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In the early years of the 1500s, people started to question every belief that they had and pursued the right to equality within society. The ideals concerning most of these questions would soon spark a tremendous transition. For most of the eighteenth century, many new concepts began to develop within the Americas. Precursors, French and British thinkers in the seventeenth century, who questioned, challenged, and spread the justifications of different aspects of political and social existence, influenced American thinkers drastically. This perspective, the Enlightenment, consisted of the application of scientific rationality through investigations and experiments to social and political viewpoints. The presence of the Enlightenment was expanded to the American colonies through trade along the Atlantic. Violent wars over religion throughout Europe was a major motivation behind the American Enlightenment. This movement’s central focus in America centered around implementing reason to steer religion, authority, establishments, politics, and convention for the sole purpose of preventing events such as what occurred in the European countries. Multiple postulations were disclosed or shared by many different people throughout this movement, but the leading aspects included religion vs science and the push for liberalism.
Throughout this century, religion played a crucial part in the way Americans lived within their societies, but another major prospect began to disperse through the Americas, science. Religion relies primarily on faith and a greater being while science relies on rationale and logic. As this new prospect emerged, many American thinkers challenged and rebelled against the church to utilize science in the questioning of the universe. Antecedent events prompted and influenced this new change within America majorly. Enlightenment thinkers around the 1600s in Europe such as John Locke and Isaac Newton conveyed their advocation of religious tolerance and employing investigation to different religious and terrestrial beliefs. John Locke believed in the basis of religious beliefs being explained by scientific evidence. Many analysis can be drawn from his treatise The Reasonableness of Christianity but it can be noted that Locke thought “that it was faith itself which was imputed as righteousness, that justifying faith included works, that the new covenant was conditional, and that grace was primarily assistance, Locke had departed radically from Reformation Protestantism.” ‘Works’ being God’s laws. The other, Isaac Newton discovered and revealed the law of gravitation, which keeps objects held in place in the universe. These influential ideals contributed to Americans, on the other side of the world, moving toward different religious standpoints: Arminianism and Deism. Arminianism is the belief that only rational could make up the basis for all the significant aspects of religion. Identically, Deism is the belief that scientific laws are the reasoning behind the world being able to function effectively on its own after God created it for the sole purpose of his absence. Deists believed fundamental forces such as gravity, motion, matter, and light were evidence of God’s presence and product. They also deduced that instead of worshipping in a church for salvation, observing and focusing on nature and the spirits working behind the phenomena of the natural world is the best way to worship God and reach salvation. Other than pure curiosity, they wanted to unveil God’s natural laws and that was the main motivation behind their use of science. A prominent figure within this era, Benjamin Franklin, was an exemplar Enlightenment proponent in America. He participated in a great number of activities that would set the standards for what partaking in the concept of the Enlightenment would be like. He published Poor Richard’s Almanack which incorporated advice to the public and amusements that people during this time were not used to seeing. Further, he even performed experiments on electricity regarding lightning. He was a deist along with Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and many more Americans. Both adoptions were influential in the fact that they both constituted science as the key justification to the world rather than sole faith.
Another aspect that played a huge role in what developed into the American Enlightenment age was the manifestation of liberalism to be free within America. Americans started to realize the notion that they have natural human rights and should be free of tyranny or authority. Their freedom was in the reign of the British Parliament and it was constantly violated, much without the consent of the people. The British Parliament began to tax the colonists and outright slowly take away their liberty. Along with that, only free white males could own land. The system within colonial America was unjust and colonists began to see that. Americans began to want their freedom in expression and property, their right to appeal to the government and their decisions, separation of church and state, and more. They wanted to protect the rights that each of them deserved according to the Enlightenment, and their freedom, more than anything. The aforementioned precursors during the European Enlightenment influenced these ideas as well. John Locke who wrote Two Treatises of Government discussed the universal rights of each person and encouraged revolt if a government did not regard the consent of the people and were tyrannical. He states that “Man being born, as has been proved, with a title to perfect freedom and an uncontrolled enjoyment of all the rights and privileges of the law of Nature, equally with any other man, or number of men in the world, hath by nature a power not only to preserve his property— that is, his life, liberty, and estate, against the injuries and attempts of other men, but to judge of and punish the breaches of that law in others, as he is persuaded the offence deserves, even with death itself, in crimes where the heinousness of the fact, in his opinion, requires it.” This aided in the division of the colonists and the British empire because this shows that Locke believes in life, liberty, and property which is accounted for in the principles that America was founded upon. Locke really appealed to Americans within this document, he also says, “All men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of Nature, without asking leave or depending upon the will of any other man..” So, the American Enlightenment sparked a drastic change in American thinking because they began to speak out, protest, and boycott. They saw “their conventional appeals unsuccessful, the colonists turned increasingly to the underlying doctrine of natural rights, which maintains that all persons possess certain inherent, indefeasible rights by virtue of their humanity.” and this ultimately led to the fight for independence from Britain, the American Revolution/war, the Constitution, and then a reform in government once they were free.
In conclusion, America went through a period of intellectual thinking that incited events that would transpire changes within the states. The American Enlightenment consisted of many different aspects such as the use of science over religion and the pursuit of liberation. America would possibly not be what it is today without thinkers who weren’t afraid to advocate and voice their opinions as well as incentives for new ways of thinking and open-mindedness.
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