When considering the causes of the American Revolution, we typically think of events like the Stamp Act, the Boston Tea Party, the Boston Massacre, etc. It is true that all of these events (and numerous others that occurred in the same time frame) were important in pushing the colonies into war with England, but there is another older cause that is not cited as often.
Ironically, it was an Englishman named John Locke who proposed many of the ideas that early American revolutionaries adopted and incorporated into the arguments for independence and the actual Declaration of Independence itself. Specifically, Locke’s Second Treatise on Civil Government appealed to key Americans.
This treatise, which was not popular with the British monarchy, supplied the following key ideas:
- No one, not even a king, has the right to take property from an owner.
- Governmental authority is derived from something called a “social contract” that exists between the people and their rulers. The ruler’s behavior is bound by this contract just as are the people.
- People have the right to revolt when their ruler(s) do not recognize the rights of citizens.
According to www.Monticello.org, Thomas Jefferson referred to Bacon, Newton, and Locke as
My trinity of the three greatest men the world had ever produced.
We can clearly see the influence of Locke’s ideas in Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence.
According to www.ushistory.org:
The single most important influence that shaped the founding of the United States comes from John Locke, a 17th century Englishman who redefined the nature of government.
While specific events in the mid-eighteenth century helped ignite revolutionary sentiment, Locke’s ideas provided the philosophical underpinning for the Colonies’ justification in throwing off British rule. Without such ideas, we might well have continued to accept the authority of monarch.