March 23, 2016
Word Count: 1470
The Declaration of Independence is arguable the most important and wide known document in American history. On July 4, 1776 this document signaled America’s separation from the British Empire to the world. America is defined by the men and the minds, behind the declaration; most notably by the author, Thomas Jefferson. The boundaries of the government and rights of its citizens were crucial during the formation of this constitution since these principles were exactly the reason for the uprising of the original thirteen colonies. Thomas Jefferson dedicated most of his life to the crucial needs of America and its government ...view middle of the document...
The Enlightenment in Europe stressed the use of reason and rationale. This was also an approach that Thomas Jefferson embraced and it has shown throughout nearly all of his political writings. Jefferson investigated the beliefs of many Enlightenment figures but most notably, John Locke. Jefferson’s ideas on race, religion, and citizens’ rights all directly reflect the opinions found in Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, which Jefferson was known to have read. Jefferson’s idea of “equal creation” found in the Declaration of Independence is in fact a theory of racial science that Locke had already wrote about almost one hundred years before. If one were to place every writing, whether personal or political, from these two characters side by side and began reading; the evidence of correlation between the two would be undeniable.
During a letter to Henry Lee, Jefferson wrote, “This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take.” This little excerpt alone shows that Thomas Jefferson took the ideas and concepts talked about by John Locke and applied them to the Declaration of Independence. Near the end of the letter we find “All its authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney” which goes on to show that Thomas Jefferson acknowledges in this personal letter, his use of Locke in the formation of his “principles and sentiments.” It is kind of amusing that Thomas Jefferson established a new government for a new nation based on the same philosophies of John Lock, a British philosopher. Without Locke, many of Jefferson’s concepts of American identity might not have found their unique, “for the people” attitude.
John Locke is without a doubt one of the most influential, common sense oriented writers of his time. Being able to analyze a constantly failing style of government and have someone a century later bring from that analysis the methods and tools in which to design a nation as great as America has been for nearly 280 years now speaks volumes about how Locke has shaped the world we live in and how modern society functions today. It would be easy to conclude that without the influence of John Locke breaking down the flaws in government during his lifetime through various political writings that Thomas Jefferson may not have been able to design a functioning government, which works for the people, and still stands on those principles John Locke wrote about to this day.
Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. New York:...