I have for some time contemplated the topic of my first post here at American Creation and the recurring theme running through my mind has centered on that of John Locke whose influence over Thomas Jefferson can best be described as instrumental to the formation of our great nation. We have seen Locke’s influence written into the Declaration even by near plagiarism on the part of Jefferson who reiterated that “ The object of the Declaration of Independence … was … not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject … Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind ... All its authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, etc.”
Thus, can we deduce from this that the sentiment of the day not only espoused this form of thought but that this philosophy was undergirded by religious principles as John Locke’s own writings reveal?
“The obligations of the law of nature cease not in society, but only in many cases are drawn closer, and have by human laws known penalties annexed to them, to inforce their observation. Thus the law of nature stands as an eternal rule to all men, legislators as well as others. The rules they make for other men’s actions, must, as well as their own and other men’s actions, be conformable to the law of nature, i.e. the will of God, of which that is a declaration, and the fundamental law of nature being the preservation of mankind, no human sanction can be good or valid against it.”
Carl Becker, in his book The Declaration of Independence: A Study in the History of Political Ideas had this to say,” Not all Americans, it is true, would have accepted the philosophy of the Declaration, just as Jefferson phrased it, without qualification, as the ‘common sense of the subject’: but one may say that the premises of this philosophy, the underlying preconceptions from which it is derived, were commonly taken for granted. That there is a ‘natural order’ of things in the world, cleverly and expertly designed by God for the guidance of mankind” that the ‘laws’ of this natural order may be discovered by human reason; that these laws so discovered furnish a reliable and immutable standard for the testing of ideas, the conduct, and the institutions of men—these were the accepted premises, the preconceptions, of most eighteenth century thinking, not only in America but also in England and France.”
The Reformation had set a radical new course for religious principles in Western Europe through its priority in education and logical reasoning. To this extent today I recognize that many hold to an ill-conceived notion of what Christianity is, viewing it as merely an emotional response rather than a united front of heart, mind, and soul. Thomas Hooker, John Locke, and Montesquieu among others found in the Scriptures the basis for their philosophies of government and the more I examine the Scriptures and their works side by side I can see greater evidence of this.
Undertaking this topic I can see where my thoughts diverge and in the next couple of weeks I’d like to concentrate on aligning the works of the above named English and French contributors to America’s creation in addition to concepts provided for in the Scriptures that their philosophies echo.