John Locke On The Extent Of The

Legislative Power Essay, Research Paper

Locke on Politics, Religion, and Education- chap. 1



It is easy to see where the philosophy behind our country’s system of government was derived from when you read any of Locke’s essays on civil government. In fact if you have read our own Declaration of Independence it is possible to recognize the similarity between it and Lock’s writings. In many cases it almost seems as though we took from him word for word the passages written in our nations most treasured documents:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…….”


Indeed, John Locke’s philosophy had a great impact on the early formation of our nation; it serves as a basis on which we have built this great nation that we live in today. By looking at Locke’s philosophy on the extent of any given legislature’s power it is interesting to compare his ideas to our actual practices.

Long ago “man” lived in what Locke called a state of Nature before entering into, or forming, a society. In this “State of Nature” men where naturally free, equal, and independent. No one could be subjected to a political power without his/her consent. Societies or communities are formed when men/women come together and agree to join or unite in order to further their interests as well as the community’s. When men and women join a community and agree to form a legislature they give their individual power up to the community. Locke believes that the power given to the legislator or assembly can be no more than the amount of power possessed by the individual people in their prior state of Nature. “For nobody can transfer to another more power than he has in himself, and nobody has an absolute arbitrary power over himself, or over any other, to destroy his own life, or take away the life or property of another.” (Locke). Therefore although the legislature may be the supreme power in every commonwealth, “it is not, nor can possibly be, absolutely arbitrary over the lives and fortunes of the people.” (Locke).

Locke believes the power that is given to a legislature is limited to the public good of the society, and that power is used only to preserve what is good for the society. Therefore the power we give to our legislatures should never be used to destroy, enslave, or impoverish us it should only be used to further the interests of us all and to preserve those interests. Here Locke points out that, “the obligations of the law of Nature cease not in society……..Thus the law of Nature stands as an eternal rule…

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