John Locke’s Influence on the Writing of the Declaration of Independence essay

The Declaration of Independence written by Thomas Jefferson and adopted by the Third Continental Congress on July 4, 1776 can be considered the State document which preceded the Constitution and was revolutionary for that time.

The proclamation of the Declaration of Independence of former British colonies “free and independent States” meant the appearance of 13 independent sovereign states on the Atlantic coast of North America (Gough, 199).

Creating a relatively small in scope document, Jefferson relied on theories of American and European writers and philosophers and the revolutionary experience of the British colonies. Not all of their democratic ideas he managed to embody. It is known, for example, that an article condemning slavery was removed from the draft at the insistence of South Carolina and Georgia. Nevertheless, created by him “the political theory of the Declaration had clearly expressed democratic and revolutionary character of that time.”

The announcement of independence of former British colonies and becoming sovereign states was an event of exceptional importance not only for Americans but for the rest of the world. But no less important had the provisions of the Declaration, which were about people, society and state.

It was the first practical Declaration of Human Rights, built on good theory of the English philosophers of the 17th century, especially John Locke.

John Locke (1632 – 1704) is a British writer and philosopher, the representative of empiricism and liberalism. He is the one who formulated and philosophically justified the idea of human rights. These three rights he called natural, because they largely determine people’s aspirations. The same laws, he called inalienable, as being a part of human nature, they can neither be granted nor taken away.

Locke contributed to the spread of sensationalism. His ideas had an enormous influence on the development of epistemology and political philosophy. He is widely recognized as one of the most influential Enlightenment thinkers and theorists of liberalism. The letters of Locke made an impact on Voltaire and Rousseau, many Scottish Enlightenment thinkers and American revolutionaries. Its influence is also reflected in the American Declaration of Independence.

In the second chapter of Declaration is written: “We believe in obvious truth that all men are created equal, that the Creator endowed them with unalienable Rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…” Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, not found it possible to include property in the number of the enumerated inalienable rights. He paraphrased Locke’s ideas in the Declaration of Independence, changing “life, liberty, and property” to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Jefferson understood property not as a natural, given to a person from birth, and as a civil right. The meaning of property, he generally treated with suspicion, once he said: “I did not notice that the honesty of people increasing along with their wealth” (Grant, 64).

This document established the principle of national sovereignty as the basis polity, in which it was formulated for the first time the collective right of the people to revolt against oppression (the colonial oppression by the Crown of Great Britain was meant). The Declaration of Independence written in 1776 was the first constitutional document, in which the rights of the individual in the United States were mentioned.

Before Thomas Jefferson started to write the Declaration of Independence, he was well aware of the British and French Enlightenment writers, some of them he knew personally. His idols were Newton, Francis Bacon and John Locke; their portraits were hung in his house. Everything said above proves that Jefferson was influenced by philosophers while writing his main work.

As it was already mentioned, the main provisions of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson borrowed from the works of Locke “Two Treatises of Government”, and it was often blamed on him later. He replied that he saw his task not in establishing new principles, but rather “to express the mindset of America.” It was a typical view for Americans, who were not the creators of political ideas, but who just realized those ideas in life (Steinberg, 85).

Thomas Jefferson’s proclamation of the principles of equality and freedom meant the refusal from the feudal-absolutist ideological traditions. It also represented a revolutionary interpretation of the Enlightenment ideas, and above all the teachings of John Locke, “About the Kingdom of God” based on “natural human equality”, freedom of the personal life and the right of private property. From this work of the relevant formulas of the inalienable human rights, Thomas Jefferson firmly ruled out the possession of the property, replacing it with the pursuit of happiness.

And this choice has determined the progressive significance of the Declaration, because it was giving equal rights to all people regardless of their economic status.

Developing the idea of equality, the Declaration proclaims the people as the only arbiter of their destiny. Only on the “consent of the governed” the power of government is based, and on the right to “change or destroy” the form of government, if it is contrary to their desire for “safety and happiness.” This statement means that the proclamation of the Declaration “the right for revolution doesn’t have any doubts” (Sheridan, 47).

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