The Declaration of Independence was a document inspired by and defined by John Locke and his thinking. The Declaration was written in 1776, for the most part, by Thomas Jefferson, But others, such as Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston contributed. For these men, it was written to declare in unmistakable terms, America’s independence from Britain and its King, King George III. These men used the philosophical propositions and political corollaries that Locke first developed to frame and create the fundamental premises that they wrote into their declaration of independence King George and Britain.
In philosophical and political terms, the Declaration of Independence that Jefferson and his colleagues wrote was based on three premises first defined by Locke in his landmark work, Two Treatises of Government. Locke’s first proposition was that all people have “natural rights to life, liberty, and property.” The second was that “government is created primarily to protect its people’s natural rights.” The third proposition was that, in this context, “any government can only have the limited and specific powers that its people consent to give it.” Beyond these three propositions, Locke proposed, and Jefferson used, four of Locke’s political premises: (1) all men have “certain unalienable rights, - life, libra, and the pursuit of happiness; (2) people form a government to protect their rights; (3) government derives its power from the consent of the people; and (4) the people have a right and the duty to change a government when it violates their rights. These three philosophical premises and four political propositions are embedded throughout the Declaration of Independence as the reason why America had just cause to declare its independence.
On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee brought what came to be called the Lee Resolution before the Continental Congress. This resolution stated “these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states …” The members of the Continental Congress debated independence for several days. Then the Committee of Five — John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, Robert R. Livingston, and Thomas Jefferson — was formed and given the job of drafting a formal Declaration of Independence. After some deliberations, these five gave the task of writing the document to Jefferson. As written by Jefferson and adopted by the members of the Congress, the Declaration contained 3 sections: a general statement of natural rights theory and the purpose of government; a list of grievances against the British King; and the declaration of independence from England.