Jefferson and Rousseau Influences

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Thomas Jefferson considers himself a contributor to the Age of Enlightenment. Through many of his writings he expands on the philosophies of the great European writers of that era - Rousseau, Locke, Hume, and Leibniz. In “The Declaration of Independence,” Jefferson directly adopts several themes found in the work of French writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau’s “The Origin of Civil Society,” provides a foundation for most of Jefferson’s ideas in “The Declaration of Independence.” In the opening of the “Declaration of Independence,” Jefferson lays out several main themes that reflect Rousseau's concepts. Jefferson borrows from Rousseau's thinking on equality and freedom when writing, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights…" (Jefferson 80). Rousseau speaks of equality by disproving the philosophies of Thomas Hobbes and Hugo Grotius. These men support the concept that "human race... [refers only to a small, select class of people - the ruling class] (Rousseau 60). Rousseau thinks that the philosophies of these men lack justification and that "All men are born free, and everywhere he is in chains" (Rousseau 59). All men are equal only until they give up their freedom and equality in exchange for comforts and protection in their lives. In other words, Rousseau says man is born free, but because of society man become less and less free. The government, and its laws bind the people down, but the people gain benefits from the government. Jefferson sees to Rousseau in justifying colonial claims to independence. Jefferson writes, "Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it…" (Jefferson 80). This reflects Rousseau's thinking that, [the only foundation left for legitimate authority in human societies is Agreement] (Rousseau 61). Rousseau argues that all society exists because...
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