I have often wondered why and how such like minded (for the most part) individuals came together during the critical time of our nation’s founding. Much has been said and written about the vision and enlightened ideas set forth by the Founding Fathers who drafted the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. And no doubt they were exceptional men with exceptional ideas. They should be revered for their courage and commitment as well as their intelligence and foresight in building the most perfect form of government the world had ever seen. But how could all of these men come together with similar ideas about freedom, rights of man, economic issues and law? Was it divine providence that brought these similarly minded individuals together? Well, perhaps, but the fact is God had a little help. You see just about every one of these men were influenced by the writings of one individual, a man named John Locke.
I was watching the now cancelled television show Lost on Netflicks with my son last week, (yes I am one of those people that never watched the series when it was running) and one of the main characters in the story is named John Locke. I thought to myself, “I know that name” somewhere back in the dark cobwebbed corners of that dingy sponge called my mind, I remember that name as one with some significance to history. After some dwelling on the subject I recalled that he was someone that had influenced some of the Founding Fathers like Jefferson and Adams. After a quick search on Bing, (ain’t the internet a wonderful thing?) I discovered that he was much, much more.
John Locke was an English philosopher who lived in the 1600’s. Most refer to him as the father of classical liberalism. His works, including arguably his greatest works, The Two Treaties of Government, were standard fair for young men to read along with Voltaire, Newton and Bayle during the age of enlightenment as part of their education. In fact Thomas Jefferson himself stated that "Bacon, Locke and Newton ... I consider them as the three greatest men that have ever lived, without any exception, and as having laid the foundation of those superstructures which have been raised in the Physical and Moral sciences". If Jefferson thought that highly of him, you know he had a major influence on him. When you read some of Locke’s works you can see just how strong an influence he was. When you also look at the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America, you will see Locke’s words almost verbatim. In fact you may be tempted to believe that Locke himself wrote these beloved documents. And you would be partially correct. Some phrases used in those historical declarations are straight out of Locke’s writings.
Locke believed heavily in the “Social Contract Theory” which primarily dictated that all political authority must be derived from the consent of the governed. And he even wrote “In a natural state all people were equal and independent, and everyone had a natural right to defend his “Life, health, Liberty, or Possessions". Sound familiar? How about some more? Locke also believed in a “Separation of powers” in a government to help insure protection from tyranny and stated that “Revolution is not only a right, but an obligation of the governed in some circumstances”. John Locke also wrote the “long train of abuses” line in an essay in 1793 called “Concerning Civil Government”. In Locke’s Two Treaties of Government, he challenged the idea that Kings derived their right to rule from God or “Divine Right” and instead declared that the individual was the one endowed with divine rights. Many liberals today incorrectly believe that Locke promoted the idea of a separation of church and state. They would be wrong. Locke believed only in religious freedom and blamed many of the woes of mankind on “Religious Wars”. He promoted a society in which all peoples could practice the religion of their choice and not be compelled to follow the “Religion of the State”.
So with all this in mind, lets read the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. --Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.
And with that, a hat tip to another of our founding fathers. In fact, the father of our founding fathers, John Locke.