In England in the 17th century, during the Great Rebellion, Englishmen in the New Model Army of Parliament began to debate liberal ideas concerning extension of the suffrage, parliamentary rule, the responsibilities of government, and freedom of conscience. The controversies of this period produced one of the classics of liberal thinking, Areopagitica (1644), a treatise by the poet and prose writer John Milton in which he advocated freedom of thought and expression. One of the opponents of liberal thinking, the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, contributed significantly to liberal theory, although he favored strong and even unrestrained government. He argued that the sole test of government was its effectiveness rather than its basis in religion or tradition. Hobbes's pragmatic view of government, which stressed the equality of individuals, opened the way to free criticism of government and the right to revolution, ideas that Hobbes himself opposed. An influential early liberal was the English philosopher John Locke. In his political writings, which deeply influenced the framers of the U.S. Constitution, he argued for popular sovereignty, the right of rebellion against oppression, and toleration of religious minorities. According to the thought of Locke and his many followers, the state exists not to promote people's spiritual salvation, but to serve its citizens and to guarantee their life, liberty, and property under a constitution.
Much of Locke's philosophy is reflected in the writings of the Anglo-American political philosopher and writer Thomas Paine, who argued that the authority of one generation should not be considered binding on its successors, that the state is perhaps necessary but still an evil, and that a belief in divine order was all the religion that need be demanded of free people. Thomas Jefferson also echoed Locke in the Declaration of Independence and in later pronouncements defending revolutions, attacking paternalistic government, and upholding free expression of unpopular opinions.