Locke vs. Jefferson

Kristen West

Locke 1

"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."

Jefferson 1

"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."

Comparison 1

Both men are advocating for the basic human right of freedom. They agree that it is a natural endowment the likes of which cannot be stripped away by any form of government, as is implied.

The Declaration of Independence

Locke 2

"But if a long train of abuses, prevarications and artifices, all tending the same way, make the design visible to the people... it is not to be wondered, that they should then rouze themselves, and endeavour to put the rule into such hands which may secure to them the ends for which government was at first erected"

Jefferson 2

"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"

Comparison 2

Besides the obvious similarity between the two beginnings of phrase, the under lurking message that if wronged by the government, the people have not just the authority to overthrow them, but the the expectation, is a much more harmonic point of likeness between both men which rears it's face in both works.

The Second Treatise of Civil Government

Locke 3

"Sec. 214. First, That when such a single person, or prince, sets up his own arbitrary will in place of the laws"

Jefferson 3

"A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people."

Comparison 3

It is worth drawing the simple conclusion that Jefferson is comparing The King of England, George III to Locke's semi-hypothetical Prince, even calling him so. Given Locke's context, we can infer that Jefferson took Lock's definition above to be that of tyrant. This also brings light to what Locke may have originally meant. The two quotes form a mutualistic relationship where both add to or clarify the meaning of the other.

King George III

Locke 4

"they put themselves into a state of war with the people, who are thereupon absolved from any farther obedience, and are left to the common refuge, which God hath provided for all men, against force and violence."

Jefferson 4

"Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions"

Comparison 4

This comparison lights up an altogether bright corner of understanding. I say so because most everyone believes in a higher power, and both in God. They are subordinate to him and only him, as we can conclude with help from comparison 2. Not only does this add a righteous flavor to both writings, it ingratiates both to their intended audiences, the people, who at both times widely believed in their own subordination.

Map of the U.S. 1783

Locke 5

"Of The State of Nature

Sec. 6. But though this be a state of liberty, yet it is not a state of Licence. . .The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions"

Jefferson 5

"When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation."

Comparison 5

Both authors cite the course of the human event of revolution as justified in the name of liberty. Again, both harp on the naturality of such events, as a child growing apart from a parent, people who are wronged seek independence from their government.

Bust of John Locke at the Temple of British Worthies


Although the two men were from massively different times, the accord of reason that they both declare is much of the same. They both believed in the natural unalienable rights of men, be they common or royal. They both believed that people who have been wronged by their oppressors had the expectation thrust upon them to heave their government aside, all which goes to show the universal principal of freedom. Locke and Jefferson were not the only ones who believed in all the above, iconic and nameless figures of history alike, may claim ownership on that which is opinion, and such an ideal was what Locke and Jefferson two of the greatest minds in their respective ages.