What Is the Enlightenment in American History?

The Enlightenment was a period in American history that occurred in the 18th century. It was a time of intellectual and philosophical growth that emphasized the use of reason and individualism. This movement had a profound impact on American society, politics, and culture.

What Is the Enlightenment?

The Enlightenment was a cultural movement that began in Europe in the 17th century and reached its peak in the 18th century. It emphasized reason, skepticism, and scientific inquiry as means to challenge traditional beliefs and values. The Enlightenment’s principles were based on the idea that reason could be used to solve social problems, promote human progress, and improve society.

The Influence of the Enlightenment on American History

The ideas of the Enlightenment had a significant impact on American history. Many of America’s Founding Fathers were influenced by these ideas, which shaped their political views and actions. For example, Thomas Jefferson incorporated many Enlightenment principles into the Declaration of Independence.

One of the most important aspects of the Enlightenment was its emphasis on individual rights and freedoms. This idea was central to America’s political system, which is based on individual liberty and democracy.

The Enlightenment also influenced American culture. The focus on reason led to an increased interest in science and technology, which led to many advances in medicine, agriculture, and industry.

Enlightenment Thinkers

There were many thinkers who contributed to the development of Enlightenment philosophy. Some of the most important include John Locke, Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, and Adam Smith.

John Locke is perhaps best known for his ideas about natural rights. He believed that all people have certain inherent rights that cannot be taken away by any government or authority.

Voltaire was a French philosopher who championed freedom of speech and religion. He also advocated for social justice and equality.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau believed that individuals were inherently good, but that society corrupted them. He believed in the importance of education and social reform.

Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher who emphasized the importance of reason and morality. He believed that individuals had a duty to act ethically, regardless of the consequences.

Adam Smith was an economist who believed in the importance of free markets and capitalism. He argued that individuals acting in their own self-interest would ultimately lead to greater economic prosperity for all.


The Enlightenment had a profound impact on American history. Its principles of reason, skepticism, and individualism helped shape America’s political system and culture. The ideas of Enlightenment thinkers continue to influence American society today, as people strive for greater freedom, equality, and progress.