Which Enlightenment thinkers and ideas are reflected in important U.S. documents like the Declaration of Independence. the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights?

1 Answer
Feb 13, 2017

The main influences were from John Locke Jean Jacque Rousseau and Baron Montesquieu


Thomas Jefferson paraphrased John Locke who said that people had a rights for life liberty and property in the declaration of independence where he said that people had a God given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Locke believed that the government received its power from the consent of the governed.
This philosophy had a profound affect on the formation of the American government, including the bill of rights.

Baron Montesquieu believed that " power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.". His philosophy greatly influenced the Constitution. The division of power in the constitution and checks and balances are a reflection of his philosophy. The ninth and tenth amendments ( largely ignored today) reserved power and functions undesignated to the federal government to the states and the people. This was to prevent to much power residing the federal government.

Rousseau believed in the fundament goodness of people and that the best government was the least government. That people left to themselves would do what is right. The articles of confederation took his ideas to the extreme and they didn't work. There is still a focus in our constitution and governmental philosophy to limit the power and scope of government. The conservative moment embodies this philosophy of limited government While the liberal moment embodies the ideal of the fundamental goodness of people.