The crux of John Locke’s theory was that a complex “Natural Law” ensured liberty to every human being. Furthermore, he contested that this natural law was ethically greater to all manmade laws and governments, as each person has certain inbuilt rights, such as life, liberty, and property. The theories of John Locke influenced the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence. The latter was clear as Thomas Jefferson used Locke’s theory when writing the Declaration of Independence. The works of Locke were also significant in motivating the American militaries to carry on fighting through the Revolution in spite of inconceivable problems. Without the life and works of Locke, it is conceivable that America, and the world, may be very different now to what people today are familiar with. John Locke’s liberal theories were ground-breaking and without them, there almost certainly would not have been an American Revolution.
John Locke was born in 1632 and died in 1704. He is most famous for his political ideology, and stands amid the most important political philosophers of the modern era. In the Two Treatises of Government, Locke supported the idea that humans are naturally free and equal. He argued against the notion that God has instilled in humans that they should follow a monarch. Locke’s feeling is that people have certain rights, and that these rights have a basis which is separate to any directed laws within society. Such rights, according to Locke, include the right to life, liberty, and property (Locke’s).
Locke voiced the far-reaching opinion that government is morally required to serve its people, principally by guarding life, liberty, and property. He clarified the principle of checks and balances as a way of controlling the power of the government. He preferred the process of having a representative government, and he condemned oppression of any kind. He maintained that is a government infringes on people’s rights, the people can and should rightfully rebel (Powell).
These theories were most completely expanded in Locke’s well-known Second Treatise Concerning Civil Government. The ideas were so drastic that he didn’t even claim the works as his own. It was only in his will that he finally admitted his authorship. Locke’s works went a long way in to inspiring the libertarian principles of the American Revolution. In line, this also served as an inspiration to people in Europe, Latin America, and Asia (Powell).
Locke justifies peoples’ need and acceptance of a government by explaining that they are choosing to handover a small amount of their rights to their chosen government, in order to enhance their own quality of life with regards to living, freedom and property. Therefore, Locke claims, as the government is chosen by the people in order to improve their lives and make the most of their rights, if the said government is not living up to expectations then they should be resisted and replaced with another government (Locke’s).
Locke defends the right of a people to revolt against their government. Additionally, Locke supports the value of majority rule and also the disconnection of law-making and policymaking authorities. In the Letter Concerning Toleration, Locke rejected the idea that force should be employed to move humans towards the ‘true’ religion. He and also made clear that churches should not possess any power over their participants. Locke went on to expand on these themes and others in his political works that he wrote later, such as the Second Letter on Toleration and Third Letter on Toleration (Locke’s).
Locke’s ideas on government and human rights were revolutionary in their own right. Previously, governments had been oppressive and all-powerful to their people. Many leaders and people of influence were of the opinion that humans were created to be governed, and to follow a leader. However, Locke revolted against this view, claiming that humans were intrinsically aware of their own rights. He contested that a government exists in order to serve its people, and not the other way around.
Thomas Jefferson is arguably the most important source of American political ideology that exists. Therefore, it is noteworthy that Jefferson believed Locke to be one of the three greatest men to have ever lived. It is similarly important that, according to Chuck Braman, Jefferson professed that the Second Treatise offers the “general principles of liberty and the rights of man, in nature and in society… approved by our fellow citizens of… the United States” (Braman).
Jefferson’s support of Locke’s thoughts is apparent in the Declaration, and also in “A Summary View Of The Rights Of British America” which he wrote two years earlier. According to Chuck Braman, in this second paper, Jefferson terms Americans as “a free people claiming their rights, as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate,” and also says that the predecessors of living Americans “possessed a right which nature has given to all men, of departing from the country in which chance, not choice, has placed them, of going in quest of new habitations, and of there establish new societies” (Braman).
Following the Declaration of Independence, America’s most imperative formation document is the Constitution. Furthermore, as the Constitution offers a connection between the principles of political philosophy and the principles of law, Locke’s impact likewise permeates it, albeit in a less direct way. James Madison was the main architect of the constitution, and he cultivated Locke’s opinions and, specifically, his view of private property. Amongst other statements, one of Madison’s most Lockean was when he said that the key point of government is “the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property” (Braman).
It was essential to decrease the occupancy in office by way of regular elections, according to James Mason, because the power held in government should stem from and be controlled by the people. Consequently, leaders elected by the public should only be kept in power if the people so wished. The founding fathers’ acknowledgment of the need of the division of church and state and, furthermore, the right to freedom of speech as named in the Bill of Rights, Article 1, originated from the opinions Locke gave in his “Letter on Toleration” (Braman).
Another person who held Locke in high regard was Thomas Jefferson. He placed Locke as one of the most central philosophers on freedom. Locke played a large part in inspiring Thomas Paine’s extreme thoughts about revolution. Locke fuelled George Mason’s drive in developing his works. Madison conceived his most deeply rooted views on liberty and government from John Locke. The writings of Locke also contributed to the self-education of Benjamin Franklin. Additionally, John Adams felt that girls and boys both ought to be taught about Locke (Powell). These are just a few examples to demonstrate how widely Locke became known and how dramatically he changed and influenced popular beliefs about freedom and government.
John Locke was undoubtedly a key player of the making of the United States of America. Without him and his views, there never would have been a revolution, nor would there have been a new ideology about political liberty to put into place at the end of that revolution. He defied oppression in any form, and promoted power of the people in electing and maintaining their own government. It is largely down Locke him that the US, and indeed the rest of the world, that such political and economic freedom has been so widespread over the past few hundred years. Furthermore, all of the other elements that have come alongside such freedom, such as art and material wealth should be traced back to Locke and his wonderful works. It is interesting to consider what may have happened if Locke never lived. Undoubtedly, the answer is unthinkable as America, and many parts of the world may not be recognisable to how people today know them.
“A Biography of John Locke.” From Revolution to Reconstruction. Web. 14 Sept 2011.
Braman, C. “The Political Philosophy of John Locke and Its Influence on the Founding
Fathers and the Political Documents They Created.” 1996. Web. 14 Sept 2011.
“Locke’s Political Philosophy.” Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. Web. 14 Sept 2011.
Powell, J. “John Locke Natural Rights to Life, Liberty and Property.” The Freeman. 1996.
Web. 14 Sept 2011. http://www.thefreemanonline.org/featured/john-locke-natural-