Essay, Research Paper: Locke's Government

Politics

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The Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson, and The Second
Treatise on Civil Government by John Locke, are two similar works. Locke’s
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.
Locke’s form of government is simple, yet confusing. Locke’s 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. Jefferson’s ideas are very close to those of Lockes. Which proves
Locke’s work had an impact on him. The first major relationship between
Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence and Locke’s 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 Nature’s 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 man’s rule no one person is
controlling another yet everyone is at peace with each other because they are in
their SN. 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 system. 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 Locke’s Second Treatise and it relates very closely. It seems
very clearly that the Locke’s 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 Locke’s, The Second
Treatise on Civil Government, when he wrote the Declaration of Independence.

Bibliography1. Paul Light, A Delicate Balance (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1996),
pages A1-A3 2. John Locke, The Second Treatise on Civil Government (Prometheus
Books, New York, 1986), pages 7-22
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