The Age of Reason

Early American Literature
The Age of Reason
Outcomes of the lesson
 Timeline overview of American Literary Movements
 Early American Literature overview and timeline
 Emphasis on The Age of Reason, beginning with the
historic context of the Enlightenment.
 Writing style, major themes, methods of
interpretation and author’s intent of Enlightenment
 Notable writers of the Enlightenment and their
Prior Knowledge Inquiry
 The name Age of Reason
suggests what about the
previous age?
 Compare and contrast how the
Age of Reason Literature may
differ or expand upon the
literature of the Puritan era.
Point of View Inquiry
Knowing that Thomas Paine wrote
Common Sense to draw criticism to the
means and ends of the British empire
within the colonies, what do you think
his intentions were with his other book,
The Age of Reason: Being An Investigation
of True and Fabulous Theology?
How do you think Paine’s perspective
on religion and religious writings relates
and differs to that of the Puritan?
Point of View Inquiry
This work was published in
three-parts in 1794, 1795 and
1807. It challenged
institutionalized religion and
the legitimacy of the Bible as a
revealed or divinely inspired
text. It was a foundational
piece of deistic thought, which
was based on reason and
experience. Deism promoted
observation of the natural
world and argued for the
existence of a God of Creation,
rather than a God of absolute
Age of Reason by Thomas Paine,
published in 1794, 1795, and 1807.
Literary Movements
Age of
Puritan Era
and PostModernism
1600 - 1750 1750 - 1800 1800 - 1840 1840 - 1855 1865 1915
1916 - 1946
1946 Present
Early American Literature
Puritan Era
Age of Reason/
Age of Reason Literature
1600 – 1800 in Europe
1770s – 1800 in America
Age of Reason Timeline
Thomas Paine
Common Sense
John Locke
Francis Bacon
scientific method
Rene Descartes (15961650) Father of
Isaac Newton
ion of
used satire
to insult the
Patrick Henry
“Give me
liberty, or give
me death.”
Historic Enlightenment Timeline
Why was the Age of Reason
Sparked Now?
Many innovations, in the areas of
science and technology, along with
theories of government and
economics, led people to question
whether man should be free to
determine his own destiny, rather
than an authority such as a king or
a church.
History of the
American Enlightenment
Historic Context of the American Enlightenment
Introduction to the
Age of Reason
 The Age of Reason era, is the body of literature given
birth through the Enlightenment. Therefore, this
movement goes by both names, The Age of Reason, or
The Enlightenment literature.
 The Age of Reason emphasized reason and logic over
religious and political orders that reinstated
hierarchy and authoritarianism, without question or
 The Age of Reason encouraged new ideas, and
demanded questioning and criticism from the
common people.
American Enlightenment
 The Age of Enlightenment (or Age of Reason) was a cultural
movement of intellectuals beginning in the late 17th and 18th
century Europe emphasizing reason and individualism rather
than tradition. Its purpose was to reform society using reason,
and thus, challenge ideas grounded in tradition, faith and
superstition. It advanced knowledge through the scientific
method, promoted scientific thought, skepticism, intellectual
interchange, and logical argument. It opposed superstition and
intolerance, and the Catholic church was a favorite target of its
criticism. The ideas of the Enlightenment have had a long-term
and major impact on the culture, politics, and governments of
the Western world. The Age of Reason principles were applied to
the political birth of the United States of America.
Historical Context of the
Age of Reason
 The Age of Reason was a confluence of ideas and activities throughout the
18th century in Western Europe, England and the American colonies.
 Scientific rationalism exemplified by the scientific method, was the
hallmark of Enlightenment thought.
 Industrial developments providing a better quality of life, and philosophic
insights insisting on the dignity and equality of all people were primary
 The Church was widely criticized for stymieing the forward march of
reason, and for acting beyond its earthly bound authority.
 For the first time in written history, political and religious leadership was
weakened enough for citizens to voice their true concerns.
 Criticism of institutional fallacies and abuses became the focus of the
agenda, and argument was the new mode of conversation and writing.
Age of Reason – Commonly Held Beliefs
 Humans are born without sin. They are a “blank slate.”
Theory of mind theories demonstrate human development.
This opposed the Puritan concept of “depravity.”
 It is possible to change and improve situations of birth,
economy, society, and religion. We are not placed in a
static history, our knowledge is not banked.
 Church should not control government or speak beyond
its authority.
 Individual property rights for some.
Themes and questions pursued by the writers:
 Inquiry and ideas about all aspects of the world.
 Interests in classics and ancient text, including the Bible.
 Interest in empirical science and scientific
 Emphasis in optimism and positivity – experiments with
utopian communities
 Individualism and a personal sense of duty to succeed
and self-actualize
 Individualism and personal religion (deism), personal
interpretations of religious text (like the Bible).
John Locke
Enlightenment Founder
 John Locke (1632-1704) was a British
philosopher and physician, regarded
as one of the first empirical thinkers.
He developed a “theory of mind”
supporting that humans develop
knowledge through sensory
experience. He contributed the
concept that people are born with
“unalienable” or natural rights to the
United States Declaration of
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that
all men are created equal, that they are
endowed by their Creator with certain
unalienable Rights, that among these are
Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Charles-Louis Montesquieu
Enlightenment Founder
 Montesquieu (1689-1755) was a French
social and political philosopher who
articulated the theory of separation of
powers regarding government structure.
His conceptual framework has been
implemented into many constitutions,
including the United States of America.
Great Enlightenment Thinkers
 The primary scientific progenitors
of the Enlightenment are Francis
Bacon and Isaac Newton.
 Bacon composed philosophic
treaties which became the basis of
the scientific method (applying
both deductive and inductive
 Newton was a scientist who
applied observation and testing to
determine the solid application of
his theories. He was an empirical
thinker who collected data through
his sensory perception.
European and American
Enlightenment Influence
 In Europe, the Enlightenment had a
philosophical, scientific and political
 Whereas in the Americas, the
Enlightenment ideas and writings
were primary manifest in a political
 American intellectuals such as Thomas
Paine, and Patrick Henry (taking heed
from Locke and Montesquieu),
considered the possibility that freedom
and democracy were fundamental
rights of all people, rather than gifts
conferred by hierarchical monarchs or
 Egalitarianism: the fair and
equal treatment of all people,
became the emphasis of the
 Citizens began to see
themselves as equal to their
political and religious
leadership. And possibly
subjected to the same level of
criticism, if and when
Enlightenment Ideals
 New ideas and innovation was encouraged to test the
limitations of human capacity.
 People believed they should elect their own
representative government and consensual leadership
was enacted.
 Through collective intelligence and rationality the worlds
major problems would have voice and be resolved.
 Discussion, debate and argument as styles of logical
thinking and decision making became tools for finding
truthful precepts. Rhetoric!
 Empiricism, or the reliance to observable, demonstrable
facts through experience was elevated in public discourse.
For the Common Good
 The idea of a “public” or an informed collective of
citizens invested in the common good and
preservation of the society reached its pinnacle
during the Enlightenment.
 The “public” was still limited to middle class Anglo
men. Women, minorities and the lower classes were
not yet welcome into civil discourse.
European Enlightenment Thinkers
 European Enlightenment writers JeanJacques Rousseau and Voltaire were
the torch-bearers of literature and
 Rousseau’s most significant work,
Emile, argues for extensive liberal
education as the means for nurturing
good citizens, and it one of the first
works recognizing the importance
childhood development.
 Voltaire used satire to criticize the
oppressive authoritarianism of the
church and state.
Enlightenment Thinkers
 Benjamin Franklin – The Constitution of the United States
of America
 Thomas Paine – Common Sense
 Patrick Henry – Speech in the Virginia Convention
American Enlightenment Thinkers
 Enlightenment thinking was realized in a
unique way in the developing colonies,
however the essential spirit of the
enlightenment still resonated across the
Atlantic, in the New World.
 Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine, each
in their own way, embedded rational
thinking in the developing government,
society and culture.
 Enlightenment values led into the
Revolutionary war - Individualism.
 Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” provided
an impassioned argument grounded in solid
reason for the colonies to separate and seek
independence from the British Crown. He
coined the demand, “No Taxation without
American Enlightenment
 Franklin's indispensible
contributions at the
Constitutional Conventions
– the writing of the United
States Constitution –
grounded the first civil
documents in principles of
rational thinking and
observable facts. These
principles would permeate
and navigate throughout the
development of the New
Common Sense By Thomas Paine
 “Common sense will tell us, that the
power which hath endeavored to subdue
us, is of all others, the most improper to
defend us.”
 “Society is produced by our wants, and
government by wickedness; the former
promotes our happiness positively by
uniting our affections, the latter
negatively by restraining our vices. The
one encourages intercourse, the other
creates distinctions. The first is a patron,
the last a punisher.”
Patrick Henry
Purpose of “Speech in the Virginia Convention”
 Patrick Henry (May 29, 1736 – June 6,
1799) was an American attorney, farmer
and politician who became known as an
American orator during the movement
for independence in Virginia in the late
1770s. He was a founding father and
served as the sixth post-colonial
Governor of Virginia from 1776 to 1770
and from 1784 to 1786.
Patrick Henry
 He is known for leading the opposition to the Stamp
Act of 1765 and is remembered for his “Give me
liberty, or give me death!” speech at the Virginia
convention. Along with Samuel Adams and Thomas
Paine, he is regarded as one of the most influential
champions of Republicanism (democratic rule) and
an invested promoters of the American Revolution.
After the Revolution, Henry was a leader of the antifederalists in Virginia, and worked for an adoption
of the Bill of Rights to the Constitution.
Give me Liberty, Or Give Me Death!
~Patrick Henry
“His speaking style was simple and he
could appeal to both the elite and the
common man. He wanted to unite the
upper and lower classis in a bond
against the British… and stir patriotic
feel for the resistance movement”
(Zinn, 68).
Evaluation Inquiry
“The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges
every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who
will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought
to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions...”
~John Locke, The Second Treatise of Civil Government. 1690.
This quote from of the great Enlightenment philosopher John Locke
influenced the most prominent documents of the American Colonial
era, such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
Judging from this quote, infer the major themes pronounced during
the Age of Reason literary era (1770s - to early 1800s).
Movements of the 18th Century
Dawn of classical liberalism – freedom from oppressive forces
Political revolutions in America and France (1789)
Scientific experimentation and innovation
Laissez-faire economics
Manifest Destiny and the open frontier
Deism - (religion) the belief that reason and observation of the natural
world are sufficient to determine the existence of God, accompanied with
the rejection of revelation and authority of as a source of religious
 Growth in nationalism and materialism (consumerism)
•Spread of culture
and ideas
•Francis Bacon (1561–
1626) – Inductive
•Deductive Method
•René Descartes
(1596–1650) –
Deductive Method
•Johannes Kepler
•Galileo Galilee
•Isaac Newton
••Free Markets
•Adam Smith
Political Corruption
• Social Contract,
Separation of Powers,
Free Markets
•John Locke (1632–
Rousseau (1712–1778)
•Thomas Hobbes
•Thomas Paine 1776
•“Common Sense”
• Deism
• •France
•Starving peasants,
corrupt monarchs
• Protestant
•U.S. Colonies
•Colonists increasingly
frustrated with British
•Corruption of
Catholic Church
Age of Reason links
Seinfeld History Lesson
Thomas Paine
The Federalist Papers
Benjamin Franklin
St. Jean de Crevecoeur

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