Forming the United States’ Government

Gabriella Karanikos

The word enlightenment means “the action of enlightening or the state of being

enlightened.” This in fact, is exactly what the enlightenment period was. Starting in 1700s, many

things began taking place. Philosophes, intellects of the 18th century, were expressing their ideas

about humanity. These ideas that were expressed spread outside of France and even Europe.

These ideas spread all over the world, including the thirteen colonies which would then become

the United States of America. In the thirteen colonies, relationships between Britain and the

colonies became strained. This called for something to change, and thus the Declaration of

Independence and the constitution were created. These two documents were formed with heavy

influence from ideas that originated in Europe during the Enlightenment time period. The

Declaration of Independence clearly reflects John Locke’s ideas and the Constitution absorbed

ideas from Locke, Montesquieu, and Rousseau.

The Declaration of Independence was created with ideas of John Locke. The document

was principally written by Thomas Jefferson. The Declaration was created to express to Britain

that the thirteen colonies would be separating and becoming their own nation. The creation of the

Declaration was driven by the strained relations that came between Britain and the colonies. In

1775, the strained relationship exploded into a war, which was led by George Washington. On

July 4th, 1776 the thirteen colonies declared their independence from Britain. According to World

History: Making Connections to Today, “Americans pledge to protect the U.S., “our lives, our

fortunes, and our sacred honor.” This is showing how the Americans wanted to protect and grow

the United States to something great. When the Declaration was being written by Jefferson, ideas

were used by John Locke. Locke had ideas that men were naturally free and equal. The
Declaration of Independence is a document that is allowing the thirteen colonies freedom, which

originates from Locke’s ideas. Without the Declaration, life today could be very different than

what it is now. There may not have been a United States of America due to continuing to be

under British rule. Expansion of the thirteen could have been limited and culture that has been

created in the United States may have ceased to exist. Overall, the Declaration of Independence

was created based on ideas of John Locke, and without it life would be vastly different.

Similar to the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution was also created with

influence from Enlightenment philosophes. In addition to Locke two other philosophers had an

influence on the Constitution. These two philosophers were Baron de La Brede de Montesquieu

and Voltaire. Montesquieu who was a French political philosopher who wrote the Spirt of Laws,

which explains the different ways the government should be split up. Voltaire also had ideas that

were absorbed by the Constitution. According to plato.stanford.edu, “Locke argued that people

have rights, such as the right to life, liberty, and property.” In the Constitution, the author James

Madison, wrote that “people have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This

was directly related to Locke’s ideas of how humans should be allowed to live. Montesquieu

believed and stated that two types of governments existed, the sovereign and the administrative.

He also believed that administrative powers should be divided between a judicial, legislative, and

executive branches. Madison, once again reflecting philosophes ideas, wrote in the Constitution

that there will be a federal republic and the power from that would be divided into the judicial,

legislative, and executive branches. Voltaire’s ideas were regarding religious views. He believed

that humans should have the ability to choose which religion that they believed in. This allowed

to peace, as people were not butting heads as to which religion should be followed. In the

constitution, it was written the all people would have the freedom of religion. Without the ideas
of these Enlightenment period philosophes, the constitution would’ve been different, resulting in

a different United States of America. People would not be able to express themselves, or they

would be forced into a religion they did not believe in. The United States may have been a

dictatorship or a monarchy if all the power was given to one area of government. Overall, the

United States would be incredibly different without the ideas of John Locke, Montesquieu and

Voltaire.

To conclude, two of America’s most important documents were created based on the

ideas of philosophes from Europe. These philosophes were some of the most advanced thinkers,

and were well-known for their opinions and their ideas about humanity. John Locke was

influential on both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Montesquieu and

Voltaire also had influence on the creation of the Constitution. Without the two documents or

even without the philosophes, life would be vastly different. Locke, Montesquieu, and Voltaire

were also influential in Europe, their ideas spreading all over Europe and then eventually all over

the world. This may have caused life in other parts of the world to be different as well, because

other countries could be based on their ideas as well. Overall, these ideas which inspired the

Declaration and the Constitution made America and the world the way it is today.