Second Treatise of Civil Government (1689)

Second Treatise of Civil GovernmentIn this work, John Locke argued that men are free by nature and have an equality of rights, owning their “persons [bodies] and possessions.” Locke asserted that all people, regardless of nationality, are born with the same rights. Rights are therefore not “granted” by governments, but come from nature or God. Governments exist to protect, not grant, natural rights.

Without laws, people cannot preserve these natural rights, so they “unite into a community for their comfortable, safe, and peaceable living.” This is a form of compact theory. It is the people’s right, however, to dissolve a government that fails to protect their rights. This revolutionary natural rights theory, as it is known, strongly influenced the Founders, including Samuel AdamsThomas Jefferson, and James Otis, and The Declaration of Independence and George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights echoed its language.