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Posted: November 5th, 2023

Discuss the philosophical movement of the Enlightenment in America

Discuss the philosophical movement of the Enlightenment in America. in five paragraphs discuss the philosophical movement of the Enlightenment. Discuss the philosophy versus the application of the philosophy in America.
The Enlightenment in America
The philosophical movement known as the Enlightenment had a profound impact on the development of political and intellectual thought in America during the 18th century. Commonly associated with the intellectual leaders of France such as Voltaire and Rousseau, the Enlightenment emphasized the use of reason and the scientific method over tradition and faith. This philosophy emphasized individual liberty, constitutional government, separation of powers, and religious tolerance (Gordon, 2016). While the Enlightenment originated in Europe, its ideals of liberty, equality, and democracy strongly influenced the leaders of America’s break from British rule and the founding of the United States.
The Enlightenment philosophy of individual liberty and natural rights was a major influence on the leaders of the American Revolution. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and other revolutionary leaders embraced Enlightenment ideals of rational thought and self-governance (Gordon, 2016). This is evident in the Declaration of Independence, which asserts that “all men are created equal” and are endowed with certain “unalienable Rights” to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” (Jefferson, 1776). The Declaration’s assertion of natural rights and consent of the governed reflects Enlightenment philosophy.
However, the application and interpretation of Enlightenment philosophy differed in America compared to Europe. While European Enlightenment thinkers advocated for radical social change, the leaders of the American Revolution applied Enlightenment ideals more conservatively and incrementally (Gordon, 2016). For example, the Constitution established a system of checks and balances and separation of powers rather than a pure democracy. It also did not immediately abolish slavery or grant full rights to women and minorities. Thus, Enlightenment philosophy inspired America’s break from Britain but was applied and adapted to fit the existing social order.
The greatest application of Enlightenment ideals in America’s early history was the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Drafted in 1787, the Constitution established a representative democratic system of government based on principles of natural rights, consent of the governed, and separation of powers (Gordon, 2016). It protected essential liberties like freedom of speech, press, religion, and due process through the first ten amendments known as the Bill of Rights. This enshrined Enlightenment ideals like liberty, equality, and democratic governance at the foundation of the American system of government.
However, the Enlightenment philosophy of rationalism and progress also led to tensions in American society. As the new nation developed, ideological conflicts emerged between Federalists and Anti-Federalists over the interpretation of Enlightenment principles in matters like a strong central government and states’ rights (Gordon, 2016). Debates also arose around the application of Enlightenment ideals to social issues like slavery, women’s rights, and treatment of Native Americans. Thus, while the Enlightenment inspired America’s founding, reconciling its philosophy with the practical realities of the new nation was an ongoing challenge through the early 19th century.
In summary, the philosophical movement of the Enlightenment had a profound influence on the leaders and development of political thought during America’s founding era in the late 18th century. Enlightenment ideals of liberty, equality, and consent of the governed inspired the American Revolution and founding principles. However, these philosophies were adapted and applied more incrementally in the new American system compared to proposals by European Enlightenment thinkers. The Constitution and Bill of Rights best embodied Enlightenment principles in America’s early history, though reconciling philosophy with reality continued to generate debates.
Gordon, S. (2016). The American Enlightenment: The shaping of the American experiment and a free society. Simon and Schuster.
Jefferson, T. (1776). The Declaration of Independence. Philadelphia: John Dunlap.
Locke, J. (1690). Second Treatise of Government. Project Gutenberg. https://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/7370/pg7370-images.html. Accessed 11 Nov. 2022.

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