I would like to commend Rabbi Brad Bloom for his recent column on the influence of the English philosopher John Locke on American democracy, including separation of church and state. Locke’s work was held in high esteem by the Founders, and Jefferson said he was “one of the three greatest that ever lived, without exception.”
It should be added that Locke was an important figure in South Carolina history. He was an assistant to Anthony Ashley Cooper, who is considered the founder of South Carolina (fittingly the Ashley and Cooper rivers in Charleston are named after him). Locke’s brilliance as a philosopher took form while drafting the Constitution, laws, and plans for settling the new colony.
Locke in effect was the chief planner for Carolina, and elements of his detailed town plans can be seen in the current grids of Charleston and Beaufort. James Oglethorpe’s famous plan for Savannah was also influenced by Locke.
Charleston rose to prominence and one of the wealthiest cities in America due in part to Locke’s regional plan, which prescribed an efficient form of growth very similar to the principles of sustainable development advocated by today’s planners. Without such a plan, South Carolina would have been a backwater. Instead, it rivaled much-larger but unplanned Virginia in wealth and influence.
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Locke’s association with slavery in Carolina left a stain on his legacy. However, it was his later thinking, perhaps arising from the Carolina experience, that guided early opposition to slavery and its eventual abolition.
Thomas D. Wilson