How could you characterize American literature of the Revolution and the early post Revolution period?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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With such momentous events occurring in a new country, the literature of Early America is very reflective of the burgeoning culture. For the most part, it is political, historical, and autobiographical in nature. 

  • 1776 Thomas Paine's publication of Common Sense

This pamphlet is an argument for revolution. He writes that government is only a "necessary evil"; further, he attacks the governmental divisions of England as working against each other. At the center of this pamphlet, however, is Chapter 3: “Thoughts on the Present State of the American Affairs." Paine contends that England cannot be perceived as a mother country for the colonies because it has threatened the safety of America. One reason that Paine offers is the fact that any country that England wages war against then will become American's enemy and destroy trade for the colonies.

  • 1785 Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia

This important work is a record of Virginia's economy and natural resources, but it also contains convincing and eloquent arguments about society in which Jefferson contends that church and state must be separate, there must checks and balances on the government, and personal liberty is essential to freedom.

With such great thinkers as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, who were Deists, the dominant influence of Puritanism and its literature (Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford and the poetry of Anne Bradstreet) waned. At the end of the seventeenth century, the Age of Reason began in Europe, a movement that had a great influence upon America, giving rise to Rationalist thinking. It is this Rationalism, embraced by such as Jefferson and Franklin, that inspired the writers of the Constitution.

Although published before the time period under question, such practical works as Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack, continued to  exert much influence upon literature of the time of the Revolution and afterwards.

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