The Enlightenment was a new era in Europe during the 18th century when philosophers began to understand that reason could be used to solve the most important problems of their time. These philosophers started to change the way people thought, and their ideas spread rapidly around Europe. For example, Europeans started to value human rights and find the proper role of government in their society. Ideas such as the right to happiness and the consent of the governed were new ideas that arose during the time of the Enlightenment. It is believed that this era had an immense impact on America’s founding documents. The statement, “The founding documents of the United States are products of the Enlightenment” is valid because the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights all embody major Enlightenment ideas from Montesquieu, Locke, Voltaire, and Beccaria. The Constitution is a product of the Enlightenment as it pulls directly from the Enlightenment philosopher, Baron de Montesquieu, and his revolutionary ideas on government. Montesquieu had a very clear and well established view of an ideal government. He expressed that the best way to protect liberty was to divide the government among three branches. This can be seen in the Constitution as it explains how the American government is split into three branches: the legislative, executive, and judicial. Another of Montesquieu’s influential ideas was that there should be a system of checking power among the three branches. In his book The Spirit of the Law, he stated “For we can not abuse power, must, by the arrangement of things, power checks power.” This is seen in our government’s system of checks and balances which embodies the same concept. Montesquieu’s most notable ideas are therefore clearly seen throughout the Constitution. This founding document describes the formation of our American government, but the major ideas came from the Enlightenment philosopher Montesquieu. The Declaration of Independence is a founding document based mostly on the Enlightenment ideas of John Locke, making it a distinct product of the Enlightenment. Locke was a philosopher who strongly believed in the natural rights of the people.  He once said, “All mankind… being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions.” This is almost identical to the Declaration of Independence which states, “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 shows how strongly Thomas Jefferson was influenced by Locke while writing the Declaration of Independence. In Locke’s book Second Treatise of Government he also expressed a need for the consent of the governed. He explained that a government can only exist if the people allow it. Again, the Declaration of Independence is almost identical when stating “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” This directly connects to another one of Locke’s major ideas that explains that the people have a right to rebel against the government if it is no longer able to protect the rights of the people. The Declaration of Independence addresses this issue by stating, “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…” Jefferson nearly copies Locke word for word in the Declaration of Independence, clearly showing the immense influence of Locke’s Enlightenment ideas.   The Bill of Rights is a founding document that describes human and basic rights formally stated by many Enlightenment philosophers, making it a certain product of this era. Voltaire was a philosopher whose ideas appear in the Bill of Rights. He spent his life criticizing inequality, religious prejudice, restrictions on speech, and much more. In his book Treatise on Tolerance, he stated, “Think for yourself and let others enjoy the privilege of doing so too.” This concept of freedom of speech, religion, and press can be seen in the Bill of Rights when it states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” This shows that James Madison applied and used Voltaire’s ideas when writing the Bill of Rights. Cesare Bonesana-Beccaria is another famous Enlightenment philosopher. He wrote about how cruel and unusual torture was not a suitable punishment for any crime. He sated, “Crimes are more effectually prevented by the certainty than the severity of punishment.”  This again translates directly into the Bill of Rights as it states, “… nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” Beccaria also had strong opinions about the rights of criminals. In his book Crimes and Punishments he stated, “No man can be judged a criminal until he be found guilty; nor can society take from him the public protection, until it have been proved that he has violated the conditions on which it was granted.” This can also be seen in the Bill of Rights as it uses Beccaria’s ideas to protect people’s rights to due process. This overlap in ideas shows how significant the Enlightenment ideas of Voltaire and Beccaria were to the Bill of Rights. Overall, the founding documents are definitely products of the Enlightenment as they mirror many crucial Enlightenment ideas. These founding documents set up our American government and laws to live by that are still in place today, which means our society today is still based on the incredibly influential ideas of the Enlightenment. In conclusion, the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights are all products of the Enlightenment because their fundamental components came from ideas of Enlightenment philosophers.

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