Lockes Government

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Lockes Government

The Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson, and The Second
Treatise on Civil Government by John Locke, are two similar works. Lockes work seems to
have had an influence on Jefferson when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. Both works
were written on government, what it should and should not be.

Locke brings the view that the state exists to preserve the natural rights of its citizens.
When governments fail in that task, citizens have the right–and sometimes the duty–to
withdraw their support and event to rebel. Locke maintained that the state of nature was a happy
and tolerant one, that the social contract preserved the preexistent natural rights of the
individual to life, liberty, and property, and that the enjoyment of private rights– the pursuit of
happiness– led, in civil society, to the common good.

Lockes form of government is simple, yet confusing. Lockes government is broken
down into four main areas, the State of Nature ( SN ), the State of War ( SW ), Civil
Society ( CS ), and Political Society ( PS ). Locke begins by recognizing the differences
between power, in general, and political power in particular. Locke believes political power to
be, the power of a magistrate over a subject. (2) The subject remains under the magistrates
rule by choice. This brings about the State of Nature. The SN is a state of perfect freedom, no
one is controlling others and no one is being controlled, everyone is equal. Locke comes to say
that the only way someone can rule over us is if we let them. By doing this we are not
abandoning our SN, but remaining in it. It is ones choice to let another preside over them. Our
SN is threatened though because we do not have complete control, therefore we come into the
State of War. Under SW we have taken away others SN or given up our own. For us to get it
back we come into Civil Society. By lending out our SN we come together to protect it. We are
given back our SN after it has been restored. We are no longer threatened by someone taking it
away. The problem that arises is the fact that this is not a very solid solution. This leads to the
Political Society. People agree to get together and establish a PC (AKA government) The PC
is responsible for protecting others. We are still in our State of Nature as we have lended it out,
received it back and come to terms with others in arranging a Political Society. Locke is
attempting to understand the proper relationship between a people and a government.

Jeffersons ideas are very close to those of Lockes. Which proves Lockes work had an
impact on him. The first major relationship between Jeffersons Declaration of Independence
and Lockes Second Treatise is that they both believe in the State of Nature and use it as the
basis of their governments. The Declaration of Independence says that, …and to assume
among the Powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and
of Natures God entitle them… (1) Locke believes this as, …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… ( 2 )The Declaration
of Independence is saying that when one set of politics is not working, that one must break away
and start over again in the Law of Nature because this is truly the only way to go. For Locke,
The Sate of Nature has a law of Nature to govern it, which obliges everyone, and reason,
which is that law, teaches all mankind who will but consult it, that being all equal and
independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, liberty, or possessions. (2)Jefferson
uses the Law of Nature as the highest government a society can achieve. This being everyone
free, and in their State of Nature, yet under a government.
Another similarity is how they explain their belief that all men are created equal. As the
Declaration of Independence goes on Jefferson comes to say, …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. ( 1 ) Both Jefferson and Locke believe that all men
are created equal. Both believe all men have a right to happiness. Locke comes to terms with
this when he says that, A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is
reciprocal, no one having more than another… ( 2 ) Locke then goes on to say, …preserve the
rest of mankind, and not unless it to do justice on an offender, take away or impair the life, or
what tends to the preservation of the life, the liberty, health, limb, or goods of another. ( 2 )
The wording between Jefferson and Locke is important here as they both use close to the same
words in believing all men to be equal. Locke and Jefferson come to the point that no one
person is superior over another person in any way, shape or form. The natural liberty of man is
to be free from any superior power on earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority
of man, but to have only the Law of Nature for his rule. By having the Law of Nature for every
mans rule no one person is controlling another yet everyone is at peace with each other because
Jefferson puts the people in charge. They decide on the government. They have the right
to accept it or change it or do away with it and establish a new one. …the Right of the People to
alter or abolish it, and to institute a 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. ( 1 ) Locke believes this also, although it is a little more difficult to come
about his understanding of it. …every man has a power to punish the crime to prevent its being
committed again, by the right he has of preserving all mankind… ( 2 ) Locke is saying that
each person has the power to prevent something from happening again. By doing this they may
need to change laws, dispose of laws, and/or make new laws to stay in their SN. Both Locke
and Jefferson believe in equality, no man is better than the next. They both believe in
establishing a government that meets the needs and wants of each individual. They both believe
each person must remain in their State of Nature, and they can do so even under a government
When Jefferson makes his accusations on the King, in the Declaration of Independence,
one of them is, He has forbidden his governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing
importance…neglected to attend them. ( 1 ) A point Locke makes is that we are not to ignore
laws that need to be passed.For that in a state of perfect equality, where naturally there is no
superiority or jurisdiction of one over another, what any may do in prosecution of that law,
every one must needs have a right to do. ( 2 )Here Locke makes it clear that if something
needs to be done, it needs to be done. That if a law needs to be passed no person should hold
another person from passing it. This maybe be just a coincident that both believe laws that need
to be passed should be passed, or perhaps Jefferson saw this as another way to connect the
Declaration of Independence to the Second Treatise.

The differences between the Declaration of Independence and the Second Treatise are
slight. Jefferson does not go into elaborate detail on each subject as Locke does. The
Constitution does the detailing. Locke has a reason for everything and a purpose and a solution.
The Declaration of Independence is a smaller form of Lockes Second Treatise and it relates
It seems very clearly that the Lockes view on government had a very large influence on
Thomas Jefferson when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. Both men believe in the Law
of Nature, they believe it to be very important in a government. Both men believe in equality
and when explained in both works the wording is very similar. Both men believe that
establishing good solid laws are part of a government and both believe that laws that need to be
passed should be passed. They both believe that an individual is important in establishing a
government, that a government should be built around the needs and wants of society. It is very
clear that both works on how government should and should not be are similar and that Jefferson
was greatly influenced by Lockes, The Second Treatise on Civil Government, when he wrote
Bibliography:
Endnotes:
1. Paul Light, A Delicate Balance (St. Martins Press, New York, 1996), pages A1-A3
2. John Locke, The Second Treatise on Civil Government (Prometheus Books, New York,
1986), pages 7-22