Enlightenment and Constitution

Topics: United States Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, Political philosophy Pages: 3 (960 words) Published: April 22, 2013
Enlightenment and the Constitution

The United States is a nation established in 1776 on a set of principles: liberty, equality, and self-government. These ideals derived in part from broad lessons of history, from the colonist, and treatises such as those of Locke and Rousseau. Liberty is a principle that individuals should be free to act and think as they choose, as long as their actions don’t infringe on the rights and freedoms of others. Equality is a notion that all individuals are equal and entitled to equal treatment under the law. Self-government is the principle that the people are the ultimate source and proper beneficiary of governing authority. These principles were the foundation for the United States set forth and written by our founding fathers, but taken from rulers and minds of Europeans during the Enlightenment period. The Enlightenment was an eighteenth- century intellectual movement whose proponents believed that human beings could apply a critical, reasoning spirit to every problem (Hunt, Lynn, Martin & Rosenwein, page 545). During this period the rulers, writers, and thinkers gave the back bone to the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Although before we get to this period and how it shaped the United States we will have to go back a little further to 1651.

In 1651 an English philosopher Thomas Hobbes had his work Leviathan published. Hobbes argued that government rests on a social contract in which the people give up certain freedoms they would have in a state of nature in return for the protection that a sovereign ruler can provide. Almost a half of a century later, an English philosopher, John Locke, used Hobbes concept of social contract in his Second Treatise on Civil Government. Locke claimed that all individuals have certain inalienable rights, including those of life, liberty, and property. When people form a government for securing their safety, they retain...

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Hunt, Lynn, Thomas R. Martin and Barbara H. Rosenwein; The Making of the West
Bedford/St. Matin’s, Boston, New York, 2009
Locke, John, Second Treatise
Patterson, Thomas E., The American Democracy, Mc Graw Hill, New York, NY, 2009
Rousseau, Jean Jacques, Social Contract
Voltaire, Treatise on Toleration
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