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3.4 Philosophical Foundations of America

#period3

#enlightenment

#johnlocke

#commonsense

#declarationofindependence

⏱️  2 min read

written by

james glackin


The Enlightenment

Ideas helped to cause the Revolutionary War. The Enlightenment ideas of Europe had influenced these transplanted British subjects. This period of renewed European thinking in the 1700s emphasized natural, individual rights while questioning authority and kings. 

The ideas of European philosophers, such as John Locke (natural rights), Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (separation of powers) began to influence the thinking of Americans. These ideas included individual rights, republicanism, democracy, the separation of powers, equality, a distrust of aristocracy, and an emphasis on science over religion. 

Locke, Hobbes and Rousseau all believed in a social contract between the governed and the government. The contract allowed the government to govern while still guaranteeing the right to life, liberty and property. The new thinking of the Enlightenment influenced Ben Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton in their roles as Founding Fathers.

🎥 Watch: AP US History - Key Documents of the American Revolution

Common Sense

In 1776, Thomas Paine wrote Common Sense, one of the most important pamphlets in history. Paine was a radical who had just arrived from England and was once a poor apprentice.  

Common Sense argued that the large land of America should not be controlled by tiny England. The colonists needed to declare independence. It is common sense that the Americans should have their own country and not be controlled by a king far away.

Paine also argued for a republican form of government in which the people ruled and had liberties. Paine frowned upon power that was passed down through heredity and kings. Equality was important in a republic.

Declaration of Independence

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The Declaration of Independence, National Archives and Records Administration.

Paine’s Common Sense helped to cause the creation of the Declaration of Independence.  The Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in the summer of 1776 to vote on independence from Britain.  

Richard Henry Lee from Virginia made a motion for independence.  This motion was passed on July 2, 1776. America now formally declared independence from Britain. But future American fireworks would take place on July 4th. Why?

America needed a written document to explain to the world why it declared independence. This written explanation would also help in obtaining foreign help from other countries in the Revolutionary war.

Thomas Jefferson was appointed to draft the Declaration of Independence. Congress would later edit it. Jefferson would make a list of grievances against King George III, including his taxes. The Declaration of Independence was approved by Congress on July 4, 1776.

🎥 Watch: AP US History - Calls for Independence

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