3 Enlightenment Ideas Now American Ideals And Other Essays

Enlightenment Influences On American Ideals Essay

By the late eighteenth century, the Enlightenment, or the Age of Reason as it was called had begun to rapidly spread across Europe. People began believing in the ideals of popular government, the centrality of economics to politics, secularism, and progress. This cultural movement was sparked by intellectuals and commonwealth thinkers such as the influential writer John Locke and the famous scientist Isaac Newton, both who emphasized the fact that man, by the use of reason, would be able to solve all of his problems-whether it be problems with the government, morals or the society. However, these ideals weren’t just limited to the European nations where they had first begun. On the other side of the world, off in the United States, American intellectuals began to reason with these ideas as well. As a result, the influence on the profound of modern economic and political thought had a huge impact on the United States, resulting in one of the most important documents in known in American history; the Constitution.
John Locke, one of the leading philosophers of the European Enlightenment was very important when it came to political thought in the United States. His ideas of the reasons, nature, and limits of the government became especially important in the development of the Constitution. In one of his most famous writings of that time, Two Treatises on Government (1689), Locke established a theory where personal liberty could coexist with political power ; meaning that the people would agree to obey the government and in return, the government would have the responsibility of respecting the people’s natural rights. In other words, he laid out a social contract theory that provided the philosophy and source of a governing authority. In Europe, these ideas were radical and revolutionary but in America, they were seen like a spiritual force which would lead the people to revolution and ultimately a new form of democracy. His philosophy inspired Americans to break away from the normal European institutions that they were used to and lay a fresh foundation that would prove to be beneficial in the long run.
This fresh, new foundation came in the form a document that outlined the way the government would work. Unlike the way Europe was governed before the Enlightenment period, Americans, since they had recently liberated themselves from the British throne, wanted to establish a government in such a way that would prevent tyrannical monarchy. By this time, they still were faced with the challenge of a republican self government. But again, we see the influence of Locke’s ideas from his Treatise, where he proposed that people had the right to establish their own government for their own protection of their natural rights. As a result of this idea, the preamble to the Constitution was created. This section provided analysis as to what the whole Constitution was about; improvement on the current government (to ensure that they are just) and protection...

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The Declaration of Independence draws heavily on the ideas of Enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke.  Much of what Jefferson wrote in the Declaration comes direct from Locke’s ideas about government.  Let us look at three examples of this.

First, the Declaration of Independence says that people have certain rights just because they are people.  These rights are not given to them by the government and cannot be taken away from them.  They have these rights simply because they are human.  This is a major idea of the Enlightenment. 

Second, the Declaration of Independence says that a government is only legitimate if the people consent to be ruled by it.  It is possible for a government to force its will on the people, but that government is not a legitimate government and it has no right to rule the people.  Enlightenment thinkers wondered why governments had the right to rule people.  They did not believe that kings had a divine right to rule.  Instead, they believed that governments were legitimate if the people agreed to be ruled by those governments.  This idea is found in the Declaration as well.

Finally, the Declaration of Independence says that the only reason to have government is to protect the rights of the people.  This, too, comes from the Enlightenment.  Enlightenment thinkers did not think that governments should exist to give power to kings.  Instead, governments should exist to protect their citizens.  This is the third Enlightenment idea found in the Declaration of Independence.

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