Ben Franklin
Thomas Jefferson
The Age of Reason
Thomas Paine
Patrick Henry
The Age of Reason
1750-1820, aka.
The Enlightenment
The Augustan Age
What is the Enlightenment
or the Age of Reason?
A period in the 18th century noted for belief
in the ability of reason to discover truth, shape
society, and shed “light” onto the darkness of
ignorance, superstition, injustice, and tyranny
What are some beliefs concerning
Enlightenment or The Age of Reason?
People could discover the truth about
the meaning of life by “REASON”
The natural world, human nature,
and social institutions are governed
by universal laws.
All men are created equal and are
endowed with certain natural rights.
Governments exist only by the
consent of the governed, who are
justified in rebelling if their natural
rights are violated.
America and The Age of Reason
Many Americans expressed their
thoughts and feelings in newspapers of
the time.
 They wrote poems, songs, and essays on
the issues of the day –mainly about the
problems with the British government.
 These essays, poems, etc. were printed up
in “broadsides” – sheets of paper covered
with these anonymous writings, which
were then tacked up around the city.
 This was one way that the idea of the
Revolution was spread in America during
the 1770’s.
Puritans vs. the Age of Reason
By the end of the 1700s, the Puritan influence on
America began to wane.
Spurred by the work of many seventeenth-century
thinkers—scientists such as Galileo and Newton,
philosophers like Voltaire and Rousseau, and
political theorist John Locke—the writers and
thinkers of the Enlightenment valued reason over
Unlike the Puritans, they had little interest in the
hereafter, believing instead in the power of reason
and science to further human progress.
They saw the universe as an orderly system that,
with the application of reason and scientific laws,
could be understood.
Enlightenment thinkers deemphasized “grace” and “predestination” in favor of “moral
choice” and scientific inquiry.
They believed that people are by
nature good, not evil, and that
through virtuous thoughts and
behaviors one could achieve
“human perfection”
In contrast to the private soulsearching of the Puritans, much of
what was produced during the
Revolutionary period was public
Many enlightenment thinkers (including Jefferson
and Franklin) called themselves “Deists”
 Deists believed in one God, but found fault with
organized religion and did not believe in supernatural
events such as miracles, the inerrancy of scriptures, or
the Trinity.
 They believed that through reason and observation of
the natural world, Man can deduce the existence of a
supreme being, rather than because of what the Bible
 Deists thought that a harmonious universe proves the
beneficence of God, a very different view from the “fire
and brimstone” preaching of many Puritans.
John Locke’s Tabula Rasa
Deists also believed humankind is naturally good, not
inherently evil; they believed in “tabula rasa.”
Tabula rasa was the theory that the (human) mind is
at birth a "blank slate" without rules for processing
data, and that data is added and rules for processing
are formed solely by one's sensory experiences (ie.
nurture over nature).
Locke’s theory also emphasized the freedom of
individuals to author their own soul and to define the
content of their character.
Artifacts of Different Eras
Thou hast a house on high erect,
Framed by that mighty Architect,
With glory richly furnished,
Stands permanent though this be
It’s purchased and paid for too
By Him who hath enough to do.
A price so vast as is unknown
Yet by His gift is made thine own;
There’s wealth enough, I need no
Farewell, my pelf, farewell my
The world no longer let me love,
My hope and treasure lies above.
(Anne Bradstreet, 1666)
While virtue warms the generous breast,
There heaven-born freedom shall reside,
Nor shall the voice of war molest,
Nor Europe’s all-aspiring pride –
There Reason shall new laws devise,
And order from confusion rise.
Forsaking kings and regal state,
With all their pomp and fancied bliss,
The traveler [admits], convinced though
No realm so free, so blessed as this –
The east is half to slaves consigned,
Where kings and priests enchain the
(“On the Religion of Nature,”
Philip Freneau, 1785)
Alexander Pope
“Know then
thyself, presume
not God to scan/
The proper study
of mankind is
Literary Forms
of the Age of Reason
•Government Documents/Almanacs
•Some Poetry
•The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
•The Declaration of Independence
•Some Fiction
•Captivity Narratives
•Common Sense/ The Crisis
•Poetry of Philip Freneau and Phillis Wheatly
•Speech at the Virginia Convention
Emphasis on logic and rational thought, not emotions
Emphasis on the social/good of the community, not the
Presence of numerous classical allusions
Use of satire
Use of elevated diction and decorous language
Formal style that adhered to set rhyme schemes, such as
Two-dimensional characters or stock types that represent a
class or vice
Novels in various forms, including picaresque, gothic,
captivity narratives, and novels of manners
Key Authors
Benjamin Franklin
Patrick Henry
Thomas Jefferson
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
Benjamin Franklin was the
embodiment of the American Dream;
came from poverty to achieve fame
and fortune
America’s first millionaire
He was an inventor, scientist,
statesman, printer, philosopher,
diplomat, and writer
He invented bifocals, the Franklin
stove, the rocking chair, the lightning
rod, the odometer
He established the first public library,
the first fire company, and the first
fire insurance company
“Benjamin Franklin Drawing
Down Electricity from the Sky”
(Benjamin West, ca. 1816)
Poor Richard’s Almanack
A yearly almanac Franklin published from
1732-1758 offering a mixture of seasonal
weather forecasts, practical household hints,
puzzles, and other amusements
 Print runs reached 10,000 copies per year
 Contained many aphorisms: short pointed
statements that express a wide or clever
observation about the human experience
Example: “A Penny Saved is a Penny earned.”
Thomas Paine
“Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom
must undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”
Author of some of the most persuasive texts of
the American Revolution, including Common
Sense and The Crisis.
He used “plain-style” language in an attempt to
engage people of all classes in the struggle for
American independence and for a rejection of
government based on hereditary monarchy.
His pamphlets helped to bolster the sagging
spirits of the ill-fitted troops and firm the resolve
of an occasionally diffident population.
The Crisis, by Thomas Paine
December 23, 1776
“THESE are the times that try men's souls. The
summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this
crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he
that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of
man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily
conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that
the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.
What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is
dearness only that gives every thing its value.”
Patrick Henry (1736-1799)
A lawyer and a member
of the Virginia House of
First governor of Virginia
under the new
constitution; held position
for five terms
Also a well know orator
Patrick Henry’s “Speech to the
Second Virginia Convention”
Delivered in 1775 in Richmond, Virginia
 Urged fellow Virginians to take up arms
in self-defense
 Closed his appeal with the immortal
words: "I know not what course others
may take; but as for me, give me liberty
or give me death."
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
A lawyer before entering politics
 Served as the 3rd president of the United States for
two terms
 Created separation of church and state
 Believed that all men are created equal and that
slavery was a war on humanity (yet he owned slaves)
 Designed the University of Virginia and his own
personal residence Monticello in Virginia
 Died on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the
signing of the Declaration of Independence (the same
day as John Adams).
Declaration of Independence
Drafted by Thomas Jefferson
 People had the right to “alter or
abolish unjust governments.”
 Supported popular sovereignty
 All government power comes
from the people
 King had trampled the people’s
natural rights
 Colonists now had the right to
The Declaration of Independence
“We hold these truths
to be self-evident, that
all men are created
equal, that they are
endowed by their
Creator with certain
unalienable Rights,
that among these are
Life, Liberty and the
pursuit of Happiness.”
John Trumbull (1756 –1843): Declaration of Independence (1817)
Philip Freneau (1752-1832):
“Father of American Poetry”
Poet of American Independence
Provided incentive and inspiration to the
revolution by writing such poems as "The Rising
Glory of America" (1771)
First American poet to write about the Indians:
“The Indian Burying Ground” (1788) and “The
Dying Indian” (1784)
Also wrote anti-slavery poetry: “To Sir Toby”
On the Death of Dr. Benjamin Franklin
Thus, some tall tree that long hath stood
The glory of its native wood,
By storms destroyed, or length of years,
Demands the tribute of our tears.
The pile, that took long time to raise,
To dust returns by slow decays:
But, when its destined years are o'er,
We must regret the loss the more.
So long accustomed to your aid,
The world laments your exit made;
So long befriended by your art,
Philosopher, 'tis hard to part!-When monarchs tumble to the ground,
Successors easily are found:
But, matchless FRANKLIN! what a few
Can hope to rival such as YOU,
Who seized from kings their sceptered pride,
And turned the lightning darts aside.
Phillis Wheatley
On Being Brought from Africa to America
'Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there's a God, that there's a Saviour too:
‘The first
to print a book
(of poetry)’
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
Their colour is a diabolic die.
Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,
May be refin'd and join th'angelic train.
Quick Review: Which of the following
apply to the Age of Reason?
Emphasis on rationality
 Emphasis on tradition
 Religious dogma
 Scientific inquiry
 Representative
 Inherited monarchy
 Benjamin Franklin
 Jonathan Edwards
 Anne Bradstreet
 Philip Freneau
 Neoclassicalism
 Moral perfectability
 Human depravity
 17th century
 18th century
 Sermons
 Newspapers
 Public writings
 Private soul-searching
Quick Review: Which of the following
apply to the Age of Reason?
Emphasis on rationality
 Emphasis on tradition
 Religious dogma
 Scientific inquiry
 Representative
 Inherited monarchy
 Benjamin Franklin
 Jonathan Edwards
 Anne Bradstreet
 Philip Freneau
 Neoclassicalism
 Moral perfectability
 Human depravity
 17th century
 18th century
 Sermons
 Newspapers
 Public writings
 Private soul-searching