The American Revolution And Reason

This blogger completed a free on-line course from Yale University entitled The American Revolution.  In lecture 8,[1] Professor Joanne Freeman presents a story that took place in 1791, a few years after the Revolution. It shows the deep thinking of some of the Founding Fathers who were strongly influenced by the Enlightenment.  Some of the points made include:

Thomas Jefferson thought the three greatest men the world had ever produced were Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton and John Locke:

Francis Bacon - His work suggested that it was in humankind's power to discover truth by reason and that by doing that, humankind could better itself.
Isaac Newton – His work suggested that the world is governed by laws that you could discover and understand; that there's a cause and effect, and that through reason and study you can figure out the cause and effect of nature's laws.

John Locke - He believed that people were born free, unhampered by government and with certain natural rights--life, liberty, and property--and that to protect these rights people decided to voluntarily leave this state of nature to form a civil government, contracting some of their natural rights to this government when they did so.

This showed the spirit of the Enlightenment--that the world is governed by natural laws that can be detected, they can be studied, they can be applied, and in a sense the practice of deism stems from this idea. There were some Founder types who were basically deists at heart, believing that God was a sort of divine clockmaker who made a world of logic and natural laws and then stepped back and allowed it to operate without intervening, and this kind of God was omniscient and all powerful but it was natural forces that governed daily existence.

Alexander Hamilton thought Julius Caesar was the greatest that ever lived.  This reveals another related aspect of the Enlightenment mentality. It shows how immediate and relevant the ancient world--and actually history generally--was to Enlightenment thinkers, and that humankind can detect patterns and then apply them for all time.

Political liberties were fragile. Constitutional principles defended customary contractarian rights against government assertions of arbitrary power. So arbitrary power is the ultimate threat to good government.   Rome had been great, but arbitrary power had sent it spiraling into tyranny.

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The USA is based on this thinking. There is not a word here about the USA having in any way a theocratic form of government.   All you find in this piece is reason, secularism
 and a love of liberty.  How many of today's politicians can measure up to the thoughtfulness of these Founding Fathers?


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