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Factors integral to the spread of Enlightenment from Europe to America


Key factors in the spread of Enlightenment from Europe to America included the proliferation of printed materials, such as pamphlets and books, which disseminated Enlightenment ideas. Additionally, the movement of intellectuals and the exchange of letters and ideas between European and American thinkers played a significant role. Educational institutions and salons also facilitated the spread of Enlightenment principles across the Atlantic.

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What factors were integral to the spread of Enlightenment from Europe to America?

Let's approach this multiple-choice question by a process of elimination. Option E is not the right answer, because Newton's mechanistic understanding of how the universe works had nothing to do with the spread of Enlightenment ideas, as a whole. Thinkers of the Enlightenment greatly admired Newton, it's true, but Newton himself was a deeply devout religious man whose entire worldview was radically at odds with philosophes such as Voltaire and Diderot.

The correspondence between the Royal Society and the American Philosophical Society undoubtedly facilitated the spread of Enlightenment ideas, to some extent, but both of these organizations were the preserve of an educational elite. Although literacy levels in the American colonies were high, a deep understanding of science and abstract political theory was not.

Option C can be discounted pretty quickly. George Whitefield was most certainly not an Enlightenment figure; quite the opposite, in fact. It's fair to say that Whitefield and the Great Awakening he inspired were not looked upon with any great sympathy by the likes of Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson.

Plantations may have been established to encourage European settlers, but, in actual fact, few made the journey. Plantation owners came to rely on slave labor from Africa and, naturally, this did nothing to facilitate the dissemination of Enlightenment ideals.

So that just leaves us with Option A. As mentioned earlier, literacy levels in colonial America were remarkably high. And even though most people wouldn't have been able to understand the latest proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, they did, nonetheless, have a firm grasp of the full important of Enlightenment ideas. They were able to do this because the key Enlightenment concept of government by reason, rather than authority, found practical expression in the intense political struggle between the American colonists and the British.

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What factors were integral to the spread of Enlightenment from Europe to America?

Of these options, the best answer is Option A. One way to look at this is to understand why the other options are wrong.

Option B is not a good option. This is largely because the creation of plantations did not attract many Europeans to the Americas. The plantations, in fact, tended to scare Europeans away from the slave states. They wanted to go to places whose economies were not dominated by plantations worked by slaves.

Option C is not a good answer. It is not about the Enlightenment. Instead, it has to do with the Great Awakening. The Great Awakening was a major religious revival whose ideas were rather different than those of the Enlightenment.

Options D and E could be correct but they are not plausible. In order for the Enlightenment to spread, it had to be accessible to large numbers of people. Abstruse theories about the way the universe works and correspondence between learned, elite groups would not have been very effective in spreading the Enlightenment. Instead, the Enlightenment was more likely to spread if a large number of people gained the ability to read Enlightenment ideas. Thus, the best answer is Option A.

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What was integral to the spread of the Enlightenment from Europe to America?

The Enlightenment was a period in history roughly centering on the 18th century, in which traditional authorities were challenged and replaced with more individual powers such as the freedom of religion and democracy. The "original" Enlightenment was a movement in Europe, and so it comes as no surprise that its American counterpart was delayed by several decades.

It bears remembering that the Colonies were never intended to be comparable, let alone rival states, to mainland England. Their exact status was never fully resolved before the American Revolution, but they were meant to function more as corporations; this was evidenced by the way in which American education and medicine lagged behind European contemporaries' for several years after the Revolution, and why works such as those of Washington Irving were applauded as much for their content as for their evidencing of a unique American identity. One of the earliest issues for those identifying themselves as Americans was how to distinguish their identity and culture without relying on secondhand imitations of European models.

During the Colonial period, the Colonies had few functioning intellectual centers of their own, nor were any of them truly leaders in philosophy. The majority of the concepts of the Enlightenment were made available to the American public in three ways: via the frequent importing of European books, through a select number of intellectuals, and through printing. In short, a small number of highly-educated American intellectuals and patriots, such as Paine and Jefferson, voraciously consumed Enlightenment literature, discussed it amongst themselves, then distributed these ideas mixed with their own via the printing of pamphlets or newspaper articles that disseminated throughout the colonies. The original books were themselves frequently circulated as well.

So, I don't think there's any one answer to what was integral to the spread of the Enlightenment. We might also suggest that the diversity of the colonies was essential, because these differences and the problems they created were directly addressed by the freedoms that the Enlightenment advocated. 

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