A fourth source of the American political tradition is the classical republican tradition-the inheritance of Greece and Rome. ... [T]here were considerable rhetorical appeals to classical themes, especially to comparisons between the ancient Roman republic and the modern American republic. For example, the founders spoke repeatedly of republican virtue and classical moral virtues; George Washington was depicted in the image of Cinncinatus (the Roman farmer-general who served his country in war and returned to his farm); the anti-Federalists appealed to the small republic model for their idea of liberty and referred to themselves as Brutus and Cato; the authors of The Federalist called themselves Publius (after Publius Publicola, a Roman freedom fighter who helped to overthrow kingship and establish the Roman republic); and the architectural style of Washington, D.C. was modeled on classical Rome, with Capitol Hill named after Capitoline Hill and the Supreme Court building modeled on a pagan temple.
[O]ne must also recognize the fundamental difference between ancient and modern republicanism-the Roman republic was governed by a Senate made up of a hereditary aristocracy of patricians or "enrolled fathers" whose primary occupations were politics, war, and imperial conquest. The American republic drew its authority from the sovereign people and was intended to be a commercial republic rather than a military republic. The contrast with ancient Rome becomes even clearer when the fifth and sixth elements of the American tradition are described.
The fifth element is the natural rights-social contract theory, proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence as well as in other writings before and after the American Revolution. The basic idea of natural rights is that all men are created equal in the sense of being endowed by the Creator with equal rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These rights are natural and inalienable because they were put into human nature by God ("Nature's God") and cannot be taken away by other men or by states. Governments exist to secure those rights, and they do this best when they are based on the consent of the people. Revolution is justified when natural rights are violated by a series of abuses or when the consent of the governed is thwarted by serious usurpations of power. This is essentially Lockean social contract theory, and some of the language in the second paragraph of the Declaration referring to "a long train of abuses" is directly copied from chapter nineteen of john Locke's Second Treatise of Government, "Of the Dissolution of Government."
The reliance on Locke, of course, does not mean that the Declaration is exclusively Lockean. As Walter Nicgorski points out, there are nonLockean features in the Declaration drawn from the classical and Christian traditions. Jefferson himself referred to a mixture of elements when he described the document as "an expression of the American mind" drawn from common ideas of the time as well as from "the elementary books of public right [by] Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, etc." (Letter of Jefferson to Henry Lee, May 8, 1825). This mixture can be seen in the three main sections of the Declaration: I, The statement of general principles, based on the law of nature aad nature's God; II, The statement of 27 grievances against the King and British Parliament; and III, The proclamation of freedom and independence from Great Britain.
In the famous first section, Locke's influence predominates in the general principles of God-given natural rights, government by consent, and the right to revolution that I summarized above. Some scholars have also detected the influence of Emer de Vattel's The Law of Nations in the opening lines, where the principles are applied to relations among nations ("when in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another ... "). The suggestion is that the Declaration is primarily a document of international law, asserting the corporate right of one people or nation to self-determination like the other peoples and nations of the world. This insight, of course, does not negate the Lockean features of the document; it merely qualifies them by bringing out the concern for national self-determination or corporate self-government in addition to individual rights.
Locke's influence is also qualified in the central section of the Declaration where the grievances against the King and British Parliament are listed to justify the Revolution. ... Many of these grievances (as noted above) were based on the traditional rights and privileges of Englishmen derived from English common law, although many also overlap with Locke's list of legitimate grievances against tyrannical government found in chapter nineteen of The Second Treatise of Government .... The list of grievances in the Declaration thus appears to be a blend of Lockean and English common law principles.
The third and last section of the Declaration insists on the necessity of the colonies to become free and independent states-to be selfgoverning peoples who legislate for themselves-despite the ties of kinship and blood ("consanguinity") between American colonists and Englishmen. This section of the Declaration ends with appeals to divine Providence and with pledges of honor to aid in the success of their revolutionary cause. Like other parts of the document, these sentiments also seem to be a blend of the English heritage, the Christian notion of a providential God, the gentlemen's code of honor, and classical republican ideas of patriotic duty to participate in politics and even to sacrifice one's life for one's country. The Declaration is thus a subtle and complex weaving of the Lockean and non-Lockean elements in the American political tradition.
The main omission in the Declaration of Independence is any reference to the new form of government that the Americans should adopt-the assumption being that it is a matter left open for deliberation and trial and error after the Revolution. As we know, this decision was settled a decade later when Americans adopted the U.S. Constitution and became a Federal Republic or a "natural rights republic" (to use Michael Zuckert's apt phrase). As James Madison argued, the social basis of the American republic would be a multiplicity of interest groups arising in a large or extensive commercial society in which property rights would be protected from an overbearing majority. Madison also argued that the protections for liberty and the common good could not be based on the assumption that "enlightened statesmen will always be at the helm." While recognizing the need for virtue and patriotism, he specifically said that the surest protection for liberty would be a set of checks and balances that divided the powers of government into many competing centers. The separation of powers and a multiplicity of economic interest groups would thus be the main features of Madisonian constitutionalism, rather than reliance on the wisdom and patriotism of leaders and citizens.