Enlightenment Ideas

The Enlightenment Era lasted from 1685 to around 1815. During this time, people began to think about governments differently than before. Enlightenment thinkers began to apply reason to the human and natural worlds. Many believed that humans had rights and freedoms that came to them naturally. Many great Enlightenment thinkers came out of this period who greatly influenced the governments of Europe and the Americas.

Freedom of Religion

The French Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire wrote several letters and essays about religious freedoms. He claimed that humans should be able to practice their religion freely and without intervention from the government. His letters were so controversial for the time he had to publish many of them outside of France. Voltaire’s views on religion were so influential that this freedom was guaranteed in the U.S Bill of Rights as well as the French Declaration of Rights of Man.

Freedom of Speech

Along with writing about religious freedom, Voltaire also wrote about freedom of speech. He argued that the government could not control what you say. He wrote many essays and letters about this. Voltaire was a very outspoken individual. He was even jailed in France for a year after mocking a noble french family. Along with freedom of religion, freedom of speech is added to America’s Bill of Rights.

Natural Rights

Natural rights, or basic rights that everyone should have, was a concept created by an English philosopher named John Locke. Locke believed that everyone should have the right to “Life, liberty, and property.” he further wrote that no government should be able to take away your natural rights. Thomas Jefferson was such a fan of John Locke, that he based the Declaration of Independence of his concept of natural rights.

Women’s Equality

Mary Wollstonecraft was an Enlightenment writer and philosopher from England. After saving her sister from an abusive marriage, the two opened a school for girls in London. In her book A Vindication of the Rights of Women, she argued that there should be equality among men and women. She also preached that women were just as capable as men were in many respects. This thinking became a basis for many women’s rights groups from Europe to North America.


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