The Enlightenment in America

Start Free Trial

What philosophers influenced American democracy during the Enlightenment?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Both British and French Enlightenment-era philosophers strongly influenced ideas about democracy that were implemented in the foundational documents of the United States.

In England, John Locke’s ideas played a paramount role in shaping the Declaration of Independence through their influence on Thomas Jefferson. Writing in the seventeenth century, Locke examined the fundamental bases of government, such as right to rule. Locke strongly believed in human rational thought, which he thought could effectively challenge tyranny and abuse of power. His most well-known work, in which he lays out these ideas, is the Second Treatise of Government (1689). Locke systematically laid out what constitutes legitimate bases for government. Locke argued that the consent of the governed was a crucial component in any ruler’s authority. The concept that life, liberty, and property were people’s rights—as opposed to something bestowed by a monarch—is usually attributed to Locke’s work. Furthermore, the government was responsible for protecting these rights, and if it failed, rebellion was justified.

The Baron de Montesquieu, an eighteenth-century French philosopher, was also influential. He believed that different branches of government should be occupied with different responsibilities and thus potentially balance each other. Thus, he is credited with inspiring the importance of the separation of powers.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team