How did Montesquieu's view of separation of powers and John Locke's theories related to natural law and the social contract influence the Founding Fathers?
These two political philosophers were two of the most important influences on the thinking of the Founding Fathers. Locke’s ideas can be seen very clearly in the Declaration of Independence while Montesquieu’s can be seen in the Constitution.
Locke believed that governments only exist as a result of a social contract. That is, the people all agree to be ruled by the government. The reason they do so, he says, is to protect their natural rights. He says that the people give up minor rights to the government and, in return, the government protects their fundamental natural rights. These ideas are all seen in the Declaration of Independence. That document says that government gets its legitimacy from the consent of the governed. It says that government exists in order to protect people’s natural rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” These ideas clearly come from Locke.
Montesquieu thought about how to set up a government so that no part of government would have too much power and no part would be easily able to violate its citizens’ rights. One way to do this, he said, was to divide powers up between independent branches of government. This clearly influenced the Founding Fathers since the Constitution created a system with three branches (executive, legislative, and judicial) all of which have different powers and responsibilities.
In these ways, we can see that Locke and Montesquieu both had significant impacts on the Founding Fathers’ ideas.