Liberalism was seen as a reaction to assumptions and tradition, such as the Divine Right of kings which were the basis of most earlier theories of government.

Hobbes as an authoritarian

However, the first person to establish Liberalism's emphasis on an individual was actually one who supported authoritarian regimes: Thomas Hobbes. As an Englishman living throughout the English Civil War, Hobbes witnessed the terror and carnage of Anarchy as authority throughout war-torn England broke down, which resulted in terrible atrocities and crimes against ordinary civilians. Such events would lead him to quote, that with no central authority and no monopoly of the use of force, "The condition of a condition of Warre of every one against every one." (Leviathan Pt I Ch 14)

Locke on limited government

It fell then to another Englishman to found the a great step in Liberal political Philosophy, against the background of Religious intolerance and political oppression. John Locke would found the next few steps from Divine Right to the Rights of Man. The break between Hobbes and his Liberal grandchildren would come about by the experience of Europe under the tumult of the Religious Wars between Roman Catholic and Protestant. .... As such, Locke's theories should be read not merely as the thoughts of a Liberal philosopher seeking to protect individual effort and right to decision, but also as a personal defence for one's religious beliefs against religious discrimination by the State.

18th Century Revolutions

In the 18th Century the French Revolution and the American Revolution both helped develop liberal democratic ideals.

George Mason and the Virginia Declaration of Rights

In May of 1776, George Mason, another Englishman living in the Colony of Virginia, wrote the original draft of the a Declaration of Rights for the Colony of Virginia. Mason's original draft was widely circulated within the English Colonies of America and it's articulation of Natural Rights of all Men as a basis for government had a profound effect. [1] On June 12, 1776, the Virginia Assembly unanimously adopted an amended version as "the basis and foundation of government"[2]. George Mason was also the principal author of the Virginia Constitution later that summer. Many other Colonies later adopted Bills of rights and incorporated them into their own Constitutions. Some of the northern Colonies chose to adopt bills of rights much closer to Mason's original draft, and these Bills of Rights became the legal basis for the emancipation of Slaves in some States.

See also