Who is John Locke?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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John Locke was a very important political philosopher.  He was born in England in 1632.  Although he died in 1704, his ideas helped to bring about the American Revolution and are echoed in the Declaration of Independence.

John Locke thought about why people had governments.  He said that people formed governments to protect their rights.  If there were no governments, he said, people would have greater liberty in a way.  They would be able to do whatever they wanted because there would be no rules.  The problem was that anyone who was stronger than them could steal from them, enslave them, or kill them.  The solution, Locke said, was to create government.

When people formed governments, they made a “social contract.”  They agreed to give up some of their rights.  They agreed that the government could tell them what to do and could take some of their money in taxes.  In return, the government would protect their main rights.  It would protect their rights to life, liberty, and property.  This was the only reason to have government.

We can see Locke’s ideas in the Declaration of Independence where Jefferson says that government exists to protect “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  If it does not do these things, the people have the right to overthrow it.  Thus, John Locke is a very important figure in political philosophy and in American history.

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