The Origin and Purpose of Government According to Political Thinkers


The origin and purpose of most governments is to protect its peopleand ensure law and order. In America, the government can be tracedback to the American Revolution. After the revolution, the countrybecame independent of Great Britain’s monarchy rule. Americans werethen faced with the challenge of uniting all the states as one. Theywanted to create a political system dissimilar from the monarchicalstructure in Britain, where all authority was exercised by ahereditary king or queen. The following discussion focuses on theorigin and purpose of government according to the American Revolutionpolitical thinkers.

The Origin and Purpose of Government


The American government is founded on democracy. However, thecountry was not always democratic, because as a former colony, it wasformally ruled by Great Britain. The North American colonies weredivided into three. The royal colonies under English monarch rulethe king gave out land in North America to individuals who createdproprietary colonies and charter colonies (Key, 2008). The Englishmonarchy allowed the colonies to self-govern in the early 1700s.However, King George III enforced new rules as well as taxes on thecolonists in the mid-1700s (Key, 2008).

The colonists were opposed to these laws and taxes and resorted toforming a confederation they structured an annual congress andstarted to revolt. This resulted in growing colonial unity among thecolonies. For instance, Benjamin Franklin suggested the formation ofThe Albany Plan, through which a congress of representativesfrom all colonies was created (Key, 2008). Another illustration isThe Stamp Act Congress, whose representatives’ role was toprepare their Declaration of Rights and Grievances inobjection to British colonial rule (Key, 2008). To further unite thecolonies, a Continental Congress was formed. The continuousunity of the colonies resulted in a successful American Revolution,and eventually America’s independence.

After becoming self-governing, the united states were faced with themission of creating a government. Americans did not desire to have acentral authority, but aimed at creating state governments (Wood,2016). However, the domestic instability that ensued following theAmerican Revolution provoked the need for an advent form ofgovernment, which would have a constitution to ensure liberty. Theconcepts and practices that inspired the formation of a democraticgovernment can be traced to prehistoric civilizations in Rome andGreece. These civilizations were the Protestant Reformationand Gutenberg’s Printing Press (U.S. History, 2014).

Apart from these civilizations, the creators of U. S. constitutionwere mainly influenced by the 17th era Enlightenment in Europe (U.S.History, 2014). During this century, Europeans were exposed tomany global civilizations due to ocean voyages and trading, which ledto the rise of a middle class. Owing to the ProtestantReformation, free thinkers began to critic the actions of theCatholic Church. The Gutenberg’s Press, on the otherhand, made it possible for free thinkers to spread their ideas fast,resulting in the rise of political thinkers (U.S. History,2014). The thinkers supported democratic governance via discussionson personal autonomy and equal opportunity.

Thomas Hobbes was among these first political thinkers. Through theLeviathan, Hobbes argued that citizens are unable to governthemselves (U.S. History, 2014). His rationale was that peoplehave a natural tendency to be self-centered. Thus, they requiresomeone to be in charge of them to ensure equality and avoidconflict. Afterward, other political thinkers such as Rousseau,Voltaire and Montesquieu proposed a more positive democracy. Thethinkers questioned the rule of absolute monarchs. Instead, theysuggested that government should be separated into differentbranches, a system adopted by America. These thinkers influenced theindividuals who soon after became creators of the Americangovernment.

Among them is John Locke. Locke supported Hobbes’ argument thatpeople were self-centered. Nevertheless, he reasoned that it was muchbetter to have a government that avoided tyranny, apparent throughhis Second Treatise of Government (U.S. History, 2014).In the treatise, Locke explains the foundation of a justifiablegovernment. He explained that for leaders to have power, theindividual ought to be elected by those they intend to govern. Lockefurther explained that the objective of government is ensuringprotection of natural rights of its citizens, which include property,life and liberty. He noted that citizens are mandated to remove frompower any government that fails in protecting natural rights (U.S.History, 2014). Locke’s idea had a great influence on ThomasJefferson when he drafted the Declaration of Independence,which continues to be in use to date.


Political thinkers not only played a role in creating a government,but also in explaining its purpose. According to Thomas Hobbes, itwas important to have a government to ensure peace. His argument wasthat without a government, civilians would engage in constant fights.Through his book, Leviathan, Hobbes claims that people haveself-interests, which if not constrained via political force, couldresult in war. As a result, life would become “solitary, poor,nasty, brutish and short” (Jillson, 2015:13). Hence, resulting inthe conclusion that the purpose of government involves ensuringharmony and security, via whichever means possible. Hobbes furtherargued that a government is an agreement amid citizens and theirleader. In the agreement, citizens have to forego their rights toensure that they get peace and security in return. Also, that aperfect government arises from having a ruler with absolute power,such that civilians are incapable of rebelling.

Subsequent political thinkers disagree with Hobbes. John Lockethrough his treatises argued that government should be an agreementbetween civilians and those in power, or a social contract (Jillson,2015). He objected the monarchy rule, where a single individual hadabsolute power over other citizens. In reference to Locke, thepurpose of government involves protecting natural rights and ensuringthat society is in order (Jillson, 2015). The natural rights headvocated for, as discussed in the origin of government, are theright to property, life and liberty. Contrary to Hobbes, Lockesuggested that civilians are justified to overthrow a government,which fails to respect and protect their rights. In addition, leadersmust remain in power, due to the people’s will. They must have thego ahead of those they govern.

The function of government as protecting natural rights was alsosupported by Samuel Adams, Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson. In1772, when Boston town selected a team to draft colonists’ rights,Sam Adams was selected as one of the members (Perkins, 2015). At thetime, Adams had already drafted his declaration because he hadenvisioned a free America. In his declaration, Adams outlined thenatural rights of colonists. These were the right to life, propertyand liberty in addition to the right to support them (Perkins,2015). He further argued that people are free to leave or stay in asociety for as long as they wish. Through these rights, Adams aimedat motivating colonies to join forces in defending their freedom, byestablishing state governments. Thus, Samuel Adams viewed thesignificance of any government as protecting the rights of civilianswhom they govern.

Thomas Paine likens government to “a necessary evil”. He impliesthat the government is important because it prevents citizens fromindulging in evil (Fruchtman, 2009). Paine argues that if people areto act morally, we would not need a government. Nevertheless, peopleare not perfect, which makes it crucial to have a government thatprotects property, liberty and life. According to Paine, the role ofgovernment is thus, to ensure its citizens are secure (Fruchtman,2009). A government is judged depending on its capability to meetthis role. Paine’s view of government derives from the CommonSense, a pamphlet he published in 1776 (Fruchtman, 2009). Thepamphlet was written as a reaction to the American Revolution, withthe objective of urging colonists to fight for absoluteself-government from Great Britain.

Paine in Common Sense, used the illustration of people livingin an island, where they were unable to communicate with a largersociety. He argued that with time the individuals develop ties andmakes laws. Such people are happier when they are accountable formaking their own laws, which will govern them (Fruchtman, 2009).Paine’s intention was to urge colonists to fight for such agovernment. He further critics the British monarch system ofgovernment, arguing that it is complicated and too much authority isawarded to the monarchy. As such, it is impossible for such agovernment to ensure fairness. Paine states that man was born in afree and fair state by nature, in a world without kings hence anygovernment should ensure that it secures these laws of nature.

Likewise, Thomas Jefferson argued that all people had a right toliberty and life. His support for natural rights was evident in hisdeclaration. He asserted that everyone is born naturally, and joinsthe world with a right to be free freedom referring to personalliberty (U.S. History, 2014). Thus, no government should denypeople the right to live freely. Jefferson’s ideas on governmentderived from his objection of British rule. He argued that Britain,by exercising control over Americans denied them their naturalrights. As a result, following America’s independence, Jeffersonwas a key figure in drafting the most suitable government for thecolonists. He proposed a government whose objective was to safeguardnatural rights and minority rights as well. He believed in a free andfair government where a leader was chosen by the people via elections(U.S. History, 2014).


The origin of government is the Enlightenment in Europe. TheAmericans responsible for creating a government borrowed ideas fromthe writings of political thinkers in the 17th century. They createda government, which was and continues to be founded on Enlightenmentvalues. These values are equality, liberty and justice. The politicalthinkers argue that the government is supposed to ensure it protectsthe natural rights of civilians. They are referred to as naturalrights because they are God-given. When someone is born, theyautomatically join the world as a free person. Such a person has theright to life, own property and liberty.


Fruchtman, J. (2009).&nbspThepolitical philosophy of Thomas Paine.Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Jillson, C. (2015). American government: Political development andinstitutional change. New York: Routledge.

Key, J. (2008). The clay pipe. Bloomington: XlibrisCorporation.

Perkins, K. (2015). The contributions of Samuel Adams to the AmericanRevolution: A historiographic analysis. A Student History Journal,8, 1-11.

U.S. History. (2014). Foundations of American government.Retrieved from:

U.S. History. (2014). Jeffersonian America: A secondrevolution? Retrieved from:

Wood, G. S. (2016). Creating a new government. The Gilder LehrmanInstitute of American History, 1-1. Retrieved from: