John Locke and His Impact on American Revolutionaries and The US Government

John Locke and His Impact on American Revolutionaries and The US Government

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. 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 (Norton, 181). 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 (Epperson, 224).
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” (Norton 158).
Jefferson was a convinced adept of basic democratic principles founded on the major human rights and liberties. To put it more precisely, he sincerely believed that individual’s liberty is the highest value that should be protected and supported by all possible means including the protection from the part of the state. At this point it is possible to speak about the strong influence of John Locke on Jefferson’s ideas since the latter slightly modified the slogan of Locke ‘Life, Liberty, Happiness’ into ‘Life, Liberty, Property’ (Watson 210). In such a way, he defined three major values that should be respected by all, including the government.
Thomas Jefferson viewed liberty as one of the fundamental principles of democracy. He insisted on ‘natural rights’ of each individual that cannot be limited by the government or any other external force but the individual him/herself (Watson 252). In other words, personal freedom and liberty of an individual were prior to the government, state and nation for Jefferson. Consequently, according to his views, it was necessary to promote human rights and liberty in order to provide each individual with an opportunity to live in accordance with his natural rights.
The Declaration of Independence, to which he was the major contributor, perfectly reflects Thomas Jefferson’s views on liberty and the relationship between the government and an individual. For instance, the Declaration reads: “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” and “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government” (Declaration of Independence). This is a very important point since it proves the fact that Jefferson viewed the Government as a ‘product’ of society, as an institution that is created by people and, therefore, it could be changed, modified, or even abolished by people. Consequently, it is people who actually control the government and the latter has no right to interfere in the life of people and substitute their natural rights by the rights established by the government that would be the limitation of their liberty.
In such a situation, it seems to be quite logical that Thomas Jefferson was a convinced supporter of republicanism since such a system, according to Jefferson, could be the most effective in provision people with the maximum liberty. To put it more precisely, he viewed the republican system as a panacea from the dictatorship of the government since this system created conditions for the wide representation of various social groups. Obviously, Jefferson idealistically hoped that the republican system would guarantee people the opportunity to exercise their natural rights since they would be able to elect and control the political power of the country, including the government.
Obviously, Locke’s ideas influenced key, fundamental documents of the US, such as the Declaration of Independence and lately the US Constitution. No wonder, the modern US government is also influenced by Locke’s principles and ideas. The principles of equality and natural rights are still dominant in the US society and the US government views human rights as the main value, while individual liberty and independence are protected by the government and law enforcement agencies which serve to protect basic civil rights of US citizens defined in basic legal acts of the country. Even the legislative initiatives, such as the Patriot Act, 2001, which are severely criticized for the oppression of civil rights and liberties of Americans, are unable to shatter ideas of John Locke. The modern US government is under the control of people and it is Americans who decide what political power and what people will rule the country. Americans preserved their power and significance in the political and socioeconomic life of the country and, what is more, they preserved their independence since the government cannot limit their liberties because such efforts immediately result in a strong opposition from the part of the public.
Thus, it is possible to conclude that John Locke’s ideas, to a significant extent, defined the development of democracy in the US. His progressive ideas were borrowed by American revolutionaries and founding fathers who established the foundation of the US state. In such a situation, it is natural that the modern US government uses the same principles and ideas which originate from Locke’s philosophy.


Works cited:
Epperson, J. Causes of the Civil War. New York: Routledge, 2001.
Murray, I.H. The Second Awakening. New York: Touchstone, 1994.
Norton. A. People and a Nation. New York: Touchstone, 1999.
Watson, D. The US in the 18th century. New York: New Publishers, 1999.