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Through out the United States history there have been many innovators, philosophers, and trailblazers that have shaped the way America has come to be. One of the main factors in the formation of America has to be credited to the founding of the American Political thought derived from the minds of this nation s founding fathers. It was their ideas that influenced and shaped the thoughts on political matters emanated from European political philosophers. Thomas Hobbes and John Locke were British Political thinkers who had the greatest affect on the American political philosophy. Through the dialect of these philosophers, a recurring theme of natural rights teaching was conveyed. It was later to become know as classical political science. It was by these documents that the nation was founded, and the constitution was formed. So as America wanted to break away from the British rule, documents such as the Federalist essays were used to convince the people that sovereignty was necessary to break away from a monarchy rule in order to gain a liberal regime.
The natural rights teaching point out that there was only one legitimate form of government and one that originated from the sovereignty of the people. Fundamental principals were set, and philosophers referred to natural rights in three distinctive ways: preservation (life), freedom (liberty), and equality (pursuit of happiness). Since natural rights were God given, philosophers stressed to the people that no one especially government, could deny an individual these rights. Many of these arguments in which natural rights are stressed about are visible in the documents, constitutions, and writings of American political philosophers such as John Wise, Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine.
John Wise (1652-1725), who wrote Democracy Is Founded in Scripture, argued explicitly for a democratic mode of church governance. His arguments were based on biblical sources, the principle of natural rights, and reason. Defending the status quo of congregational churches, Wise used democracy as a foundation at the time when religion and politics were closely interwoven. He reasoned that, when men (being originally in a condition of natural freedom and equality) had thoughts of joining a civil body (Dolbeare, p.26). What Wise is trying to state here was that in the Law of Nature we are all free and equal. However, once we join a government we are secured of those rights. He uses Locke s fundamental principles of natural freedom and equality as a state of being, arguing one must partake in a state of democracy in order to have these rights secured. Wise states in his closing argument, And it is as plain as daylight, there is no species of government like a democracy to attain this end (Dolbeare, p.31).
Benjamin Franklin (1706-90), who wrote Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, the Peopling of Countries, etc., and The Albany Plan of Union, focused on early colonial union. He played an important role in brining the lessons of the long-established Iroquois Confederacy into mainstream American political discussions. Forming intellectual, literary, and benevolent organizations, Franklin also promoted civic causes such as library, a hospital, and an educational system. As his essay on Mankind focuses on the increase of population of people, Franklin articulated reasons for a nation to collapse. He mentions being conquered, loss of territory, loss of trade, loss of food, bad government and insecure property, along with the introduction of slaves. In his essay, The Albany Plan, he stresses the separation of powers, federalism, painstaking, consensus building, and the concern for public opinion. Meaning that in order for a union to survive, the people will need to constitute a government for all states. Once again, Franklin, an American philosopher, is trying to set a new path in government using Locke s state and law of nature, demonstrating the common theme of property, protection, and life, which are all essential for survival of the fittest.
Samuel Adams (1722-1803), who wrote The Rights of the Colonists was devoted to local and state politics and the twin causes of democracy and independence. He believed not only in liberty and independence, but also in reconstruction of the society to establish a thoroughly egalitarian and democratic social order. Adam mentions, All men have a right to remain in a state of nature When men enter into a society, it is by voluntary consent (Dolbeare, p.44). This here was derived from Locke as the social contract. Meaning that, once we enter a government we would lose every natural right, but that government would have to conform as far as possible, to the law of natural reason and equity. Among the Natural Rights of the Colonist are these First: a Right to Life; Secondly to Liberty; thirdly to Property; together with the Right to support and defend them in the best manner they can Those are evident Branches of, rather than deductions from the duty of Self Preservation, commonly called the first Law of Nature (Dolbeare, p.44).
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), who wrote A Summary View of the Rights of British America and Virginia Bill of Rights, was a powerful advocate of liberty. As the “silent member” of the Congress, Jefferson, at 33, drafted the declaration of
Independence. In years following he labored to make its words a reality in Virginia. Most notably, he wrote a bill establishing religious freedom, enacted in 1786. Wanting to rid America from British rule, Jefferson stated and stressed to the people especially those of Virginia That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity (Virginia Bill of Rights). Stating all reasons why America should break free from the British rule Jefferson, used Locke s natural rights teaching pointed out all the flaws in a monarchy government and how they the people have been deprived of their natural rights .
Thomas Paine (1737-1809), who wrote Common Sense, The American Crisis I, The American Crisis XIII, and Rights of Man Part I, writes about the whole idea of different governments. Rather then look to “musty documents” which claim to “grant” them, Paine writes that rights by their nature cannot be granted, because if they can be granted then they can be revoked, and if they can be revoked then they are privileges, not rights. Paine then, like Locke, finds the origins of rights in nature, and the purpose of governments is to protect them. They are definitely not pacts “between the living, the dead, and those yet to be born,” or “between those who govern and those who are governed,” (Dolbeare, p.55) as some maintain, but rather voluntary associations for the sole benefit of their members. Therefore all institutions in a nation s government that do not benefit the nation itself are illegitimate.
John Locke (1632-1704), who was a founding father in the whole concept of the state and law of nature, was a great influence on the American political philosophers. Shaping the way government has taken play in his writings, he expressed his views about freedom of religion and the rights of citizens. 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. 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. There 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.
Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), who named himself the founder of Political Science, rejected classical political science. He also rejected teleological because it was ideological just like classical science. For Hobbes classical political science claimed that there was a best regime. Ideally, a best regime can be fulfilled through ones nature, to just be, and to be courageous. Hobbes looked at the beginning of civilizations instead of the end of. Hobbes belief were based upon simplicity, that we are all free and equal, and civil society creates inequality.
Taking into account man s lust for power and inordinate self-interest, the framers of the Constitution feared the possibility of tyranny and proposed constitutional and extra-constitutional safeguards to help secure and protect those fundamental natural rights. By ensuring these rights we turned to James Madison s Federalist essays No.10 and 51 for a success of establishing a new political order, under the Constitution, that would secure individual rights as well as the public good.
In the Federalist essay No.10 we are concerned with two problems of faction. One, removing cause which has two ways to deal with it, a) destroying liberty and b) give everybody the same opinions, passions, and interest and Two, control effects. But since removing the cause is impossible, because passions are tied to opinions, and opinions are tied to passions. Causing a difficult task because passions have different degrees, and opinions and interest will always change. So the only way to deal with faction is to control it. Since society has always been divided by the haves and haves not. Government would expand the wealth giving everyone the opportunity to expand. But it would not be equal, because some are better than others in different fields. With the protection of interest and facilities of the people, we would give freedom to all to follow their dreams and some would make good choice and others bad. Creating a difference in hierarchy. So by creating avenues to the market place for those who would not have the opportunity, it will let people do things they thought they could not do. This Madison perception does not guarantee equality but it does create opportunity, because their can not be professional in every field.
As for the Federalist essay No.51 we are concerned with the understanding of how the structure of the proposed government makes liberty possible. Each branch should be, for the most part, in Madison’s opinion, independent. To assure such independence, no one branch should have too much power in selecting members of the other two branches. Madison furthers, the members of each branch should not be too dependent on the members of the other two branches in the determination of their salaries. Dividing power helps to check its growth in any one direction, but power cannot be divided absolutely equally. In a representative democracy it is not only important to guard against the oppression of rulers, it is equally important to guard against the injustice which may be inflicted by certain citizens or groups. Justice therefore is the purpose of government and civil society. If government allows or encourages strong groups to combine together against the weak, liberty will be lost and anarchy will result. And the condition of anarchy tempts even strong individuals and groups to submit to any form of government, no matter how bad, which they hope will protect them as well as the weak.
Breaking away from the British rule and creating a democracy for the people was a long process in the making. As the British political thinkers, shaped the American political thought and way of life, our form of government and sovereignty of the people changed as well. By creating a Constitution and extra-constitutional features that would securer individual rights of the people, we gave hope to the establishment of a new political order.