Spread of Enlightenment in the colonies

Spread of Enlightenment in the colonies

American Enlightenment:

  • The American Enlightenment, Influenced by the 18th-century European Enlightenment, and its own native American Philosophy, is a period of intellectual ferment in the thirteen American colonies in the period 1714–1818, which led to the American Revolution, and the creation of the American Republic.
  • Between 1714 and 1818 a great intellectual change took place that changed the British Colonies of America into a leader in the fields of moral philosophy, educational reform, religious revival, industrial technology, science, and, most notably, political philosophy. It saw the disestablishment of religion in all the states, and a consensus on a “pursuit of happiness” based political philosophy.
  • The “new-model” American style colleges of King’s College New York (now Columbia University), and the College of Philadelphia (now Penn) were founded, Yale College and the College of William & Mary were reformed, and a non-denominational moral philosophy replaced theology in many college curricula; even Puritan colleges such as the College of New Jersey (now Princeton) and Harvard reformed their curricula to include natural philosophy (science), modern astronomy, and math.
  • The leading Enlightenment political thinkers were John Adams, James Madison, James Wilson, and Alexander Hamilton, and polymaths Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Several Americans, especially Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, played a major role in bringing Enlightenment ideas to the new world, and in influencing British and French thinkers.
  • The Americans closely followed English and Scottish political ideas, as well as some French thinkers such as Montesquieu. As deists (A person who believes that God created the universe and then abandoned it), they were influenced by ideas of John Toland (1670–1722) and Matthew Tindal (1656–1733).
  • During the Enlightenment there was a great emphasis upon liberty, democracy, republicanism and religious tolerance. Attempts to reconcile science and religion resulted in a widespread rejection of prophecy, miracle and revealed religion in preference for Deism – especially by Thomas Paine in “The Age of Reason” and by Thomas Jefferson in his short Jefferson Bible – from which all supernatural aspects were removed.
  • Benjamin Franklin was influential in England, Scotland, the United States and France, for his political activism and for his advances in physics.
  • The cultural exchange during the Age of Enlightenment ran in both directions across the Atlantic. Thinkers such as Paine, Locke, and Rousseau all take Native American cultural practices as examples of natural freedom.

Religious tolerance

  • A switch from sectarian politics and established religion in many states to religious tolerance and the disestablishment of state religion was one of the distinguishing features of the American Enlightenment. The passage of the new Connecticut Constitution on October 5, 1818, overturned the 180-year-old “Standing Order”. The new constitution guaranteed freedom of religion, disestablished the Congregational church, and ended the last effective theocracy in America.


  • Politically, the age is distinguished by an emphasis upon economic liberty, republicanism and religious tolerance, as clearly expressed in the United States Declaration of Independence. Attempts to reconcile science and religion resulted in a rejection of prophecy, miracle, and revealed religion, resulting in an inclination toward deism among some major political leaders of the age. American republicanism emphasized consent of the government, riddance of aristocracy, and fear of corruption.

“Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”

  • “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” is a well-known phrase in the United States Declaration of Independence. The phrase gives three examples of the “unalienable rights” which the Declaration says has been given to all human beings by their Creator, and for which governments are created to protect. The origin of this famous phrase many have been derived from Locke’s position that “no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.”
  • The United States Declaration of Independence, which was primarily written by Jefferson, was adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. The text of the second section of the Declaration of Independence reads: We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Japanese Enlightenment:

  • In the Meiji Restoration, English and French civil society was introduced, in particular, utilitarianism from England, and popular sovereignty of Jean-Jacques Rousseau from France.
  • The thinkers of the early Meiji period advocated British Enlightenment derived from Western civil society. They attempted to criticise Japanese traditional authority and feudalism. However, they were finally in harmony with the government and accepted the modernization from the above without the radicalness.
  • In 1873, Mori Arinori formed Meirokusha. The people who gathered in this cultural association had much in common with points such as regarding practical learning as important. Mori Arinori promoted national education as Minister of Education.
  • Fukuzawa Yukichi who introduced British utilitarianism to Japan advocated the natural rights assumed that the human rights were given from the heaven. He considered the development of the civilization to be the development of the human spirit, and it was assumed that one’s independence led to independence of one country. He said that there is no single ideal form of government.
  • While members of Meirokusha finally advocated harmonization of the government and people, democratic thinkers absorbed radical people’s rights from France and they supported national resistance and revolution verbally against the Meiji oligarchy.
  • In 1874, Itagaki Taisuke introduced the establishment of the elected legislature. It spread nationwide as the Freedom and People’s Rights Movement. Ueki Emori helped Itagaki and he drew up a radical draft. Strongly influenced from Rousseau, Nakae Chomin argued for people’s sovereignty and individual freedom. However, concerning with Japanese situation, he pointed out the importance of parliamentary monarchy. According to him, the Imperial Constitution should be gradually revised by the Diet.
  • From the late period of Meiji to the Taisho era, a democratic trend spread as a background of bourgeois political consciousness. Its current led to political movements for safeguarding the Constitution and for the popular election. Yoshino Sakuzo argued for party cabinet politics and popular election. He did not deeply pursue who was the sovereign but he insisted political goal aim for people’s happiness and political decision aim for people’s intention.
  • Minobe Tatsukichi interpreted a sovereign as not an emperor but the state. According to him, an emperor just only excises his power as the highest organ under the Meiji Constitution. Although his theory was widely acknowledged at first, he was politically suppressed by the military and the rightists afterwards.
  • In 1911, Hiratsuka Raicho formed Seitosha. She asked for awakening of women’s own and development of feminist movement.

Chinese Enlightenment:

  • (Covered in Chapter on China)

Indian Enlightenment:

  • (Covered in Modern Indian History)

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