How is John Locke's Natural Rights of Man used by the colonists to justify their anger at the British?

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The leaders of the American Revolution were deeply influenced by John Locke's Natural Rights of Man,which had been written nearly a century before. Locke had developed many of his ideas about the relationship between governments and the governed around the time of England's Glorious Revolution, which resulted in the overthrow...

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The leaders of the American Revolution were deeply influenced by John Locke's Natural Rights of Man,which had been written nearly a century before. Locke had developed many of his ideas about the relationship between governments and the governed around the time of England's Glorious Revolution, which resulted in the overthrow of King James II.

Inspired by this bloodless revolution, Locke put forth the idea that the most sacred and fundamental law of human nature was the preservation of mankind. In order to preserve this, he argued, people institute governments to protect their "God-given" rights of "life, liberty, and property." His main thesis is that governments derive their power and legitimacy from the "consent of the governed." Therefore, if a government loses that consent because it cannot or will not protect the rights of the governed, the people have the right and responsibility to replace it. The British government was not protecting these rights (as illustrated by the extensive list of grievances in the Declaration of Independence). Therefore, the colonists could justify their resentment by citing the works of Locke.

In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson draws heavily on these ideas. He writes clearly that in the first two paragraphs of the Declaration that the English king will not protect the rights of the colonists and, therefore, a new government must be established in the colonies. Jefferson was not alone in drawing on the Enlightenment notions of John Locke. Others, such as John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Payne, were also influenced by them.

While the leaders of the American Revolution were familiar with the works of John Locke and other Enlightenment philosophers, most colonists were not. That is not to say that they did not support the ideas of self-rule. Those who joined the rebellion were fighting for the same rights that Jefferson laid out in the Declaration of Independence. However, for many of them, independence was of a more practical and immediate matter than the lofty ideas of an English philosopher.

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John Locke was an Enlightenment philosopher whose seminal treatise centered around the notion of natural rights. These natural rights can not be taken away from individuals by government institutions. Locke stated that life, liberty, and property were the natural rights that all humans possess. The American colonists were very influenced in by Locke's work. To understand the grievances that angered the colonists, and how they relate to natural rights, a review of the Declaration of Independence is necessary.

Aside from Thomas Jefferson nearly quoting Locke verbatim in the line "that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" the Declaration of Independence outlines the actions that have angered them so much. Many of these grievances are violations of the principles of natural rights. The issue of property rights seemed to dominate the discussion. Examples of property rights violations of the king would include the quartering of soldiers and the high cost of taxation. The notion of liberty was also central to the colonial argument. The document discusses at length how the king has denied the colonists the opportunity to participate in their own governance despite paying the taxes.

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