World History

What historical documents were inspired by the Age of Enlightenment?
Answered by Discovery Channel
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    Discovery Channel

  1. The Age of Enlightenment, which was so popular in the 18th century, had a huge impact on some of the governmental structures and documents that formed the basis for our country, and that we still look to for guidance today. Because many of our country's founding fathers were heavily influenced by the Age of Enlightenment, both the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights clearly reflect the its ideals [source: Brians]. Enlightened thinkers typically valued equality, liberty and personal rights. For example, when denouncing the British government for not giving equal rights to the colonies, Thomas Jefferson famously called for the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence.

    Enlightened thinkers also questioned the absolute authority of church and state, and despised the constant power struggle between the two. The church, they believed, should not bar people from happiness in this life, and the state needed checks and balances so its hold on people wasn't so fierce and unrelenting. They thought that a government that was chosen by the people should act in the best interests of those people, or else be overthrown.

    The authors of the U.S. Constitution used the ideas of a social contract when setting up the U.S. government, and they were influenced by philosophers of the Enlightenment, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Locke and Baron de Montesquieu. The government was even divided into three branches, an idea borrowed directly from Montesquieu in an attempt to create a system of checks and balances [source: Nay]. The Bill of Rights was also largely inspired by the Age of Enlightenment. In fact, James Madison borrowed straight from the ideas of enlightenment when he included certain freedoms, such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of assembly.

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