Second Treatise of Government | Study Guide

John Locke

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Second Treatise of Government | Chapter 10 : Of the Forms of a Commonwealth | Summary



This chapter consists of only two brief sections. In the first, Locke identifies democracy, oligarchy, and monarchy as different forms of commonwealth. The supreme power of a commonwealth is the legislative power: the making of laws. Whatever the form of the commonwealth may be, it is the majority, acting for the whole, that bestows power on those who exercise it.

In the second section of this chapter, Locke explains that by the word "commonwealth," he means the Latin term civitas. He distinguishes the word "commonwealth" from the words "city" and "community." He asserts that "commonwealth" is more precise.


Locke compresses much thought into a very brief chapter here. His remarks on the majority, for example, recapitulate what he had said at more length at the beginning of Chapter 8. His comments on the legislature should be read alongside the more extended, upcoming treatment in Chapter 11.

It is interesting that the term "commonwealth" is still used in the United States. It designates the states of Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, as well as the U.S. Territory of Puerto Rico.

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