Historical Context in France
• In France, people were unhappy with
the rule of King Louis XIV. His
constant war-mongering, exorbitant
spending (see: Versailles), and
attempt to regulate several aspects of
peoples lives, including religion, did
not sit well with the people.
Historical Context-Key Vocab
• *monger-a person promoting something
undesirable (in this case, war)
• *exorbitant-extreme, unreasonable
Louis XIV of France
Ruled France from 1643 to 1715.
Palace of Versailles-built for Louis XIV
• Montesquieu was born in France to a wealthy family,
but spent much of his childhood with working class
(peasant) children. As a result, he developed an
understanding of what their life was like.
• Montesquieu attended Oratorian College de Juilly and
received a law degree from the University of Bordeaux.
• During his early career, he worked in the criminal
division of Bordeaux’s Parlement*-at this time, it was
mainly a judicial and administrative institution in
• After resigning his post in the Parlement, Montesquieu
was elected to the Academy Francaise* and traveled
• The Spirit of the Laws
• The laws of different countries should not all be
the same. They must be adapted to the
particular needs of that country and its people.
• To prevent corruption, Montesquieu believed
that an ideal government should be broken up
into 3 separate branches that had different
responsibilities: an executive branch (enforces
the laws), judicial branch (interprets the laws),
and a legislative branch (makes the laws). This
idea is called separation of powers.
Key Ideas Continued
• He also believed that the different branches
of government should be balanced (equal).
He also believed that the different branches
should have the ability to limit each other’s
power, so that no one branch would become
too powerful and threaten people’s liberty.
This idea is called checks and balances.
Separation of Powers & Checks and
Balances in the US Gov’t
Reading the Chart
• The circles contain the 3 branches of
government in the US: the executive,
legislative, and judicial.
• The arrows pointing away from a circle
indicate a power that that branch has over
another branch (whichever branch the arrow is
Indicates a power the legislative
branch has over the executive
• He was born in Geneva, Switzerland.
• His father was in charge of his early education.
• At the age of ten, Rousseau moved in with a
pastor’s wife and apprenticed to an engraver. (His
father had fled Geneva to avoid arrest on a
• He left Geneva at 16 and moved to France where
he spent a good portion of his later life.
• He was a musician and aspired to be a composer
and pursued writing as a secondary passion.
• Social Contract
• Believed people are born good, independent, and
• Believed that for a government to have real
authority, it must be based on an agreement, or
contract with society. This is called the social
contract. In the social contract, people give up some
natural freedoms in exchange for protection.
• He believed that the government should then follow
the general will -or the things that are in the best
interests of society as a whole.
• He believed that all men were equal, but that
women were inherently inferior to men.
• He was born in in Paris, France to a noble family with
extensive privileges during the time of Louis XIV.
• He had an elite education, attending College Louis-
• His father hoped that he would become a lawyer or
engage in a similar profession, however he chose to
pursue writing instead.
• In 1726, Voltaire left France, moving to in England
where he remained until 1729.
• He returned to France and continued to write,
establishing himself as an author and satirist. His
writings were very controversial.
• He was a major supporter of religious tolerance,
or the idea that people should be able to
worship whatever religion they choose.
• He was also a proponent (supporter) of freedom
of speech and freedom of the press.
• He believed that democracy was not a good form
of government because the common people
were not capable of governing themselves. The
best type of gov’t, according to Voltaire, was one
headed by a good, fair king.
Historical Context in England- Locke &
• From 1642 to 1651, a violent civil war raged in England over political
and religious issues. At the beginning of the Revolution, the king,
Charles I, was tried for treason and executed. Throughout the
course of the war, power changed hands many times. It was a period
of incredible uncertainty and political unrest.
• Tensions continued and in the 1680s, another crisis developed.
Protestants feared that King James II (Catholic) was going to try and
put Catholics in power. Violence erupted and James was forced to
flee. This period ended with the Glorious Revolution, a bloodless
revolution where Mary and William of Orange took the throne in
England. The powers of the monarchs was limited by a Bill of Rights.
• These events had a profound impact on Locke and Hobbes, shaping
their views of the nature of mankind and the best type of
Execution of Charles I
William and Mary of Orange
English Bill of Rights
• He was born in Wrington, England to parents with
• He attended Westminster school and Christ
• Locke considered becoming a minister, worked as
a doctor for an aristocratic family, and later
become a philosopher and political scientist.
• Locke’s father was involved in the English Civil War,
and he was aware of all of the chaos going on
• Locke spent some time in exile during the
turbulent years of the 1680s and witnessed the
• Two Treatises of Government
• He believed that man is not born good or evil; he
becomes one or the other as a result of his
experiences and environment.
• He believed that all men had three natural rights
(rights that every man had and could not be taken
away): life, liberty, and property.
• He denied the divine right of kings to rule. He
believed that the true basis of government was a
social contract, or agreement, among free people.
• He also believed that governments were established
to protect people’s natural rights. If the
government was not performing its duty, the people
had the right to rebel.
• He was born in Malmesbury, England. He was
the son of a clergyman.
• He studied at Oxford University.
• He worked as a tutor for a wealthy family.
• He traveled widely meeting many writers,
scientists, and philosophers.
• Hobbes lived through the chaos of the English
Civil War (He sided with the King who was
beheaded…) The chaos of this period had a
great impact on Hobbes.
• He believed that in the state of nature (before
there were governments) people were quick to
• He believed that without government, life would be
“solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
• He believed that governments were based on a
social contract whereby people gave up some rights
in exchange for protection. However, once people
agreed to give up power, they lost the right to
overthrow, replace, or even question the
• He believed that the best government was one
ruled by a single individual who had complete
authority over the people (aka absolute monarchy).
• She was born in London, England.
• She did not receive a formal education.
• She worked as a lady’s companion, a
governess, and a school teacher.
• She later worked as in the literary fields,
writing fiction, philosophical pieces, and
reviews. She also translated.
• She had two daughters, Fanny and Mary. (Fun
fact: her daughter Mary wrote Frankenstein!)
• Vindication of the Rights of Women
• She rejected the idea that women were
intellectually inferior to men.
• She believed that women had a right to
education and that educating women would
make them better mothers.
• She opposed the idea of governments being
run by monarchs.
• She supported the idea that people had
natural rights. (see: Locke)
• He was born in Kirkcaldy, Scotland and was raised by
his widowed mother.
• He attended the University of Glasgow (in Scotland)
and Balliol College in Oxford (England).
• He later became chair of moral philosophy at the
University of Glasgow.
• He left the University to tutor a young nobleman,
the Duke of Buccleuch. During this time, he travelled
widely, visiting nations such as Switzerland and
• After his time as tutor was finished, he returned to
Kirkcaldy and wrote his most famous work, The
Wealth of Nations.
• The Wealth of Nations
• Smith believed that the government should
have very limited involvement in the economy,
a concept that is referred to as laissez-faire
(French term, in this context it roughly
translates to: “let it be” or “leave it alone”)