The Enlightenment Influence on the American Revolution
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Keywords: american revolution enlightenment, enlightenment effect revolution
The Enlightenment was the root of many of the ideas of the American Revolution. It was a movement that focused mostly on freedom of speech, equality, freedom of press, and religious tolerance. The American Revolution was the time period where America tried to gain its independence from England. They got influenced very much from many philosophers. That will be discussed throughout the essay. The Enlightenment ideas were the main influences for American Colonies to become their own nation.
Some of the leaders of the American Revolution were influenced by Enlightenment ideas which are, freedom of speech, equality, freedom of press, and religious tolerance. American colonists did not have these rights, in result, they rebelled against England for independence. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote about American's natural rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." These ideas came from the Enlightenment, the ideals led towards the American Revolution soon after (Fisk). "The American Revolution must be considered as an anticolonial war for independence, not only a war of liberation from overseas rule but a war for freedom. The American Revolution was a movement to fulfill aspirations to acquire more property" (Morris, 3).
Montesquieu believed that everything was made up of laws or rules that never changed. He wrote the book The Spirit of the Laws, which greatly covers the importance of separation of power in balancing the control of the government. This separation of powers was exemplified in
England's three branches, legislative, executive, and judicial. With these three branches were separated, England made sure that everybody did not have any absolute power. This meant that citizens of the country had a say in the actions of the government, therefore giving them much more power and freedom in the government. The Spirit of the Laws was translated into English, therefore, the American Colonists could read and incorporate it's Enlightenment ideals, such as a balance of power that provided greater liberty to individuals. American Colonists wanted freedom and believed that England should not be able to control them overseas (Fisk).
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was one of the most influential thinkers during the time period of the Enlightenment. In 1762 Rousseau published The Social Contract, It became one of the most influential works of abstract political thought. This book is about how a government could exist in a way that it protects society and citizens. Rousseau quoted in his book "Man was/is born free; and everywhere he is in chains." This philosopher was a great influence to America. These ideas were essential for the American Revolution (Delany).
John Locke was one of the most important and influential philosophers in the history of the world. He devoted a lot of his time into writing about philosophy and political thought. The founding fathers of the American Revolution drew heavily on his ideals. John Locke argued
"The power of any king or government is derived from people who contract to obey their rules in exchange for law and security. Individuals have a natural right to hold property and this can never be taken from them without their own consent. If a ruler infringes the terms of the contract that empowers him or seizes property without consent, the people can resist and depose him" (John Locke).
These arguments are things that American Colonists wanted to have but couldn't under the control of England. Therefore, American Colonists wanted independence from England.
Thomas Hobbes is known for his political thought. His vision of the world is amazingly original. His main concern in the world is how individuals can live together with peace and not think of conflict (Williams). He rejects free will of determinism, in which freedom is treated as having the ability to do what an individual desires (Oregon State). He believes that people should obey a group or person that is in power, rather than a state of nature (Williams). "Individuals in a state of nature, that is, a state without a civil government," he said. The way out of this desperate state is to establish social contract, and have the state in peace and order (Oregon State). The American Colonists ended up turning to Hobbe's work to justify the passage of the U.S constitution.
Soon after America won the war from great Britain, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence stated that America had won the revolution from great Britain, and that they had gained their independence. They now had freedom to become their own nation. This just shows that the Enlightenment ideals had a huge impact on America. The Enlightenment ideals were the main influences for American Colonies to become their own nation. Montesquieu, Locke, and Hobbes (philosophers) ideas and thoughts on life were a big impact. Montesquieu mainly influenced the separation of powers, Locke mainly influenced natural rights, Hobbes mainly influenced individuals obeying one in power, and Rousseau influenced the social contract. The United States of America turned to all of the philosophers, and in the end, Enlightenment ideas were the main influences for American Colonies to become their own nation.
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