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A manuscript by John Locke has been discovered in the archives of St. John’s College library, shedding light on the how the man credited with the concept of separating church and state first started to tinker with religious tolerance.

Residents of Maryland -- a state with deep Catholic roots -- might find it notable that the document is titled “The Reasons for Tolerating Papists Equally With Others.” The 17th-century British philosopher drafted two lists: reasons that people should tolerate Catholics -- and reasons they should not.

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It the first major discovery of his work in a generation.

“It is like the significant chapter of understanding his views,” said Craig Walmsley, who found the papers and is an editor for Clarendon Edition of the Works of John Locke. “It shows him starting a tolerant outlook, which is really interesting. It reveals his nuanced views on the tolerance of Catholics.”

It was 2015 when Walmsley began searching for undiscovered works by Locke, who has influenced Western thinking, specifically the U.S. Constitution. When Walmsley reached out to the Greenfield Library on the Annapolis campus, it was after months of searching online and finding what he called an “obscure reference" in a 1920s book catalog.

“Tracking down that reference took me months before I came across that particular page, and then I was exceptionally fortunate that St. John’s catalog was digital,” Walmsley said. “It was a lot of gumshoeing and a little bit of luck.”

Walmsley was inspired to search for Locke’s work because another Locke scholar, Felix Waldmann, also discovered books that had been part of Locke’s personal library.

The manuscript is dated from 1667 to 1668 and is connected to another Locke essay, Essay Concerning Toleration, as it provides additional context for Locke’s view on religious tolerance.

According to Walmsley, the manuscript has changed hands many times. It was owned by a descendant of a Locke friend until 1920, sold to a book dealer and sold again. It landed in a private collection. It was later donated to the college, becoming another item in the college’s rare book room, Cathy Dixon, the library director, said.

After finding the copy through the digital catalog, Walmsley reached out to confirm it.

“He wanted to take a look at it,” Dixon said. “It is in our rare book room, so we scanned it and sent him a copy and he recognized the handwriting."

Walmsley also noted that the manuscript had not been quoted by others before.

He then traveled to Annapolis to inspect the copy in person.

Together, Waldmann and Walmsley wrote an article on the manuscript and published it in The Historical Journal of Cambridge University Press.

Along with the new discovery, the manuscript is currently dated as the first piece of evidence that Locke tolerated Catholics and his theory on toleration, Waldmann said.

“It is important to emphasize the manuscript. Part of it defends the toleration, but the other part is adamantly against the tolerance,” Waldmann said. “The question we address in the article is what this manuscript might mean in the development of toleration.”

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But overall, the rarity of this discovery is significant, he said.

“Perhaps the most important thing to emphasize is that manuscripts like this are extraordinarily rare. Scholars have been searching for manuscripts like this for decades,” Waldmann said.

The discovery can also shape future studies of Locke and how his theories are taught, he said. It can provide greater understanding of Locke’s views and his arguments.

“It gives you a better insight into the arguments because you can see the purpose of what he was arguing,” Walmsley said.

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