Genghis Khan was a courageous warrior, a ruthless military commander, an inspiring political leader, and an original philosopher. According to Edward Gibbon, John Locke was inspired by Genghis Khan’s religious philosophy. In Volume Four of his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Gibbon wrote: “But it is the religion of Zingis [sic] that best deserves our wonder and applause. The Catholic inquisitors of Europe who defended nonsense by cruelty, might have been confounded by the example of a barbarian, who anticipated the lessons of philosophy and established by his laws a system of pure theism and perfect toleration."
In a footnote on the same page, Gibbon wrote: “A singular conformity might be found between the religious laws of Zingis Khan and Mr. Locke.” To justify his contention of a connection between Khan and Locke, Gibbon has cited the constitution of South Carolina, then a British colony. Locke had played a role in the writing of South Carolina’s constitution. Gibbon believed that Locke’s secular constitution for South Carolina was inspired by Genghis Khan’s vision of a secular political community based on common law.
The achievement of Genghis Khan and his descendants was not only that they conquered several tribes, cities, and nations, and created the largest contiguous land empire in history, but also that they enabled people of different faiths, cultures, and geographical backgrounds live together under the Great Law (the constitution of the Mongol Empire). The Great Law made it a crime to victimize any person in the Mongol Empire on account of his religion. While most Mongols adhered to the Mongol tradition of God of the “deep blue sky,” a significant part of the population of the Mongol Empire was made of Buddhists, Taoists, Hindus, Confucians, Zoroastrians, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Manichaeans, and animalists. The Mongol Empire served as a religious and cultural melting pot—it was history’s unrivaled carrier of ideas.
The biography of Genghis Khan, History of Genghizcan the Great, First Emperor of the Ancient Moguls and Tartars (published in 1710), edited by François Pétis de la Croix, was introduced to the American colonies by Franklin. The book was in Washington’s library. Jefferson owned several copies of it. He gifted the book to his granddaughter Cornelia Jefferson Randolph on her seventeenth birthday—on the book’s first page he wrote that she must try to learn from Genghis Khan. Jefferson’s copies of the book have entered the United States Library of Congress and the library of University of Virginia. On May 26, 1795, Jefferson wrote to Jean Francois Froulle, a Paris bookseller, asking him to send him more leather bound copies of the book.