In this essay, Locke states that the primary purpose of government is to protect these natural rights. He also states that governments hold their power only with the consent of the people. Locke's ideas greatly influenced revolutions in America and France.

Primary Source

But though men, when they enter into society give up the equality, liberty, and executive power they had in the state of Nature into the hands of society … the power of the society or legislative constituted by them can never be supposed to extend farther than the common good…. Whoever has the legislative or supreme power of any commonwealth, is bound to govern by established standing laws, promulgated [published or made known] and known to the people, and not by extemporary [without any preparation] decrees, by indifferent and upright judges, who are to decide controversies by those laws; and to employ the force of the community at home only in the execution of such laws, or abroad to prevent or redress foreign injuries and secure the community from inroads [advances at the expense of someone] and invasion. And all this to be directed to no other end but the peace, safety, and public good of the people….

The reason why men enter into society is the preservation of their property; and the end while they choose and authorize a legislative is that there may be laws made, and rules set, as guards and fences to the properties of all the society, …

Whensoever, therefore, the legislative [power] shall transgress [go beyond; break] this fundamental rule of society, and either by ambition, fear, folly, or corruption, endeavor to grasp themselves, or put into the hands of any other, an absolute power over the lives, liberties, and estates of the people, by this breach of trust they forfeit the power the people had put into their hands for quite contrary ends, and it devolves [passes] to the people; who have a right to resume their original liberty, and by the establishment of a new legislative (such as they shall think fit), provide for their own safety and security…


  1. Summarize What does Locke say is the duty of government?
  2. Cite Evidence What evidence is there in the text to support Locke's belief that a land should only be governed with the consent of the governed?
  3. Identify Cause and Effect Based on what you already know, what aspects of Locke's Treatises likely affected the events leading to the founding of America? Cite evidence from the text to support your response.

[ The Spirit of Laws, Baron de Montesquieu ]


In 1748, the French aristocrat Baron de Montesquieu (1689–1755) wrote The Spirit of Laws, in which he concluded that the separation of the executive, legislative, and judicial powers was in the best interests of the people. Both the French revolutionary thinkers and the Framers of the United States Constitution were influenced by Montesquieu's ideas.

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The principle of democracy is corrupted not only when the spirit of equality is extinct, but likewise when they fall into a spirit of extreme equality, and when each citizen would fain be [be satisfied] upon a level with those whom he has chosen to command him. Then the people, incapable of bearing the very power they have delegated, want to manage everything themselves, to debate for the senate, to execute for the magistrate [judicial officer of limited authority], and to decide for the judges.

When this is the case, virtue can no longer subsist [survive] in the republic. The people are desirous of exercising the functions of the magistrates, who cease to be revered….

Democracy has, therefore, two excesses to avoid— the spirit of inequality, which leads to aristocracy or monarchy, and the spirit of extreme equality, which leads to despotic [authoritarian; tyrannical] power, as the latter is completed by conquest….

In the state of nature, indeed, all men are born equal, but they cannot continue in this equality. Society makes them lose it, and they recover it only by the protection of the laws.

Such is the difference between a well-regulated democracy and one that is not so, that in the former men are equal only as citizens, but in the latter they are equal also as magistrates, as senators, as judges, as fathers, as husbands, or as masters.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments