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Enlightenment In Colonial Society Essay

1246 words - 5 pages

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 could possibly have ordained such a cruel punishment.” Anglicans hated firm scripture, fought against different superstitions, “scoffed” at experiences that were told from word of mouth, and discarded all “fanaticism”. It didn’t matter if it came from the “High Church Laudians” or the Puritans, both of which caused major problems in England.

     Sir Isaac Newton’s laws of motion were said to be maybe the greatest “intellectual achievements” of all time. Many people suspected that they had already surpassed the wisdom and achievements of the ancient thinkers. Sir Isaac Newton’s ideas combined with philosopher John Locke ideas were what fueled it the most.

     The American colonies began to embrace these new enlightened ideas, and individual people had knowledge about them even before the newspapers could get the word out. John Tillotson had probably the biggest impact on Americans, and made an even bigger impression on Harvard University. Two young men who had been tutors at Harvard University were huge advocates of Tillotson’s ideas, and one of them went on to replace the old college president, Increase Mather, in 1707; and, made Tillotson’s ideas a heavily studied subject, his name was John Leverett Jr. For pretty much the rest of the 18th century almost all of the Harvard educated ministers embraced Tillotson’s theory; even though a lot of then still said that they were Calvinists. They didn’t preach the differences between Congregationalists and Anglicans, instead they spoke of the similarities and wanted a wider range of religious toleration.

     In America a lot of the intellectual leaders of the colonies were drawn to the new Enlightenment. The colonies may have been founded by leaders of various different religious backgrounds, but when it was necessary to unite and fight against England, it was apparent that not one religion could prevail over the others. 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...

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