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The contract theory expanded by Rousseau (1712 - 1778)




In his book, The Social Contract, Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote about an ideal society. In this society, people would form a community and make a contract with each other, not with a ruler. People would give up some of their freedom in favor of the needs of the majority. The community would vote on all decisions, and everyone would accept the community decision. When Rousseau wrote The Social Contract, there was not a society in the world with such a system. His vision, however, was shared by American colonists and others.

Limited Government suggested by Montesquieu 1689 – 1755

In his book on gov­ernment, The Spirit of Laws, Baron de Montesquieu developed practical suggestions for creating democratic governments. He stated that the best way to ensure that the government protects the natural rights of citizens is to limit its powers. And the best way to limit government's powers is to divide government's basic powers among a number of authorities.

By dividing powers between different branches or parts of the government, no one authority would have too much power. Mon­tesquieu referred to this as a system of checks and balances.

These philosophers' ideas might sound familiar. In Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote that "all men are created equal; that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Jefferson had read Locke's Treatises very closely.

The people who created the United States Constitution found great political wisdom in the past. The system of government in place in the United States combines Ancient Greek and Roman practices with ideas developed more than 1,000 years later in Europe. Most Americans living at the time the Constitution was written were familiar with Greek democracy, the Roman repub­lic, the British parliamentary system, and the writings of Locke, Rousseau, Montesquieu and others. The Framers of the U.S. Con­stitution were deeply influenced by the many ideas on govern­ment developed during the previous 2,000 years.







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