The Enlightenment and The Spread of Democracy
Most people in the United States believe and support what the Founding Fathers did for this country, but they are not all sure where the ideals of these fathers came from. Towards the end of the European Renaissance people’s ideas and perspectives started to change and a new era of scientific revolution started to emerge. This exciting new age of reason and endless possibilities was known as The Enlightenment. Ideas of The Enlightenment inspired educated people throughout Europe and beyond. People were not only starting to believe that the world’s problems could be solved by the educated, but also took it upon themselves to make a difference and come up with ideas of their own.
These people who were trying to improve society were generally known as Enlightenment thinkers and these Enlightenment thinker’s ideas even spread as far as North America by the mid 1700’s. They started to inspire some ofGreat Britain’s colonists to seek independence. The Enlightenment thinkers sparked a revolution for the United States and not only helped this impending government become more egalitarian, but helped to show other countries how a true democratic country is efficiently run. Before the colonies could declare independence against Britain, they first had to encounter a series of events that would later be known as the American Revolution. Due to the expenses of the French and Indian War, Britain decided to tax the colonists on goods in order to defray their expenses. This new tax was known as the Stamp Act and would be the start of an ongoing retaliation between the colonies and Britain.
During this ongoing struggle for independence Thomas Paine published a pamphlet Common Sense that argued that the colonies no longer needed British rule and during the meeting of the Second Continental Congress a committee agreed to write a document that would do just so. In order for the members of this committee such as, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin to write this document they needed ideas on how a proper government should run. These American enlightenment thinkers reverted back to the ideas they heard from Europe and would incorporate them into documents such as, The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution. (Refer to Annex 1 for a painting of The Second Continental Congress finalizing The Declaration by John Trumbull) John Locke, an english philosopher, had beliefs and ideals that that would later be used to form a government unlike any other. Locke’s theory that the British government was depriving the colonists of liberty and equality would be used as justification for independence by Thomas Jefferson. Locke claimed, “All men are created equal” which is very similar to what Jefferson stated in the declaration that, “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights” such as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
” Is this similarity just a mere coincidence or was Locke’s philosophy used in this document? Well, Jefferson incorporated Locke’s ideas about government and how they should protects peoples rights. Locke believed the people should have the power in not just who there leader should be, but in every aspect of government. Doesn’t this sound familiar? Well it should because every four years the american people get to vote for there president due to this and could even impeach the president if they chose to because of Jefferson’s use of Locke’s believes. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a French philosopher, would also have ideas that would later on be used to help the formation of the U.S government.
Rousseau’s theory known as The Social Contract, would attempt to depict the form of government that best complies with the freedom of all its citizens. Rousseau believed that all men were basically born good, but that society corrupted people. In The Social Contract, he wrote, “Man is born free, but everywhere is in chains.” During the American Revolution American colonists believed that they were being subject to a government without their consent, therefore when they formed their new government they used a social contract. They required at least nine out of the thirteen colonies to ratify The Constitution before it was approved and Rousseau’s ideas throughout The Social Contract would also be used by Jefferson in the context of The Declaration of Independence.
The Declaration states, We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are createdequal, 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, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Throughout this section of The Declaration of Independence, Jefferson incorporates Rousseau’s beliefs in particular when he states, “all men are created equal” due to Rousseau’s theory that all men are basically born good. Baron de Montesquieu believed that a government that was elected by the people was the best form of government. He did, however, believe that the success of a democracy depended upon maintaining the right balance of power.
He argued that in order to keep a government in order, it had to be balanced amongst three groups of officials. In 1748, Montesquieu published The Spirit of the Laws. In this book he wrote about how wonderful Great Britain’s government was because its powers were divided into three branches. These three branches are now known as the legislative branch, the executive branch, and the judicial branch. The legislative branch which made the laws, the executive branch which consisted of the king and his advisors who carried out the laws, and the judicial branch was the court that interpreted the laws.
Montesquieu called the idea of dividing government power into three branches the “separation of powers.” He thought it was most important to create separate branches of government with equal but different powers. That way, the government would avoid placing too much power with one single group of individuals. He wrote, “When the law making and law enforcement powers are united in the same person there can be no liberty.” According to Montesquieu, each branch of government could limit the power of the other two branches, therefore no branch of government could threaten the freedom of people.
These same branches are used by the United State’s government to form and carry out laws and are they are all directly incorporated into The Constitution. The first article of the Constitution says “All legislative powers…shall be vested in a Congress.
“The second article vests “the executive power…in a President.”The third article places the “judicial power of the United States in one Supreme Court” and “in such inferior Courts as the Congress.
..may establish.” Jefferson justified the call for independence using the ideas of John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Baron de Montesquieu and this shows that these Enlightenment thinkers and their various theories are significant and helped shape multiple societies. (Refer to Annex 2 for pictures of John Locke, Jean-Jacque Rousseau, and Baron de Montesquieu) Throughout the course of history no American document, to this day, has had a greater global impact than the Declaration of Independence.
The Declaration was addressed as much to “mankind” as it was to the population of the colonies. In the opening paragraph, the authors of the Declaration and the Second Continental Congress addressed “the opinions of Mankind” as they announced something that would directly impact the people of Vietnam. The declaration inspired Vietnamese nationalists to fight against the Japanese invaders as well as the French colonial authorities and with the support ofstudents, workers, peasants, and many different types of people these rebels expanded throughout northern Vietnam where they established new local governments. On September 2, 1945, Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the independent Democratic Republic of Vietnam in Hanoi’s Ba Dinh square and the first lines of his speech was a quote from The Declaration . The Declaration states, “All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” The Declaration was used by that country to help establish a new form of government and showed the Vietnamese people there how free they could truly be.
There must of been a country were the first to start practicing the ideas and beliefs of the enlightenment thinkers in order for other countries today to do the same. England was one of the first countries who showed signs of straying away from an absolute monarch and geared more towards a monarch ruled by law. As James the second, king of England, fled to France; his daughter Mary the second and her husband William the third became joint rulers of England. Before taking the throne Mary and William signed a document that prevented the monarch from levying taxes without the consent of parliament alongside other provisionals and this transfer of power became known as the Glorious Revolution. At this time, England was in search of a balance between government by the people’s representatives and the monarchy. England was opposed to having an absolute monarch who would simply rule by divine right, but rather wanted a monarchy ruled by law.
That is why the English Bill of Rights was created in order to illustrate the limits placed on the monarchy by parliament. The English Bill of Rights states, “The elections of member of parliament ought to be free.Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” Which is one of many amendments that is very similar to the United States Bill of Rights. The United States Bill of Right’s eighth amendment states, “That excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” The United States looked at these past forms of governments which were run based upon the philosophies of the enlightenment thinkers in order to mimic these proper beliefs in our society today.