Essay on Enlightenment in Colonial Society

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Enlightenment in Colonial Society

The Enlightenment began in the mid to late 17th century; almost every source gives different dates and doesn’t really specify when exactly it started. It consisted as more of a religious revolution, but it also had to do with the emergence of different specialized professions. A major point of the English Enlightenment was that it did not like the idea of a vengeful God, nor did it like the idea that man could only retain so much knowledge and a certain social standing.

John Tillotson, who was the archbishop of Canterbury until 1694 would preach, “morality rather than dogma and had a way of defending the doctrine of eternal damnation that left his listeners wondering how a merciful God
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The most desirable course for the colonists to take was to agree to disagree. Nothing more powerfully encouraged the movement of separation of church and state than the realization that no one church could be the only church of the new colonies.

Several of the most distinguished leaders of the American Revolution, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Ben Franklin, and Thomas Paine, were very much influenced by the English; and, to a lesser extent the French Enlightenment. Jefferson and Franklin both spent time in France, absorbing the influence of the French Enlightenment. The language of natural law, inherent freedoms, and self-determination which was so deeply rooted in American tradition (what there was of a tradition) was the language of the Enlightenment; however, there was still a little of some other or “traditional” religions involved, which has been called our “civil religion”.

Eventually different legal professions started to emerge in many of the colonies, and with this surge of new professionals came the ideas of Enlightenment. In the 1600’s most of the colonists hated lawyers, people thought of them as “men who took advantage of others and who deliberately stirred up discord.” For a small amount of time Massachusetts and Virginia made it illegal to practice law. Maryland was the only
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