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Enlightenment Philosophers Influencing the American Documents

During the 1600- 1700??™s enlightenment philosophers all had different ideas on government and the way of living. All these ideas greatly impacted the colonists, encouraging the American Revolution and helping form its government. These political, economic, and social changes from the Enlightenment also influenced the American documents; the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Five great philosophers greatly impacted the Revolution and the documents and although many think that Montesquieu influenced more ideas then Baccaria, Rousseau, Voltaire, and Locke, Locke truly impacted the most in the creation of U.S. government and its documents.

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The rights in the Bill of Rights weren??™t based on the ideas of Baron de Montesquieu but the ideas of John Locke. Locke??™s ideas of the Natural Rights were the general foundation of the bill, Voltaire and Baccaria went more into detail on his beliefs. In the first amendment, ideas of freedom of speech, press, and religion are a very crucial part of the Bill of Rights. This idea was by Voltaire, he believed strongly in all the rights. He believed in the freedom of speech and press because he was a writer himself and thought you can have a right of thought and expression. He is famous for the powerful quote, ???I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.??? Voltaire??™s second idea was freedom of religion. He believed in this because he lived in France and at that time you could only be catholic. Everyone that was not catholic was kicked out of their homes so he believed that there should be religious toleration. Religion toleration is an important right because there is many religions in the world and is the one of the main causes of war, so if people have freedom of religion there is more hope that there will be fewer wars. The main second philosopher that helped with the Bill of rights was Baccaria; his ideas were put into amendments five, six, and eight. In amendments 5 and 6 he influenced that every mean should have the right to a speedy and public trial and torture is not allowed. Amendments five and six were important because people used to torture others so that they will say one thing even if it is untrue and with no torture there will be fair trial. The eighth amendment is the prohibition of excessive bail and cruel, unusual punishment. This means that a person??™s crime should determine the type and severity of the punishment, this is one of the fairest rights because you can not get equality for all people, no one can be prejudice to the person and everyone gets equal treatment for the crime that is done. Baccaria??™s ideas were like Locke??™s ideas of ???all men are equal??? giving men equal treatment.

Montesquieu inspired the U.S. constitution greatly but Locke still had a main idea in the document. Montesquieu believed in checks and balances giving him the idea of the 3 branches of government; judicial, executive, and legislative. All three of the branches had equal amount of power, this way not group could take over and corruption wouldn??™t occur. The judicial branch is made up of the judges of the Supreme Court; they interoperate the laws to see how each applied to a specific case. The executive branch is made up of the leader (president or king) and his ministers; they carried out the laws of the state/ country. The last branch, legislative; they were made up of parliament (congress) and they made the laws. These branches carefully check each other, the leader can veto a law by congress but congress can override a vito by 2/3 vote, also the judicial branch can determine the when a law is unconstitutional. These all work perfectly to make sure that no one gets more power then the other and is superior to another. John Locke believed in equality for all and this represents it, all branches are equal and no branch has more authority.

Lastly, the declaration of independence was based on mostly Locke??™s brilliant ideas, leaving Montesquieu in the dust for most influential. John Locke advocated the 3 natural right of man, which were the basis that Thomas Jefferson made for the Declaration. Locke??™s natural rights state that everyone is able to have life, liberty, and the right to own property. No one is able to take away these rights because they are given to you by god. He also stated that if the government did not protect these rights, that the citizen had the right to overthrow or remove it from being in office. This was in the opening of the document because it was that most important, main idea that gave people more freedoms. Locke was not the only philosopher that influenced it, Jean Jacques Rousseau had man important ideas to add. He impacted it by the idea that nobility should be abolished, that all men are created equal, and also along with Locke??™s ideas about the social contract. The social contract is that persons in a state would willingly come together to form a state and that individuals would agree to form a state that would provide a ???neutral judge??? that could protect the lives, liberty, and property of those who live within the state. Locke was the main contributor to the Declaration for all his brilliant ideas.

The enlightenment was a very important to shape America into what it is today. Without the central ideas and figures of the enlightenment, the U.S. would have been drastically different from what it is today. Both during and after the American Revolution many of the core ideas of the enlightenment were the basis for the important documents; declaration of independence, the constitution, and the bill of rights. Concepts such as freedom form oppression, natural rights, and the new ways of thinking about the governmental structure came from the philosophers such as Montesquieu, Baccaria, Rousseau, Voltaire, and most importantly Locke. They all made the foundations of colonial and modern America.


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