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The Impacts of the Philosophes on the United States Constitution

Matt Koenig

In this paper, I seek to assess the contributions of Montesquieu, John Locke, and
Rousseau. I will also analyze the impact of their ideas on our everyday life. These men were
philosophes, or lovers of wisdom. They shared their ideas during the Enlightenment era, which
spanned from 1685 until 1815. It was a time of sharing new ideas on many subjects. These
included politics, economics, and more. John Locke, Montesquieu, Rousseau focused
particularly on politics, and developed ideas to form a successful government. I argue that
Montesquieu’s ideas had the largest impact on the United States Constitution, and still continue
to affect us today. I will do this by discussing the ideas and impact on the Constitution of
Montesquieu, Locke, and Rousseau.
First, I will discuss the ideas and impact on the Constitution of Montesquieu.
Montesquieu was a French philosophe who was born in 1689. He wrote The Spirit of Laws, in
which he wrote about governments of the past, examining the pros and cons. He also wrote
admiringly about Britain’s limited monarchy. According to, Montesquieu
wrote “The sublimity of administration consists in knowing the proper degree of power that
should be exerted on different occasions.” He suggested the separation of powers, for which he
is best remembered. This means that government should be separated into three different
powers; the Executive, the Judicial, and the Legislative branches. These branches would let one
person lead the country with limited power, handle matters of justice, and pass laws respectively.
This is the form of government that has shaped the United States, without which our country

would be very different. This allows for a single man to not have all the power, but distributes
the power evenly, allowing the United States to avoid corruption and tyranny.
Next, I will analyze the ideas and impact John Locke had on the Constitution. Locke was
an English philosophe who was born in 1632. He believed that all people had a set of
fundamental human rights. These rights could not be taken away in order for society to be at
peace. says John Locke stated “All mankind... being all equal and
independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions”. This
means every man and woman has a right to life, liberty, and property. This clearly had a distinct
impact on the United States’ Founding Fathers, as it was written directly in the Constitution.
Despite the fact that the U.S. has not always entirely abided by this, it still has largely impacted
the way we are able to live our lives today.
Finally, I will examine Rousseau’s ideas and impacts on the Constitution. Jean-Jacques
Rousseau was a French philosophe born in 1778. He wrote The Social Contract, which stated
that people must come together to form a government that will be most advantageous, in turn
giving up some of the freedoms they would have without it. Rousseau had an optimistic view on
society, which shaped his beliefs on politics. He believed that government involvement in dayto-day life should be minimal. According to, Rousseau believes that
“society is a pact among all of its members, government consists of members of that society, and
that the government serves the will of the people.” This is one of the main foundations of our
American government. We have the right to vote, and anyone who is qualified and has the
resources can run for office. The government is made up of everyday people, rather than the
higher classes that are involved in monarchies and other systems.

In conclusion, I acknowledge that each philosophe had important contributions to the
Constitution. However, I believe Montesquieu’s ideas were the most important. His idea of the
separation of powers has shaped our government, as well as other governments around the world.
This system allows the U.S. to avoid the corruption that can come when a single person is given
power over the nation. If we had been established as a monarchy, it is unlikely that the U.S.
would be as successful as it is today. This is because at some point, one of the leaders would
become corrupt. Though this is still a reality today, we are able to avoid it. This ability would
not be possible without Montesquieu’s idea of the separation of powers.