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In 1721 the Persian Letters by Charles de Secondat and Baron de Montesquieu gave them the tool to make humorous remarks and sharp criticisms about French society, These were published secretly because people were punished for criticizing the king. Their thoughts helped usher in the age of Enlightenment because they helped people to begin to question and think for themselves.
Hobbes’ on Social Contract
John Locke believed that all people have natural rights from birth such as life liberty and property. In his article called Two Treaties of Government, Locke states the following. These same ideas are reflected in the United States Declaration of Independence.
Government is formed to protect people’s natural rights.
Government should have limited power.
The type of government should be accepted by all citizens.
Rejected absolute monarchy and thereby sides with Parliament against the Stuart Kings.
Government has an obligation to those it governs.
People have the right to overthrow government if the it fails its obligations or takes away natural rights (revolution)
In 1748, Montesquieu wrote The Spirit of the Laws. This article described checks and balances on government by dividing the functions of power between three separate branches of government to protects liberty. We can see his ideas about separation of governmental powers reflected in the United States Constitution. The separate branches of government are the legislative, judiciary, and the executive.
Voltaire or Francois-Marie Arouet opened peoples eyes to the corruption by officials and aristocrats through his biting. His writings allowed others to see the injustice of slave trade and religious prejudice. Our governments Declaration of Independence also reflects British government corruption which hurt the American colonies.
Voltaire writings defended Freedom of Speech. He was supposed to have said, “I do not agree with a word that you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Our Bill of Right also stands for freedom of speech.
In 1751 Denis Diderot produced a 28 volume encyclopedias. His purpose for writing them was to change the general way of thinking by explaining the new thinking on government, philosophy, and religion. These encyclopedias were translated into other languages and spread Enlightenment ideas to the rest of the world and the American colonies. Diderot’s ideas could have helped form the ideas for our government.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was the champion of democracy because he believed that authority lies with the people. In The Social Contract written in 1762 Rousseau states:
Man is born free.
Controls by a freely formed government are good.
Consent to a form of governments means that the individual gives up self-interest in favor of the common good.
When government is by the consent of the governed the people retain their rights.
Rousseau put faith in the general will of the majority. He said that the majority should always work for the common good of the people. He hated political and economic oppression and supported revolt. Rousseau influenced thinkers for more than 200 years and may have influenced the writers of our Constitution..
Enlightenment ideas helped open people’s minds to a new way of thinking and not to except the ways of the past. The ideas:
Challenged old ways of thinking.
Questioned divine-right of rule.
Taught that people should be able to gain material well-being, social justice, and happiness in this life, not just the next.
The Birth of the American Republic
the ideas of Montesquieu on "seperation of powers" helped make the three branches with checks and balances
the ideas of Voltaire-freedom of religion and "all men are created equal"
Rousseau-laws and gov. to protect property, and to be free people sometimes have to be forced to the general need of a population
Locke-just said that people are shaped on their childhood, not genes
they fought for natural rights of people(lock) and peoples rights to say what they thought without being persecuted for it(voltaire)