The American Revolution as a European Movement Essay
The American Revolution was and always will be the most important piece of history for the United States of America. It was definitely revolutionary. The Enlightenment of the eighteenth century was one of these paradigm historical shifts, challenging the traditional notions of authority by investing reason with the power to change the human condition for the better. The Enlightenment also shows that the American’s colonies were influenced by European ideals and political developments, and in turn the American’s colonies also influence Europe.
Across the Atlantic, the Enlightenment had a profound impact on the English colonies in America and ultimately on the infant nation of the United States. “The Enlightenment challenged the role of religion and divine right and this helped Colonial America to see that it was possible to challenge the King and divine right. The movement challenged the role of God and allowed people to see that they were important and had the ability to shape their own lives. (“The Great Awakening…”, Journal)
In many ways, the new United States was the Enlightenment, for its leaders could actually implement many of the ideas that European philosophers could only talk idly about. First, the Enlightenment helped to shape the colonies was in terms of religion. With the Great Awakening came a new understanding of America’s early relationship to God and the Church. Instead of one all-powerful church that almost required membership, Protestant ideals based on Enlightenment principles of free will and freedom from institutions allowed people to choose membership in a church rather than be forced into one.
Although during the Enlightenment there was a very secular focus, in America this was not the case. The colonies were still very religious but they used the ideas of their freedom to choose that were based on the Enlightenment. Instead of being tied to one religious authority, there were many choices in the colonies and people had a right to choose how to establish and maintain their connection to God. Much of what colonists wanted to do with politics had a greater influence coming from Britain.
Philosophers like Thomas Hobbes and John Locke both had great influence on American thinkers, with Locke being the more influential as Hobbes’ solution was not the thing the American founders wanted. Locke was far more optimistic, stating that all humans were capable and that they strove for the betterment of the world. John Locke believed that natural laws say that every person has certain basic rights, and he argued passionately for freedom of religion.
He wrote that every person has the natural right to defend his “life, health, liberty or possessions. John Locke argued that because we have so much doubt about so many things, each person should have as much freedom as possible. Because we really don’t know the best way to organize and improve our society, all people should make their own decisions about what they want to do with their own lives. When Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, he echoed Locke, writing about “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness have become the central themes of American Revolutionary philosophy. ” (Morton, Joseph C, 143) The American Revolution had much influence beyond the political boundary of the new nation.
Many liberal movements in Europe took heart from the accomplishment of the American Declaration of Independence, the war itself, and the creation of a new government to replace the British rule over the old colonies. Many peoples wished to either overthrow the idea of monarchy or, at least, establish a constitutional monarchy. The French Revolution was inspired by many of the ideals of the American Revolution When the French people heard of the revolt in America they realized they didn’t have to live under tyranny.
They started the revolution in hopes of becoming an independent country. The French fought alongside the Americans against the English to accomplish a democratic, independent nation and the declaration of independence France was bankrupt at the time, so the people were very poor. Meanwhile they saw their monarchs in all their wealth and began to see them as tyrants. The stories of the French soldiers that had fought in America, like the Marquis de Lafayette, loved the American notion of liberty and began to support similar reforms in France.
As James mentioned “Lafayette was one of the first people to advocate a National Assembly, and he worked to make France a constitutional monarchy. ”(James) Revolutionary ideas turned into real plans of attack. They wanted to rid themselves of a monarchy ruled by the royals, clergy and aristocrats. In conclusion, Enlightenment thinking, economics, and geography all helped in some way toward an American revolution. Also, Enlightenment thinking helps the American colonists to know what they want in a government.
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