Substance of Human Rights as Expressed by Locke and Jefferson

Human Rights is a universal issue. It is basically about treasuring and giving importance to one’s life and creating a sense of equality regardless of race, gender, and age. To attain established universal human rights is a global goal, wherein the welfare of the people is protected under the same laws which grants them their right to live a good life. Despite the differences in beliefs, culture, and society it is believed that human rights should be given and implemented to all. Each individual is entitled for it and nobody is an exemption and by having human rights, this will lead the way for a good life that each one desires.

The quest for human rights has its share of a long history, where in the search of a good life people were prompted to ask how and what are the things to attain this kind of living. Aristotle stated that ultimate goal of human beings is to have a good life and using this as an example of a universal want of people, human rights came into view. To have these rights is to have the necessary tools in attaining the good life. Before human rights became global campaign, it has evolved from the thoughts of different scholars who studied human rights.

We start by comparing the concept of human rights from its early form to the contemporary definition. The earlier concept of human rights focused on the owner of those rights which is the human component. It refers to the “right-holder” as the person who has the right in question where the idea of human rights believes that all human beings can have, or hold, these rights if certain characteristics are possessed; on the contrary, the contemporary human rights concept stated that every human being – man or woman, rich or poor, adult or child, educated or not – have human rights (Orend 15).

From there, this essay will focus on the earlier forms of human rights. Two notable figures will be discussed to have a further grasp on how human rights have been perceived before. The first one is the famous British philosopher John Locke who laid out the foundation of human rights with his work regarding the social contract theory and the natural rights. Followed by former American president Thomas Jefferson and became notable for drafting the United States Declaration of Independence, with its preamble as the first inspiration for democracy to center on human rights.

These two figures lived within different social contexts thus coming up with various views and approach when it comes to human rights. However, it is believed that Thomas Jefferson and most especially John Locke became the foundation of the building the American government and ideology. Their views on how they approach human rights will be compared and contrast in the following discussion. John Locke lived at the time where civil unrest and turmoil reigned against the British monarchic rule in 17th century. He became involve with politics after changing his passion for medicine.

He wrote the foundations of what a civil should be like to avoid the rule of tyranny over citizens. On his 1960 work Second Treatise of Government, this has been divided into two parts where the first one deals with the theory of social contract and the second discusses about the existence and maintenance of a right of property (Perlman and McCann 51). Within the social contract, Locke stated that even before governments were formed and came into existence, humans have inherent which cannot be taken away. The government was made for man to maintain those natural rights and ensuring human security and happiness.

However, Locke’s concept of human right focused on the right of property acquisition. His idea about natural rights and governments revolved around the protection of property where: …in a state of nature unprincipled forces could take away everything for which a person had worked or could work – even livery and life itself. To protect against this, people created governments and gave them limited power, primarily having to do with protection of “property,” the name he gave to life, liberty, and estates. (Stephens 2) From this view, Locke considered the access to property as a way of ensuring human right.

Since government was made to protect human rights (which Locke encapsulated in property) only those who have possessions of property will be protected. It can be seen that this early form of human right is limited to selected people. Locke determined property not just as physical assets but it includes skill or ability such as education (Hinks, McKivigan, and Williams 211). The society in which Locke lived in have slaves and highly patriarchal. At that time, women and slaves do not have access to education and higher forms of labor thus, not having the capability to acquire properties.

For Locke, property is a gateway to achieve the human rights of liberty, security, and happiness. Through the Right of Property, individuals are therefore encouraged to work for it where individual liberty is achieved. In his work, acquiring ‘property’ is defined as a degree of sovereignty of men to control his own assets and cannot be taken without the owner’s consent. Human rights are enclosed within the idea of property where it is inalienable. Given the condition of Locke’s society, property or human rights in this sense, became limited to the bourgeoisie men excluding slaves and women.

On the other hand, the United States was a young nation during Locke’s time. After being freed from the British Empire, the third president of the American government namely Thomas Jefferson wrote the United States Declaration of Independence to declare America’s autonomy. Jefferson was a strong follower of John Locke’s philosophy and political ideas. He wrote the declaration drawing out the key concepts of an American democracy from Locke’s works. Just like Locke, Jefferson and his colleagues defined human rights as inherent and inalienable in man.

The declaration opened with the preamble: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. (Mulloy 76). This preamble became the framework of American democracy which is governed by these human rights to assure to welfare of the people. The “pursuit of happiness” is different from Locke’s description of human rights as life, liberty, and property. ” Thomas Jefferson’s human rights were constructed to create equality in the American society where all people can experience.

All men are created equal in the sense that all are equal in order of nature and none is dependent on the will of another. Governments are instituted to secure the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and while they may be further defined and regulated, citizens may not be deprived of them. (Peterson and Jefferson 15) Jefferson expressed his objection with slavery since equality should encompass all sectors of the society. However, during his administration, the abolition of slavery has never been a priority. Thomas Jefferson passed a bill to end slavery but it has never been approved by the congress.

The intention of the declaration is to embrace all people into equality. Jefferson broadened the concept of human rights by not just boxing it within one aspect – such as Locke’s association of property to human rights. The declaration became a foundation for the drafting of one of the most important treaties of today which is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Though the intent of the declaration failed to materialize in the American society – most especially in the attempt to free slaves – the concept of human rights certainly evolved into what we came to know today.

Jefferson became known as the father of human rights where people who aimed to pursue human rights implementation for the whole world used his arguments as foundation. It took a long time before the contemporary concept of human rights would soon be realized. Despite the presence of the current universal declaration, human rights are still not felt in other societies but as long as there is time, universality on human rights is still possible.

Works cited

Orend, Brian. Human Rights. New York: Broadview Press, 2002. Peterson, Merrill and Thomas Jefferson. The Political Writings of Thomas Jefferson. North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1993. Stephens, George. Locke, Jefferson, and the Justices. New York: Algora Publishing, 2002. Perlman, Mark and Robert McCann. The Pillars of Economic Understanding. USA: University of Michigan Press, 1998. Hinks, Peter. , McKivigan, John. , and Owen Williams. Encyclopedia of Antislavery and Abolition. Wesport, CT: GreenWood. Mulloy, D. J. American Extremism. New York: Taylor & Francis, 2004.