Teacher: Ms. Amauri Amoa
Associates Degree Level
Revolution in the Atlantic World
2nd November, 2011
Discuss the ways in which the ideas of the Enlightenment shaped the birth of the American Republic between 1775 and 1787.
The Enlightenment was an epoch of important philosophical, social and rational reformation which birthed itself out of Europe. Famous Philosophers such as John Locke, Jeremy Bentham, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Montesquieu, and Voltaire questioned social structure as they assessed the authoritarian states of the day through critical writings. These critical writings encapsulated ideals, such as individualism, freedom, equality, popular sovereignty and the belief of inherent or inalienable human rights, which inspired revolution in America halfway across the world. But it is not as if these ideals actively did anything themselves, since (obviously) they are inanimate. Instead, it is the people who prioritised these principles that really brought about change. For the purposes of this essay, only the three figures of Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson, will be discussed in this effort to show how the ideas of the Enlightenment (which will be underlined for the convenience of the reader) that they used fashioned the dawn of the America we know today. The enlightenment ideas gave these political figures the means to gain the support of the people and paved the path for the spirit and success of the revolution and the new American Republic.
Thomas Paine was a political writer who wrote a best-selling pamphlet in 1776 called “Common Sense”. It “brought Enlightenment ideas to bear on the American Revolution”. The pamphlet emphasised the importance of freedom for humanity, basic human rights, the sovereignty of the people, and the social contract. Paine and “Common Sense” were important because he persuaded much of the American public to join in spirit and action with the revolutionists, therefore emerging colonial unity was solidified (a goal of the social contract). Colonial unity was essential to the success of the revolution because a sense of hope, purpose, and community became a driving force by which they endured and surpassed many hardships. Furthermore, the call for freedom garnered even more support from the people as the colonists began to see that the Britain, who taxed them without representation and exploited them for economic gain, violated their rights and held sovereignty over them even though she sits across an ocean. Instead of being subjugated to British rule, Paine optioned for the supremacy of the people conforming himself to the philosophy of John Locke which expresses that any power that the monarchy has is given to them only by the will of the people. This idea of public sovereignty urged the colonists to resist British rule, which assisted the revolution actively as they fought, and spiritually in the minds of the common man. In addition, in the years immediately after the revolution it kept the fledgling republic together as they relied on their own reason or “common sense” to work together to push the nation forward and the role of the government was held in check as “Paine says that government's sole purpose is to protect life, liberty and property, and that a government should be judged solely on the basis of the extent to which it accomplishes this goal.”
Due to his many travels to Europe during the age of enlightenment, Benjamin Franklin “facilitated an exchange of ideas” between the two areas. “Franklin exerted profound influence on the formation of the new government of the United States, with a hand in both the Declaration of Independence  and the U.S. Constitution .” The key ideas he utilised were Locke’s and Montesquieu’s separation of powers (which can be seen in the U.S. Constitution), the equality of all men, individualism, and the sovereignty of the people. As Thomas Paine has advocated...