In the beginning, independence rose to the forefront of philosophical inquiries into the “Natural Rights” of man. The theories of ‘Natural Rights’ came into fruition before Thomas Jefferson authored the ‘Declaration of Independence’. God’s creation of man is viewed by some as the starting point of man’s ‘Natural Rights‘. Not one of us can claim to know the point of origin of ‘Natural Rights’, without a firsthand account of man’s disposition after his creation? Moral philosophy of man can be attributed to the influence of the church and religious doctrines. Man’s rights can be altered by a changing in beliefs. The ‘Nature of Man’ or of man’s ‘Natural Rights’ cannot change through human volition, or intervention. It is independent of these two, and thus out of mans control.
In 1690, nearly a century before the institution of Individual Liberty was embraced by the political leaders in America, John Locke: a philosopher during the English Revolution authored an ex post facto justification of the English Revolution of 1688 (1). Locke’s work (The Treatises of Civil Government) held a striking resemblance to Jefferson’s Declaration. The essence of both pieces stemmed from Locke’s theory of “Natural Rights as applied by Government”. John Locke claimed that “our rights are eternal, unchanging personal possessions which are superior to any government and beyond the legislative reach of ordinary politics”
Locke’s influence over the ideology of Thomas Jefferson on the “Inborn Rights of Man” was brought to light in Jefferson’s: A Summary View of the Rights of British America (Written in 1774 as he served in the Virginia house of Burgess). Jefferson was angry over the Stamp, Declaratory, and Intolerable Acts imposed on the colonies by King George III. As an advocate for the Rights of Americans during the British oppression, Jefferson compared the discovery and settlement of America to that of England in his Pamphlet (SVRBA). Science, religion, philosophy, and the political authoritative rule of Kings, influenced the precise construction of a ‘Declaration of Independence’. This declared that the colonies of the United States were free, and independent of England’s authority. National Independence was declared on July fourth, (1776), after the revisal of Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence, and its approval by Congress just two days prior to its public release.
Thomas Jefferson was an advocate of the French Enlightenment, and an innovator of the expansion of political ideas on the formation of an American Government. His ideas on the Natural Rights of man, and the predisposition of “Human Understanding” can be traced back to John Locke(1632-1704): an English Philosopher, and Political Theorist during the Glorious Revolution(1688-9). In (1690), Locke authored an “Essay Concerning Human Understanding“(3). In this ‘Essay’ Locke argues that our knowledge does not extend from our predisposition to innate ideas at birth. Locke claims that our sensory perception of the “connection and agreement” of “simple or complex ideas” is how knowledge (Ideas) is assembled. Locke disproves, French Philosopher Rene Descartes’ claim that knowledge of self: cogito ergo sum [I think, therefore I am], of the existence of God, and of some commonsense suggestions like “from Nothing comes nothing” is acquired through the introspection of inborn ideas.
In contradiction to Thomas Hobbes view on the ‘state of nature‘: as only “a mixture of selfishness, violence and fear, topped with a healthy dollop of deceit” (4). Locke says that the “original state of nature was happy and characterized by reason and tolerance, and in this state, all people are of equal and independent stance, and no person has a right, to harm another’s life, health, liberty, or possessions” (5). Hobbes’s degradation and incessant doubting of mankind’s natural disposition towards selfless action, is exemplified in the title page of his Seminal Treatise: ‘Leviathan‘. “…In the first place, I put forth a general inclination of all mankind, having a perpetual and restless desire of Power after power, that Ceases only in Death”. As Hobbes’ attempts to “Construct order out of anarchy” he says that the “primary motion of the human machine, is towards power” (2).
The revolutionary ideas of John Locke, influenced the forethought of Thomas
Jefferson on behalf of Man, and Governments Rights, and the application of his hand in
Authoring: ‘The Declaration of Independence’. In this Declaration, the founders of American Government, defined their philosophy for governmental rule within the thirteen royal colonies, after announcing their separation from England. Their Philosophy: “Individual liberty, defined by rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, secured by a government instituted for that purpose, Its power grounded in the consent of the governed”.
On June 11, (1776) , Jefferson sat in his room on the second story of the three story brick home of Mr. Graff. Through the window at its front, Jefferson could see the uneasy footsteps of his fellow explorers as they made their way to and from the service of the King. Jefferson watched, as his ill informed friends questioned the authority of their stride. Resentments of the unjust rule of King George the III were carved in their expressionless faces. Their hands were tough and scarred from cultivation of new lands, and their pockets had been emptied into the chambers of the King. Shadows of forgotten dreams loomed above their unbecoming position; as slaves to the unjust and ill bequeathed rule of a tyrant. As time pressed forward, Jefferson rose from his seat, and began pacing the entirety of the floor. He perused through his acquired knowledge on the inalienable rights and freedom of men. After deducting from his thoughts the illegitimate ideas that contradicted the revolutionary right of forming a new government, Jefferson lifted a quill from his desk, and dipped it in ink. He set the point of his quill onto the blank sheet of paper resting on his desk and began traveling through his written expression of the American peoples ‘Natural Right’ (Locke) to absolve their political ties to Great Britain, due to their discovery and habitation of a New world (6).
“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation”. The knowledge of the Political, and Social Philosophies concerning the inherent rights of man were grounded within Jefferson. His drafting of the Declaration required no knowledge, outside of that, which he already possessed from his incessant studies of the scientific rationalization of the Enlightenment. Newton, bacon, and Locke were the authoritative philosophers of Jefferson’s ideas, followed by the Continental
representatives of the Enlightenment: Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Diderot. The ‘English
Constitution’ of King George the III was disregarded, because of its corruption by the Feudal Normans under his rule. Its views were controversial to those embodied by the enlightened ideas of the growth and preservation of a free people. Although the present state of the ‘English Constitution’ was unsuitable for the formation of American Independence, the ‘Saxon foundation of English rights, and liberties’ held views similar to those of American civil liberties. Jefferson wanted Americans to be free from the usurpations of foreign authority, military rule, and social predisposition. His want for a foreign alliance with Britain, ended with his Summary View of The Rights of British America. He now rode the wave of individual liberty into the formation of a government, run by, and for, the protection and assertion of its people’s “Inalienable Rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” (7).
- 1) Latham, Earl. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Boston: Heath, 1956. Print.
- 2) Jefferson, Thomas. “Title: A Summary View of the Rights of British America: Set Forth in Some Resolutions Intended for the Inspection of the Present Delegates of the People of Virginia, Now in Convention / by a Native, and Member of the House of Burgesses.” A Summary View of the Rights of British America: Set Forth in Some Resolutions Intended for the Inspection of the Present Delegates of the People of Virginia, Now in Convention … Clementina Rind, Williamsburg, n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2012. .
- 3) Locke, John. “ILTweb – Publications.” ILTweb – Publications. ILT Publications, n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2012. .
- 4) Hobbes, Thomas. “Hobbes’s Moral and Political Philosophy.” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2012. .
- 5) “John Locke: Of the State of Nature.” John Locke: Of the State of Nature. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2012. .
- 6) Hobbes, Thomas. “1660 THE LEVIATHAN.” The Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes. Oregon State University, n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2012. .
- 7) Jefferson, Thomas. “Declaration of Independence – Text Transcript.” Declaration of Independence – Text Transcript. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2012. .