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Enlightenment Philosophers Influence on the Founding Fathers

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Alexandra Dawes

on 12 December 2014

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Transcript of Enlightenment Philosophers Influence on the Founding Fathers

Enlightenment Philosophers Influence on the Founding Fathers
The Social Contract was written in 1763 by Jean-Jacques Rousseau to challenge the idea that monarchy was the best form of government.
This document is extremely valuable because it introduces views unique to the Enlightenment period, but limited due to it being the beliefs of one individual not a majority.
Rousseau had unique views in contrast to time period because the belief of the majority was that monarchy was the superior from of government, but he advocated more towards aristocracy.
Rousseau introduces the idea of a "sovereign," or a the grouping of all citizens.
"...the general will alone may direct the forces of the State to achieve the goal for which it was founded, the common good.... Sovereignty is indivisible ... and is inalienable.... A will is general or it is not: it is that of the whole body of the people or only of one faction."
The sovereign expresses the general will that aims for the common good; therefore, the sovereign only has authority over matters that is of public concern.
Within the area of public domain, the sovereign's authority is absolute.
Government is the overall executive power, that does day to day work and collaborates with the sovereign, but generally in friction to the public.
"What then is government? It is an intermediary body established between the subjects and the sovereign to keep them in touch with each other. It is charged with executing the laws and maintaining both civil and political liberty...."
Rousseau also believes in the the government being formed needs consent from the governed in order to be successful.
"It is agreed that everything which each individual gives up of his power, his goods, and his liberty under the social contract [to the government] is only that part of all those things which is of use to the community."
Rousseau's "The Social Contract"
The Spirit of the Laws was written by Montesquieu in 1748 to display his views on political theory to the public.
This is an extremely valuable document because it expressed ideals contrary to general belief at the time creating controversy, but it is also limited because it is the view points of one individual.
Montesquieu introduced the idea of the "separation of powers" to avoid tyranny and promote liberty and justice.
"In every government there are three sorts of power; the legislative; the executive, in respect to things dependent on the law of nations; and the executive, in regard to things that depend on the civil law."
This view was very different to the beliefs of the majority because during this period it was believed that a monarchy should hold all governmental power.
To maintain a separation of powers Montesquieu developed a system of checks and balances to one branch over government can't overpower the other.
The branches he established were judicial, legislative, and executive.
Montesquieu also supported the idea of civil liberties.
He demonstrated early ideals of equality and protection of the citizens.
Montesquieu: "The Spirit of the Laws"
Montesquieu's Impact on the Founding Fathers
Montesquieu's idea of the presence and protection of civil liberties was demonstrated in all the documents of the Founding Fathers:
Declaration of Independence: "...certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Jefferson referenced Montesquieu's ideal of citizens having certain unalienable rights through listing out life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Adams stated, in the "Rights of the Colonists," that"Among the natural rights of the colonists are these: first, a right to life; second, to liberty; third, to property; together with the right to support and defend them in the best manner they can.”
Very similarly to Jefferson, Adams defines the civil liberties that Montesquieu believes every man deserves from the government.
The Resolution of the Stamp Act stated, "That the increase, prosperity, and happiness of these colonies, depend on the full and free enjoyment of their rights and liberties..."
Like Montesqueiu, the Stamp Act Congress claimed that in order for a successful society to occur certain civil liberties need to be maintained and not violated by the governing body.
Montesquieu's idea of the separation of power was not directly stated in the selected documents from the founding fathers, but did play a key role in the development of America.
After gaining independence, the colonies established a constitution that embodied the ideals of Montesquieu.
The separation of governmental powers into the executive, judicial, and legislative branches is the back bone of the U.S. Constitution and is still the working governmental system in the United States.
Montesquieu's system of checks and balances has allowed the U.S. to maintain equal authority throughout its branches and avoid one individual or group rising to power.
Montesquieu's philosophies were extremely influential in the the development of American political society and provided the back bone for a new government in a new country.
Rousseau's Impact on the Declaration of Independence
The Declaration claims, “Governments are instituted… deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
This stems from Rousseau's belief that when forming a government the consent of the people is necessary.
Colonists used Rousseau's beliefs to justify the unfair representation taking place claiming they were being subjected to government without consent.
This social theory was significant because it helped shape American society.
When the colonies did gain independence they made sure majority vote ruled all decisions that would impact the general public.
E.g. 9 of 13 colonies had to ratify the Constitution and male landowners gained the right to vote.
Rousseau's Impact on "The Resolutions of the Stamp Act"
The Resolution claims, "That it is inseparably essential to the freedom of a people, and the undoubted right of Englishmen, that no taxes be imposed on them, but with their own consent, given personally, or by their representatives."
This statement goes hand in hand with Rousseau's belief that that the government being formed needs to receive consent from the general public, then they can impose their authority on the people.
Locke's Impact on the Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence was written in 1776 by Thomas Jefferson in order to establish the colonies independence from Great Britain.
The Declaration is a valuable source because it explains to the audience the motivations behind wanting independence, but this document also has limitations because it is extremely biased.
The Declaration states, "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."
This statement exemplifies Locke's belief in the existence of natural rights.
An almost identical statement was made by Locke in his "Second Treatise of a Civil Government," but the word possessions was substituted with the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration.
These words seem to contrast, but the use of the word possessions within the context of Locke's writing implies having control of and individual's own rights and character.
The Declaration also states, “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”.
This displays the main components of Locke's social contract: the government gains authority to protect the rights of the people through their consent.
This belief is demonstrated through the following statement by Locke:"...this power [of government] has its original only from compact, and agreement, and the mutual consent of those who make up the community . . ."
The Declaration states, "That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it..."
This statement exemplifies Locke's belief that when a government becomes destructive the people have the power to abolish it.
This ideal is stated by Locke: "...when the legislators endeavor to...destroy the property of the people... by this breach of trust they forfeit the power the people put into their hands..."
The colonists viewed they had the rights to abolish their ties with England due to the list of grievances, such as taxation without representation, that violated their natural rights.
Locke's expression of his enlightenment ideals was extremely influential through allowing the colonists to gain justification for abolishing ties with the mother country and eventually leading to their gain of independence.
Locke's Impact on Adams and "The Rights of the Colonists"
Samuel Adams wrote The Rights of the Colonists in 1772 to address the rights that were due to the colonists.
This document is valuable because it displays the needs of the colonists and their motivations to break away from Britain, but is also limited due to it being biased.
Adams stated, “Among the natural rights of the colonists are these: first, a right to life; second, to liberty; third, to property; together with the right to support and defend them in the best manner they can.”
This strongly supports Locke's belief that men are born with certain natural rights that must be preserved.
"...lives, liberties, and possessions..."
Adams also believed, "...in case of intolerable oppression, civil or religious, to leave the society they belong to, and enter into another."
This goes hand in hand with Locke's belief that the governed have the right to remove the authority of the government when faced with oppression and regain their natural rights as men.
This ideal is stated by Locke: "...when the legislators endeavor to...destroy the property of the people... by this breach of trust they forfeit the power the people put into their hands..."
The Second Treatises of Civil Government was written by John Locke in 1690 to justify the Glorious Revolution.
This document is extremely valuable because it displays enlightenment views unique to it's time, but is also limited through being biased through solely expressing the philosophical views of Locke.
Locke introduces the "state of nature," an idea of equality and perfect freedom.
The "law of nature" governs the "state of nature" and is based off morals, reason, and justice.
From these two ideals, Locke derives the idea of natural rights that men are born with.
"...lives, liberties, and possessions..."
The idea of natural rights and laws was a unique interpretation of government during this period because most individuals believed laws to come from churches and monarchs.
Locke states his belief that government is created to protect property and rights, but in order to enter into this civil society men must consent to the majority and give up some of their freedoms.
"Political power is that power which every man, having in the state of nature, has given up into the hands of the society, and therein to the governors whom the society hath set over itself, with this express or tacit trust that it shall be employed for their good and the preservation of their property."
John Locke: "Second Treaties of Civil Government"
Origins of the Enlightenment
Spanning from 1685 to 1815, the Enlightenment, also known as "the Age of Reason," was a time period when traditional authority was questioned.
European politics, science, and philosophy was re-invented leading to the production of multiple books, essays, discoveries, and, most importantly, revolutions.
Significant figures, such as John Locke, Montesquieu, and Rousseau, all influenced the Founding Fathers of America and the fight for independence from Great Britain.
English Philosopher John Locke
Locke's Impact on "The Resolutions of the Stamp Act"
The Resolutions of the Stamp Act was written in 1765 by the Stamp Act Congress to address the grievances the colonists had with the mother country.
This document is valuable because it provides insight to the thinking of the colonists for wanting to abolish ties with the mother country, but limited as well because it is a biased piece.
The Resolution states, "it is inseparably essential to the freedom of a people, and the undoubted right of Englishmen, that no taxes be imposed on them, but with their own consent, given personally, or by their representatives."
This ideal correlates with Locke's belief that the government must have to consent of the govern in order to be just, as well as successful.
Locke stated, "...this power [of government] has its original only from compact, and agreement, and the mutual consent of those who make up the community . . ."
The Resolution also claims. "That the increase, prosperity, and happiness of these colonies, depend on the full and free enjoyment of their rights and liberties, and an intercourse with Great-Britain mutually affectionate and advantageous."
This statement demonstrates Locke's ideal that citizens have certain unalienable rights that have to be allowed by the government in order to be just.
"...lives, liberties, and possessions..."
Rousseau's Impact on Adams
Adams believed that no natural rights had to be sacrificed except for those that were agreed to by the people.
This is demonstrated through his following statement in "The Rights of the Colonists:" "Every natural right not expressly given up, or, from the nature of a social compact, necessarily ceded, remains."
This is mirrored in Rousseau's following statement:""It is agreed that everything which each individual gives up of his power, his goods, and his liberty under the social contract [to the government] is only that part of all those things which is of use to the community."
Clearly, Adams was influenced by Rousseau's belief that that government should not steal any rights away from the people unless they consent.
Conclusion of Interconnectedness of Ideas
Undoubtedly, all the Enlightenment philosophers tremendously impacted the views and ideals of the Founding Fathers.
John Locke's ideals surrounding the presence and protection of certain unalienable rights is strongly displayed in all three of the founding documents. Also, the idea that the people can gain back their rights if a government violates them aided in the reasoning behind the colonies separation from England.
Rousseau's belief that the governing body needs the consent of the general public was beneficial in helping justify the colonies separation from the mother country, as well as aided in the establishment of the new American government.
Montesquieu's ideal of civil liberties was also displayed throughout the document as the rights that needed to be given under the authority of a governing body. Furthermore, even though Montesquieu's ideal of the separation of powers wasn't explicitly stated, this ideal helped shape American political society as demonstrated through it's strong presence in the Constitution.
Comparison: All three of the philosophers expressed their beliefs that men have certain rights they are born with and need to be protected by the governing body.
Overall, the views of the Enlightenment philosophers were tremendous in helping shape America and justifying the break away from the mother country.
Works Cited
"Benjamin Franklin's Preface to the English Edition of the Report." Adams. N.p., n.d. Web. 28
Sept. 2014. <https://history.hanover.edu/texts/adamss.html>.

"Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy." Social Contract Theory. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Sept. 2014.
<http://www.iep.utm.edu/soc-cont/>.

"The Declaration of Independence: A Transcription." National Archives and Records
Administration. National Archives and Records Administration. Web. 29 Sept. 2014.
<http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html>.

"The Resolutions of the Stamp Act Congress October 19 1765." American History. Web. 28
Sept. 2014. <http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/documents/1751-1775/the-resolutions-of-the-
stamp-act-congress-october-19-1765.php>.

“The Spirit of the Laws." Internet History Sourcebooks. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2014. <http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/montesquieu-spirit.asp>.

“The Social Contract." Internet History Sourcebooks. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Sept. 2014. <http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/rousseau-soccon.asp>.
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