American Literature By 1750 there were fourth and fifth generations of Americans. In 1760 – most colonists had not given thought to the prospect of independence. Between 1760 and the mid-1770s attitudes towards King George III changed dramatically. Parliament in England imposed a number of regulations that threatened the liberties of the colonists. The 18th century is often characterized as ‘The Enlightenment’ or ‘The Age of Reason.’ Great 17th century thinkers: Galileo, Sir Isaac Newton, Voltaire, Rousseau, and John Locke. Writers of this time valued reason over faith. Believed in the possibility of a perfect society because man was naturally good, not evil. Political writers include Franklin, Paine, and Jefferson. These writers not only believed in the philosophy of the time, but put it into practice. The American Revolution was preceded by the French and Indian War. This was a struggle between England and France for control of North America. England won and there was joy in the colonies. However, in order to pay for this war, the king began to impose taxes in the colonies. Stamp Act of 1765: this added a cost to 54 ordinary items. Colonists were outraged-it was eventually repealed. The Townshend Acts of 1767: taxed paper, paint, glass, lead, and tea. This prompted the Boston Massacre – this Act was repealed. The Tea Act: gave England a monopoly on the distribution of tea. This prompted the Boston Tea Party. A full shipment of tea was dumped into the Boston Harbor. As punishment, the Coercive Acts were passed, which shut down the Boston Harbor and insisted that English soldiers be housed in colonial homes. This quickly became known as the Intolerable Acts. April 19, 1775: 700 British troops met 70 colonial minutemen on the Lexington green. A musket shot was fired and shortly after 8 Americans lay dead. The troops then headed to Concord. This is the official start of the American Revolution – “American blood had been spilled on American soil.” Battle of Bunker Hill: Americans wounded over 1000 British soldiers. Most fighting till now took place in Massachusetts – but the revolt involved all of the colonies. Two days before Bunker Hill, the Americans named a commander in chief for the American Army – George Washington. More than a year passed before the Americans declared their independence. More than six years passed before the war ended. In 1777 at the battle of Saratoga in upstate New York, the Americans were surround by the British and 5700 were forced to surrender. This was a turning point, because upon hearing this in France, they recognized the colonies as a sovereign nation and sent aid in the form of troops. The final battle was at Yorktown, Virginia on October 19, 1781. With the aid of the French and enlisted African Americans, General George Washington’s army surrounded an 8000 man troop under the force of General Cornwallis. Seeing that escape was impossible – Cornwallis surrendered. The path to self government is not always smooth. Articles of Confederation established a “League of Friendship” There were three main issues with the AofC: They did not have the ability to raise an army, there was no monetary structure, and there was no ability to raise taxes. Contrary to the soul searching literature of the Puritans – Revolutionary writing was public. By the time of Washington’s inauguration, there were nearly forty magazine publications. Journalists and printers provided a forum for the expression of ideas. Topics focused on relations with Great Britain and political writing. 1770s and 1780s were very tumultuous – this time shaped not only our country, but the world. Patrick Henry was an amazing orator who brought cries of ‘treason!’ His speech to the Virginia Convention expressed rising sentiment for independence. “Give me liberty or give me death!” Thomas Paine was perhaps more influential that any other writer in swaying public opinion. He wrote a pamphlet in 1776 titled Common Sense, which was written to the common man and swept the colonies, selling 100,000 copies in three months. The Declaration of Independence was first drafted by Thomas Jefferson in June of 1776. The finished document is the collaborative effort of a committee of five statesmen including Benjamin Franklin. The Declaration of Independence is one of the most influential political statements ever made. The Constitution of the United States, drafted in 1787 was only hoped to survive a generation. It is the foundation of a national super power of 50 states, 250 million people, and has only been amended 27 times! Ratification was not easy though. Delaware ratified it first and one of the last to ratify was New York. Alexander Hamilton – who did not particularly like the Constitution – still wanted it ratified in his home state of New York. He, along with James Madison, and John Jay, wrote a series of essays titled The Federalist, to persuade New Yorkers to ratify the Constitution. These essays are recognized as authoritative statements on the principles of American government. Political writing dominated, but it wasn’t the only form of writing published during this period. Broadside Ballads were also published: this is a single sheet of paper, printed on one or both sides in verse, that deals with a current topic. Poets to know are Phillis Wheatly: Born in Africa, brought over as a slave, published in England while still a young woman. Michel-Guillaume Crevecoeur: soldier of fortune, world traveler, and a farmer. He published his impressions of life, from his home in Orange County New York – Letters from an American Farmer. Benjamin Franklin – Poor Richard’s Almanack became familiar in most American households. Popular aphorisms include: No man e’er was glorious, who was not laborious, Little strokes, fell great Oaks, and An Ugly wife makes a great cook During the revolutionary period America began to develop an identity of its own. A number of new universities and colleges were established during this time. Art and Music also began to flourish. By early 1800s America can boast of a small national body of literature which include writings from the Native Americans, Explorers, Puritans, and Revolutionaries of the Enlightenment. As the eighteenth century came to a close, the nation stood on the threshold of a territorial and population explosion – unique in the history of the world.