The Enlightenment age was a change in thought of what was widely accepted during the Age of Faith. This way of thinking challenged the traditions, the religion, and the politics of the older ages. The Enlightenment age has often been paired up with the Age of Reason, which took place in the 1700s. These thoughts encouraged people to think for themselves, and use their right to reason. The Enlightenment thought stressed not to depend on the traditions of past, but the reasons of change and progress from the laws of nature. These three concepts of reason, nature, and change and progress were the basics of Enlightenment and were used by Thomas Jefferson to write the American Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence was a plea for reason. It was written for the King of England, and stated that the thirteen colonies under Great Britain were now independent from the country. The writing was used, as Jefferson explains, "not merely to say things which had never been said before" but to challenge mankind to look at and "place in front of them the commonsense of the subject in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent" and use reason as the basis of freedom (Age of the Sage 1). The Declaration of Independence was written in 1776, during the last years of the Enlightenment. Another influence on the Declaration of Independence, apart from the Enlightenment was Deism. Deism is known as a rationalistic religion. Roughly, deists believe that the Creator gave humans the ability to reason and then remained distant from the creation after giving them this ability. Deism was one of the main religious thoughts during the Age of Reason due to its view on reason and the ability of man to understand. Together, Deism and the Enlightenment influenced Thomas Jefferson in his writing of the Declaration of Independence.
There are three main concepts of the Enlightenment. The first is reason. Reason stresses that "all assumptions should be subjected to critical and empirical reasoning" (Harrison 2). No longer were ideas and customs accepted solely because they were supported by tradition; instead, Enlightenment thinkers felt that all traditional thoughts and ways of life should be examined and reasoned. This is exactly what Jefferson stresses in the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson says that not only should people put old traditions that have turned destructive to reason, but it is indeed "becomes necessary" (Jefferson 1). During the whole Declaration, Jefferson uses reason to explain why the states are becoming independent. He uses this by examples of what the king and the nation of Great Britain have done to upset and deny the freedom of the colonies. Reason is behind everything that Jefferson argues.
Nature is the second concept of Enlightenment; it stresses that the nature of the world is "governed by a few simple and unchangeable laws" (Harrison 3). The law of nature and the law of reason function with one another. This nature began as good, but humans, such as the King, had corrupted it with restrictions. Therefore, Jefferson argues, it is the right of the people to go back to nature, and freedoms. Jefferson continually uses the phrase "laws of nature" as a standard to how society should be treated (Jefferson 1). He uses this as a self-evident truth. The truths he stresses are "life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness", and that all men have these rights (Jefferson 1). Jefferson's argument was that the King was not following with these obvious truths, and thus the colonies had the right to separate.
Change and progress is the third concept of the Enlightenment. Change is viewed as a very positive thing, which goes hand and hand with progress. Enlightened thinkers believe that "change, when dictated by reason and when in line with nature, liberates individuals" (Harrison 4). Jefferson used this concept by combining both reason and nature, along with change to produce progress of liberated individuals. Underlining the declaration is the sense that humans are naturally good, but other outside restriction and religion have distorted the human thinking. Jefferson wants change to happen with the relationship with the colonies and Great Britain, and believes only progress will come of the change.
For some Christians, the concept of nature and reason often conflicts with their beliefs. The Age of Enlightenment therefore bred a new type of belief that complimented the value of reason. This was notably "popular among some upper-class Americans at the time of the American Revolution" including Thomas Jefferson (Reid 1). This belief system, however, was more of an intellectual movement then a religious one. Deism believed 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" (Reid 1). This made God only partly necessary, and gave power to man to decide what was right and what was not, in accordance to nature. Jefferson uses Deism quite often to stress his points, mentioning "Nature's God" or "Creator" to give power from above to give power to the men who want the change and progress (Jefferson 1).
Jefferson was an enlightened Deist thinker in the 18th century. The influence of the Age of Reason made a huge impact on what Jefferson wrote in the American Declaration of Independence and how it was stated and organized. No longer were tradition and past customs allowed to violate other humans. Using reason, law of nature and change, progress happened. The freedom of the thirteen colonies begins the revolutionary war and after the fighting, the people of the colonies finally won their independence from England in 1783. Jefferson was able to promote and help start change and progress of the states through the Declaration of Independence.