A Biography of John Locke (1632-1704)
John Locke was born on August 29th, 1632 in England and lived to became one of the most influential people in England and, perhaps, one of the most influential people of the 17th century. Before his death on October 28th, 1704 he would earn the title as the Father of liberal philosophy. His ideas would also be used as a keystone for the revolution of the North American colonies from England.
Early YearsLocke had many prominent friends who were nobles in government and also highly respected scholars of the times. He was good friends with the Earl of Shaftesbury and he was given government jobs which he served with Shaftesbury.
Locke lived in France for a while and returned to troubled times in England. In 1679 his friend the Earl was tried for treason. Although Shaftesbury was acquitted, the Earl decided to flee England anyway to escape further persecution. He fled to Holland where William and Mary ruled but had some claim to the English throne. Owing to his close association with the Earl, Locke also fled fled to Holland in 1683. He returned to England in about 1688 when William and Mary were invited to retake the reign of England in what historians call the Bloodless Revolution. Eventually Locke returned to Oates in Essex where he retired. He lived there until his death in 1704.
Natural RightsLocke wrote and developed the philosophy that there was no legitimate government under the divine right of kings theory. The Divine Right of Kings theory, as it was called, asserted that God chose some people to rule on earth in his will. Therefore, whatever the monarch decided was the will of God. When you criticized the ruler, you were in effect challenging God. This was a very powerful philosophy for the existing ruler. But, Locke did not believe in that and wrote his theory to challenge it.
Perhaps the part of Locke's writing which most influenced the founding fathers of the United States Constitution was the idea that the power to govern was obtained from the permission of the people.
He thought that the purpose of government was to protect the natural rights of its citizens. He said that natural rights were life, liberty and property, and that all people automatically earned these simply by being born. When a government did not protect those rights, the citizen had the right and maybe even the obligation of overthrowing the government.
If these ideas seem familiar to you, it is because they were incorporated into the Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson. Once they took root in North America, the philosophy was adopted in other places as justification for revolution.