Locke v. Jefferson Presentation

Sobiya Azmath

No man's knowledge here can go beyond his experience. - John Locke

The Declaration of Independence & John Locke

When our founding fathers met to create our laws and government, their ideas weren't exactly original. They had mixed up different philosopher ideas. One of those philosopher is John Locke. You can see in the text of the document, and even in the list of reasons given to separate from Great Britain, Locke's words, ideas, and theories coming into play.

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In Locke's Second Treatise of Civil Government provided a framework as to why we should act on all these grievances and declare independence. He says in Sec. 4 of his work that, "To understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider, what state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man". Basically his ideas focused on the theory of a "state of nature" in which all men are equal. One of the most noticeable influence is in the preamble, where our Declaration proclaims the right of every man to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness".

The state of nature according to Locke is a “state of perfect freedom” and a state of equality. In this state every person is free to do as they wish and no one has power over another, it is “without subordination or subjection”. However, the “state of nature has a law of nature to govern it”. The law of nature is based upon a theory of justice and morality, and guided by conscience and reason. From the state of nature and law of nature, Locke derives natural rights that men are born with. The idea of deriving laws from nature was unique during a period of time when laws generally came from monarchs and churches. Locke’s laws of nature are the fundamental concept of the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. They are also fundamental concepts in Locke’s philosophy of government. In other words, what we call now free trial and natural human rights or unalienable rights.

Consent becomes an important theme in there. Americans wanted representation in the British government but were granted none. In their minds representation was a form of consent. Locke explains the power of consent as, "the consent of the society over whom nobody can have a power to make laws; but by their own consent, and by authority received from them". Which basically translates that no law of government should be passed that goes against the consent of the people. Consent is another one of the founding principles of the United States which is achieved through representation.
Locke believed that a single given to much power leads to destruction. He says, "There is one way more whereby such a government may be dissolved, and that is: When he who has the supreme executive power neglects and abandons that charge, so that the laws already made can no longer be put in execution.." In other words, if somehow the leader or president falls and we have no one standing there, we would still have our laws and regulations. That way we would be fine until our next leader comes. This also has the laws that limits the power of the president as well if in case he decides to change everything. If the president wants to pass a law or bill, it has to go through congress first and if they approve and then the law could be placed.

He says, "In these and the like cases, when the government is dissolved, the people are at liberty to provide for themselves, by erecting a new legislative, differing from the other, by the change of persons, or form, or both, as they shall find it most for their safety and good.." Which basically says that if ,after the president is elected, we don't like the way he does or handles the situation, we should have the power to change and get the guy we like in power.


The Declaration of Independence is a great historical document that explains our reasons and logic behind splitting with Great Britain. It borrows heavily from John Locke's Second Treatise and our reasons for abolishing Great Britain's rule was mirrored in Locke's ideas about Rights of Revolution, and his whole Second Treatise pushed the idea of Representative Government, which we translated into our form of democracy. Jefferson was obviously heavily influenced by Locke's philosophies, however the differences are also apparent. No matter the differences, our Declaration is logically laid out. We had sound reasons for declaring our independence, and as apparent, our government has since been proven a strong and worldwide symbol of democracy and political freedom.