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Posted: April 23rd, 2019

The Influence of Enlightenment on the American Revolution

The Influence of Enlightenment on the American Revolution

The American Revolution (1775-1783) was a pivotal event in world history that marked the emergence of a new nation based on the principles of democracy, liberty and equality. But what were the intellectual and ideological forces that inspired and shaped this revolution? How did the Enlightenment, a European movement of the 17th and 18th centuries, influence the American colonists to challenge the authority of the British crown and establish their own independent republic?

The Enlightenment was a period of intellectual and cultural flourishing that promoted rationalism, skepticism, individualism and human rights. It challenged the traditional sources of authority, such as religion, monarchy and aristocracy, and advocated for social reform, scientific inquiry and political participation. The Enlightenment thinkers, also known as philosophes, were influenced by the discoveries of the Scientific Revolution and the writings of classical philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle and Cicero. They sought to apply reason and empirical evidence to all aspects of human life, from ethics and politics to art and religion.

Some of the most influential Enlightenment thinkers were John Locke, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Rousseau and Adam Smith. Their ideas spread across Europe and beyond through books, pamphlets, newspapers, salons and clubs. They also reached the American colonies, where they found a receptive audience among the educated elite and the emerging middle class. The colonists were familiar with the political and religious controversies that plagued Europe, such as the wars of religion, the absolutism of Louis XIV, the Glorious Revolution in England and the persecution of dissenters. They also faced their own challenges from the British government, which imposed taxes, regulations and restrictions on their trade, representation and rights.

The Enlightenment ideas inspired the colonists to question the legitimacy of the British rule and to assert their own rights and interests. They appealed to natural law, social contract, consent of the governed and popular sovereignty as the foundations of their political philosophy. They also drew from their own colonial experience, such as the Mayflower Compact, the Virginia House of Burgesses, the New England town meetings and the colonial assemblies. They developed a sense of identity and solidarity as Americans, distinct from their British counterparts.

The Enlightenment also influenced the cultural and religious aspects of the American Revolution. The colonists embraced a variety of religious beliefs, ranging from Anglicanism and Puritanism to Quakerism and Deism. They valued religious tolerance and freedom of conscience as essential to human dignity. They also cultivated a spirit of innovation and creativity in arts, sciences and literature. They produced influential figures such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton.

The American Revolution was not only a political struggle for independence, but also an intellectual and cultural movement that embodied the ideals of the Enlightenment. It was a revolution that changed not only the fate of a nation, but also the course of world history.

Bibliography

– Bailyn B., The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (Cambridge: Harvard University Press 1967).
– Israel J., A Revolution of Mind: Radical Enlightenment And The Intellectual Origins Of Modern Democracy (Princeton: Princeton University Press 2010).
– Kramnick I., The Portable Enlightenment Reader (New York: Penguin Books 1995).
– Wood G., The Radicalism Of The American Revolution (New York: Vintage Books 1993).
– Zuckert M., Launching Liberalism: On Lockean Political Philosophy (Lawrence: University Press Of Kansas 2002).

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