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U.S. Government
Reading on John Locke
U.S. Government Course Overview
Unit 1
Unit 2
Unit 3
Unit 4
Unit 5
Local Government Participation Project
Final Exam Review

 John Locke      

John Locke wrote two treatises of government in 1690. In these treatises he said that the government should be like a contract or agreement between the people and the ruler. The ruler is given the power to govern the country as long as he doesn't abuse his position.  In brief, Locke argued that sovereignty did not reside in the state but with the people, and that the state is supreme, but only if it is bound by civil and what he called "natural" law. If the ruler didn't keep the contract, the people could overthrow the government. Locke also believed that the people were entitled to natural rights such as life, liberty and the protection of their property.  Many of Locke's political ideas, such as those relating to natural rights, property rights, the duty of the government to protect these rights, and the rule of the majority, were later embodied in the U.S. Constitution.


After college, Locke continued to study and read with passion. He expressed his views about freedom of religion and the rights of citizens. In 1682 his ideas were seen by the English government as a challenge to the king's authority. He fled to Holland, and then returned to England in 1689 after the Civil War in England. Shortly thereafter, Locke began publishing his writings, many of which focused on government. Throughout his writings, Locke argued that people had the gift of reason, or the ability to think. Locke thought they had the natural ability to govern themselves and to look after the well being of society. He wrote, "The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which [treats] everyone [equally]. Reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind... that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health or possessions."    

 Locke did not believe that God had chosen a group or family of people to rule countries. He rejected the "Divine Right," which many kings and queens used to justify their right to rule. Instead, he argued that governments should only operate with the consent of the people they are governing. In this way, Locke supported democracy as a form of government. Locke wrote, "[We have learned from] history we have reason to conclude that all peaceful beginnings of government have been laid in the consent of the people." Governments were formed, according to Locke, to protect the right to life, the right to freedom, and the right to property. Their rights were absolute, belonging to all the people. Locke also believed that government power should be divided equally into three branches of government so that politicians will not face the "temptation... to grasp at [absolute] power." If any government abused these rights instead of protecting them, then the people had the right to rebel and form a new government.  

 John Locke spoke out against the control of any man against his will.  This control was acceptable neither in the form of an unfair government, nor in slavery.  Locke wrote, “The natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority of man, but only have the law of nature for his rule." In addition, Locke felt that women had the ability to reason, which entitled them to an equal voice - an unpopular idea during this time in history. Despite fearing that he might be censored, he wrote, "It may not be [wrong] to offer new... [ideas] when the old [traditions] are apt to lead men into mistakes, as this [idea] of [fatherly] power's probably has done, which seems so [eager] to place the power of parents over their children wholly in the father, as if the mother had no share in it. Whereas if we consult reason or (the Bible), we shall find she has an equal title.”