A More Perfect Union | The Constitution of the United States
|A More Perfect Union|
|CCSTD History Grade 11 11.1.1-11.1.2|
Enlightened Thought Towards A More Perfect Union
The people of the 13 British Colonies in America became angry
at the abuses of the British government towards
them; unfair taxation without representation, exploitation of the
colonies natural resources, and being forced to buy British
products some of the complaints that the Colonists had.
Therefore, they sought their independence from British rule.
This philosophy behind the Declaration of Independence came from new thoughts and ideas discussed and formed during the age of
Enlightenment. The term "Enlightenment" refers to a series of changes in European thought and ideas. These thoughts and ideas began to take shape during the 17th and 18th centuries when the Scientific Revolution swept through Europe. This revolution replaced superstition with empirical thought.
Empiricism is based on the notion that repeated human inspection and examination of natural phenomena can produce reasonable expectations about natural events. This thinking led to the belief that the universe was made up of parts that together, interacted as a predictable apparatus. It functions by natural and expected rules; and although God may have created the universe, he/she does not meddle in its processes. Once the world is understood in this way, then it may be manipulated and engineered for the benefit of humanity.
When the writers, philosophers and scientists of the eighteenth century referred to their activities as the "Enlightenment," they meant that they were replacing the gloom, darkness, and ignorance of European thought with empirical reflection and the "light" of truth. 17th century thinkers moved away from religious and moral explanations of the universe and human activities, towards an observed analysis and scientific explanation of the laws of nature and human behavior.
Some of these new philosophies included ideas that people should have the power to choose their leadership and govern themselves, (self-sovereignty). One of these influential philosophers was Thomas Hobbs, (1588-1679). In his book, “The Leviathan”, Hobbs put forth the idea that monarchs did not rule by the authority of heaven, but by the consent of the people. John Locke, (1632-1704), argued in his book, “Two Treatises,” that government and authority were based on natural law, and that the purpose of government is to protect the natural laws of human equality and freedom. Locke wrote that when government ceases to care for the welfare, independence, and equality of those it governs, then it is the duty of those citizens to overthrow their leaders.
In the movement towards independence from England, the colonists based their right to do so on these enlightened ideas and philosophies.
Ripe For Revolution
For the most part, the American colonists had come to the "New World" to escape persecution; seeking political, religious and economic freedoms. As a result, when King George III and the British government began to obstruct these freedoms, the colonists were deeply troubled. There was no single event that led the colonists to begin a war against British rule, but there were a variety of instances of abuse and bullying that persuaded the colonists that revolution and independence was the only course of action.
The colonists were predestined to move in this way towards revolution against what they believed was a tyrannical government. Generally well-educated, many colonists had read the writings of 17th Century English Civil War writers, such as Milton and Trenchard, and Enlightenment philosophers, such as Locke and Hobbs. From these authors and others, the colonists acquired a powerful sense of resentment toward political corruption of any kind. As the British government repeatedly pushed its authority on the colonists, they understood that British rule over the colonies was essentially destroying their newly-discovered freedoms. These beliefs that stemmed from the work of these writers and philosophers, laid the philosophical grounds for the American Revolution, and later, for the foundation of the new nations Declaration of Independence; the U.S. Constitution, and its companion, the Bill of Rights. Keys to this foundation were the ideas of the natural rights of all people, the people’s sovereignty, and the limits of governmental power.