Manasseh Dawes

(1766—1829) barrister and writer on political and legal subjects

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Jeremy Bentham (1748—1832) philosopher, jurist, and reformer

David Williams (1738—1816) political and religious theorist and founder of the Literary Fund


Samuel Horsley (1733—1806) bishop of St Asaph

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Little is known of Manesseh Dawes's life except that he was a barrister at the Inner Temple but left the Bar and lived at Clifford's Inn, where he died on 2 April 1829. He wrote An Essay on Intellectual Liberty in 1780 criticizing both Jeremy Bentham and David Williams's argument for universal toleration. This was written just after the failure, in 1779, of the dissenters' attempt to have the terms of subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles modified. Such a toleration, he wrote, would let mankind loose on one another, and like birds long encaged and habituated to a limited space of existence, in which they are happy, when once they are set free and have the world at large to roam in, with Providence only for their guide, they might droop into melancholy, early disappointment and death. (Essay, p. 38)In other words, some sort of religious test is essential and it is important that the toleration accorded dissenters includes acknowledgement of the doctrinal if not the organizational stance of the Church of England. Dawes therefore takes the view that religious attitude conditions political action rather in the manner of Samuel Horsley. The Essay was followed by The Nature and Extent of Supreme Power (1783), which is couched in the form of a letter to David Williams. Dawes denies Locke's notion of a compact between governor and governed, instead supposing that all power derives from God which entails a ‘supreme power real’ belonging to the people, which is antecedent to any government. However, the delegation of such power is personal: to whom it is transferred and the existing laws are an expression of this delegation conceived as a form of general will. Locke's notion that the compact can be revoked unconditionally at any time is to make nonsense of this law and the way it is administered – it would, for example, make the law of treason as it relates to persons impossible. He argues that on only two occasions, in 1660 and 1689, was the ‘supreme power real’ – effectively suspending delegation – called upon. Dawes is inhibited by the legal framework in which he operates since his real target was the radical device of mandating members of Parliament to follow specific policies.


From The Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Philosophy.

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