1600's-1700's Key Enlightenment Figures


In the Age of Reason or Enlightenment Era, three main philosophers had their own ideas which helped shape our government and our world today.

One man named John Locke talked about a “social contract” and he first wrote the social contract. He believed that there was a contract between the government and the people. This “social contract” was a natural law of God, thought John Locke. This “social contract” was not a written document because it was a natural law.
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The “social contract” says the government has the responsibility to rule in a good and just manner, and it is the peoples' responsibility to obey the law. It also states if the government doesn’t live up to the social contract, in other words if the government rules unjustly and in a bad manner, the people have the responsibility (in John Locke’s words) and the right to rebel/overthrow. (This happened with the British government and the colonies, after the French and Indian War, and Thomas Jefferson pointed it out in the Declaration of Independence).

John Locke also thought that people had three natural rights – Life, Liberty, and Property (which was later changed to Pursuit of Happiness in the Declaration of Independence).

John Locke’s ideas show-up the most in the Declaration of Independence.

Our founding fathers thought of the Natural Laws of Society to their best interest and not the peoples' which is a HUGE “Frame of Reference”!




Another Key Enlightenment Figure was Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778).

rousseau3.gifRousseau believed in direct participation of the citizens’ government. He thought people should be evolved by voting. At this time the French government didn’t have direct representation. This method of their government wasn’t working. Rousseau also mentioned in historical records that he wanted to take wisdom of masses instead of a monarchy. He thought that one person or group might have too much power if their government ruled as a monarchy. (This was a big contribution to our government and to the "Social Contract").

Jean-Jacques Rousseau also contributed the idea of advocating the use of a written document; or in other words he thought every idea should be written down as guidelines for later use.

Rousseau made a big contribution to our government because he helped people better understand the government and its process as well.


montesquieu.jpg The last major important Enlightenment Figure was Baron De Montesquieu. This man believed that the power of government should be divided so everybody would be at equally power with one another. This is where we got our three branches of government:

  1. Legislative Branch ~ their job is to make laws
  2. Executive Branch ~ their job is to enforce laws
  3. Judicial Branch ~ their job is to interpret laws (describe them)

This idea in government would prevent the abusive rule of a monarchy.