Thomas Jefferson considers himself a contributor to the Age of Enlightenment. Through many of his writings he expands on the philosophies of the great European writers of that era - Rousseau, Locke, Hume, and Leibniz. In “The Declaration of Independence,” Jefferson directly adopts several themes found in the work of French writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau’s “The Origin of Civil Society,” provides a foundation for most of Jefferson’s ideas in “The Declaration of Independence.”
In the opening of the “Declaration of Independence,” Jefferson lays out several main themes that reflect Rousseau's concepts. Jefferson borrows from Rousseau's thinking on equality and freedom when writing, "We hold these truths to be
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In “The Declaration of Independence,” Jefferson cites twenty-six examples of actions taken by the British monarchy that acts against the authority the American Colonies granted them. These form the basis of the declaration. Jefferson restates his thinking again saying, "A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be ruler of a free People." (Jefferson 83). Jefferson indirectly borrows from Rousseau's argument against Might into Right. Rousseau says that this thinking reverses the process of cause and effect. "So soon as we disobey without impunity, disobedience becomes legitimate. And, since the Mightiest is always right, it merely remains for us to become possessed of Might" (Rousseau 62). In this passage Rousseau contends that might, or strength, is not a moral sanction. Rousseau contends that "Right" to govern can change when it is compromised. Jefferson uses this same line of thinking to rationalize the separation of the colonies from the British crown. "But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new Guards for their future security" (Jefferson 80,81). Jefferson contends that the chain of abuses brought by the British crown has compromised their moral authority and therefore, their "Right" to rule over the colonies.