When looking at the Declaration of Independence and the justifications which Jefferson used in order to encourage the dissolve of the ties between the United Colonies and Great Britain, it becomes apparent how much of the theories of John Locke that Jefferson used as the basis for his argument. Focusing particularly on the second paragraph of the Declaration, the arguments for the equality of each man and the formation and destruction of governments come almost directly from Locke’s Second Treatise of Government. The other arguments in the Declaration of Independence deal primarily with each citizen’s rights and the natural freedoms of all men, two areas that Locke also spent much time writing on.
The second paragraph of the Declaration maps out Jefferson’s beliefs on the equality of man and the natural rights we should all have endowed. He holds that, “it is self evident that all men are created equal,” and that each man has certain natural rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” He goes on to say that the role of the government, after being instituted my man, is to support and secure these rights for all the citizens. If however, the government is not providing the security that the citizens feel they need, Jefferson claims that they as a collection have the right to overthrow the existing government and create a new one that is founded on these principles of natural rights and equality.
When comparing Jefferson’s arguments to those of Locke on this subject, the first and most obvious correlation is the wording of both. The preexistent natural rights, which Locke said were, “life, liberty and property,” became with Jefferson, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” In the second paragraph of the Declaration, Jefferson states that in order to preserve these natural rights, that governments are instituted by man and, if they are not preserved then a new government must be formed. This idea comes almost directly from Locke’s ideas that the state exists to preserve the rights of it’s citizens and that the citizen’s have the right to break up the government if it is not doing so. This argument is in shown chapter thirteen, section 149, of The Second Treatise of Government where Locke says that even after forming a government, “there remains still in the people a supreme power to remove or alter the legislative when they find the legislative act contrary to the trust reposed in them…and thus the community perpetually retains a supreme power of saving themselves from the attempts and designs of anybody,…who would carry on designs against the liberties and properties of the subject.” Locke also acknowledges that the executive branch which enforces the laws and therefore includes the police and military could turn that force against the people and their elected representatives, the legislature. Locke says that would constitute a state of war with the people who have a right to reinstate their legislature. Jefferson used this idea in particular to defend his move to dissolve ties with Britain saying that Britain had used it’s military powers against the people of the Colonies and therefore a state of war with them had resulted.
In The Second Treatise of Government, Locke also discusses the ends of political society and government in chapter nine, sections 123 through 126. Locke reiterates that men give up their natural state of total freedom because in doing so provides greater security and safety for their lives and property. Locke describes that there are other benefits as well; the opportunity to establish laws that apply to same to all, designated impartial judges to apply the law, and an executive authority to follow through on carrying out or enforcing laws and punishing or sanctioning those who break the laws. Locke is saying that yes men do give up their natural equality, freedom and certain powers in order to join a government, but that the power of that government is obligated to follow through on those three benefits above.
Chapter nineteen in the Second Treatise lays out the justifications for rebellion against a government. He states that anytime the legislative is changed or dissolved then the government is dissolved as well. The legislative is changed if a single person, the king in the case of Britain, sets up his own laws in the place of those that exist against the will of the people. This would include him raising or changing the taxes, or enforcing laws against the consent of the citizens. It is also changed if that king stops the legislative from meeting, from acting freely, or from having a say in what laws are formed. Jefferson also used this argument by saying that the King of England had tried to enforce his laws against the citizen’s of the Colonies will and that he had not allowed the representatives of the Colonies to participate in the activities of the Parliament.
The other justifications for the dissolving of the bonds between the Colonies and Britain deal with Locke’s theory that man should have control over their lives and their choices within the limits that they do not prevent any other man from the right to life, liberty, and property. So, when Jefferson is arguing against Britain’s laws such as the quartering of soldiers in citizens homes and the taxation of the colonies without representation in Parliament, he derives this argument from the chapter two, section four, of Locke’s Second Treatise of Government. This section sets out the idea that freedom means not being under the control of another man and having the authority and power to do what one wishes with their lives and property. This concept of personal freedom that Locke stresses is often referred to as negative freedom. Section six then asserts that this is of course within reason and that personal freedom is constrained by the obligation to the laws of nature.