modern English colonialism and constitutionalism as John Locke. Yet contemporary accounts tend to treat Locke as a 'liberal' who viewed colonial conquest and indigenous subjugation as inevitable. This conception, I argue, tends to rely primarily on readings of Locke's Two Treatises and it simplifies both the complexities of Locke's colonial participation and the multiple languages of constitutionalism with which he was familiar. 'Unsettling Colonies: Locke, 'Atlantis' and New World Knowledges' explores a wider range of Locke's colonial writings, focusing not only on Locke's personal journals but also upon his administrative records for the colony of Carolina. These unpublished writings drew upon a range of utopian narratives, civic humanist literatures and republican tracts, such as Sir Thomas More's Utopia, Francis Bacon's New Atlantis and James Harrington's Commonwealth of Oceana. Taken collectively, these examples of Locke's writings and notes portray colonization, not as inevitable conquest and domination, but rather more variously and indeed tentatively: settlement appears as an adaptive, unsteady process, one which required colonists to cultivate local knowledge, avoid aggression and carefully monitor actors both inside and outside the colony.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Political Science, Western Washington University, Arntzen Hall 415, 516 High Street, Bellingham, WA 98225, USA, Email:

Publication date: 2008-01-01

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