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Posted on April 20th, 2012, by

Many writers and political theorists, such as John Locke, Thomas Paine, Thomas Hobbes, Jean-Jacque Rousseau and others influenced consistently founding fathers of the USA, especially Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.

In such way, indirectly ideas of Locke, Paine, Hobbes and Rousseau influenced the development of the USA as an independent state. At the same time, it is important to understand the fact that their ideas were not borrowed by founding fathers literally, but they rather used the fundamental principles and ideas developed by the aforementioned thinkers and adapted them to the actual environment in the USA. In such a way, the influence of Locke, Rousseau and other philosophers does not decrease the contribution of founding fathers in building up the USA as an independent state. Nevertheless, it is necessary to understand the impact of philosophers on founding fathers in order to understand motives, reasons and principles founding fathers used while creating fundamental, historical documents, such as the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. In such a way, the influence of Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau and Paine on founding fathers was very significant and it can be traced in works and deeds of founding fathers of the USA.

First of all, it should be said that ideas developed by Locke, Rousseau, Hobbes and Paine were extremely progressive at the epoch of the foundation of the USA. Moreover, in a way, they outpaced their epoch in regard to the application of principles of natural rights of human beings, while their efforts to develop the concept of social contract was a considerable advancement in the development of western philosophical thoughts, which could not fail to affect founding fathers. In this respect, it is worth mentioning the fact that founding fathers were acquainted with major works of leading philosophers, such as Locke, Hobbes, Paine as well as Rousseau. For instance, Benjamin Franklin traveled to Great Britain and worked in France, where he had ample opportunities to learn progressive ideas concerning human rights and political theories developed by English philosophers, such as Locke, Hobbes and Paine as well as by French philosopher, Jean-Jacque Rousseau. In such a way, it is possible to estimate that political views of Benjamin Franklin as well as other founding fathers were shaped under the impact of philosophers who developed new philosophy and political theories that had never been applied in Europe[1]. At the same time, the USA became the first country where its political leaders, founding fathers had got the opportunity to apply theoretical developments of Locke, Hobbes and other philosophers in the new country.

At this point, it is important to lay emphasis on the fact that when the model of the political and social system of the USA was developed, founding fathers had basically two options. On the one hand, they could follow the traditional, European socio-political model and create a new state based on the principles of royal power and conservative European ideology which dominated in European states which played the main part in world’s politics at the epoch.

In fact, such an approach was supported by Alexander Hamilton. On the other hand, the USA could start a totally new type of sociopolitical system based on progressive ideas of John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Thomas Paine and Jean-Jacque Rousseau[2]. Basically, these ideas were supported by Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson who insisted on the necessity of the creation of a new republic in America, which could unite people nationwide.

Remarkably, founding fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson laid emphasis on the sovereignty of people. In fact, founding fathers stood on the ground that people should be the main source of power in the country. This idea was apparently the direct effect of the influence of Locke, Paine, Hobbes and Rousseau on founding fathers. As a result, while creating the US Constitution as well as while declaring the Declaration of Independence, founding fathers stressed the superior role of people in the new state, the USA. Hence, the USA applied democratic principles and the idea of the application of human rights as the foundation of the state and an essential condition of the social contract, which was the concept developed by Locke, Paine, Hobbes and Rousseau.

It is worth mentioning the fact that John Locke produced a particularly significant impact on founding fathers. John Locke was one of the prominent philosophers of his time. He produced a profound impact on the development of European philosophy and he laid the foundation for the contemporary concept of democracy. In this respect, his influence on American revolutionaries, such as Thomas Jefferson, was particularly significant since his ideas were amply borrowed by the revolutionaries and were incorporated in the Declaration of Independence[3]. His views persist till the present epoch. Even the modern US government acts or pretends to act in accordance with philosophy based on Locke’s ideas.

In fact, John Locke’s philosophy was original and different from others. Basically, he believed all people are born ideal, perfect and only in the process of the personal development, under the impact of social environment, an individual acquired certain beliefs, moral norms, standards of behavior, etc. John Locke called it tabula rasa an empty mind of a new born which is gradually filled with ideas and beliefs and individual acquires in the course of his life. In such a context, the philosopher believed that it is possible to create an ideal society and ideal people which will be deprived of vices if they receive proper education, if they are educated as gentlemen.

John Locke was one of the first philosophers, who started to develop the idea of a social contract, according to which people could live on the basis of the agreement which regulates their life and relations. This agreement should be based on the natural rights which each individual has from the moment of the birth since, according to John Locke all people are born equal[4]. Hence, he developed the idea of a natural state where all people are equal and independent, and none has a right to harm another’s life, health, liberty, or possessions[5].

In this respect, ideas of prominent American revolutionaries, such as Thomas Jefferson are based on Locke’s philosophy. Jefferson estimated that society is capable to self-organization. This is why he estimated that the normal social order could exist even in the anarchic communities, though he underlined that this order could exist only in a small communities where social structure was not very complicated and there was no need in a complex state interference or any other sort of regulation imposed by the state on individuals in order to make social relations more stable, predictable and meeting the interests of each individual without oppression of one’s liberty or rights. He explained such ability of communities to exist even in the state of anarchy by the presence of the moral sense which was reliable enough that an anarchist community could function well. It is worthy of mention that he, nonetheless, underlined: I am convinced that those societies (as Indians) which live without government, enjoy in their general mass an infinitely greater degree of happiness than those who live under European governments, but he remarked that anarchism would be inconsistent with any great degree of population[6].

[1] Bailyn, B. 1974. The American Puritan Imagination. New York: Cambridge UP, p.311

[2] Murray, I.H. 1994. The Second Awakening. New York: Touchstone, p.145

[3] Crispin, G. 1970. Mayflower Remembered: A History of the Plymouth Pilgrims. New York: Taplinger Publishing, p.257

[4] Norton. A. 1999. People and a Nation. New York: Touchstone, p.181

[5] Epperson, J. 2001. Causes of the Civil War. New York: Routledge, p.224

[6] Norton. A. 1999. People and a Nation. New York: Touchstone, p.158

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