While reading an article about the ‘Monster’ Petition of 1680 by Mark Knights, I came across a reference to Daniel Coxe. He was a signer of the ‘Monster’ Petition, which meant he objected to the decision by Charles II to dissolve Parliament just before it was set to pass the Exclusion Act, which would have barred James Duke of York from becoming king, or anyone else belonging to the Catholic religion. This seems like a risky thing to do for someone who was “on the make,” as most historians describe Dr. Coxe.
Perhaps this was the Dr. Coxe who was serving in the Parliamentary army during the Puritan Revolution in England. The army’s general asked that Coxe be made a member of the Royal College of Physicians in 1643, according to William J. Birken, who went on to write that Coxe was later to prove his medical ability to the college and became one of its most active fellows, and eventually its president in 1682.1
This sounds like our Dr. Daniel Coxe except for one small problem. Our Dr. Coxe was born around 1640 (he died an old man in 1730). So, this must have been someone else. The Dr. Coxe who governed West New Jersey is said to have been the son of Daniel Coxe of Stoke Newington, Gent., who was buried there in 1686. Could this other Dr. Coxe have been the father of the Governor?
West New Jersey’s Daniel Coxe, the real estate speculator, is also said to have been a physician and scientist. A Daniel Coxe was one of the first to study the effects of nicotine on animals. In 1679, he corresponded with John Locke, while Locke was in exile, on medical subjects like a cure for venereal disease. Locke even loaned him books, though I don’t know whether they were medical or political books. In 1680, Daniel Coxe was elected to the Royal College of Physicians. This sounds like Daniel, Jr.
During late 1679, early 1680 when the ‘Monster’ Petition was being circulated (it eventually had 18,000 signatures), Locke, who also signed it, may have been working on his Second Treatise on Civil Government, which was published in 1681.2 Knights proposed that the impetus behind the petition was the inspiration for Locke to write the Second Treatise, and that he may have been composing it at the time signatures were being collected. Coxe, as a signatory and also a correspondent with Locke, probably sympathized with Locke’s ideas. So now we have Coxe the scientist, and Coxe the supporter of Parliamentary rights.
This was definitely risky. While the petition was circulating, the king issued a proclamation, declaring that “tumultuous petitioning” must be stopped. This brought the subscribers under the cloud of illegality. In 1679, Coxe was about 39 years old, too old to be a carefree, radical youth. Old enough to be headed towards his career of later years, when he was a well-established figure at court and a sharp businessman and investor. So, it seems to me that Coxe signed this petition deliberately, aware of the risks.
Why would an ambitious fellow like Coxe oppose the king, and on record? Coxe was not the only friend of Locke’s who signed the petition. Knights wrote that “Locke signed the same sheet as a number of other London radicals.” And Coxe was listed by Knights as one of those radicals.
- Wm. J. Birken, “The Royal College of Physicians of London and Its Support of the Parliamentary Cause” in The Journal of British Studies, vol. 23 no. 1 (1983) pp. 51-52. Birken’s source for Coxe was the “Dictionary of National Biography.” ↩
- Mark Knights, “Petitioning and the Political Theorists: John Locke, Algernon Sidney and London’s ‘Monster’ Petition of 1680” Past & Present (Oxford Univ. Press), No. 138 (Feb 1993) pp. 94-111. ↩