College of Arts and Sciences
Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, John Locke, Religion, American Revolution, Great Awakening, Religious Liberty, natural rights
Intellectual History | United States History
Benham, Kristina, "Religious Ideas in the Declaration of Independence: Thomas Jefferson, John Locke, and the American Mind" (2013). Senior Honors Theses. 404.
This thesis is an analysis of the religious statements of the Declaration of Independence. It examines contemporary uses of Locke’s ideas on natural rights and created equality in newspapers, town meetings, colonial governments, speeches, and sermons. It also identifies uses of Locke’s works in religious sources in the decades before the Revolution. Locke’s ideas became especially important to arguments in favor of religious liberty for dissenters during and after the First Great Awakening. These analyses connect to both his Two Treatises of Government and his A Letter Concerning Toleration. These works parallel to the writings and protests of colonial religious leaders like Elisha Williams and Isaac Backus. This thesis also evaluates the relevance of these religious ideas to the arguments for civil liberty, showing how Americans connected civil and religious liberty in the Revolution. Finally, it outlines Thomas Jefferson’s connection to efforts for religious liberty and examines the correlation of his religious beliefs to the civil-religious theory of the Declaration.