Hundreds of years ago great American minds were breaking barriers, starting revolution and addressing equality, something that had never been done in an era filled with ruthless monarchs. They wrote some of the foundations for the modern day western world over 200 years ago and yet their works are still relevant today. They wrote the Charters of Freedom, otherwise known as the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and The Bill of Rights. But, as people stroll through museums to see these works, little do they know that ideas from the Age of Enlightenment inspired them. These same people all see the names of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and many others and yet they have no idea that the ideas of John Locke, Baron de Montesquieu and Jean-Jacques Rousseau are what fueled some of the greatest minds in United States’ history. The ideas of these enlightenment thinkers played a large role in the charters of freedom and shaped the foundation of modern day American government.
John Locke is probably the enlightenment thinker who influenced the Declaration of Independence the most. John Locke believed in natural rights, which he said were life, liberty, property and health. Locke stated that these rights were not dependent on government, instead they were inherent, and if the government does not protect these natural rights they are morally obliged to revolt against it. This belief is directly parallel to those written in the Declaration of Independence where Thomas Jefferson, amongst others wrote “…that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” (Declaration of Independence, 1776) Also in that infamous line from the Declaration of Independence is a mention of government deriving their powers from the governed, another fundamental belief of John Locke.
... The Americans Declaration of Independence clearly reflects Lockes teachings (Aaron 244). John Locke was one of the most important philosophers in history. His ideas influenced people ... kings in Two Treatises of Government. John Locke was a very important philosopher and his ideas effected many people. John Locke was born in Wrinlington, Somerset ...
He believed that the people should be the sovereign, claiming that the legitimacy of a government is dependent upon it, which was the fundamental idea behind the Declaration of Independence, they had no representation and thus the power was not derived from the people that the Monarch governed. And, perhaps the greatest ideal of American society is equality, in the declaration of independence the founders wrote “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” (Declaration of Independence, 1776) This ideal was also rooted in John Locke’s theories, where he stated “It is evident that all human beings – as creatures belonging to the same species and rank and born indiscriminately with all the same natural advantages and faculties – are equal amongst themselves. They have no relationship of subordination or subjection unless God (the lord and master of them all) had clearly set one person above another and conferred on him an undoubted right to dominion and sovereignty.” (Second Treatise of Government, Locke, 1690) John Locke was one of many enlightenment thinkers who helped shape the foundation of our government.
While Baron de Montesquieu might not have been the primary source for the Declaration of Independence he is certainly much more prevalent when discussing the structure of government in the United States and the Constitution. In his work “Spirit of the Laws” he very clearly writes about separation of powers and a federalist government. The system of checks and balances is implemented to keep one branch of government from being supreme, the system allows for one branch to check the power of another and keep the political system balanced. Montesquieu cites the need for checks and balances in “Spirit of the Laws” when he wrote “Democratic and aristocratic states are not in their own nature free. Political liberty is to be found only in moderate governments; and even in these it is not always found. It is there only when there is no abuse of power. But constant experience shows us that every man invested with power is apt to abuse it, and to carry his authority as far as it will go. Is it not strange, though true, to say that virtue itself has need of limits? To prevent this abuse, it is necessary from the very nature of things that power should be a check to power.” (Spirit of Laws, Montesquieu, 1748) Montesquieu even writes about Judicial, Legislative and Executive branches of power in his “Spirit of the Laws” which is clearly influential to United States government seeing as the first three articles of the constitution outline the powers and limitations of the afore mentioned branches.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) Perhaps one of the single most important Enlightenment writers was the philosopher-novelist-composer-music theorist-language theorist Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), not merely for his ideas (which generally recycled older Enlightenment idea) but for his passionate rhetoric which inflamed a generation. The central problem he stared down most of his life he sums ...
Baron de Montesquieu had a very clear influence on the constitution when it came to checks and balances, but he was also prominent in the development of a federalist organization of government. Federalism is when two or more levels of government have power in one area, meaning that the States have power to run themselves and are not completely controlled by the National Government, although national power is supreme to that of the states. Baron de Montesquieu wrote about why local governments should have power over themselves, “The inhabitants of a particular town are much better acquainted with its wants and interests than with those of other places…” (Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu, 1748)
Jean-Jacques Rousseau may not have influenced the Declaration of Independence as John Locke did and he may not have set the foundation of government as Baron de Montesquieu did, but Rousseau is every bit as important. Rousseau wrote his version of the Social Contract, where he wrote about the natural freedoms of man and the idea of popular sovereignty. He wrote “A country cannot subsist well without liberty, nor liberty without virtue.” (Social Contract, Rousseau, 1762).
The covenant is very dear to our modern world, being that many political philosophers that shaped our modern world based much of their theories on a covenanted government. When looking at the United States, the theory was considered important from the Mayflower Compact and on. The theory of "a covenanted people" is associated with Locke, Hobbes, and Rousseau. Our "framers" took all of the ...
Rousseau claimed that the power resided with the people and not in the divine right of kings, and boldly proclaimed it with the opening line in his “Social Contract”, “Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains. One man thinks himself the master of others, but remains more of a slave than they.” (Social Contract, Rousseau, 1762).
Rousseau claimed that the natural state of man was primitive and lacked morality and order. He claimed that a man in his natural state is not free because he is in constant competition and because he becomes more dependent on other men which limits ones freedom and ability to survive. He claims that by joining together in civil society through the social contract and abandoning their claims of natural right, individuals can both preserve themselves and remain free. Rousseau said that the sovereignty should lie in the people just as the writers of the Declaration of Independence claimed, “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” (Declaration of Independence, 1776).
Even today, the American republic meets the ideals of the Social Contract, Rousseau states that law is a civilizing force, that they represent the leap from the state of nature to being civilized, while still not infringing upon ones freedom. Today the United States still passes laws to keep people civilized but they do not pass anything that infringes on ones freedom. Rousseau believed that by joining civilized society a person preserves their freedom, which is what the United States government does, it preserves the natural rights that are stated in the Declaration of Independence: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and thus it keeps its people free.
Today we live in freedom in the United States, a far cry from the tyrannical monarchs that ruled Europe and the colonies long ago. The Charters of Freedom helped get us to where we are today through careful wording and thought, and these barrier breaking pieces of paper were heavily influenced by enlightenment thinkers Locke, Baron de Montesquieu and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. All three of those enlightenment thinkers have an extremely large role in the foundation of American government as we know it today. From the Declaration of Independence to the Structure of government itself, these thinkers changed the modern world forever for the better as they set out the foundational values and structure of American government.
Freedom Today What exactly is freedom today and how does it affect us The Oxford English Dictionary defines freedom as The state of being able to act without hindrance or restraint, liberty of action (524). More often than not, people do not take the time to realize all of the freedoms in existence around the world today. Bronislaw Malinowski states that Freedom is the most dynamic, essential, and ...