What enlightenment ideas influenced the American Revolution?

The concepts that fueled the American Revolution were born during the Enlightenment. The main themes of discussion were freedom of expression, equality, press freedom, and religious tolerance.

The United States attempted to obtain independence from England during the American Revolution. Several philosophers heavily influenced them. This is something that will be covered throughout the paper. 

The concepts of the Enlightenment had a significant impact on the formation of the United States of America. 

Enlightenment values such as freedom of speech, equality, freedom of the press, and religious tolerance impacted several of the founders of the American Revolution. Because American colonists lacked these rights, they revolted against England for independence.

Thomas Jefferson wrote of Americans’ natural rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence. They arose from the Enlightenment, and their principles paved the way for the American Revolution (Fisk).

Legislative, executive, and judicial departments of government in England. With the separation of these three branches, England ensured that no one had absolute control.

This meant that the country’s people had a say in the government’s decisions, giving them far greater power and freedom.

They translated the Spirit of the Laws into English so that the American Colonists might read it and adopt its Enlightenment principles, such as a balance of power that gave citizens more freedom.

Colonists in America desired independence and believed that England should not be allowed to dominate them from afar.

The Enlightenment era brought about significant developments in Europe and the English colonies in America. Ideas from the Enlightenment impacted both the American and French Revolutions.

The following are a handful of the Enlightenment thinkers’ significant concepts that had the most impact:

What impact did the Enlightenment have on the American Revolution?

Enlightenment values such as freedom of speech, equality, freedom of the press, and religious tolerance impacted several of the founders of the American Revolution. Because American colonists lacked these rights, they revolted against England for independence.

What were the Enlightenment’s three main ideas?

The Enlightenment was an intellectual movement. It emphasized reason, individualism, and skepticism in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

What impact did the Enlightenment have?

The Enlightenment helped in the fight against ecclesiastical excesses, the establishment of science as a source of information, and the defense of human rights against tyranny. It also brought us modern education, medicine, republics, and representative democracy, among other things.

Natural Rights

John Locke was a prominent philosopher who conceptualized rights as natural and inalienable
John Locke was a prominent philosopher who conceptualized rights as natural and inalienable

These revolutions were heavily influenced by natural rights, as stated by John Locke. The Declaration of Independence in the United States was significantly influenced by John Locke, particularly the famous line “life, liberty, and happiness.” 

The Bill of Rights protects natural rights as well. Natural rights were the cornerstone of France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man, a human rights manifesto written during the French Revolution.

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Most Americans’ dedication to these republican ideas rendered the American Revolution inevitable since Britain became increasingly perceived as corrupt and antagonistic to republicanism and a threat to the Americans’ established liberties.

 In 1848, Leopold von Ranke, a prominent German historian, said that American republicanism influenced the growth of European liberalism.

The North Americans launched a new power into the globe by renouncing English constitutionalism and establishing a new republic based on individual rights. When ideas have found proper concrete expression, they propagate most quickly.

As a result, republicanism made its way into the Romanic/Germanic realm. The belief that monarchy best served the nation’s interests had prevailed throughout Europe up to this time. 

The idea that the country should govern itself began to spread. The real relevance of this principle became apparent only after a state had been constituted based on the theory of representation.

This is the purpose of all subsequent revolutionary revolutions. This was a complete 180-degree turn of a premise. 

Until that time, a king who reigned by God’s grace had been the pivot around which everything revolved. Now the notion has arisen that power should be derived from below.

These two concepts are opposed, and the fight between them dictates the modern world’s trajectory. The fight between them had not yet taken shape in Europe; it did with the French Revolution.

Many historians believe that Locke’s belief that “no one ought to hurt another in his life, health, liberty, or belongings” is the source of this famous phrase.

Others claim Jefferson borrowed the phrase from Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries on English Laws. 

Others point out that the “truest definition” of “natural religion” is “the pursuit of happiness through the exercise of reason and truth,” as described in William Wollaston’s 1722 book The Religion of Nature Delineated.

In part, the Virginia Declaration of Rights was written by George Mason. It was then adopted by the Virginia Convention of Delegates on June 12, 1776.

A few days before Jefferson’s draft, it states: All men are equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights. It includes enjoying life and liberty, acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and attaining happiness and safety.

The Second Continental Congress took upon the United States Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, principally drafted by Thomas Jefferson. 

We believe these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that their Creator endows them with certain unalienable Rights, and that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Social Contract

Thomas Hobbes's work Leviathan, in which he discusses the concept of the social contract theory
Thomas Hobbes’s work Leviathan, in which he discusses the concept of the social contract theory

The social contract notion influenced both the American and French Revolutions. The social contract notion offered people a justification to depose their monarchs in both revolutions.

Because of this principle, the American Constitution establishes elections for all posts and a procedure for removing a president who is not performing their duties.

People in France believed their monarchy was not upholding the social compact, so they deposed it and replaced it with a republic.

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The emphasis of American republicanism was on the consent of the governed, the abolition of the aristocracy, and the fight against corruption.

It signified the coming together of classical and English republicanisms (of 17th-century Commonwealth men and 18th-century English Country Whigs).

J.G.A. Pocock described America’s scholarly sources as follows:

The authoritative literature of this culture was formed by the Whig canon and the neo-Harringtonians, John Milton, James Harrington, Sidney, Trenchard, Gordon, Bolingbroke, and the Greek-Roman and Renaissance masters of the tradition as far as Montesquieu. 

Its values and concepts were: a civic and patriot ideal in which the personality was established on the property. It was perfected in citizenship but perpetually threatened by. 

The government operated through patronage, faction, standing armies, established churches, and the encouragement of a monied interest.

However, the formulation of this last concept was somewhat hampered by the keen desire for readily available paper credit joint in settlement colonies.

Balance of Power

1866 cartoon by Daumier, L’Equilibre Européen, representing the balance of power
1866 cartoon by Daumier, L’Equilibre Européen, representing the balance of power

The separation of powers principle of Montesquieu found a part in these revolutions as well. 

The founders of the United States of America built three distinct branches of government while creating their new country.

The other two can be checked by the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government. Checks and balances are the terms for this system.

Because of how the First and Second Estates abused the peasants of the Third Estate, the king and three estates were removed from power in France.

On the one hand, the American Enlightenment arose from the actions of European political intellectuals, including Montaigne, John Locke, and Jean Jacques Rousseau.

They derived democratic ideas from American Indian governmental structures brought back from European travelers to the “new world” after 1500.

In “Native American wigwams,” concepts of freedom and modern democratic principles were created, and in Voltaire’s Huron, they gained permanency. 

While an intellectual shift occurred between 1714 and 1818 that appeared to transform the British Colonies of America from a backwater to a leader in a variety of fields, they included moral philosophy, educational reform, religious revival, industrial technology, science, and, most notably, political philosophy — the roots of this shift were domestic.

In America, there was a consensus on a governmental framework centered on the “pursuit of pleasure,” which was based mainly on Native sources, which were misconstrued.

Many college courses have replaced theology with a non-denominational moral philosophy. 

Yale College and William and Mary College were both reformed. Natural philosophy (science), modern astronomy, and mathematics were added to the curricula of Puritan universities like the College of New Jersey and Harvard University.

In addition, “new-model” American colleges such as King’s College New York (now Columbia University) and the College of Philadelphia were formed (now the University of Pennsylvania).

Separation of Church and State

James Madison by Gilbert Stuart
James Madison by Gilbert Stuart

Religion was vital throughout the time of absolute monarchies. The people frequently used it as a form of control.

Both the founders of the United States of America and the French Revolution were aware of this and made efforts to ensure it did not happen again.

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The Bill of Rights in the United States guarantees religious liberty. People had religious freedom, which the government safeguarded. All religions were finally granted civil and political rights in France.

Enlightened Founding Fathers, notably Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington, campaigned for and won religious liberty for minorities.

The founding fathers visualized the United States as a place where people of various religions might live in peace and benefit from one another. “Conscience is the most sacrosanct of all property,” James Madison said in 1792, summarizing this principle.

One of the defining characteristics of the period from 1775 to 1818 was a shift away from organized religion toward religious tolerance.

The victory, if not the end, of the American Enlightenment has been attributed to the approval of the new Connecticut Constitution in 1818.

The 180-year-old “Standing Order” and the Connecticut Charter of 1662, whose provisions traced back to the state’s establishment in 1638 and the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, were invalidated by the new constitution. 

The Congregational church was disestablished under the new constitution, which allowed religious freedom.

Conclusion

The Enlightenment, also known as the Age of Reason, was a cultural and intellectual movement that prioritized reason over superstition and science over blind faith in the eighteenth century.

Enlightenment intellectuals such as John Locke, Isaac Newton, and Voltaire used the power of the press to challenge conventional knowledge and propagate new ideas about openness, inquiry, and religious tolerance throughout Europe and the Americas.

Many view the Enlightenment as a watershed moment in Western civilization, with a new era of light ushering in after a period of darkness.

Although there is an argument on the exact date of the American Enlightenment, it is reasonable to deduce that it took place in the eighteenth century.

It was among philosophers in British North America and the early United States. This was influenced by the ideas of the British and French Enlightenment.

The Age of Enlightenment shifted allegiances away from absolute authority, whether religious or political, toward more skeptical and optimistic attitudes about human nature, religion, and politics, based on the metaphor of bringing light to the Dark Ages.

Thinkers like Thomas Paine, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin are the ones who invented and adopted revolutionary ideas about scientific rationality, religious toleration, and experimental political organization in the American context—ideas that would have far-reaching implications for the fledgling nation’s development.

In early forms of republican thinking, some emphasized the importance of cultivating virtue, enlightened leadership, and community. Others declared the natural rights of man in the anti-authoritarian doctrine of liberalism.

Still, others emphasized the importance of cultivating virtue, enlightened leadership, and community in the anti-authoritarian doctrine of liberalism.

Deism, liberalism, republicanism, conservatism, toleration, and scientific progress were among the principles that dominated American Enlightenment thought.

Most of these ideas were conveyed by European Enlightenment intellectuals, but they took on a particularly American flavor in several cases.

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