What is the relationship between the Bill of Rights and the Enlightenment?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The relationship between the Enlightenment and the Bill of Rights is that the Bill of Rights was based on the ideas of the Enlightenment.

One of the main political thinkers of the Enlightenment was John Locke.  Locke argued that the reason to have government was to protect the rights of the people.  Thomas Jefferson borrowed from Locke when he said that the people had the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and that government was only legitimate if it protected these rights. This idea that the government has to protect people’s rights is the basis of the Bill of Rights.

The Bill of Rights puts into writing the rights that the government is supposed to protect.  It says that the government must not take away people’s liberty to do such things as speaking their minds and holding whatever religious beliefs they want to hold. It says that the government cannot take away people’s life, liberty, or property (Locke said “property” instead of “pursuit of happiness”) without giving them due process of law.  In other words, the Bill of Rights is set up to make sure that the government cannot take away people’s rights.  This is an idea that comes straight from Enlightenment thinkers like John Locke.

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