The Enlightenment

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The American Enlightenment was an intellectual movement in the 13 American colonies from the 17th to 18th centuries, which emphasized science and reason over blind faith and superstition. It was also during this period that the American Revolution took place, which eventually led to the creation of the United States of America.

Using press freedom, enlightenment thinkers criticized common knowledge and established innovative ideas about religious tolerance, investigation, and openness throughout the Americas. More often than not, experts consider the Enlightenment period as a significant turning point in the age of Western civilization as it replaced the age of darkness with a generation of light.

Besides the enlightenment thinkers mentioned above, many American figures were also associated with this period. This includes Roger Williams, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin. Together with Franklin, Madison, and Jefferson, George Washington fought for and eventually gained religious freedom for minority denominations.

Several philosophical beliefs that dominated the Enlightenment period included cosmopolitanism, progressivism, empiricism, and rationalism. Primarily, these beliefs endeavor with reason and science instead of prejudice and biases.

Individuals who follow the cosmopolitanism philosophy view themselves as citizens that are actively engaged. At the same time, progressivism is the belief that through the powers of observation and reason, humans can make linear and unlimited progress over time. Progressivism also played a significant role in response to the upheaval and carnage of the English Civil Wars during the 17th century.

On the other hand, rationalism is the belief that humans can use their faculty of reason to learn. This was a significant turn away from the prevailing idea that individuals needed to depend on church authorities or scripture for knowledge. Empiricism, meanwhile, promotes the belief that knowledge comes from observation and the experience of the world.

Other than its productive philosophical beliefs, the American Enlightenment period also saw the rise of the Federal-style of American Architecture. European architecture styles like Georgian and Gothic emerged and became a uniquely American genre.

From 1813 to 1816, American architect Ithiel Town built the Trinity Church on the Green in New Haven, which was the first gothic church in North America. Some nascent artistic attempts were also made in the fields of drama, music, poetry, and literature in pre-war Philadelphia. Still, American influence within these fields was largely imitative of the British culture.

Facts about the American Enlightenment Period

  • Deism was a popular philosophical position in the Enlightenment period. It is a belief in a deity based on reason instead of religious dogma or revelation. These beliefs were mainly influenced by the ideas of Franklin, Washington, Adams, and Jefferson.
  • The concept “American Enlightenment” was not used in the 18th century, but rather it was coined after the Second World War. During the 18th century, English speakers commonly referred to the period as a process of becoming enlightened.
  • The Connecticut Constitution was passed late in the American Enlightenment period, which guaranteed everyone with the freedom of religion and disestablished the Congregational Church.
  • The six critical ideas of the Enlightenment period included Deism, Liberalism, Conservatism, Toleration, Scientific Progress, and Republicanism.
  • Many of the six ideas of the American Enlightenment period were shared with European Enlightenment thinkers but, in some instances, took a distinctly American form.
  • During the American Enlightenment period, the society also started to reject several Puritan ideals which created the basis of culture until that time.
  • English-born American writer Thomas Paine was among the famous figures of the Enlightenment period. His book entitled The Age of Reason argued the philosophical position of Deism.
  • Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams are considered as the founding fathers of the American Enlightenment.
  • The pamphlet of Thomas Paine entitled Common Sense was published in 1776. It encouraged American colonists to rise against the English.

Q & A:

Who are the founding fathers of the American Enlightenment?
The founding fathers of the American Enlightenment period were John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson.

What are the six key ideas of the American Enlightenment period?
The six key ideas were Republicanism, Deism, Scientific Progress, Toleration, Liberalism, and Conservatism.

Who wrote The Age of Reason and Common Sense?
Thomas Paine wrote Common Sense and The Age of Reason, which was integral in the American Enlightenment.

What are the popular philosophical beliefs of the American Enlightenment?
Rationalism, cosmopolitanism, empiricism, and progressivism were the dominant beliefs of this period.

What was the first gothic church in North America?
The Trinity Church on the Green in New Haven was the first gothic church in North America.