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Enlightenment Thinkers Essay

1429 words - 6 pages

Hundreds of years ago great American minds were breaking barriers, starting revolution and addressing equality, something that had never been done in an era filled with ruthless monarchs. They wrote some of the foundations for the modern day western world over 200 years ago and yet their works are still relevant today. They wrote the Charters of Freedom, otherwise known as the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and The Bill of Rights. But, as people stroll through museums to see these works, little do they know that ideas from the Age of Enlightenment inspired them. These same people all see the names of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and many others and yet they have no idea ...view middle of the document...

” (Declaration of Independence, 1776) Also in that infamous line from the Declaration of Independence is a mention of government deriving their powers from the governed, another fundamental belief of John Locke. He believed that the people should be the sovereign, claiming that the legitimacy of a government is dependent upon it, which was the fundamental idea behind the Declaration of Independence, they had no representation and thus the power was not derived from the people that the Monarch governed. And, perhaps the greatest ideal of American society is equality, in the declaration of independence the founders wrote “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” (Declaration of Independence, 1776) This ideal was also rooted in John Locke’s theories, where he stated “It is evident that all human beings – as creatures belonging to the same species and rank and born indiscriminately with all the same natural advantages and faculties – are equal amongst themselves. They have no relationship of subordination or subjection unless God (the lord and master of them all) had clearly set one person above another and conferred on him an undoubted right to dominion and sovereignty." (Second Treatise of Government, Locke, 1690) John Locke was one of many enlightenment thinkers who helped shape the foundation of our government.
While Baron de Montesquieu might not have been the primary source for the Declaration of Independence he is certainly much more prevalent when discussing the structure of government in the United States and the Constitution. In his work “Spirit of the Laws” he very clearly writes about separation of powers and a federalist government. The system of checks and balances is implemented to keep one branch of government from being supreme, the system allows for one branch to check the power of another and keep the political system balanced. Montesquieu cites the need for checks and balances in “Spirit of the Laws” when he wrote “Democratic and aristocratic states are not in their own nature free. Political liberty is to be found only in moderate governments; and even in these it is not always found. It is there only when there is no abuse of power. But constant experience shows us that every man invested with power is apt to abuse it, and to carry his authority as far as it will go. Is it not strange, though true, to say that virtue itself has need of limits? To prevent this abuse, it is necessary from the very nature of things that power should be a check to power.” (Spirit of Laws, Montesquieu, 1748) Montesquieu even writes about Judicial, Legislative and Executive branches of power in his “Spirit of the Laws” which is clearly influential to United States government seeing as the first three articles of the constitution outline the powers and limitations of the afore mentioned branches.
Baron de Montesquieu had a very clear influence on the constitution when it came to checks and balances, but he was also...

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