A LETTER CONCERNING TOLERATION JOHN LOCKE
(1632-1704), the patron philosopher of liberalism, would profoundly influence Enlightenment
thought with his
Letters Concerning Toleration
(1689-1693), in which he sought "to distinguish
exactly the business of civil government from that of religion."
The toleration of those that differ from others in matters of religion, is so agreeable to the
Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to the genuine reason of mankind, that it seems monstrous for men to be
so blind as not to perceive the necessity and advantage of it in so clear a light. I will not here tax the pride
and ambition of some, the passion and uncharitable zeal of others. These are faults from which human
affairs can perhaps scarce ever be perfectly freed; but yet such as nobody will bear the plain imputation
of, without covering them with some specious color; and so pretend to commendation, whilst they are
carried away by their own irregular passions. But, however, that some may not color their spirit of
persecution and unchristian cruelty with a pretense of care of the public weal and observation of the laws;
and that others, under pretense of religion, may not seek impunity for their libertinism and licentiousness;
in a word, that none may impose either upon himself or others, by the pretenses of loyalty and obedience
to the prince, or of tenderness and sincerity in the worship of God I esteem it above all things necessary to
distinguish exactly the business of civil government from that of religion, and to settle the just bound that
lie between the one and the other. If this be not done, there can be no end put to the controversies that will
be always arising between those that have, or at least pretend to have, on the one side, a concernment for
the interest of men's souls, and, on the other side, a care of the commonwealth.
The commonwealth seems to me to be a society of men constituted only for the procuring,
preserving, and advancing their own civil interests.
Civil interests I call life, liberty, health, and indolency of body; and the possession of outward things,
such as money, lands, houses, furniture, and the like.
It is the duty of the civil magistrate, by the impartial execution of equal laws, to secure unto all the
people in general, and to every one of his subjects in particular, the just possession of these things
belonging to this life. If any one presume to violate the laws of public justice and equity, established for
the preservation of those things, his presumption is to be checked by the fear of punishment, consisting of
the deprivation or diminution of those civil interests, or goods, which otherwise he might and ought to
enjoy. But seeing no man does willingly suffer himself to be punished by the deprivation of any part of
his goods, and much less of his liberty or life, therefore is the magistrate armed with the force and
strength of all his subjects, in order to the punishment of those that violate any other man's rights.
Now that the whole jurisdiction of the magistrate reaches only to these civil concernments, and that