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Works by Enlightenment thinkers from JMC programs for teachers.
“To renounce liberty is to renounce being a man, to surrender the rights of humanity and even its duties. For him who renounces everything no indemnity is possible. Such a renunciation is incompatible with man’s nature; to remove all liberty from his will is to remove all morality from his acts.”
The Social Contract, Book I
The American founders were heavily influenced by European Enlightenment philosophers. When framing the Constitution, they considered Enlightenment ideas about human nature, social contracts, constitutions, and regime types. The works below are a sample of what the founders would have been reading and thinking about during the founding era.
David Hume was a Scottish Enlightenment philosopher, historian, and economist. In these sections, Hume explains the relationship between reason and passion, how that relationship impacts humans’ understanding of virtue and vice, and the natural virtue of justice.
A Treatise of Human Nature, 1739
Scottish philosopher Adam Smith is best known for The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, and is considered the Father of Capitalism. Many years earlier, he wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which explores the feeling of sympathy and ideas of justice and patriotism. Some selected chapters are below.
Theory of Moral Sentiments, 1759
Rousseau, a Genevan Enlightenment philosopher, wrote The Social Contract in 1762. His conceptions of society, slavery, and individual rights were influential in the American and French revolutions. In these sections, he also explains just formations of societies, the sovereignty of the people, and the indestructibility of the general will.
The Social Contract, 1762
Book III, Ch. 4, 11-15
Book IV, Ch. 1-3, 8-9
Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu
A French judge, historian, and political philosopher, Montesquieu originally published The Spirit of the Laws anonymously in 1748. His theory of separation of powers became a central tenet of the American Constitution. In these sections, he defines types of laws, categorizes regimes based on principle, and how political systems protect or endanger liberty.
The Spirit of the Laws, 1748
Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and the Consent of the Governed
Bill of Rights Institute
Compare and Contrast Locke and Montesquieu
Bill of Rights Institute
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