Home » Book Excerpts » Book Excerpt: John Locke: Philosopher of American Liberty by Mary-Elaine Swanson

Book Excerpt: John Locke: Philosopher of American Liberty by Mary-Elaine Swanson

Title: John Locke: Philosopher of American Liberty
Author: Mary-Elaine Swanson
Genre: Christian history
Pages: 432
Publisher: Nordskog Publishing
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0983195730
ISBN-13: 978-0983195733

Mary-Elaine Swanson has done an invaluable service for this and subsequent generations by resurrecting awareness and presenting an accurate knowledge of John Locke and his reasoning through an uncensored view of his life, writings, and incalculable influence on America. This book will help Americans understand the importance of Locke’s thinking for American constitutionalism today.

You will learn the real meaning of the “law of nature” as it was embraced in Colonial America and the separation of church and state embraced in the Constitution. The founding fathers looked to Locke as the source of many of their ideas. Thomas Jefferson considered Locke as one of the three greatest men that ever lived.

Locke advocated separation of the state from the church and extension of religious toleration. Locke’s political writings were an enormous influence on America’s founders in the preservation of liberty and the establishment of representative government. Locke’s contributions to American Liberty can clearly be seen interwoven in our colonial Declarations of Rights, paraphrased in our Declaration of Independence, and incorporated into our Constitution and Bill of Rights. The Declaration is born of the extensively studied and widely taught Treatises On Civil Government by John Locke. There Locke reasoned the very purpose of forming civil government is the protection of property, and that “life, liberty, and property (pursuit of happiness)” are not three separate rights but intrinsically one great and inalienable right he called “property”—which begins with the life of the individual, then his liberty which is essential to his productivity, followed by the right to enjoy the fruits of his labors without fear that the government will confiscate his property. These inalienable rights are from God and legitimate government has no authority to take them away but is chartered in fact to preserve and protect liberty.


The Declaration Foundational to the Constitution (from chapter 15) 

Today it is important for Christians also to understand that the fundamental natural law principles stated in the Declaration of Independence were foundational to the Constitution and were so understood as late as the 1860s. Indeed, at the Reconstruction Congress meeting in 1866, Thaddeus Stevens, in urging adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, declared:

It cannot be denied that this terrible struggle [of the Civil War] sprang from the vicious principles incorporated into the institutions of our country [i.e., slavery]. Our Fathers had been compelled to postpone the principles of their great Declaration, and wait for their full establishment till a more propitious time. That time ought to be present now. 

Professor Erler, quoted at the beginning of this chapter, points out that references to the Declaration as law were so frequent in these debates that it is clear that the Reconstruction Congress was ratifying “a refounding of the regime“ in the Constitution that had occurred after the victory in the Civil War. He believes that the Civil War was, in a sense, “the last battle of the Revolutionary War,” because it was only the Reconstruction Amendments that brought the Constitution into line with the principles of the Declaration of Independence.


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