The ideological movement that developed in Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, known universally as “The Enlightenment”, had a significant impact on the struggle for American independence.
The ‘American Enlightenment’ combined an engaging political scene with a proactive military objective for sovereignty, creating a revolutionary war that was unparalleled in scope or ferocity in Europe, excluding France. The focus on academic and ideological development in Europe, along with the dynamic manifestation of the Enlightenment principles of Liberalism, Democracy, religious tolerance and the Republicanism that the Declaration of Independence in 1776 highlights the developed concept of an ideological revolution.
One of the key thinkers who influenced the movement for independence was the Englishman John Locke, widely regarded in Western thought as the ‘Father of Liberalism’, who believed in a clear separation of powers between the State and the Church. The chief protagonists of the campaign for freedom for the thirteen original east coast states, such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, adhered to such a belief, which had a momentous impact on the formulation and direction of American political ideology. For example, Locke’s ideas regarding social contracts and his belief in the necessity of revolution in changing society for the better, can be clearly seen in the American context today with the division of the senate and the congress and The Bill of Rights, which is still in effect.
Other scholars such as Voltaire, Montesquieu and Jean-Jacques Rousseau who represent the French school of the Enlightenment, also made key contributions to the progress of the revolution in America. Rousseau, for example, made a sharp difference between the masses as the sovereign lawmakers, and the power of the government universally, whilst Montesquieu’s theory over constitutional government had major ramifications on the structure of the American political system as a democratic and accountable one. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this period is that the European Enlightenment influenced events and political campaigns across the world on a more revolutionary manner, before affecting society closer to home with the monumental events of the French Revolution in 1789 and subsequent events.