Social Contract in the Declaration of Independence


The Social Contract Theory remains one of the predominant ideologies associated with the Declaration of the American Independence. This theory presupposes that personal morals and political obligations are anchored on a contractual agreement for the society members desire to establish. The philosophical background for the theory was John Locke’s and Thomas Hobbes’s observations, establishing that individuals have the right and inherent capacity to endorse social rules. As such, they must comply with the regulations because they formulated the rules. Besley (2020) defines this concept as sovereignty when ascertaining the relationship between the government and its subjects. In 1776, the United States gained Independence from British colonial rule and set out to draft a legal system that would guide its governance structures. This paper delves into the theory’s components and determines its relevance in justifying the government’s authority as a governance system within a particular society. The Declaration of the American Independence instilled the Social Contract Theory, legitimizing the government’s authority to demand that subjects obey laws.

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Components of Social Contract Theory

Like any other school of thought, the Social Contract Theory has components explaining its universal recognition and characterizing societal demands arising from the theory. The primary component is the existence of an Agreement. From its wording, this theory is contractual. This component denotes that society’s origin is founded on the understanding that its members mutually agreed to form a social unit from where they could manage their affairs, like governance, economic structures, and social lifestyles. Mutual agreement plays a significant role in a societal system because it binds every society member (Bërdufi & Dushi, 2015). Otherwise, societies would be “free jungles” where individuals can exercise their discretion maximally because no rule binds them. Therefore, consent forms the foundation for members mutually agreeing to form a society.

The Social Contract Theory established a Political Community in furtherance of the civil society formed through a mutual agreement among members. Barnett (2019) defines political civilization as the desire to foster a governing structure that would serve the public’s best interests. Governance experts believe that this theory corroborates the Utilitarianism Theory, which calls for the optimal use of scarce but available resources for the maximum good of society. Equally, the Social Contract Theory advocates for a political community that operates to serve the people alongside set rules and principles. The essence of developing a political community aligns with the need to foster social order by establishing a governing system to which all society members will pay allegiance. For instance, elements like patriotism associated with modern societies/countries originate from the political communities anchored within the Social Contract Theory. Indisputably, this theory supports independent political communities empowered for self-governance.

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The Social Contract Theory also advocates for Personal Protection and The Rule of Law within established civilized societies or political communities. According to Locke’s school of thought, “as much as possible, mankind is to be preserved.” This quote denotes that individuals are entitled to certain rights and freedoms, which the theory considers fundamental to humankind. Society members are entitled to human rights because they are human beings (Barnett, 2019). In addition, fundamental human rights include the right to life, property, religion, participation in elections, and freedom of movement. These rights have been pivotal in defining relationships between individuals and their governments. For instance, the right to life prohibits arbitrarily depriving another person of their life. In addition to the protection, the rule of law provides for the equality principle where every society member (regardless of socioeconomic or political influence) is subject to the prevailing laws.

The Legitimacy of Government’s Authority

From the above components (existence of an Agreement, Political Community, and Personal Protection and The Rule of Law), the Social Contract Theory influences governance and justifies its authority. Agreements lead to enacting social rules that translate into domestic laws for the country (Caton, 2020). For example, during the American Declaration of Independence, the newly birthed country started formulating its laws by awarding itself a Constitution (Barnett, 2019). This legal document derives its supremacy directly from the United States citizens and provides for binding rules like the Bill of Rights. Additionally, the political community translated into a government that would govern the country, oversee its infrastructural development, and facilitates service delivery. Through electing a government, Thomas Hobbes opined that the citizenry surrenders its sovereignty in exchange for crucial services like development, service delivery, security, and justice dispensation (Bërdufi & Dushi, 2015). The government achieves these through equally protecting and respecting each individual’s rights by dint of the rule of law. Therefore, every society member (citizen in the case of countries) is bound by the laws they directly enact or their representatives enact, giving the government authority to punish lawbreakers and oversee development.


The government derives legitimacy for its authority from the Social Contract Theory, which presupposes that society members have a mutual agreement on the social rules governing their interaction and form of government. John Locke believed that preserving mankind required a more powerful system whose legitimacy originated from the people. On the other hand, Thomas opined that the people harbored the sovereign power; hence the government could only derive its authority from its subjects. These concepts have been sacred to American Independence since its declaration. The country strived for self-governance with legit authority originating from the people.

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  1. Barnett, R. E. (2019). The Declaration of Independence and the American Theory of Government: First Come Rights, and Then Comes Government. Harv. JL & Pub. Pol’y42, 23.
  2. Bërdufi, N., & Dushi, D. (2015). Social contract and the government’s legitimacy. Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences6(6 S1), 392.
  3. Besley, T. (2020). State capacity, reciprocity, and the social contract. Econometrica88(4), 1307-1335.
  4. Caton, J. (2020). Moral community and moral order: Developing Buchanan’s multilevel social contract theory. Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics13(2), 1-29.
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