The Enlightenment period was a time that came into its own based on the works of Isaac Newton. The Newton suggested, through the use of mathematics, that an orderly balanced universe ran according to natural laws that humans could discover through reason. Newton’s finding backed up the reason for the start of the Industrial Revolution and the production and commerce associated with the Revolution. The Enlightenment really came to relevance John Locke’s essay “Concerning Human Understanding.” According to Locke the human society, like the universe, ran according to natural laws. He believed that all humans had natural rights and it was the government job to protect those rights. The most notable rights Locke believed were to be protected by the government were the rights to life, liberty, and private property. Although Locke’s ideas reinforce the ideas many blacks had about their own freedom and rights, Locke himself saw no contradiction between his principles and human slavery. Ironically most Americans felt that the British became dictators, deprived them of their natural rights, and treated them like slaves, which was the same thing they were doing to the slaves. Even as slavery existed, the Enlightenment era to slave had a different meaning. With the establishment of colleges, academics, and libraries there were now more sources for publications, which meant more opportunities to learn how to read and write. These new publication sources led to newspapers and pamphlets making access to science and literature more available to the masses. This in turn led to some African Americans gaining intellectual distinctions during the late eighteenth century. Though resources for African Americans were far more limited, some were still able to become known as the most famous black intellectuals of their time. Individuals such as Phyllis Wheatley and Benjamin Banneker were directly influenced by the Enlightenment.
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