Which of John Locke's ideas had an influence on American government?

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Two of John Locke’s ideas influenced American government in important ways.  Both ideas can be seen in the Declaration of Independence.

First, Locke had ideas about where government got its legitimacy.  He said that government could only be legitimate if the people consented to be governed.  This helped influence America to become a strongly democratic country where we believe that the people’s voices must be heard.

Second, Locke had ideas about what government was supposed to do.  He believed that the government was supposed to protect people’s basic human rights.  He listed these rights as the rights to “life, liberty, and property,” (which Thomas Jefferson changed to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration).  To Locke, the only reason to have a government was so that it could protect these rights.  This influenced American government, causing the American people to want limits on their government.  Our Constitution is full of provisions that say what the government cannot do.  It sets our government up in such a way that it is hard for the government to act.  The Constitution is this way because Americans do not want the government to be powerful enough to take away their rights.  They want to limit the government so it will not do much more than protecting their basic rights.

In these ways, John Locke’s ideas influenced the system of government that we have today.