How Did John Locke Influence Thomas Jefferson?

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John Locke’s ideas about life, freedom, government and property ownership were major influences on Thomas Jefferson’s writings, including the United States Declaration of Independence. In fact, the words “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” were borrowed almost in entirety from earlier writings by Locke who wrote treatises about government. Jefferson regarded Locke as one of the most important philosophers in regard to the subject of liberty.

John Locke believed that government is a necessary element of society in which everyone benefits, and that people willingly sacrifice some personal liberties in order to be part of that society. He also believed, however, that people had certain inalienable rights, and that governments do not have the right to ask members of the society over which it rules to sacrifice those rights as a condition. Those inalienable rights are life, liberty and property. Locke believed that in having the right to own property, people could pave their own path to happiness.

Thomas Jefferson was not the only founding father who subscribed to these beliefs. James Madison’s writings were also heavily influenced by Locke. In fact, Locke’s theory of inalienable rights were at the very core of the American Revolution and remain the foundation for the American dream.