Enlightenment Influence On American Government

Submitted By dhranger76
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The Enlightenment
One of the strongest philosophical influences on the founding fathers and drafters of the Constitution was the Enlightenment of the 1700's. This philosophical movement sought to limit the power and influence of the royalty by replacing absolutism in Europe with governments based upon reason and the will of the people. The thoughts and reasoning of the writers of the European Enlightenment can be clearly seen in the foundation of American government by the Constitution.

The influence of the Enlightenment on the political development of the American colonies can best be assessed by the study of three authors and their literary/intellectual contributions to political thought, these are:
John Locke
Two Treatises on Government (1690)
John Locke is responsible for espousing three of the founding principles of what would become the American form of Democracy. Locke described the Social Contract, a notion that held that an unwritten contract or agreement existed between the people and their rulers, by which the people allowed the government to rule and in exchange the government protected the natural rights of the people. Furthermore if the government fails to protect these rights the people can replace that government with a new system. The American Revolution itself is the best possible expression of Locke’s social contract. It was reasoned by colonial thinkers such as Thomas Paine (in his influential work Common Sense) that King George III had failed to protect the rights of colonists and as such a revolution was justified.
The Natural Rights referenced by Locke in his Social Contract stem from his belief that Natural Rights are the rights all people are born with and that are to be protected; Locke expressed these as "life, liberty and property".
Locke’s idea of Natural Rights can be directly traced to the language used in the Declaration of Independence, which contains reference to inalienable rights such as "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness".

Consent of the governed: Locke reasoned that to be legitimate a government had to rule with the consent of the people to be governed. In American democracy the consent of the governed is expressed by voting for the politicians who wield power. This idea is also expressed by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence.

Courtesy of http://greece.mrdonn.org/athensdemocracy.html

Section 1: Philosophy
Various movements in intellectual thought have helped shape the destiny of America and individual Americans. From the colonial leaders shaped by the philosophy of the Enlightenment to the immigrant pushed by the teachings of Social Darwinism, philosophies and their impact on the thoughts and perceptions of the nation have helped define American cultural and intellectual life.

Ancient Greek and Roman Democracy
Many of the most important features of American Democracy are rooted in the philosophy, teachings and implementations of the ancient Greeks and Romans.
The very concept of a Democracy can be traced to the city-state of Athens in ancient Greece. The Athenians practiced a form of Direct Democracy, in which all eligible citizens (land-holding men) were allowed to vote on key issues and decisions and their votes counted directly. This concept of direct democracy is reflected in the early American colonies in the New England Town-meetings of Massachusetts and other colonies, in which the male membership of a town was assembled to decide upon important issues of governance. Under the original form of the US Constitution the election of Representatives to the House of Representatives was the only implementation of direct democracy, with both the President and the Senate elected by in-direct methods. (Note: The indirect election of the President is still conducted via the Electoral