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One Man, Massive Impact

Autumn Lala

HIS 1101: U.S. History 1

July 5th, 2015
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John Locke once wrote, “The improvement of understanding is for two ends: first, our

own increase of knowledge; secondly, to enable us to deliver that knowledge to others.”1 He

lived and died by this quote. Born in 1632, much of Locke’s early life was spent learning. At

fifteen, a family friend nominated him for Westminster School, to which he was accepted.2

Afterwards, Locke attended Christ Church of Oxford, studying logic, metaphysics, and the

classics of literature, as well as medicine.3 He surrounded himself with intelligence, absorbed it,

and spread his thoughts through writing. Locke’s major works include: Essay on Human

Understanding(1689), Two Treatises of Government(1690), Thoughts Concerning

Education(1693), a series of three entitled, Letters Concerning Toleration(1689-92), among

several others.4 His words became more than a chain of letters, strung pretty and sweet. In the

minds of the Americans, they became the crutch from which a rebellion rose: a rebellion against

the British. Indeed, because he passed away in 1704, Locke’s works outlived him. Not only that,

but they also travelled far and wide. Of the books and articles accumulated for this essay, it has

been noted that Locke influenced many-a-men, including but not limited to: Samuel Adams5,

James Otis6, John Winthrop7, Thomas Paine8, George Mason9, James Madison10, Benjamin

1
Locke, John. BrainyQuote.com, Xplore Inc, 2015.
http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/j/johnlocke151493.html, accessed July 2, 2015.
2
“John Locke.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, 2009, 3.
3
“John Locke.” History.com, 2.
4
“John Locke.” History.com, 2-3.
5
Kramnick, Isaac. “Lockean Liberalism and the American Revolution.” The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American
History, n.d., 5. Along with this source, Samuel Adams is referenced in: Powell, “John Locke: Natural Rights…,” 2
and Mack, John Locke, 135 and Swan, “The Impact of Locke’s…,” 2-3.
6
Reidy, David. "John Locke." Encyclopedia of American Civil Rights and Liberties. Edited by Otis H. Stephens and
John M. Schleb II. Vol. 2. Santa Barbara: Greenwood Publishing, 2006. 618-623. Along with this source, James
Otis is referenced in:Foner, Give Me Libertty!:..., 232.
7
Swan, Darin. “The Impact of Locke’s Writings on the Founding of American Government.” Academia, 2005, 9.
8
Powell, Jim. “John Locke: Natural Rights to Life, Liberty and Property.” Foundation for Economic Education,
1996, 12.
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Franklin11, John Adams12, Voltaire13, and most notably, Thomas Jefferson14. According to these

sources, not only did Locke’s works spur the start of the American Revolution in 1776, but they

changed the very essence of American political, economic, and social life for centuries to come.

Locke’s political influence can be traced back to the beginnings of American resistance

towards Great Britain, to the revolution itself, and even transcending time through the founding

documents to today. The major commonalities between the books and articles gathered for this

essay can be narrowed down to the inclusion of these three: natural rights, the state of nature, and

Locke’s impact on America. Natural rights, according to Locke, are a person’s right to life,

liberty and property. The one book and the six articles all at least touched upon natural rights.

The Foundation for Economic Education had an entire essay revolving around natural rights,

including how they inspired the American Revolution by influencing many of the men

previously listed. Mack’s book on Locke was the only one to dive deeper into natural rights by

dedicating the bulk of its chapters to its analysis. Natural rights’ closest friend, the state of

nature, is also included in all the sources. The state of nature is “the condition men find

themselves in in the absence of political authority”.15 While John Locke had two entire chapters

focusing on the state of nature, each article had their own special place for it. For example, “John

9
Mack, Eric. John Locke. Vol. 2. New York, NY: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2013. 166. Along
with this source, George Mason is referenced in: Powell, “John Locke: Natural Rights…,” 2.
10
Kramick, “Lockean Liberalism…,” 2. Along with this source, James Madison is referenced in: Powell, “John
Locke: Natural Rights…,” 2.
11
Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty!: An American History. Seagull Fourth ed. Vol. 1. New York, NY: W.W. Norton &
Company, 2014. 591. Along with this source, Benjamin Franklin is referenced in: Powell, “John Locke: Natural
Rights…,” 2.
12
Powell, “John Locke: Natural Rights…,” 2.
13
Powell, “John Locke:Natural Rights…,” 2.
14
Stephens, George M. “John Locke: His American and Carolinian Legacy.” John Locke Foundation, n.d., 6. Along
with this source, Thomas Jefferson is referenced in: “John Locke,” History.com, 2 and Foner, Give Me Liberty!:...,
156/190/197/277 and Kramnick, “Lockean Liberalism…,” 2 and Mack, John Locke, 132-135 and Powell, “John
Locke: Natural Rights…,” 2 and Reidy, “John Locke,” 618 and Stephens, “John Locke: His American…,” 1-2. This
long list illustrates how influential Locke was on Jefferson, and furthermore, upon America.
15
Reidy, “John Locke,” 619-620.
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Locke - A Philosophical Founder of America” had a section describing its inclusion in the

United States’ government system. Furthermore, the state of nature was remarked to be

“fundamental to our system of government”.16 Lastly, Locke’s immense influence upon America

was noted in all gathered materials. As it has been clearly stated before, Thomas Jefferson was

thoroughly inspired by Locke, which is glaringly obvious from this excerpt of the Declaration of

Independence, for which Jefferson is named the proud father of:

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.--That to secure these rights, Governments are

instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...

In this excerpt, inalienable rights are “almost verbatim”17 to Locke’s notion of natural

rights, the only exception being the pursuit of happiness rather than property. Furthermore, even

Locke’s concept of dissolution makes an appearance. Dissolution is a minor similarity between

the organized materials for this essay, but an important one nevertheless; it is the philosophy of

“government with the consent of the governed”18 and that when a people are without this

consent, they are justified in seeking dissolution of government or revolution from said

government. Locke’s concept is heeded by the colonists of North America when they experience

taxation without representation and is such credited as one of the main inspirations for the

American Revolution. This is evident in its incorporation above. Therefore, in consensus, all

authors agree how much of an impact Locke had on the Declaration of Independence, and not to

mention the Constitution, in which the Bill of Rights is often referred to as the “Lockean Bill of

16
Stephens, “John Locke: His American…,” 2.
17
“John Locke,” History.com, 2.
18
Swan, “The Impact of Locke’s…,” 2.
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Rights”19. One article perfectly describes the language Jefferson used as “pure Locke”20 due to

how much he drew from the English philosopher’s writings. However, while all pieces included

natural rights, the state of nature, and Locke’s impact on America, not all incorporated his

influence on taxes. Of all seven sources, only two explicitly mentioned how Locke’s concept of

governmental consent was directly related to the struggle between the colonists and Great Britain

over taxation without representation, and furthermore, the colonists’ reaction and next course of

action with the revolution. This Lockean political philosophy in particular, along with another

from before, is a shared form of impact.

The two topics that cross over from the political impact to economic influence are: one

specific portion of the concept of natural rights and taxes. As stated several paragraphs before,

natural rights are commonly known as a person’s right to life, liberty and property. The term

property is the one that will be examined. Because Locke defined a person’s property rights over

a broad spectrum, from their own body to their estate, this portion of the paper will focus on the

economic opportunity that comes with acquiring land in regards to property rights. In short,

because agriculture and industry required space, owning land meant having money. As shown by

the fact that five of the seven sources included it, Locke actively stressed the importance of

property rights. Mack dedicated an entire chapter and a half in John Locke towards it and the

consent concerning them. However, the John Locke Foundation dove deepest into the subject by

examining how the United States courts have since interpreted property rights, which sets it apart

from every other source. The reason why property rights are so important in this economic

context is because land is taxed. Not only was land taxed, but so were businesses and churches,

19
Stephens, “John Locke: His American…,” 3. Along with this source, the term “Lockean Bill of Rights” is also
used in: Kramnick, “Lockean Liberalism…” 4 and Mack, John Locke, 136.
20
Kramnick, “Lockean Liberalism…,” 3.
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which could become quite costly. In fact, the colonists were so enraged with the British because

they were so expensive that they began to struggle, which gave Locke’s writings the perfect

platform to inspire. Not only did the idea of taxation without representation spur the revolution,

since it is one of the reasons for disbanding from Great Britain as seen from this line in the

Declaration of Independence, “...For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent…” but it also

made its way into the Constitution. The Senate and the House of Representatives were created so

that the American people were represented, unlike how they were not in Parliament. However,

proper representation was not the only change to the tax system of America. In addition to this

system of consent, Jefferson also rallied for the inclusion of Locke’s concept of separation

between church and state, which is branched off of taxes due to churches being taxed by the

government. Out of the three pieces of gathered writing that touched on the topic, the only one to

fully expand on it stated that Locke, “...maintained that it was blasphemously presumptuous for

the state to interfere with religious belief or practice, since each man was responsible for his own

salvation, and salvation could never be won apart from a voluntarily given inward faith.” 21

Along with the other Lockean philosophies, Jefferson kept this idea in mind during the writing

process of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. As seen throughout, a specific

religion is not specified, and the word “Creator” is use instead.22 However, there was one

economic concern that the book and all six articles failed to approach.

Interestingly enough, none of the authors of the accumulated sources thought as far as to

truly outline the possible outcomes after property rights have been violated from taxation without

representation, ie. Locke’s urging of either revolution or dissolution of government. Part of the

21
Reidy, “John Locke,” 623..
22
"The Declaration of Independence." National Archives and Records Administration. July 4, 1776. Accessed July
3, 2015.
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reason loyalists pre-American Revolution wished to stay with the British was because of

financial support. However, due to the disagreement and stalemate over taxation without

representation, conflict was inevitable and the revolution began. What makes this interesting is

that not a single author criticized Locke on the possible economic consequences following the

uprising he was encouraging. This could be because today the authors know that America did not

crash and burn after the separation and war with Great Britain, but it should be noted that the

colonists acting on their current economic instability could have led to further economic

instability and that, furthermore, Locke’s thoughts and suggested practices could be faulty.

Theory and reality are two drastically different circumstances.

There happens to be a link between Locke’s economic and social impact: separation of

church and state. Locke’s stance on the concept separation of church and state was not only

driven by the infringement taxes made upon a person's rights; it was also about religious

toleration. His entire opinion on the matter was not always the same, as four out of the seven

sources stated. Two articles had sections summarizing his religious writings, while one failed to

include it at all. However, of the four that did, two stood out. Again, Mack dedicated an entire

chapter to the subject, drawing from several of Locke’s works, including A Letter Concerning

Toleration(1689) and the two that follow. He explored the reasons behind Locke’s progressive

beliefs on the subject, not to be misconstrued as Locke changing his personal faith. Nevertheless,

some interpreted Locke’s new open take on religion as reflective to his own views. After

perishing, he received backlash for their radical nature, but the Founding Fathers came to his

defense, Thomas Jefferson in particular.23 The author of the other stand-out source brought in an

excerpt of Jefferson’s own summary on Locke’s religious views to prove his point. But whether

23
Barton, “John Locke - A Philosophical…,” 4-5.
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or not Locke practiced in any of the ways his religiously tolerant writings accepted, their

influence, as previously stated, made its way into the founding documents. No religious figures

were directly referenced in the Declaration of Independence, as Jefferson opted to use the term

“Creator” instead.24 The ideas of separation of church and state and religious toleration were

implemented in the Constitution through the topic of religion being purposely left out.25 The

reason its exclusion equals implementation is because people are not being religiously dictated as

they had been under the rule of Great Britain. In fact, the one mention of religion was to state

that a person’s faith would not be a requirement for a person to attain United States citizenship or

a governmental position. As Isaac Kramnick eloquently put it in his article, “Religion was a vital

matter, but it was a matter of individual conscience, outside the state’s concern and competence.”

This matter is still very much true today.

In fact, Locke’s immense influence over key figures of the revolution and founders of

America has outlived even them. Today United States citizens enjoy natural rights, taxation with

representation, and religious freedom, which not only fit into each corner of the social triangle26,

but also represent three important Lockean ideas. They are instrumental in the runnings of

modern society and the evidence of that has been traced through each book and article compiled

for this essay. The beginning of this paper claims that Locke lived and died by his quote: “The

improvement of understanding is for two ends: first, our own increase of knowledge; secondly,

to enable us to deliver that knowledge to others.”27 He dedicated many years of his life to

education, learning and teaching it, before spreading his wisdom with words. Long after his

24
“The Declaration of Independence,” National Archives and Records Administration, 1.
25
"The Constitution of the United States." National Archives and Records Administration. July 4, 1776.
Accessed July 3, 2015.
26
A triangle in which each of the three corners represents a different facet of society: politics, economics, and
culture (which includes the religious aspect focused on in this paper).
27
Locke, Brainyquote.com, 1.
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passing, his knowledge and his philosophies inspired the Founding Fathers, weaved their way

into the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and have shaped life as every American

knows it. No one has better heeded their own advice.
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Bibliography

Barton, David. “John Locke - A Philosophical Founder of America.” WallBuilders, 2011, 7.

Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty!: An American History. Seagull Fourth ed. Vol. 1. New York, NY:

W.W. Norton & Company, 2014. 591.

“John Locke.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, 2009, 3.

Kramnick, Isaac. “Lockean Liberalism and the American Revolution.” The Gilder Lehrman

Institute of American History, n.d., 5.

Locke, John. BrainyQuote.com, Xplore Inc, 2015.

http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/j/johnlocke151493.html, accessed July 2,

2015.

Mack, Eric. John Locke. Vol. 2. New York, NY: Continuum International Publishing Group,

2013. 166.

Powell, Jim. “John Locke: Natural Rights to Life, Liberty and Property.” Foundation for

Economic Education, 1996, 12.

Reidy, David. "John Locke." Encyclopedia of American Civil Rights and Liberties. Edited by

Otis H. Stephens and John M. Schleb II. Vol. 2. Santa Barbara: Greenwood Publishing,

2006. 618-623.

Stephens, George M. “John Locke: His American and Carolinian Legacy.” John Locke

Foundation, n.d., 6.

Swan, Darin. “The Impact of Locke’s Writings on the Founding of American Government.”

Academia, 2005, 9.
10

"The Constitution of the United States." National Archives and Records Administration. July 4,

1776. Accessed July 3, 2015.

"The Declaration of Independence." National Archives and Records Administration. July 4, 1776.

Accessed July 3, 2015.