Our founding fathers, wise though they were, did not come up with every idea found in the Declaration of Independence. This document contained the ideas of many great thinkers, from both ancient and modern civilizations. In many ways it is the accumulation of much of the political thinking up to that point. So many great philosophers influenced the Declaration, that it was easier for us to look not at the document itself, but the thinkers who in one way or another contributed to it.

Starting early and working forward, the first philosopher that comes to mind is a Greek named Socrates. Socrates contributed perhaps the most important concept: question authority. Without this idea, there would not be a need for a declaration of independence at all, because we would not question the government which had previously ruled us, Great Britain.

One philosopher’s thinking is obvious in the opening paragraph of the Declaration. “ ...to which the Laws of nature and of Nature’s God entitle them....” This idea of a natural law to which all governments and all citizens are responsible first came from Aristotle, in the doctrine of the mean. Before Aristotle, it was not commonly believed that there were a set of natural laws above those which the ruling body laid down.

The work of Thomas Hobbes can be seen throughout the second paragraph of the Declaration. This paragraph, one of the most critical, explains the political thinking and theory behind the document. It states “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed....” This line keeps with Hobbes’ belief of a government’s responsibility to the people. Elsewhere in the Declaration, the other parts to his theory are used, peoples’ responsibilities, peoples’ rights, government responsibilities and government rights. Another thinker of this time, John Locke, had much for our founding fathers to learn from.

Locke’s ideas were used in the Declaration more than any other single man’s. The equality of all men and the right for citizens to rebel against an unjust government, as well as the principle of limited government all were immortalized by Locke.

Of course without the Declaration of Independence we would not be in the situation we are today. But it was the power of this document that was important. And that power came from many great people throughout history, as we have showed here.

node your homework!
Mr. Dan Southard
US Constitution
Buena High School

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