natural rights purpose of government social contract state of nature How did the ideas of John Locke influence the Founders? The Founders were students of history and philosophy. They studied books, read newspapers, and listened to sermons in church. The Founders discussed and exchanged ideas with each other and with other people. One philosopher whose writings influenced the thinking of the Founders was John Locke. John Locke was awell-known English philosopher. Helived from 1632 to 1704. Locke publisheda book called Two Treatises of Governmentin 1689. In that book Locke explainedhis ideas about natural rights. Lockesbook was widely read and discussed inthe American colonies. Many of theFounders ideas about governmentwere based on Lockes philosophy. John Locke arrived at his ideas byimagining what life might be like ifpeople were living in a state of nature.By this, Locke did not mean necessarilythat people lived in the wilderness.Locke simply saw a state of nature asa condition in which no governmentsor laws existed at all. What did John Locke mean by a state of nature?
::::-~magining life in a state of nature, Declaration of Independence to explain =-: :~~.:: -.-asable to answer some impor- why Americans were opposed to British ~~=_~J" uestions like these: rule in the colonies. After winning the Revolutionary War, the Founders used nat is human nature? For example, most of the same ideas to write their are all people mainly interested in state constitutions. The ideas of the their own welfare, or do they tend natural rights philosophy also are to care for the good of others? important to the kind of government What should be the main purpose that we have today. of government? How do people who run govern- locke~sideas ment get the right to govern? n I What kinds of government John Locke believed that through should people support and obey? reasoning we can determine what rights What kinds of government people would have in a state of nature. should people resist? Locke reasoned that in a state of The Founders discussed and debated nature all people seek to have the John Lockes answers to these questions. following rights: The ideas of Locke were used in the Life People want to survive. People want to be as safe as possible from threats to their lives. Liberty People want to be as free as possible. People want to be able to make their own decisions and to live as they please. People want to own the things that are necessary to survive, such as food, houses, tools, or land. People want the freedom to work and to gain economic benefits. Locke said that the rights to life, liberty, and property are natural rights. These rights are a part of the law of nature. This means that all people have • the rights to life, liberty, and property What were Lockes ideas about natural rights? just because they are human beings.1-:
-JN does this illustration demonstrate what might happen in a state of nature? The Founders believed that such or less skilled would find it very~?hts as those to life, liberty, and property hard to protect their rights. Instead,:.22 not man-made. Instead, our rights are weaker people would try to protect= s.sedon the laws of nature, which were their rights by joining together~~~ade y God. The Declaration of Inde- b against the strong.::endence, for example, speaks of "the Lockebelieved that in a state of=-aws of Nature and of Natures God." nature, no ones life, liberty, or prop-= ~ says that people are "endowed by their erty would be safe. People would feel = reator" with certain basic rights and that insecure. In a state of nature, there=,J one may take away these rights. are no governments or laws to protect life, liberty, or property.This is why people agreed to form governments.What did n ~U,ptl"I;!i:# Accordingto Locke,governments dosay might in not exist until people create them. Locke believed that in a state ofa state r1 nature, no one would have the right Locke believed that most people are to govern you, and you would not reasonable and good. Most people have the right to govern anyone else. respect the rights of others because Accordingto Locke,there is only one their conscience tells them that they way that people get the right to have a duty to do so. But people are govern anyone else: the people to be also driven by their self-interest. governed must give their consent. A few humans are not so reasonable (;on.selJt means to approve of some- and good. Sometimes people who are thing or allow something to take place. stronger or more skilled abuse those If the people have not given their who are weaker or less skilled. consent to create a government, there Locke believed that in a state of is no legitimate government. In nature, people protect their natural other words, the power of legitimate rights by using their own strength government comes from the consent and skill. People who are weaker of the people. 17
- _rae to wants to do. Absolute means without any limits. In return, everyone receives the sQ;~alcontract? security that can be provided by a gov- Although people agreed that certain ernment. Each person consents to obey natural rights existed, they worried about the limits placed upon her or him by the how those rights could be protected. In a laws created by the government. Every- state of nature, people might feel free to one gains the secur~ity of knowing that do anything they want to do. Their rights their rights to life, liberty, and property would not be protected, however, and are protected. that would make them feel insecure. Government, then, is the better For John Locke and other natural alternative to a state of nature, which rights philosophers, the great problem would be imperfect because some people was to find a way to protect each persons might not respect the rights of others. natural rights so that everyone could According to Locke, the main purpose enjoy them and live at peace with one of government is to protect those natura~ another. Locke said that the best way to rights that the individual cannot effec- solve this problem is for each individual tively protect in a state of nature. to agree with others to create and live In a later lesson, you will study the under a government and give that gov- Declaration of Independence. You will see ernment the power to make and enforce how the Founders included all the ideas laws. Locke called this kind of agreement that you have studied in this lesson. a social contract. You will also learn to examine questions As in all contracts, to get something about what kind of government the you must give up something. In a social people should support and obey and contract everyone promises to give up the what kind they should resist. absolute right to do anything she or he How might individuals protect their natural rights in a state of nature? 18