How did John Locke and Baron de Montesquie influence the Founding Fathers? 

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mrkirschner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There were many influences on the establishment of a representative democracy in America, but two political philosophers played a significant role. The Seventeenth Century English philosopher John Locke probably had the greatest influence of anybody on the Declaration of Independence. His Second Treatise on Government included much of the language that Thomas Jefferson presented in the Declaration of Independence. Locke believed that the ruler's consent to govern was granted by the citizens. In exchange for that consent, the government had a responsibility to those citizens. Locke suggested that government's chief responsibility was to protect the natural rights of its citizens. These rights included life, liberty, and property. Locke postulates that if the government fails in that responsibility, the citizens have the responsibility to overthrow said government. These are the primary theories established in the Declaration of Independence.

The Eighteenth Century French philosopher Baron de Montesquieu had a profound influence on the United States Constitution. In his Spirt of the Laws (1748), he establishes the principle of separation of powers. Montesquieu posits that by dividing the government into smaller parts, with each having different responsibilities, it becomes more difficult for small groups of people to become despotic. He proposes that it is necessary for the different factions to have specific checks on each other to balance government. The United States Constitution establishes a system of government divided into three branches. The Constitution allows various checks and balances in a way that is similar to the treatise of Baron de Montesquieu.

Summary-Influences of Locke and Montesquie:

  • Popular Sovereignty
  • Representative Government
  • Natural rights
  • Responsibility to overthrow despotic government
  • Separation of Powers
  • Checks and Balances.