There are many signs of how the Enlightenment affected not only the people of its era, but the people of today. It and its concepts are present in many pieces of literature, philosophy, and other areas of study, but it is especially evident in history. Proof of how the Enlightenment affected history is in the Declaration of Independence, which was written by Thomas Jefferson.
To understand this proof, one must understand the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment, sometimes called the Age of Reason, was a period of history that started in the late 1600s. It was started as an attempt to make the ideas of the Scientific Revolution popular in society. Those who followed the Enlightenment were thinkers who wanted change from the old traditional civilization. The thinkers of the Enlightenment followed three basic concepts: the concept of reason, the concept of nature, and the concept of change and progress. The concept of reason stated that everything was subject to reasoning. Through this concept, people believed that things should not be accepted because of a test of time, but that they should be looked at carefully using reason. The second concept of Enlightenment was the concept of nature. This concept said that nature generally has an order and keep that order, regardless of prayers or other phenomena. It also says that humans have corrupted nature with all of their restrictions. The last concept of the Enlightenment is that of Change and Progress. This concept viewed change as a good thing, as opposed to the previous distrust of change and the idea that it was a step down from what had previously existed. All three concepts form Enlightenment, whose concepts are evident in the Declaration of Independence.
Deism is evident in the Declaration of Independence as well. It was a religious movement that occurred with the Enlightenment. It says that all people have the ability to know God through reason, and that God was a rational architect. Followers of Deism believed that knowledge from God didn't come from revelation or from Jesus, but from reasoning.
The effects of the Enlightenment are clearly evident in the Declaration of Independence, starting in the very first paragraph. Jefferson writes that it is "necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another," obviously calling for change and reform, which was one of the main concepts of enlightenment (Jefferson 1). He extends this idea of change and reform throughout the entire piece, stating "it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it [the form of government], and to institute a new Government" (1). He clearly does not believe that the old form was beneficial because of the tradition, as the people opposed to the Enlightenment did, because he says, "it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security" (1). He continues to comment on how oppressive the old form of government had been as he talks about the king. He complains about how the king has "refused his Assent to Laws," "forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing Importance," "refused to pass other Laws for the Accommodation of large Districts of People," "called together Legislative Bodies at Places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the Depository of their public Records," "dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly," "refused...to cause others to be elected," and "endeavoured to prevent the Population of these States" (1-2). Furthermore, he "obstructed the Administration of Justice," "made Judges dependent on his Will alone," "erected a Multitude of new Offices," "kept among us...without the consent of [the] Legislature," and other despicable acts (2). This way of thinking is clearly influenced by the Enlightenment because the people involved in the Enlightenment believed that "change, when dictated by reason and when in line with nature, liberates individuals and should be pursued" (Harrison 469). He clearly believes that the king's unreasonableness dictates through reason the necessity for change.
Just as the Declaration of Independence was heavily influenced by the Age of Reason, it was also influenced by Deism. According to an entry in the Dictionary of Christianity in America, Thomas Jefferson was "the most forceful deist of the period," so the ideas of Deism played a part in his writings, including the Declaration of Independence (470). In the first paragraph, it speaks of "the Laws of Nature" and "Nature's God," which both show the belief in a rational creator of the universe (1). In the same way, the document talks about the "Creator" who created people "with certain unalienable Rights," which also shows the idea of God as a rational architect (1).
Clearly, Thomas Jefferson used ideas from the Enlightenment and Deism in the Declaration of Independence. Although both movements were introduced many years ago, they are still alive in today's society because of documents like it.
Harrison, J., R Sullivan, and D. Sherman. A Short History of Western Civilization, 6th ed. New York: Alfred
Reid, Daniel G., ed. Dictionary of Christianity in America. Downer's Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990.