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John Locke's philosophical influence on the Declaration of Independence

Many of the fundamental ideas and doctrines of the United States government were greatly influenced by the English philosopher, John Locke. His writings were a major influence on the Founders of the United States of America and many other Americans seeking freedom. Locke’s philosophical ideas helped inspire them to make a stand against their English oppressors. This new government was revolutionary and a great experiment in Liberal Democracy. The ideas of Locke and other philosophers are fused into the documents and ideals on which the country was founded. Specifically, John Locke’s philosophy of government, freedom, and natural rights challenged the power of England’s monarchy in Europe over the colonies in America. The ideas written in Locke’s “Second Treatise on Government” had an especially large impact on one of the most important documents in American history, The Declaration of Independence. 

 

Written in two parts, the “First Treatise on Government” was a criticism of “The Divine Right of Kings” and a refutation of Monarchy. The next and more influential “Second Treatise of Government” is his solution to monarchy. This solution consists of dissolving the corrupt system and creating his ideal government to take its place. He addresses the reasons for his theory and considers his ideas from many angles. In these writings, he expresses many views that were seen as extremely radical and revolutionary when they were published in the late 1600’s. Although John Locke was well known during his life, he chose to publish his “Treatise on Government” anonymously. This act in and of itself shows how radical these ideas were at the time he published them. It was not until after his death, that it was revealed that he was the author of the writings. Locke clearly wanted his ideas to be communicated to the world and influence others thinking. Luckily, his ideas would be put to good use almost one hundred years later by a group of men with the desire for freedom. The founders used these revolutionary ideas to break away from the monarchy of England. Beginning with the Declaration of Independence and continuing on to the United States Constitution, Locke’s influence has been apparent in creating and shaping the structure and identity of the United States of America. 

 

The Declaration of Independence was the official proclamation of freedom from the tyrannical rule of England over the American colonies. Thomas Jefferson had many influences and was well versed in political philosophy. Although the ideas and themes used may have also been derived from other philosophers, but Locke’s philosophy is the only one that entirely fits the underlying political philosophy behind the Declaration. The main ideas expressed in the “Second Treatise of Government” can be found within the Declaration. When it is broken down into the individual phrases which make up the preamble, which consists of only five long sentences, every part shows evidence of Locke’s influence. Some of the phrases and terms are identical or very close to identical to Locke’s, and others are a summation of his ideas. In fact, the most famous phrase from the Declaration, where Jefferson writes the phrase “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” is an almost exact quotation. Locke’s nearly identical phrase reads “Life, Liberty, and Property” and is used in the same context. This is just one example, but Locke’s philosophy is evident all throughout the Declaration of Independence. 

 

The first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence states the purpose of the document and uses Locke’s fundamental concept of natural law as the reason. “When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and...
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