What Influence Did John Locke’s Social Contract Theory Have on the American Revolution?


Vincent White

The influence of John Locke’s social contract theory on the American Revolution was profound. Locke’s ideas on government, individual rights, and the consent of the governed were instrumental in shaping the revolutionary spirit and laying the foundation for a new nation.

Locke’s Social Contract Theory

John Locke, an influential philosopher and political theorist of the 17th century, proposed a social contract theory that challenged the absolute authority of monarchs. According to Locke, individuals enter into a social contract with their government, willingly giving up some of their natural rights in exchange for protection and stability.

Locke believed that governments should be based on consent and serve to protect the natural rights of life, liberty, and property. He argued that if a government failed to fulfill its obligations or violated these rights, individuals had the right to rebel and establish a new government.

Influence on Revolutionary Thought

The ideas put forth by Locke resonated with many American colonists who were growing increasingly dissatisfied with British rule. The colonists felt that their natural rights were being infringed upon by oppressive policies such as taxation without representation.

Locke’s emphasis on individual rights became a rallying cry for revolutionaries who sought to secure their liberties against tyrannical rule. The concept that governments derive their power from the consent of the governed provided legitimacy to their cause. It gave them justification for challenging British authority and establishing their own independent government.

The Declaration of Independence

The principles espoused by John Locke found expression in one of America’s most important founding documents – the Declaration of Independence. Drafted primarily by Thomas Jefferson, it laid out a compelling argument for breaking away from British rule.

“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.”

This iconic passage reflects the influence of Locke’s ideas on individual rights. The declaration goes on to assert that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, echoing Locke’s social contract theory.

The Constitution and Bill of Rights

Locke’s ideas continued to shape the new nation even after independence was achieved. The framers of the United States Constitution drew heavily from Locke’s philosophy in designing a system of government that would protect individual rights and prevent abuses of power.

The Bill of Rights, which comprises the first ten amendments to the Constitution, guarantees fundamental rights such as freedom of speech, religion, and due process. These protections reflect Locke’s belief in limited government and respect for individual liberties.


In conclusion, John Locke’s social contract theory played a pivotal role in shaping the American Revolution and influencing its subsequent political development. His ideas on individual rights, consent-based government, and the right to rebel resonated with those seeking independence from British rule. The principles espoused by Locke found expression in important documents like the Declaration of Independence and influenced the design of America’s constitutional framework.