It is nearly impossible for one individual to be truly apathetic. Although one may try to think, write, speak, or act objectively, there is no way to keep personal bias out of one's self-expression. A person's thoughts are often influenced by society and their culture, and this often comes through in one's writing. This holds true even in the most famous of written works. The American Declaration of Independence, written in 1776 by Thomas Jefferson, clearly shows signs of Jefferson's deist beliefs and Enlightenment surroundings.
The Enlightenment was a philosophical movement that took place in the 18th century. It emphasized the superiority of reason and empirical thinking over the old ways of religion and tradition. "Enlightenment thinkers used reason and nature to criticize institutions and customs of the past, which still dominated their eighteenth-century society" (Harrison, 470). These people learned about the world by using their reasoning skills to make sense of what they perceived with their senses. According to an Enlightened thinker, the only way an idea would be able to be proved false would be through reason. "All we know and all we can every know is what we perceive through our senses and interpret with our reason. There are no such things as innate ideas or revealed truth. (469). This test of reasoning was applied to all ideas, including the ideas of government.
Having used reason to test the monarchy of Great Britain and proven it defective, the founding fathers set about creating a new system of government based on the principles of reason and empirical thinking, rather than tradition and religion. This is stated by Jefferson in the opening statements of the Declaration.
Prudence indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly all Experience hath shewn, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer...than right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long Train of Abuses...it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security (Jefferson, 1).
By using the reasoning concept of the Enlightenment, the founding fathers were able to justify their belief that "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" (469). Since their current government had been proven ineffective and debilitating to the rights of the people, according to Jefferson, the people needed to exercise their duty to take care of themselves and their families by forming a new government.
Another concept of the Enlightenment that is present in the Declaration concerns Nature. Just like every other aspect of the Enlightenment, "nature is ordered, functions reasonably, and constitutes a standard for judgment" (Harrison, 469). Like the evidence for reason, the evidence for Enlightenment-based beliefs about nature is stated in the opening paragraphs of the Declaration. "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed" (Jefferson, 1). The standard of judgment of government lies not in age-old tradition, but with the people themselves.
The last concept of the Enlightenment is that of change and progress. According to the thinkers of the Enlightenment, change is a good thing, as it allows the people the freedom to form more perfect societies. "Change, when dictated by reason and when in line with nature, liberates individuals and should be pursued" (Harrison, 469). In other words, the perfect marriage of the concepts or reason and nature results in freedom from the oppressive shackles of tradition. Although the American colonies specifically had problems dealing with the English monarchy, the bigger problem was the tension between the Enlightened thinkers and tradition, which was most often represented by the Christian Church. Although the Christian Church at large was perhaps made a scapegoat in this instance, this disunity between reason and tradition gave birth to a new religion: Deism.
Deism was based on the Enlightenment concept of reason and nature, essentially assuming that all human beings possessed the reasoning capabilities to know the universe's Deity from birth. Therefore, if reason and nature go hand in hand to create change, and according to Deism "God revealed himself in nature and through reason" (Reid, 1), then change, when brought about by reason and nature, is a way to know the Deity, aka God. This relationship is stated by Jefferson in the introduction to the body of the Declaration. "Such has been the patient Sufferance of these Colonies; and such now is the Necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government...To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid World" (Jefferson, 1). If the Deist Jefferson, and by association the founding fathers, believed that change was brought on by the relationship between which escalated into what is now known as the American Revolution.
The Enlightenment, also known as the Age of Reason, was a time which challenged the people's trust in tradition with new ideas of empirical thinking and reasoning. Because Jefferson was born and raised with these concepts present in society, it is only natural that his Deist beliefs and his ideas stemming from concepts of the Enlightenment are prevalent and laced through his most famous work, the American Declaration of Independence.