Enlightenment and Constitution

Published: 2021-07-01 08:09:25
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Category: Justice, Enlightenment

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Enlightenment and the Constitution The United States is a nation established in 1776 on a set of principles: liberty, equality, and self-government. These ideals derived in part from broad lessons of history, from the colonist, and treatises such as those of Locke and Rousseau. Liberty is a principle that individuals should be free to act and think as they choose, as long as their actions don’t infringe on the rights and freedoms of others. Equality is a notion that all individuals are equal and entitled to equal treatment under the law.
Self-government is the principle that the people are the ultimate source and proper beneficiary of governing authority. These principles were the foundation for the United States set forth and written by our founding fathers, but taken from rulers and minds of Europeans during the Enlightenment period. The Enlightenment was an eighteenth- century intellectual movement whose proponents believed that human beings could apply a critical, reasoning spirit to every problem (Hunt, Lynn, Martin & Rosenwein, page 545).
During this period the rulers, writers, and thinkers gave the back bone to the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Although before we get to this period and how it shaped the United States we will have to go back a little further to 1651. In 1651 an English philosopher Thomas Hobbes had his work Leviathan published. Hobbes argued that government rests on a social contract in which the people give up certain freedoms they would have in a state of nature in return for the protection that a sovereign ruler can provide.



Almost a half of a century later, an English philosopher, John Locke, used Hobbes concept of social contract in his Second Treatise on Civil Government. Locke claimed that all individuals have certain inalienable rights, including those of life, liberty, and property. When people form a government for securing their safety, they retain these individual rights. However Locke saw the social contract a bit differently.
The agreement to submit to governing authority is based on the premise that government will protect these rights, if the government fails to the people can overthrow the government and form a new one( Patterson,page 14-15, 30). Thomas Jefferson declared that Locke “was one of the three greatest men that ever lived. ” Jefferson paraphrased Locke’s ideas in passages of the Declaration of Independence. Including those that, “all men are created equal,” that government derive “their just powers from the consent of the government,” and that “it is the right of the people to alter or abolish a tyrannical government. The Declaration was a call of revolution rather than a framework for government. However the ideas contained in the document: liverty, equality, individual rights, self-government became the basis for the Constitution of the United States (Patterson, page 30). In Voltaire’s, Treatise on Toleration and Jean Jacques Rousseau, Social Contract we find more Enlightenment thinkers ideas framed in the Constitution. The ideas the Constitution receives from these works are the basis for Amendment I, freedom of religion.
Voltaire states in A Treatise on Tolertion,” Religion was instituted to make us happy in this life and in the other. ” “Christians should tolerate each other. ” “I, however, am going further: I say that we should regard all men as brothers, are we not all children of the same father and creatures of the same God? ” Voltaire is setting the basis for freedom of religion, saying that the people must show Universal Tolerance for all. Rousseau takes it even further in The Social Contract.
He states, “it is of importance to the State that each citizen should have a religion requiring his devotion to duty, however the dogmas of that religion are of no interest to the State. ” Rousseau sets forth the idea that the government shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, as stated by the First Amendment of the Constitution. Finally Cesare Beccarria and Empress Catherine the Great both have an idea that resides in the Constitution. That idea is that all men are innocent until proven guilty.
In Beccarria’s Crime and Punishment he states, “No man can be judged a criminal until he be found guilty: nor can society take from him the public protection until it have been proven that he has violated the conditions on which it was granted. Empress Catherine states in her Proposal for a New Legal Code in Russia, “No man ought to be looked upon as guilty, before he has received his judicial sentence; nor can the Laws deprive him of their protection when it is yet dubious, whether he is Innocent or Guilty?. The United States is a nation established in 1776 on a set of principles: liberty, equality, and self-government. These ideals derived in part from broad lessons of history, from the colonist, and treatises from the Enlightenment Period. Men and women from Voltaire, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Cesare Beccarria, and Empress Catherine the Great have given ideas that our founding fathers saw and deemed worthy to be put in the United States Constitution. Thomas Jefferson himself based many ideas in the Declaration of Independence from concepts written by John Locke that became the basis for the Constitution of the United States.
Where would the United States be without these enlightened minds from Europe? Works Cited Beccarria, Cesare, Crime and Punishment Catherine the Great, Proposal for a New Legal Code in Russia Hunt, Lynn, Thomas R. Martin and Barbara H. Rosenwein; The Making of the West Bedford/St. Matin’s, Boston, New York, 2009 Locke, John, Second Treatise Patterson, Thomas E. , The American Democracy, Mc Graw Hill, New York, NY, 2009 Rousseau, Jean Jacques, Social Contract Voltaire, Treatise on Toleration Europe?

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