1 December 2008
Locke and Jefferson
On the 11th of June, 1776, a committee was appointed to draft the Declaration of Independence of the United States. On this committee were Robert R. Livingston, John Adams, Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson, who has great command over the English language and masterful skills as a rhetorician, was chosen by the committee to write the document, so for the remainder of the month until the 28th of June, he wrote his copy. The committee reviewed Jefferson's “fair” copy, and on the 28th, it was read in Congress. On the 2nd of July, 1776, Congress declared independence from Britain, and on the 4th, they officially adopted the Declaration of Independence.
A very popular and widely read political theorist at the time this Declaration of Independence was written was John Locke, an enlightenment philosopher. Locke's ideas, particularly those in his Treatises on Government, are widely known and have continued to influence the writings of other thinkers throughout the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. Many of John Locke's ideas are shown very prominently in the Declaration of Independence, though they are not necessarily attributed directly to him by the document. Throughout the entire Declaration is idea upon idea that can be traced back to Locke and his views on natural rights and proper government. Indeed, Thomas Jefferson did not hold that his writing was by any means his own work of originality. By writing the document, wished "not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent."1
Even in the opening lines of the Declaration are Locke's ideas very openly shown:
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to...