Image from entry, with caption: Drafting the Declaration of Independence in 1776
The ideas of the American Revolution came largely from three sources: the European Enlightenment, traditional British legal and political values, and what some historians call the ‘American experience’. From these three emanated a distinctly American worldview, philosophy and set of values. Any study of revolutionary ideas (not only for the American Revolution but also the French Revolution) should begin with the European Enlightenment. This was an intellectual movement that began in the 1600s and involved many of the era’s greatest minds; some like Isaac Newton (left) would become key figures in modern history. Continuing on with intellectual trends begun during the Renaissance, Enlightenment thinkers challenged old views, values and traditions that had previously been accepted as fact. They believed that for something to be truly valid and immutable as fact, it must be logical, rationally argued and examined, and not just based on superstition or dogma. It follows that religion and church-based teachings were a particular target for these men, whose ranks included Newton, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot and Montesquieu. Enlightenment philosophes were particularly keen political thinkers who questioned the divine right of kings: they were of the opinion that mankind, being essentially of good character and intelligence, could govern itself given the right framework and organisations (see popular sovereignty below).