Presidential Scholars Theses (1990 – 2006)


Open Access Presidential Scholars Thesis


United States. Constitution. Natural law--Influence. Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 1712-1778. Du contrat social. Montesquieu, Charles de Secondat, baron de, 1689-1755. De l'esprit des lois. Locke, John, 1632-1704. Essay concerning the true original extent and end of civil government.


Within the context of discussions regarding the Constitution and its forming, great emphasis is given to the history of the ideas which influenced and/or became a part of that document. The general term given to the line of thought of which our Constitution is a part is "natural law" theory, referring to the rights which the founding fathers, or natural law theorists in general, deemed so basic as to be understood. Such a doctrine manifests as the "inalienable rights ... life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" in the Declaration of Independence, but in a more subdued and practical manner in our Constitution. In discussions of this school of thought, three important works by three major European political philosophers are often the center of the conversation. Jean Jacque Rousseau's Social Contract, The Spirit of Laws by Charles Louis de Secondat Montesquieu, and John Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government provide excellent insight into the school of natural law thought. On the surface, it would appear that all three played a major role in the development of American natural law thought and thus on the formation of the Constitution. In fact, two of the three can be shown to be such an influence. Rousseau, however, is conspicuously absent both in the interaction of the Constitution writers and in the form of the Constitution itself.

Date of Award



Department of History

Presidential Scholar Designation

A paper submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the designation Presidential Scholar


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Date Digital



©1993 Corey W. Smith





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