The Writers of the Enlightenment


The Age of Enlightenment was a period, or movement during the 18th centruy that preceded the Fench Revolution. It is a hrase that refers to the trends in thoughts and letters that emitted from Europe and the American colonies during that centruy. It is sometimes referred to as The Age of Reason. Whereas religion had dominated the reign of the puritans, politics and rationalism governed the ideas of the literary leaders of this new age. Perhaps the most important belief of this period was the abiding faith in the power of human reason. Writers believed that knowledge comes from experience and observation guided by reason, and that human aspirations should be contered not on this life but on the means of improving the next one. They conveyed the ideas of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the right to be educatedl. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Phillis Wheatley, and Philip Freneau were five of the leading literary motivators in the spreading of these beliefs and philosophies.

Benjamin Franklin, referred to as the "secular Puritan," is credited with having laid the ground rles for writing. He demonstrated the cncepts that were fundamental to the Age of Enlightenment. He believed that by educating the people and appealing to reason, the solutions to human problems could be found. He emphasized the value of utilitarian and scientific education in American schools. His most famous contributions to American Literature were the writings of his Autobiography and Poor Richard\'s Almanack. He also established the first circulating library in Philadelphia that continues to operate today.

A friend of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine was another great patriotic author of the Enlightenment. He was a philanthropist, a lover of his country and all mankind. By the power of the pen, he willingly attacked the governing class of his native land that he might do battle for the rights of men. His first article published was an attack on American slavery and a plea for the rights of the Negro. He was first to suggest a union of the colonies, and the first to write the words "The United States of America". He later wrote a pamphlet known as Common Sense, which was the first public appeal for independence, national life, and absolute separation. He accomplished, with this pamphlet, more for the cause of separation than any other man of his time. In all of his writing, Thomas Paine never lost his regard for truth and principle, and he never swayed in his allegiance to reason.

Thomas Jefferson grew up in the Age of Enlightenment while it was dominated by the efforts of Benjamin Franklin. Like Franklin, Thomas Jefferson was well educated and a lover of books. He was a supporter of freedom of speech, freddom of the press, freedom of thought, and freedom of educatin among other issues. He served in the Second Continental Congress, and subsequently participated as the primary author in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. He then continued his efforts for the establishment of religious freedom. Upon retiring he sold his personal library of ten thousand books the the government, establishing the foundation for what is known today as the Library of Congress.

Phillis Wheatley was an African slave and a beneficiary of the efforts of the previously emntioned Enlightenment leaders in that she had the freedom to an education, which was provided by her master. She was thought to have been one of the moste learned young wamen in Boston. With her elegy on the death of a famous preacher, she became the first black to be published, at the age of sixteen. She wrote poetry in the form of heroic couplet, and published her first volume of poems at the age of nineteen or twenty.

Philip Freneau was a poet and political journalist during the transitional period of the Revolution. He established the National Gazette in Philadelphia and dedicated himself to the controversies between the Jeffersonian Democrats and Hamilton\'s Federalists. He became powerful in journalism and politics. His paper failed after two years and Freneau retreated to his plantation where he wrote and published new essays and poems. Although he died poverty stricken and nearly forgotten, Freneau was the epitome of American literary independence. His works represented qualities that later became characteristic to the