John Locke (1632-1704)
John Locke was an English philosopher and Oxford scholar whose writings profoundly influenced the Founding Fathers. In one of his most important works, Second Treatise of Civil Government, Locke asserts that individuals unite into a society for the better protection of their natural rights, including life, liberty, and property. This work was a great inspiration to Founders including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Mason.
After William and Mary of Orange assumed the throne and the English Bill of Rights denied freedom of worship to Catholics and Protestants outside the Church of England, Locke wrote “A Letter Concerning Toleration.” This essay argued for a new relationship between civil government and religion. Though Locke asserted that atheists and Catholics could not be tolerated, his ideas form a basis of the First Amendment, which prevents the establishment of a national religion and ensures an absolute freedom of belief. Thus his works were, and continue to be, tremendously important to American thought and politics.