The Impact of the Enlightenment on the Colonies

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The intellectual current known as the Enlightenment deeply affected the learned clergymen who headed colonial colleges and their students. Around
1650, some European thinkers began to analyze nature in order to determine the laws governing the universe. They employed experimentation and abstract reasoning to discover general principles behind phenomena such as the motions of planets and stars, the behavior of falling objects, and the characteristics of light and sound. Above, all Enlightenment philosophers emphasized acquiring knowledge through reason, taking particular delight challenging previously unquestioned assumptions. John Lockes Essay Concerning Human Understanding disputed the notion that human beings are born already imprinted with innate ideas. All knowledge, locke asserted, derives form ones observations of the external world. Belief in witchcraft and astrology, among other similar phenomena, thus came under attack. The

Enlightenment had an enormous impact on educated, well to do people in Europe and America. It supplied them with a common vocabulary and a unified view of the world, one that insisted that the enlightened 18th century was better, and wiser, than all previous ages. It joined them in a common endeavor, the effort to make sense of God's orderly creation. Thus American naturalists like John and William Bartram supplied European scientists with information about New World plants and animals so that they could be included in newly formulated universal classification systems. Americans interested in astronomy took part in an international effort to learn about the solar system by studying a rare occurrence, the transit of Venus across the face of the sun in 1769. An example of the Americans participation in the Enlightenment was Benjamin Franklin, who retired from a successful printing business himself to scientific experimentation and public service. His experiments and observation on electricity established the...
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