The Enlightenment in America

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What caused the American Enlightenment?

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The most prominent members of American society were strongly influenced by European ideas. In the eighteenth century, such ideas were primarily those associated with the intellectual movement known as the Enlightenment. In due course, the Enlightenment would prove to be enormously influential on the development of the United States as a free, independent nation.

Americans found many of the new ideas congenial, especially those relating to politics and government. Enlightenment thinkers argued that government, along with everything else, should be based on rational principles rather than a conformity to tradition. Inspired by thinkers such as John Locke, the American colonists applied these insights to their struggle with the British. The system of colonial government under British rule wasn't rational to the colonists; it was simply the continuation of a long-standing tradition.

There needed to be change, and they felt that this change should be based on rational, Enlightenment principles specifically chosen to ensure the best form of government. Furthermore, the dictates of reason held that if the current system of government did not protect the people's inalienable natural rights—another important Enlightenment principle—then the people had the right to replace it with one that did: by force, if necessary. These ideas were put into practice during and after the American Revolution and formed the basis of the new nation's system of government.

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