Students in this lesson will identify, understand and be able to explain the basics of Locke’s ideas on society and government by reading and analyzing excerpts from his two major philosophical works, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689) and Two Treatise on Government (1690), thereby gaining a better understanding of how Locke’s writings influenced Jefferson and the other founding fathers.
Whensoever therefore the legislative shall transgress this fundamental rule of society; and either by ambition, fear, folly or corruption, endeavour to grasp themselves, or put into the hands of any other, an absolute power over the lives, liberties, and estates of the people; by this breach of trust they forfeit the power the people had put into their hands for quite contrary ends, and it devolves to the people, who have a right to resume their original liberty, and, by the establishment of a new legislative, (such as they shall think fit) provide for their own safety and security, which is the end for which they are in society.
John Locke, Second Treatise of Civil Government (1690), Chapter 19, Section 222
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.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Declaration of Independence, 04 July 1776
On 04 July 1776, the Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, adopted and signed the final draft of the Declaration of Independence. Presented by the so-called “Committee of Five” (John Adams of MA, Roger Sherman of CT, Ben Franklin of PA, Robert Livingston of NY and Thomas Jefferson of VA), the document contained references to the “Social Contract” and was in many ways a natural outgrowth of the Age of Enlightenment, a political, philosophical and cultural movement of intellectuals during the 17th and 18th centuries. Inspired by the scientific revolution of a century earlier and a rededication to a reliance on reason, philosophers during the Enlightenment (most centered in Paris, but many others in England and Scotland) wrote volumes of books on subjects such as the natural rights of man and the social contract between men and government. The American founding fathers studied these literary works when developing their ideas behind revolution and independence. Of all the great philosophers, perhaps none inspired the founding fathers (especially Jefferson) more than English philosophe John Locke. Locke, educated at the Westminster School in London and later at Oxford University, believed that the natural state of man was that of freedom, and that governments were created to protect man’s live liberty and property.
Through an in-depth analysis of primary and secondary sources, students in this lesson will identify, understand and be able to explain the basics of Locke’s ideas on society and government by reading and analyzing excerpts from his two major philosophical works, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689) and Two Treatise on Government (1690), thereby gaining a better understanding of how Locke’s writings influenced Jefferson and the other founding fathers.
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While on tour, students visit Parliament, where they can see for themselves the heart of modern Britain’s constitutional government. Locke lived in an age when the monarchy ruled England, albeit with the consent of Parliament. Today’s monarch is little more than a figurehead. Almost all of the power in England’s government today resides in the Commons chamber, where the English people control their own system. A different system than the one Americans have, the British government puts almost total control into the lower house of its legislature.
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