John Locke and the US Government Paper
When attempting to post to this site I noticed a set of rules, one of which states that politics should be kept out of the forum. I did write an essay based on the politics in the construction of the government of the United States of America. More to the point I wrote an essay on the influence of John Locke in the construction of the United States of America. Now I do
NOT make arguments on the current state of politics, but it is a political piece at heart. I am wondering if it would be alright to post here in order to receive constructive criticism, and possibly proof reading for errors. I will post the essay below, but I wanted to make it clear that I was not doing so with the intention of starting a political debate, seeing as how this was not the forum for such chatter.
The Locke Influence on American History
“No taxation without representation.” It was one of, and possibly the strongest, reason for the American Colonies to renounce the government of the British Empire. In the beginning a strong presence of the British Government was needed in order to fully establish the colonies as a valuable entity. Money was needed, and strong trade was needed to bring money into the newly discovered area. Without a strong system of government to instill order and law, and a built-in partner to trade with, the Colonies, as history knows them, might not have survived. The land was too valuable to not sustain some sort of larger civilization, but through the leadership of the British Empire, and the Monarch, the American Colonies were established and flourished. This was only a temporary partnership. Being that the growing size of the colonies, combined with the distance, became too great for the British to manage. With a growing civilization you find more and more concerns, and growing problems.
“As to government matters, ‘tis not in the power of Britain to do this continent justice: the business of it will soon be too weighty and intricate to be managed with any tolerable degree of convenience, by a power so distant from us, and so very ignorant of us; for if they cannot govern us. To be always running three or four thousand miles with a tale or a petition, waiting for or five months for an answer, which, when obtained, requires a few years be looked upon as folly and childishness.” (Thomas Paine – Common Sense – The People Shall Judge – pg. 195)
Around the time of the release of Thomas Paine's Common Sense, the American Colonies were balanced on rebellion. It was the view of many that the British Empire was treating the Colonists as a source of income rather than a part of the Empire. The Colonists were taxed heavily, but representation in the Empire was light. When questions arose, it would take months to receive answers from over seas. At the same time the population of the American Colonies was exploding. It would not be long before the population of the American Colonies out numbered that of England.
“…but there is something absurd in supposing a continent to be perpetually governed by an island.” (Thomas Paine – Common Sense – The People Shall Judge – pg. 195)
You can see the influence of John Locke throughout the process of creating the United States. While the idea of social contract theory was introduced before John Locke, it was from Locke that it was a natural right of humanity to dissolve the government, should the government betray the rights of the people. While in the case of the U.S., they were not dissolving the British form of government, they were dissolving only the connection that they had to the government.
“In these and the like cases, when the government is dissolved, the people are at liberty to provide for themselves, by erecting a new legislative, differing from the other, by the change of persons, or form, or both, as they shall find it most for their safety and good: for the society can never, by the fault of another, lose the native and original right it has to preserve itself, which can only be done by a settled legislative, and a fair and impartial execution of the laws made by it.” (John Locke – Second Treatise of Government - §220)
A similar statement can be pulled right from The Declaration of Independence.
“That, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”(Declaration of Independence – The People Shall Judge – pg. 202)
The idea of the citizens having the right to take away power was not a new idea in Locke’s time. In fact this idea is brought up in Hobbes and many other places, but the difference being that in Hobbes’ writing, when power is taken from the sovereign authority, the power is then given to another person, or group of people, to rule with the same ideals as which his Leviathan was originally based upon. In Locke’s theory, the people have the natural right to take the power, and build a new system of legislation, chosen by the people, “in order to form a more perfect union.” (The Constitution of the United States – The People Shall Judge – pg.274)
Further influence is seen in the ideas that all men are created equal in the eyes of natural law.
“The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions: for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent, and infinitely wise maker; all the servants of one sovereign master, sent into the world by his order…” (John Locke – Second Treatise of Government - §6)
We find a similar statement in the beginning of the Declaration of Independence, even down to the mention of a creator.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” (The Declaration of Independence – The People Shall Judge – pg. 201)
The extent of the influence of John Locke falls much farther than just in the theories of natural law. Many of the ideas that are the basis of our government extend from the ideas given forth by John Locke. In Locke’s government they would have the Legislative branch, with is similar to ours, with a couple of differences. The idea of having a group of citizens create laws is taken from Locke, but in the Locke system of government the legislation would assemble, then separate to live under the laws they created. In the United States, the legislation is voted into office, and stays there creating laws.
The idea of the legislation avoiding corruption by not being able to execute the laws also comes from Locke with the introduction of the executive branch. By separating those who create the laws, and those who execute the laws, corruption can be limited. This can be seen mirrored in our current system of government.
While both the legislative and executive branches seem to come from Locke, the founding fathers of our country did not adopt the federative branch. This I agree with, as the powers of the executive and federative seem too similar and vague to properly be limited. Instead the constitution adds the judicial branch, which allows for the interpretation of the law, which is a section of Locke’s government found lacking.
There are differences in the government created by John Locke and the government created by the founding fathers of the United States, but it is clear the amount of influence the writings of Locke played a key role in the creation of the government of the United States. The age of the United States also had a key role in the introduction of this system of government, being that an older society would not have been as acquiescent to the installation of such a radically different government from that which the people were used to. It was because of the relatively young age of the country that it was the right form of government for the wealth, time, and abilities of a nation that was trying to get on its feet.
What is interesting is, based on Locke’s ideas mentioned earlier in this essay, and echoed in The Declaration of Independence, the people can dissolve any system of government destructive to the people by “…erecting a new legislative, differing from the other, by the change of persons, or form, or both…” (John Locke – Second Treatise of Government - §220) Does this mean that by using Locke’s own ideas we can dissolve the government proposed by Locke? It seems to be so. I wonder if the founding fathers had this in mind when they developed our system of government.
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