Directed Writing 5
The Enlightenment was an Era of a thinking in which the old ways thought of to be true were challenged. The traditions and beliefs of the past were not superior by definition but had to be reasoned out and examined. The Declaration of Independence is a piece of work that is strewn with Enlightenment thoughts. In this work there are traces of the concepts of Reason, Nature, Progress and Change, and Deism.
Reason is the main concept behind the Age of Reason or Enlightenment. The idea of reason is very prevalent in the Declaration of Independence. The whole point of the Declaration of Independence was to show that the Colonies wished to break away from the British Empire, and the reasons for this course of action. Looking the Reason of this is extremely interesting how much this document was influenced by the Enlightenment. The opening words in the Declaration of the Independence is that of how when a Nation's Government begins to look beyond the people it is there to serve, and only interested in its own gain. That is the time when the citizens use their reason and realize that they need to break away and fix the problem emerging.
The idea of Nature in the Enlightenment era was that it was a standard of Judgment since Nature functions reasonably. That is why the people of the Enlightenment period saw a shift toward nature as the way to true Enlightenment. Thomas Jefferson uses the concept of Nature being a perfect existence before humans to say that this is a shift to a better idea than that of being under a King. Nature dictates that people govern themselves in a fair and just way. With a King true justice can never be attained for there is only one who decides everything. Also it can never be fair in any way since only one voice is heard and listened to. "...the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them..." (Declaration of Independence).
The third concept of the Enlightenment is a pair that goes hand in hand. They are Change and progress. The belief was that in this time most changes were made to decided upon because they would progress the society that the change was occurring to. There was no longer this belief that tradition was correct merely because it was the way things had been. The people of this era began to look at what they were taught and examine it for validity and not accept it blindly because it was tradition or the way things have always been. This is personified in the Declaration of Independence by the simple fact that they are changing the form of government they currently have and progressing to a new and better way.
The last category of the age of Enlightenment that is also seen in the Declaratoin of independence is that of Deism. Deism is a religion in which it is believed that everyone has the capability to know the universe's creator through their own reason. Thomas Jefferson clearly states in the Declaration of Independence that everyone is given non-refundable rights as humans and creations of the God of Nature. Now since he defined God as the God of nature we can see how they thought of God. Since they believed nature to be an unchangeable standard to judge all else they look at the creator of this the same way. God is someone who understandable by reason and a standard for living life. In that way they discern that he has given them reason to judge what is fair and just for his creations on earth. They no longer believe in idea that the Dictator is chosen by God. For if God had chosen them, they would not treat their fellow brothers and sisters with such malice that is seen in most Dictators with absolute power.
When the Declaration of Independence is looked at in detail the concepts that drove the Enlightenment movement are very present. The basic ideas of Reason, the way in which Nature works, the process of Change and Progress, and the belief of Deism are all there inside. Thomas Jefferson, and many other Founding Fathers, were devote believers in the Enlightenment and its principles. In that particular time these concepts were the thinking and made perfect sense to the people of this time. The ideas particularly made sense to a group of people who were breaking off from a Monarchy that was arguably the most powerful at the time. The Enlightenment brought on many new ideas and concepts and possibly the very country that is now the Superpower of the Modern World.
Declaration of Independence, 1st Cong. (Thomas Jefferson 1776).
Knopf, Alfred A. A Short History of Western Civilizaton. 6th ed. New York, NY, 1985. Moore, Rebecca. Vocies of Christianity. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2006. 1-477.