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"The Importance of John Locke for the new United States" Topic


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Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP21 Jan 2023 9:06 a.m. PST

'The single most important influence that shaped the founding of the United States comes from JOHN LOCKE, a 17th century Englishman who redefined the nature of government. Although he agreed with Hobbes regarding the self-interested nature of humans, he was much more optimistic about their ability to use reason to avoid tyranny. In his SECOND TREATISE OF GOVERNMENT, Locke identified the basis of a legitimate government. According to Locke, a ruler gains authority through the consent of the governed. The duty of that government is to protect the natural rights of the people, which Locke believed to include LIFE, LIBERTY, AND PROPERTY. If the government should fail to protect these rights, its citizens would have the right to overthrow that government. This idea deeply influenced THOMAS JEFFERSON as he drafted the DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE.'

ushistory.org/gov/2.asp

Grattan54 Supporting Member of TMP21 Jan 2023 10:24 a.m. PST

I would agree, he had a deep impact on the Founding Fathers.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP21 Jan 2023 10:33 a.m. PST

I'd have put experience first. A lot of what the United States did was what the colonies had done. But no question Locke was the most influential theorist behind the Declaration and the Constitution.

Kevin C Supporting Member of TMP21 Jan 2023 11:07 a.m. PST

Montesquieu is cited more than any other political theorist in American political literature written between the years 1760 and 1805. That said, the Bible is cited more than any political theorists. In fact the Book of Deuteronomy alone is cited more than Montesquieu's Spirit of the Laws and nearly twice as often as Lock's writings. So I would say that the Bible had the most influence on the founding fathers, followed by Montesquieu, and then followed by either Locke or Blackstone. And by the way, before everyone has a nee-jerk reaction to this statistical fact, I am not a Bible-thumper -- I am a professor of history at a secular university who bases my conclusion on a study of the evidence before me.

rustymusket Supporting Member of TMP21 Jan 2023 11:26 a.m. PST

Interesting. The Bible was probably much more widely read than the other 3 cited works. That alone, but not necessarily only that, would make it very influential at that time, imho.

Cerdic21 Jan 2023 1:04 p.m. PST

The bible!? Really?

The bible was massively influential all over Europe at the time but none of those countries were a republic…

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP21 Jan 2023 1:05 p.m. PST

Neither the Declaration of Independence nor the US Constitution is based on the Bible.

Grattan54 Supporting Member of TMP21 Jan 2023 7:28 p.m. PST

Kevin,

Also a professor of history and I did not know that.
I found that interesting. Thanks.

Stryderg21 Jan 2023 8:10 p.m. PST

Certainly not 'based on', but definitely 'influenced by'.

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP21 Jan 2023 9:39 p.m. PST

It would literally be impossible for the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution not to be influenced by the Bible, as the Bible is essentially the single most significant piece of literature for all of Europe for around a millennia or more at the time. Its translation into English in the 16th-17th centuries and resulting widespread dissemination led to a rise in literacy throughout the English-speaking world. Everybody read it, everybody studied it, everybody knew it. It was preached on Sundays and printed on Mondays (and the rest of the week). It formed the culture, and the culture which produced the Declaration and the Constitution could not have existed without it.

Were these directly based on the Bible? No and yes. The values of the Bible formed the basis for the values of the nation at the time, and thus for the values of the delegates who were producing and debating these documents. (That does not mean they all agreed on what it taught on all fronts, but they all knew it, and had been shaped by it, and the thinking of laws and justice and mercy came from it.)

Direct quoting? No. Indirect influence via its role in the shaping of opinion and principles? Absolutely yes.

Whether one likes that reality or not isn't relevant. Whether certain delegates had differences of opinions on matters or religion, faith and interpretation actually supports the point— one does not have an opinion about things one subconsciously considers irrelevant. An influence is an influence, whichever way it results.

As for Locke, there is no question he had an influence on Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration (and, IIRC, said it was "pure Locke.") I'd think he had an influence on Madison as well, but don't know enough on that point to assert one way or the other.

Cerdic22 Jan 2023 3:13 a.m. PST

The main role of the bible in the 18th Century Christian world was to justify the concept of ‘divine right' of kingship. Something utterly rejected by the founders of the United States.

Enlightened Despotism and all that…

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP22 Jan 2023 3:40 a.m. PST

Certainly not 'based on', but definitely 'influenced by'.

And where is that idea either cited or espoused?

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP22 Jan 2023 3:44 a.m. PST

It would literally be impossible for the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution not to be influenced by the Bible…

Nothing is impossible, but there is no historic evidence that either the Declaration or Constitution were influenced by the Bible.

Tracing the development of law and political thought from ancient times to the present, the Bible is not a legal text. US law developed from Roman Law, Saxon law, the Danelaw and English Common Law.

There is a modern development in the US that wants the idea accepted that US law, the Declaration and the Constitution were 'influenced' by the Bible, but that is wishful thinking and not historically accurate.

Kevin C Supporting Member of TMP22 Jan 2023 6:54 a.m. PST

Brechtel198 and Cedric,

Where do our rights come from according to the Declaration of Independence?

doc mcb22 Jan 2023 7:11 a.m. PST

Kevin, yes, precisely; they come from God.

ALSO, folks, don't omit Mason's Virginia Declaration of Rights, which pre-dated the Declaration and drew heavily on Locke and others.

And Parzival is correct; the influence of the Bible was so pervasive it was almost taken for granted.

doc mcb22 Jan 2023 8:23 a.m. PST

Tracing the development of law and political thought from ancient times to the present, the Bible is not a legal text. US law developed from Roman Law, Saxon law, the Danelaw and English Common Law.

Sorry, this is just wrong. The Hebrew scriptures include "the Law and the Prophets." Three Mosaic books of law. And English common law is grounded in Biblical principles.

There's a reason why the ten Commandments are posted in the Supreme Court.

doc mcb22 Jan 2023 11:55 a.m. PST

If you will take a look at the thread I started on Locke and the State of Nature, you will see he quotes extensively from Hooker, the main theologian of the Church of England, especially Hooker's LAWS OF ECCESIASTICAL POLITY. Locke views it as a self-evident truth that man is created by God and placed upon the earth to use and subdue it. Which is the basis of our natural equality, which is turn the basis for our natural liberty. That is, Locke accepts as a given the Biblical understanding of Man's place within Creation.

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP22 Jan 2023 5:54 p.m. PST

The constant attempts to assert that the Founding Fathers were atheists or ignored the Bible comes across as rather desperate, if not absurd.
"Deism" has no bearing in this— the culture of America was steeped in Biblical concepts and philosophies, and religion was a driving and vibrant force in daily life. That individuals believed or interpreted different concepts to different degrees also isn't relevant, as the documents were not produced in a shielded, secular vacuum chamber. Indeed, the First Amendment protections of freedom of worship are directly influenced by the Bible (and, for the record, the separation of church and state is NOT a concept to keep religion out of government— it's a concept to keep government out of religion. The government control of religion was (and should be) a very frightening thing to contemplate.)
No, the Declaration and the Constitution do not quote the Bible. But nor should they be expected to, and nor should that be interpreted as the Bible having no influence.
Was the Bible used to further the concept of Divine Right? Yes. Governments *love* to use religion to bolster themselves. Nothing new there. But the Bible also makes it clear that kings are NOT good things (read Judges and 1 Samuel— the former referenced, by the way, in Thomas Paine's Common Sense), and that each man is responsible to God, both individually and as a part of society. And interestingly, it is the Bible which suggests that all men are equal in the eyes of God (see the Epistles of Saint Paul), and it was shortly after the Bible becoming widely available in English that the idea gained presence, and that the power of the king began to shift even more to Parliament and other representative legislative bodies. "Divine Right" died as the people began to read the Bible for themselves in a language they actually knew.

"Where, some say, is the King of America? I tell you, my friends, that He reigns above…"— Thomas Paine

(And yes I know that later Paine rejected the Bible in favor of the godless bloody lunacy of the French Revolution, which went the inevitable way one should expect, but by that point America was a nation with a Constitution already formed.)

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP23 Jan 2023 4:39 a.m. PST

Paine was an atheist…

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP23 Jan 2023 4:41 a.m. PST

Sorry, this is just wrong…

What, then, is the development of US as well as western law?

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP23 Jan 2023 5:00 a.m. PST

There's a reason why the ten Commandments are posted in the Supreme Court.

And that 'reason' would be?

See the following article:

'Ten Commandments: A Basis for American Law?'

link

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP23 Jan 2023 5:06 a.m. PST

Where do our rights come from according to the Declaration of Independence?

They come from 'The Laws of Nature' and 'Nature's God' as stated in the first paragraph of the Declaration.

doc mcb23 Jan 2023 6:44 a.m. PST

You really need to read ON CIVIL OVERNMENT and try to understand Locke, the way Mason and Jefferson (and so many others) did.

What ARE the Laws of Nature? Oh, and what are "self-evident truths?" Can you cite some? Can you define that term?

Parzival is correct.

Jefferson was a genius as well as a slave owner and a man of wealth. So very far from a "common man." Yet he says it is a SELF-EVIDENT truth that "all men are created equal." Equal how? And how could a brilliant man say something ("all men are created equal") which was and is so evidently WRONG? Was he an idiot?

The Declaration is a deep well, filled with life-giving water but deep and dark and easy to drown in. Locke's writing is what is needed to navigate it.

(Jefferson meant the same equality that Locke did: all humans are equal in possessing the image of God, and therefore divine attributes such as reason, NOT shared by animals; and also in sharing together an earth that they did not create but are entrusted with. to govern and use. Nature is NOT our Mother but our little sister, whose warding is our assigned task.)

doc mcb23 Jan 2023 8:36 a.m. PST

Kevin, I see why you like that Ten Commandments piece; it is very literal, but I fear it also manages to miss a lot of the point.

Have you ever studied the history of ideas? as a distinct field of historiography?

How about the dialectic? The synthesis is often neither thesis nor antithesis, but something new and different; yet it is still the product of the interaction of the first two.

It SORT OF works to say that the American revolution is the synthesis, where the thesis was the Great Awakening and its antithesis the Enlightenment. Only sort of, though, since figures like Franklin and Whitefield and Edwards were influenced by both. No watertight compartments.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP23 Jan 2023 8:59 a.m. PST

The bottom line is that the 10 Commandments are not the basis for western law and legal thought.

35thOVI Supporting Member of TMP23 Jan 2023 9:53 a.m. PST

Kevin I have to ask. Why is it important to prove or disprove if the commandments were part of, influenced them, or were not part of the writing of the documents. . Whether those who wrote them, were influenced by religion, not influenced, or partly influenced? Whether they were influenced by by the French and English writers, or not influenced, or partially influenced.

I believe based on what I was taught and what I have read, it was both.

(We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their "Creator". )

The fact they reference a creator, signifies to me, they acknowledge someone greater than themselves. Be that the God of the Christians and Jews, or the sacred rocks at the end of the driveway. That to me signifies some form of religion.

Stryderg23 Jan 2023 10:35 a.m. PST

You shall have no other God's before me – implies that civil government is not at the top of the food chain
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain – implies the need to have respect and self discipline/control
Thou shall honor thy father and mother – implies the need to respect authority (civil and religious)
Thou shall not murder – implies that people have intrinsic value
Thou shall not commit adultery – implies that family is important
Thou shall not steal – implies property rights
Thou shall not bear false witness – truth and honesty are important, like in contracts
Thou shall not covet – again with the self discipline and control

So maybe the Bible isn't the basis of western law and legal thought, but they sure rhyme.

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP23 Jan 2023 12:32 p.m. PST

Paine was an atheist…

At the time of the AWI he was not an atheist— he was (oddly) a Quaker. He became an atheist later, in part due to the influence of the "enlightened" leaders of the French Revolution— the ones responsible for the Reign of Terror.
But at the time of the writing of Common Sense, he was not yet an atheist— and neither were his audience. And if you actually read Common Sense, you will see that he was heavily influenced by the Bible, and saw it as a way to influence his readers as well. One does not have to believe a text is sacred to be influence by that text. One does not have to believe in Christianity to be influenced by it— and yes, positively influenced by it. (After all, the abolitionist movement rose from Christianity— and furthermore from American Protestant Christianity. The entire effort to abolish slavery comes itself entirely from the Bible— which is why slavery's proponents tried to pick-and-choose verses out of context to defend an untenable position. But that's a different discussion.)

In any case the influence of the Bible on Western culture and American civilization and law is indisputable. It is only those who desire to make the government nothing but the purview of secular humanism who flail against logic, literature and history to try and claim otherwise. It is utter nonsense to suggest that the ideas of personal liberty and human rights in America somehow rose immaculately from a vacuum of secular thought, or that somehow the political ideas of Ancient Greece and Republican Rome leapt millennia into the future and took hold without any other influencing aspect of culture— most notably the nearly pervasive presence of Christianity. The idea is laughable. It is also thoroughly wrong.

doc mcb23 Jan 2023 1:18 p.m. PST

Kevin no, the bottom line is you seem determined to see only what you want to see. And like others, I have to ask why?

dapeters23 Jan 2023 1:55 p.m. PST

Doc (respectfully) that might be said of you and most of your post.

Jefferson was another. The simple answer was yes they had no choice but to be influenced by the way they had been brought up. At the same time they were also very mistrustful of the European State churches, to the point the there would be no religious establishment. The important question is why they were about Churches having political power.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP23 Jan 2023 2:23 p.m. PST

Why is it important to prove or disprove if the commandments were part of, influenced them, or were not part of the writing of the documents. . Whether those who wrote them, were influenced by religion, not influenced, or partly influenced? Whether they were influenced by by the French and English writers, or not influenced, or partially influenced.

I consider it important because some authors insist on the Bible being a basis for the US government and that is historically incorrect. Religion has been the instigator of so much evil in the world and that is usually ignored.

And that is the reason that the French revolutionaries abolished it, which caused more problems.

Religion of any kind should not be a bone of contention in a country or a government. Religion should be private and attempting to foster religious views on others, which to me the Bible insistence is, is just plain wrong. Let people believe what they wish, and keep religion out of it.

doc mcb23 Jan 2023 2:50 p.m. PST

Well, Kevin, would you agree that atheism has been the cause of much evil in the world? From the Reign of Terror, through the Marxist totalitarian systems (primarily the Soviets and China, but let us not overlook the Khmer Rouge's French-inspired holocaust against their own population.) It is certainly true that millions have been killed in the name of some god, but it is equally clear that tens of millions have been killed in modern times in the name of no god except History or Humanity or Reason.

doc mcb23 Jan 2023 2:57 p.m. PST

I am, I believe, as committed to separation of church and state as you; an establishment is very bad for church and also for state. But you seem to want a non-religious SOCIETY. No, never, that is a dreadful idea, one whose fruit we are seeing increasingly today. Religion is not, cannot be, WILL not be a purely private matter. You will not drive us out of the public square. Learn some toleration.

doc mcb23 Jan 2023 4:44 p.m. PST

Of course its numbers have been challenged, as many academics are, in not pro-Communist, at least anti-anti-Communists, but THE BLACK BOOK OF COMMUNISM estimates that Communist regimes have killed between 85 and 100 million people. And of course that continues.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP26 Jan 2023 4:36 a.m. PST

The constant attempts to assert that the Founding Fathers were atheists or ignored the Bible comes across as rather desperate, if not absurd.

Constant attempts by whom? This looks like a strawman argument…

doc mcb26 Jan 2023 10:16 a.m. PST

By you, sir. You wrote several times that the Founders "ignored" (i.e. were not influenced by) the Bible. And were the first to insist on Paine's atheism. You are an Artful Dodger where contrary arguments are concerned. (grin)

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP31 Jan 2023 3:07 p.m. PST

And English common law is grounded in Biblical principles.

I've already explained where English Common Law was derived.

To which 'Biblical principles' do you allude?

The Commandments that forbade murder, stealing, and infidelity are not merely 'Biblical principles', but they were part of every law code before and after the appearance of the Bible.

Perhaps a timeline review of who developed what idea first would be helpful?

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP31 Jan 2023 3:08 p.m. PST

You wrote several times that the Founders "ignored" (i.e. were not influenced by) the Bible.

There is quite a difference between 'ignored' and 'not influenced by.' They are not equivalent terms.

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