School Improvement in Maryland
Clarifications: Each clarification provides an explanation of an indicator/objective to help teachers better understand the skills and/or concepts.

Standard 1.0 Political Science

Topic C. Protecting Rights and Maintaining Order

Indicator 1. Examine the impact of governmental decisions on individual rights and responsibilities in the United States

Objective b. Explain how rules and laws protect individual rights and protect the common good

Clarification

The Founding Fathers were influenced by the writings of John Locke, who published his Two Treatises of Government in 1689. In this book, Locke discusses his philosophy regarding the purpose of government. Locke arrived at his ideas by imagining what life might be like in a state of nature, or a condition in which no governments or laws existed at all. Locke imagined that in a state of nature, all people would seek to protect their own natural rights to life (survival and personal safety), liberty (ability to make their own decisions and live as one pleases), and property (ownership of things that are necessary to survive and freedom to work to gain economic benefits).

Locke imagined that in a state of nature, it would be difficult for people to protect their own natural rights. For example, even though Locke believed most people to be reasonable and good, some stronger or more skilled humans might be able to abuse those who were weaker or less skilled. Locke also asserted that in a state of nature, people who are weaker or less skilled would try to protect their rights by joining together against the strong. For John Locke, the great problem was to find a way to protect each person’s natural rights in a way that everyone could live in peace with one another.

According to Locke, the best way to solve this problem is for people to agree with others to create and live under a government and give that government the power to make and enforce laws. Locke called this kind of agreement a social contract. In such a contract, individuals give up the absolute right to do anything they want to do in exchange for being able to enjoy the security that can only be provided by a government. Each person agrees to obey the laws created by the government, but also gains the security of knowing that their rights to life, liberty, and property are protected. Because they protect individuals from abuses that occur in a state of nature, rules and laws are necessary to preserve and protect individual rights.

The Founders also were influenced by the classical republicanism of the Roman Republic. They sought to create a government in which the people would elect representatives who would work to enact laws and policies that were intended to promote the betterment of the whole community, or the common good, rather than individuals’ or groups own interests. Writing under the persona “First Citizen,” Charles Carroll of Carrolton reflected this aim in a series of essays that were published in the Maryland Gazette in 1773: “Government was instituted for the general good, but Officers entrusted with its powers, have most commonly perverted them to the selfish views of avarice and ambition.”

Later, in Democracy in America (1835), Alexis de Tocqueville argued that Americans had found a way to bridge the apparent contradiction between classical republicans’ emphasis on the common good and Locke’s belief in the natural rights of the individual. By demonstrating adherence to the concept of enlightened self interest, de Tocqueville observed, Americans had realized that one can fulfill private ambitions only by contributing as responsible citizens to the society as a whole.

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