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Thomas Jeffersons Declaration of Independence is a representative piece of Enlightenment writing that demonstrates the great influence that the work of John Locke must have had on him Jefferson adapted Lockes concept of an inherent contract between the rulers and the ruled explaining how rulers only rule through the consent of the governed This means that they enjoy the right to change the terms of this contract He used this idea of a contract to justify the revolt against King George III and the formation of an independent confederation of former colonies that became the United States He further elaborated that slavery was either a violation of natural rights possible only through the consent of the enslaved or through a continuous state of war between ruler and ruled1 Jefferson does not refer to slavery explicitly but his acquisition and adaptation of another concept of Lockes demonstrates that slavery must have been on his mind Perhaps the most famous phrase of all in this Declaration is that all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable Rights that among these are Life Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness2 This phrase reflects the ideas within Lockes Second Treatise of Government that there are certain natural rights that all people possess Locke however conceived and defined these rights differently from the way Jefferson did For Locke the natural rights were for life liberty and property It is very possible that it was because of the existence of slavery that Jefferson changed the last idea Tied up within the notion of slavery in the United States was the notion of property since slaves human beings were considered property in the United States and in Jeffersons own Virginia and on his very own plantation Jeffersons use of Lockes words reflect the Enlightenment thinking that many historians ascribe to the Founding Fathers of this country He changed the words from property to pursuit
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