The Enlightenment and Colonial Protest
The Enlightenment refers to the seventeenth and eighteenth century in which a historical intellectual movement advocating reason as a means to establishing an authoritative system of ethics, government, and logic swept through Europe and the Americas. The intellectual leaders regarded themselves as a courageous elite who would lead the world into progress from a long period of doubtful tradition, irrationality, superstition, and tyranny. The movement helped create the intellectual framework for the American and French Revolutions and led to the rise of classical liberalism and modern capitalism.
While this was an insightful event for the Europe, for the colonists it was truly tremendous. The colonists had suffered under James II just as intensely as the English. James had refused to recognized colonial charters, did not allow colonists any say over laws and taxes, and seemed to rule arbitrarily. Moreover, James was a Catholic and the colonists were primarily Protestant. When James issued the Declarations of Indulgence, which granted freedom of worship to Catholics it deeply troubled the colonies. In the colonists mind, Catholicism equaled absolutism. As news of the Enlightenment filtered in slowly and inaccurately to the colonies the colonists instantly saw the applicability of the enlightened philosophy to their situation, and began a series of revolts and protests.
The British were faced with a difficult task. At the end of the Seven Years War in 1763, the British found themselves burdened with an enormous debt and a costly empire. It was becoming evident that the empire was an enormously expensive affair, and the Seven Years War with France, which largely benefited the American colonies, was an astringent reminder of that expense. The British raised taxes on themselves to pay off these debts and figured that since the colonies had benefited so greatly from the Seven Years War, that the colonies should also...
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