The American Enlightenment mostly adhered to the more moderate practices of the English and Scottish Enlightenments. Though few Americans questioned social structures based on gender, race, or class, those who read John Locke, Isaac Newton, or Thomas Reid appealed to the natural ability for reason of ordinary people. Many people anticipated that natural philosophy would offer a solution to get past the conflicts that developed within America’s extraordinarily diverse religious landscape. The fundamental precepts of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were developed by leaders like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin from the Enlightenment ideas of liberty, rights, and self-government.
Philosophical History of Enlightenment
The Enlightenment was a global intellectual and philosophical movement that emerged in the 17th and 18th centuries. It strongly emphasized the use of critical reason as opposed to blind faith or religious dogmatism. It evolved independently of religious thought along with the advent of science. It placed a strong emphasis on the value of nature and the natural order as an avenue of knowledge. Enlightenment thinkers supported religious tolerance and freedom in response to the religious wars in Europe. Conflict between the proponents of these new ideas and the political and religious establishments in Europe resulted from their emphasis on human rights and intellectual freedom, most notably in France.
A more mild version of the Enlightenment than that of Europe took place in America, which had an impact on colonial political and theological ideas. Many would contend that its philosophy of religious tolerance gained popularity in America in a significant manner because no single religious movement was able to gather the required number of votes to impose itself upon the young nation. Leaders like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were regarded as models of Enlightenment philosophy, and the freedom-loving, Christian rationalism of their beliefs contributed to laying the groundwork for the Independence Declaration and the Constitution of the United States.
Enlightenment led to the American Revolution
The Enlightenment was a substantial philosophical and intellectual foundation of the Revolution of America. It gave the revolutionary movement the theoretical foundation and concepts that motivated and supported it. Following is how the Enlightenment contributed to the Revolution of America:
1) Intellectuals of Enlightenment:
The notions of natural law, social contract, and the limits of governmental power were pushed by Enlightenment intellectuals such as Voltaire, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Montesquieu. The intellectual and political milieu in the American colonies was significantly affected by these ideals.
2) Focus on Individual Rights:
John Locke and other thinkers of the Enlightenment believed that people have inherent rights to things like life, freedom, and property. The colonists of America were affected by these concepts, and they came to view British policies and unrepresentative taxation as an infringement of their fundamental rights.
3) Constitution of America
The Constitution of America was written under the influence of the American Enlightenment. Political ideas advanced by Enlightenment intellectuals like Montesquieu were strongly influenced by the making of the Constitution, which includes a system of checks and balances, accountability, and a division of powers.
4) Social Contract
Enlightenment thinkers developed the idea of the social contract, which helped to support the notion that a legitimate government must be based on the agreement of the governed. According to American revolutionaries, the British government is claimed to have broken this pact by enacting undesirable taxes and legislation.
5) Science and Education
In America, science and education were likewise influenced by Enlightenment principles. People like Benjamin Franklin encouraged the study of knowledge and the application of science in everyday life. A dedication to intellectual advancement can be seen in the founding of institutions and libraries.
American Enlightenment Thinkers
1. Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin was a statesman, printer, author, scientist, and printer who guided America through a turbulent period of colonial governance, the Revolutionary War, and its historic but precarious establishment as a nation. Franklin believed that enlightened self-interest is when one’s self-interested pursuit of worldly gain aligns with the philanthropic and voluntaristic advancement of the common good. In his opinion, nation-states may foster peaceful relations with the help of reason, free trade, and a global mindset. Franklin believed that free enterprises make good citizens within nation-states because they seek achievable objectives and can live a productive and dignified life.
Franklin preferred non-profit organizations to governmental ones as channels for directing citizens’ strong individualism and solitary pursuit of personal goals into constructive social outlets. Franklin formed and participated in several of these organizations in addition to advising his fellow citizens to establish and join them. Franklin was a steadfast supporter of federalism, an opponent of insignificant parochialism, a visionary figure in international politics, and a fervent supporter of religious freedom.
2. James Madison
James Madison, who is hailed as the “Father of the Constitution,” was a man of letters, a politician, a physicist, and a diplomat who had a lasting impact on American philosophical thought. He was also one of the most significant architects of the U.S. Constitution. In the tenth Federalist essay, Madison analyzes the issue of factions, arguing that the emergence of groups with similar interests (interests or advocates groups) is necessary and hazardous for republican governance.
He continues by saying that a large and diverse republic will prevent the emergence of a majority faction; if small groups find it difficult to coordinate and communicate over great distances, the threat will be eliminated and liberty will be preserved. A clever institutional structure with checks and balances (first proposed by John Adams, where each branch would have a say in the affairs of the others) would prevent excessive harm when factions developed within the government. As a result, “ambition must be made to oppose ambition” and the government will consequently effectively “control itself.”
3. Thomas Jefferson
Jefferson strongly influenced the US Constitution and is credited with writing the Declaration of Independence and expanding Locke’s inherent rights to include the “pursuit of happiness.” This was mainly because of his exchanges with James Madison at the 1787 Constitutional Convention. He viewed both the Convention and the Declaration as tests, the latter as an experiment in creating a new political order and the former as a test of the colonists’ determination to secession from Britain.
He advocates for the evolution of constitutions in parallel with social development and enlightenment, a viewpoint that is embodied in panel four of the Jefferson Memorial. Jefferson’s theory, which emphasizes the notion that constitutions should change in step with a society’s progressive views, discoveries, and circumstances, represents the spirit of organic constitutionalism.
4. John Adam
John Adams was a prominent figure in American Enlightenment thought, and he wrote significant writings reflecting his political views. In “Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law,” he blamed Britain for enforcing oppressive laws that led to unrest in the colonies. His “Defense of the Constitutions” was a resolute defense of republicanism and the idea that separate authorities are necessary to protect individual liberty.
He questioned unconstrained popular control in “Discourses on Davila,” arguing that government should be in place to restrain human inclinations toward power and emphasize its role in stifling unfair interests and advancing reason in governance. His works favored a government that controlled and subdued people’s desires for the benefit of society as a whole.
Declaration of American Independence
The Enlightenment ideals had a significant influence on the ideological and intellectual foundations of the American Revolution, even if the revolution was propelled by a complex interaction of political, and social elements. However, the North American colonists came into growing conflict with British imperial policies about taxation and frontier policy throughout the 1760s and early 1770s. The rulers of the colonies sent delegates to the Continental Congress to plan a colonial boycott of British goods after repeated protests failed to change British policies and instead led to the closure of the port of Boston and the proclamation of martial law in Massachusetts.
Even with these changes, colonial officials wanted to mend fences with the British government, and all but the most extreme members of Congress were opposed to declaring independence. Benjamin Franklin, a member of the Secret Committee of Correspondence at the time, however, suggested to French agents and other European friends in late 1775 that the colonies were moving closer to achieving independence. Franklin also intended to persuade the French to provide the colonies with assistance, which is equally possible to be true. But before the French government would ever entertain an alliance, independence would be required.
A significant step in severing connections with Britain was taken by Congress in response to the British Parliament’s ban on trade with the colonies on December 22, 1775, by opening colonial ports in April of 1776. The booklet Common Sense, written by Thomas Paine and published in January and widely disseminated across the colonies, which argued for the colonies’ independence, was helpful to the colonists. The Model Treaty that would serve as the foundation for the 1778 alliance with France was in the early stages of development by February 1776, when colonial authorities were debating the idea of forming foreign alliances.
Congress received the committee’s final draft on June 28, 1776, and on July 4, Congress accepted the Declaration of Independence’s final words. The most significant diplomatic outcome of the Declaration was to enable friendly foreign governments to recognize the United States. Although the Sultan of Morocco referred to American ships in a consular document in 1777, Congress was forced to wait until the 1778 Treaty of Alliance with France before formally recognizing American independence. In 1782, the Dutch recognized American independence. The Treaty of Paris in 1783 was the first time that Spain acknowledged American independence, even though it had joined the war against Great Britain in 1779. By the conditions of the treaty that put an end to the War of the American Revolution, Great Britain formally recognized the United States as a sovereign and independent country.
American Enlightenment: Dates
|1714||The American Enlightenment begins|
|1748-1752||Montesquieu releases The Spirit of Laws influencing the Founding Fathers|
|1752||Benjamin Franklin’s kite experiment|
|1769||David Rittenhouse documents the transit of Venus|
|1776||American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence|
|1788||The Federalist Papers|
|1835||Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America|
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The American Revolution and the Age of Enlightenment show a remarkable convergence of political action and philosophical thought. The intellectual underpinning of the American Revolution and the establishment of a country based on the values of freedom and democracy was the Enlightenment’s call for reason and individual liberty. Best Diplomats is an international platform providing the emerging youth to participate in diplomatic activities worldwide. At the same time, it provides excellent information on the History of America and international relations. Get Yourself registered with the Best Diplomats to learn more about history and International Relations.
To sum up, the Age of Enlightenment and the struggle for American independence were integral parts of the history of human development. The significant impact of the Enlightenment on the philosophical, political, and intellectual climate of the American colonies created the conditions for a revolutionary change. The Revolutionary War and the ensuing establishment of a republic based on democracy were inspired by this period of reason, individual liberties, and mistrust toward authoritarian control. The Enlightenment paved the way for equality, freedom, and self-determination, leaving behind a lasting legacy that not only influenced American culture but also the values of democracy and freedom around the world.
Where was the Declaration of Independence signed?
Most of the congressional delegates signed an “engrossed” manuscript of the Declaration of Independence on August 2, 1776, at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia (now Independence Hall), about a month after the first Continental Congress approved. Engrossing is the act of writing an official document in a large, legible hand. On August 2, not every delegate was in attendance. Finally, 56 of them agreed to sign the contract. Robert R. Livingston and John Dickinson, two delegates, refused to sign.
What were the American Revolution’s three most significant Enlightenment concepts?
The freedom, equality, and justice principles of the Enlightenment in turn contributed to the conditions that led to the American Revolution and the subsequent Constitution.
Which thinkers from the Enlightenment had an impact on American politics?
The Enlightenment philosophers Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Charles Montesquieu, and John Locke all created ideas of governance in which some or even all of the people would rule. These philosophers had a significant impact on the French and American revolutions, as well as the democratic governments that resulted from them.
What ended the American Revolution?
The Revolutionary War came to an end on September 3, 1783, with the signing of the Treaty of Paris.