The Declaration of Independence is one of the most important documents in American history. It was written by Thomas Jefferson. Unlike most of the founders of the United States of America Jefferson was a deist. This was also the period in history called the Enlightenment. During this period reason was the main component in all things such as thought, invention, and politics. Since the writer of the Declaration was influenced by the period he lived in and his beliefs there are influences of deism and Enlightenment concepts within this historical document. These influences are easily seen in certain phrases and concepts in the Declaration. These will be discussed by the author in the following paragraphs. Jefferson was influenced by all three concepts of enlightenment. He used the concepts of reason, nature, change and progress. He also used deism.
According to A Short History of Western Civilization the concept of reason stated that, "All assumptions should be subjected to critical and empirical reasoning. Traditional institutions or customs should not be accepted because they have been long-lasting but rather should be examined critically and held up to the standard of reason" (496). In the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson calls for the people to throw off the rule of the king they had followed their entire lives. He did this because the king may have been in charge of them traditionally but the king had exceeded the boundaries of reason in the dealings with the American colonies. The Declaration is in and of itself a call for people to think reasonably and see for themselves that King George was not a good king for them. This was a critical part of the Declaration because if people had not listened to this part there would have been no rebellion, no revolution, and no America.
Another concept of Enlightenment was the concept of nature. "Nature is governed by a few simple and unchangeable laws...A move to nature is a move toward wholesome vigor and freedom" (Harrison, Sullivan, Sherman 469). This was also an influence on the Declaration of Independence. When Thomas Jefferson opens this document he states why it is necessary to separate from England. He directly uses the words "...Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them..." (The Declaration of Independence 1). This is a direct reference to the concept of nature talked about in A short History of Western Civilization. In short Thomas Jefferson is saying that the Laws of Nature are what entitle the colonies to dissolve the relationship with England.
There is one last concept of enlightenment the influenced the Declaration of Independence. Change and Progress was a major influence. The Declaration of Independence changed the colonies future. No longer would they be under British control. They would be their own nation that could declare war, arrange trade agreements, and decide punishments. The particular passage that influenced the Declaration of Independence is, "Change, when dictated by reason and when in line with nature, liberates individuals and should be pursued" (Harrison, Sullivan, Sherman 469). There is a specific passage in the Declaration of Independence. Assuming the entire document is based on the concepts of enlightenment, specifically reason, the most similar passage to this concept would be in the fourth paragraph where it states, "That whenever and Form of Government becomes destructive of those ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and institute a new Government" (The Declaration of Independence 1).
The final influence on Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence was deism. In the Dictionary of Christianity in America states that "...deism is essentially a rationalistic religion, which assumes that all men naturally possess the ability to know the universe's Deity through reason, and that the creator of the universe was a rational architect" (1). The Declaration of Independence's most famous lines is the most obvious form of deism in the document. "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 the Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness" (1). In this passage the Deity is mentioned as the "Creator" (1). It also references the fact that there are rights the Deity gave to all men, or what was part of the Deity's rational architecture.
Thomas Jefferson and The Declaration of Independence were influenced heavily by concepts of Enlightenment and deism. This is evident by the numerous passages that directly relate to these topics. This is no surprise considering the period of history Jefferson lived in and the religion he followed. It is obvious to this author that these things played a large role in one of the most important documents in American history.