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Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78) was a French philosopher, and a leading figure of the Enlightenment. He believed that people are naturally good but are corrupted by society's false values. He was against the limitations of civilized society, and advised a return to nature. He also developed the idea of the general will, and argued that conformity with it had to be the guiding principle of government. Essentially concerned with the notion of freedom, Rousseau began his masterpiece The Social Contract (1762) with the words 'man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains'. He argued that people sacrifice their rights in return for protection by a head of state.

Rousseau challenged the idea of absolute monarchy, and the tradition that the nobility and clergy were entitled to special privileges. He also had the opinion that education should be available to everyone. Rousseau's ideas were an important influence on Romanticism and on the French Revolution. His writings began to influence political events, and inspired revolutions in France and North America. Slavery had no place in these nations formed to protect human rights.

Rousseau's ideas also inspired people to fight for freedom on behalf of others who were unable to help themselves. Politicians, Church leaders and ordinary people began to think how they might help slaves.

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