Explain how the Declaration of Independence reflects Enlightenment philosophy.
The Declaration of Independence was a revolutionary piece of writing that impacted the whole world for decades after it was written, by starting a chain of angry citizens overthrowing unjust governments. But the elements that made it so different and revolutionary were not thought up all at the time; many of the ideas put into the Declaration had been envisioned by a wide variety of thinkers during the Enlightenment. The Declaration of Independence reflects many aspects of Enlightenment philosophy. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, for example, believed a direct democracy was the best government because it protected people’s rights. He felt that a government’s power was granted by the citizens who lived under it. The Declaration uses this notion several times, including in the quote, “governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”. Another philosopher who contributed to the ideas in the Declaration of Independence was John Locke. He was the first to consider the idea of natural rights. He believed every person was entitled to life, liberty and property. The Declaration of Independence uses this idea that every person is endowed “with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”, as a main argument, because they felt that colonists, citizens of a colony of England, were not given these rights, or even the same rights as citizens of England. Also John Locke believed that unfair governments should be overthrown, and that it was the responsibility of the citizens to rebel if the government wasn’t protecting the rights of the people. The Declaration echoes this several times to justify their unhappiness with British rule. Clearly, the Enlightenment thinkers played a large role in the development of the ideas in the Declaration of Independence and in the American Revolution.
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