John Locke’s influence can be seen when reading the Declaration of Independence. Some may say that it can be seen on the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights only because those two documents were influenced by the Declaration of Independence, but I think that these two documents were also directly influenced by John Locke’s The Second Treatise of Government.
There are many specific examples of how Locke influenced these documents, but I am going to focus on the objection to an absolute monarchy and what things are set up in order to avoid any one person with absolute power.
Locke writes in chapter two of the treatise, “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. (Page 2)” I think that the last part about “any other man” is the idea that the Declaration of Independence revolved around. In the Declaration of Independence it is written about how the people are not happy with how the King of Great Britain was an absolute ruler. That ruler is the man that Locke was talking about.
I don’t think that Locke was saying that no one could have any control, but that there cannot be one single person with all the control. Locke writes that the reason no man has absolute control over anyone else is because man does not even have absolute control over his own self. There is no one person is has complete control over any other one person, including his own self. In The Constitution of the Unite States, positions and powers are given to many different people. There is a Senate and House of Representatives which make up the Congress. Not only is there no one person with all the power, but these people who have some of the power have to be voted in and can also be voted out by the very people that they have some power over.
The reason Locke writes that there can be no one absolute ruler is because each person is born free. “Every man hath to his natural freedom, without being subjected to the will or authority of any other man. (Chapter 6, Page 24)” We can see a direct correlation between this and the Bill of Rights. The first amendment is all about the freedoms of the American people. Just like Locke says that the natural freedom was given by G-d, the American freedom was written down in the Bill of Rights. Every American is born with a certain natural freedom simply because they are American.
One thing that I do think the U.S. Constitution took directly from Locke’s writing is the idea of a Supreme Court. In chapter 7, section 90 of Locke’s Treatise he writes that in a civil society there should be set up “a known authority to which every one of that society may appeal upon any injury received and controversy that may arise. (Page 40)” In article III of the U.S. Constitution it is written, “The judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court.” I noticed how neither Locke nor the Constitution said that there should only be one judge. They are both staying true to the idea of not having an absolute monarchy.
Another thing that the U.S. Constitution seems to have taken directly from Locke’s writing is the idea of a legislative branch of government. Not only does Locke say that there should be a legislative power, but he puts restrictions on it that are very similar to the restrictions put on the legislative branch by the Constitution. He writes that the legislative power cannot have arbitrary power over the people and that the laws have to be for the good of the people. He also writes that they cannot raise taxes without the consent of the people and that they cannot give over the power to make laws to other people.
It seems obvious to me that the writers of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were fans of Locke’s writing, but I would not go so far as to say that they plagiarized his writing. They clearly saw a lot of ideas that they admired and tried to incorporate that into their new laws.
Quotes from John Locke's Treatise on Government
Get your own material. Don't steal mine. Plagiarism is for pedophiles.