US History: The Great Awakening and the Enlightenment

US History: The Great Awakening and the Enlightenment

The Great Awakening and the Enlightenment are two major movements that strengthened relations between colonists and Great Britain. The movements originated in Europe but propagated two main ideas in the Anglo-American colonies. The Great Awakening encouraged enthusiastic emotional religiosity. The Enlightenment promoted sound reasoning, critical thinking, and scientific observation in all aspects. Both movements created long-term impacts on the colonies. The Great Awakening started challenging the existing “official churches” in New England and spread to other North American colonies. The effects of the movement divided and invigorated religious communities while dissenters were persecuted (Oakes et al., 2018).

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Many Americans dissociated from the government-sponsored authoritarian religion. Thinkers like Voltaire, Isaac Newton, and John Locke spread new ideas about investigation and openness during the Enlightenment. The great awakening catalyzed the American revolution by promoting equity, self-reliance, and liberty.

Rifts among members of different religious factions created instability, while rebellion against the colonialist religion created room for the revolution. The colonists’ grievances included high taxes, intolerable acts, King George’s rule, the British troops’ conduct, and tea. The implementation of the Townshend Act, Sugar Act, and the Stamp Act introduced high taxation that soured the colonists’ relationship with King George. The colonists objected to the taxes, arguing that the England parliament passed them rather than their colonial government. It was clear that the colonial government’s actions violated the colonists’ rights (Oakes et al., 2018).

The Great Awakening influenced the greatest change, especially among individuals who faced economic problems. Besides, it encouraged women and men to participate equally in the campaign for change. The main issue is that proponents of the Great Awakening did not consider the need to change the structure of society. For instance, Sarah Osborn was brainwashed to accept her poverty and blame herself for her woes. People like Whitefield contradicted themselves by publicly condemning slavery, yet they owned slaves in their plantations. Learning institutions like Princeton were established during the Great Awakening. However, the society did not share the economic gains equally. Besides, land pressure discriminated against the poor and slaves were denied the market rewards, yet they were the producers.

The groups that supported Enlightenment expressed deep interest in knowing the common and different traits among individuals. They utilized the scriptures to justify the need for social equity for all. The Enlightenment encouraged religious tolerance. During the Enlightenment, religion promoted humanity’s duties as people focused on doing good to God’s other creations. Franklin led the scientific inquiry into things like electricity that ultimately improved the quality of life. Scientific advances were able to resolve the painful and violent experiences of the colonists during the Enlightenment. As a result, the focus on suffering and pain alleviation encouraged humanitarian reform (Oakes et al., 2018).

The Enlightenment also supported thinkers’ involvement in studies linking politics, economy, and society. For instance, John Locke conceptualized a new economic theory that suggested systematic linkages between political institutions, social institutions, and property rights. His theory suggested the need for people to work to sustain their lives. Moreover, he illustrated how the creation of governments would protect people’s lives and property (Oakes et al., 2018).

The colonists’ militia groups lacked uniforms and weapons required during the battles. Ammunition was scarce, and in most cases, the British soldiers seized the supplies. On the other hand, the independence leaders lacked resources to facilitate training and logistical support to the colonists’ army. The army was barely trained, and soldiers were underpaid. Food donations by local farmers sustained the soldiers. Besides, the limited resources forced them to identify other sources of food. Baron von Steuben, a trained Prussian military personnel, decided to facilitate the colonist army training. The training equipped the soldiers with professional military skills, influencing their success in battles with the colonial army (Jensen, 2016, p. 1). Massive population shifts, religious fragmentation, evolving leadership structures, and economic flux created insecurity and uncertainty after the war.

There was a smallpox outbreak during the revolution that affected the colonists’ performance (Fenn, 2003, para. 3). Both the British and the Colonist camps were affected. Moreover, members of the Native tribes, including potential soldiers, succumbed to the outbreak. Many slaves who fled to the south contracted the virus, and a significant percentage of them died. The major effects of the outbreak were felt in densely populated regions such as New Orleans (Fenn, 2003).

The need to purchase consumer goods from the world market required both Americans and their slaves to increase their effort. The Great Awakening and the Enlightenment had converted America to a capitalist political economy that formed the world market. The colonialists had challenging experiences dealing with the effect of the intellectual responses that catalyzed the revolution.

The Enlightenment and Great Awakening influenced the colonial world and catalyzed the American revolution. Proponents of the Enlightenment convinced people that scientific methods and rational thoughts could resolve all issues. On the other hand, the Great Awakening made people aware that their short lifespan was controlled by forces other than them. As a result, the colonists’ mindsets changed, forcing them to rebel the colonial rule.



Fenn, E. (2003). The Great Smallpox Epidemic. History Today. 53(8).

Jensen, B. (2016). 1. To Change an Army. In Forging the Sword: Doctrinal Change in the U.S. Army (pp. 1-24). Stanford University Press.

Oakes, J., McGerr, M., Lewis, J. E., Cullather, N., Boydston, J., Summers, M., Townsend, C., & Dunak, K. M. (2018). Of the people: A History of the United States, Volume I: To 1877, with Sources. Oxford University Press.

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