Thomas Jefferson VS John Locke

By Matt Rich Period 1


  • Both are focused on the belief that all men are created equal
  • Both state that men have the right to life, liberty and property/pursuit of happiness. These natural rights were the basis of which our constitution and bill of rights were written on.
  • Believed that these rights should not be altered by government because they are given at birth

  • If the government should alter or ignore the natural rights then the people have the responsibility to remove that government and replace with a more just one.


  • Obviously the time periods are very different with Locke's Second Treatise on Government being written in the 17th century and the Declaration of Independence created in the 1800's
  • Thomas Jefferson changed the third natural right from "property"(Locke) to "pursuit of happiness"(Jefferson) probably because of the slavery controversy in America.


Jefferson has often been accused by historians and many others of plagiarizing John Locke. This may be true, but one thing is for certain, both the Declaration of Independence and the Second Treatise on Government have very similar points. The similarity between the two is the belief on how citizens should act when dealing with an oppressive government that tries to bend the natural rights. The biggest difference is the views on slavery between Jefferson and Locke. Some would say that Jefferson changed the third natural law based solely on slavery. The laws changed from "life, liberty and property" to "life liberty and pursuit of happiness". Although Jefferson never directly addresses slavery, we can see how both he and Locke had different definitions on what constituted as property. Having natural rights and the ability to change an oppressive government are the similarities that most affect our country even today. It is important for everyone to have these rights because then there would be chaos. It is also necessary for people to not be trapped under an oppressive government. We have seen in history how a powerful government can inflict unimaginable amounts of damage on many different groups of people and our country is mostly free from this worry because of the ideas that Jefferson and Locke incorporated in our government systems.