That England was separated from the continent by the English channel had no small effect on the development of English culture. It was one primary reason why the English political scene was so different from those developed on the continent. But the English channel is nothing compared with the three thousand miles of ocean that separated America from both the English and the Europeans. But the Americans were not only colonists from the British Isles. Still, for the most part, they shared the English concept of liberty and freedom. Many had escaped from persecution in England. It is no wonder that when we look at the philosophy of the emerging American nation, we find it closely allied with England. For the most part, the thought of that part of the eighteenth century we call the "enlightenment" whether in England, America, or on the continent, derived its primary emphasis from three Englishmen, Bacon, Newton, and Locke. But there were differences in the way these thoughts developed on the continent from the British Isles. America was more closely allied to Britain intellectually as well as politically. They were also developing a culture of their own and we can understand the diversity of that culture by examining three of its most outspoken leaders, Thomas Paine, Jonathan Edwards, and Benjamin Franklin.


Thomas Paine was a propagandist, not a philosopher, though considering the attitudes of the eighteenth century enlightenment that difference was not as great as it would be at other times. When he wrote Common Sense his aim was to stir up the colonists to back the fight for American independence. But, the pamphlet is based solidly on Lockean principles. Early in this work I stated that what makes a philosopher important is his ability to put the thought of his own time in memorable words. Paine might not have developed any new philosophical concepts, but his thought resonated in the American Colonies because what he was saying complimented what they were thinking. When the Continental congress was writing to King George III pledging their loyalty and calling on him to intercede with Parliament, Paine was stating what many of the people wanted to believe. In "Common Sense", a pamphlet written to gain support for the war of independence, a pamphlet which is still considered one of the most successful pamphlets ever written, he said;

In England a King hath little more to do than to make war and give away places; which in plain terms is to impoverish the nation and set it together by the ears. A pretty business indeed for a man to be allowed eight hundred thousand sterling a year for, and worshipped in the bargain! Of more worth is one honest man to society and in the sight of God than all the crowned ruffians that ever lived.

The basic tenet upon which he developed his thoughts on government is one still cherished today by a great many Americans. He said, "...the more simple any thing is, the less liable it is to be disordered, and the easier repaired when disordered." He laid primary blame on the complexity of the English constitution. Actually, the English is not a constitutional government. It has no written constitution. What accomplishes the purpose of a constitution is many centuries of precedent which only a few are able to fathom. Of course, since Paine is primarily interested in developing support for the war for independence, most of the pamphlet is concerned with reasoning why America should separate herself from England. But some extremely important statements concerning Government are made here that the blood of American patriots and over two centuries of American freedom have ratified.

But where says some is the King of America? I'll tell you, friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the Royal Brute of Britain. Yet that we may not appear to be defective even in earthly honors, let a day be solemnly set aside for proclaiming the charter, let it be brought forth placed on the divine law, the word of God, let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far as we approve of monarchy, that in America THE LAW IS KING. for as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other. But lest any ill use should afterwards arise, let the crown at the conclusion of the ceremonies be demolished, and scattered among the people whose right it is.

These ideas are based on the assumption that a government is a necessary evil, or as Paine put it, "Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in the best state is but a necessary evil" To make things worse, he said, when we are exposed to miseries from government, particularly those one would expect in a country without a government, we have the added insult that we furnish the means by which we suffer. Thus the least government, and the government that can be born at the least expense. That, he said, and generations of Americans stand behind him when he does, is the best government.

Thomas Paine considered himself a man of Science. Like Franklin and many of the other noted men of the Enlightenment, he was an inventor and earned considerable from his inventions. And like most of these kinds of men he was a confirmed Deist. Deism rejected the personal aspects of the Christian religion. They saw God as nature incarnate. "Common Sense" is littered with excerpts from the bible which seem out of character with Deism. However, paine knew the audience to whom the pamphlet was addressed to and used this knowledge to its fullest. But it brings up one of the paradoxes of the enlightenment. While many Enlightenment figures rejected Christianity like Paine, Franklin, Voltaire, for example, they tolerated it. And in return those who remained faithful, for the most part, tolerated the Deists. Even in America which during the period was going through their first "Great Awakening" and masses of people were turning to Christianity, it was an enlightened view of Christianity tinged with a tolerance not known before. In America the best known Christian philosopher of the time was Jonathan Edwards, a Connecticut minister.