The Revolutionary Period

Two prevalent themes continue:

  • Preoccupation with the meaning of America
  • Self-transformation and its arising conflict with the demands of society.

In this second unit entitled "Age of Reason," we will seek to understand the following:

  • The basic literary and philosophical ideals of the Enlightenment, especially in contrast to Puritanism

ENLIGHTENMENT PERIOD consists of both "The Age of Faith" from 1607 until 1750, and "The Age of Reason" from 1750 until 1800.

II. The Age of Reason (1750 through 1800)

Historical context

  • Waning of Puritanism
  • American Revolution; growth of patriotism
  • Development of American character/democracy
  • Use of reason as opposed to faith alone


  • Political tracts, pamphlets, essays, travel writing, speeches, documents
  • Instructive in values; highly ornate writing style
  • Literary elements: first-person point of view, allusion, personification, aphorism

Major Writers

  • Ben Franklin
    Autobiography and Poor Richard's Almanac
    Symbol of success gained by hard work and common sense:
    "Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise."
    "God helps them that help themselves."
    "Haste makes waste."

  • Thomas Jefferson
    Declaration of Independence
    Considered the finest writer of the era
    "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal…"

  • Thomas Paine
    "The American Crisis" helped propel colonies into war
    Remains a model of effective propaganda:
    "These are the times that try men's souls."

Lessons, Worksheets, and Class Discussions

    Benjamin Franklin as a Writer

    “An Eighteenth Century Writer”

    • Contributes to the creation of an American national identity distinct from England

    • Supports the shift from an otherworldly (inner life) to a this-worldly (outer life) point of view

    • Maintains that theory should be tested primarily by experience not logic (i.e., reason should be tested pragmatically)

    • Attempts to recreate himself and his career as the archetypal American success story

    “While Puritan spiritual autobiographies emphasize their authors’ dependence upon God for grace and salvation and their inability to achieve virtue without grace, Franklin focuses on his own efforts to learn what is virtuous in this world and to put his discoveries to use in his life. Franklin retains the puritan concern for self-improvement but removes its otherworldly focus.”

    • Jonathon Edwards: attempts to understand this world in the light of Puritan assumptions about God and His divine plan for humanity

    • Benjamin Franklin: focuses on this world, largely ignores the next, and sees morality and experience as more important than faith .

    Thomas Paine and Persuasive Writing

    Many of Paine’s statements sound like “aphorisms.” An aphorism is a brief statement that is carefully and cleverly worded; it makes a wise and pithy statement about life. Find three of Paine’s statements that could be called aphorisms. (e.g., These are the times that try men’s souls.)

    Paine uses many Biblical allusions in his work. What could this frequent use of Biblical allusions imply? List three Biblical allusions in this work.

    Parallelism is the repetition of words or phrases that have similar grammatical structure. Paine uses parallelism several times in his work. Find three examples of parallelism.

    Paine uses strong images to evoke ideas and connections. The pamphlet opens with the images of “the sunshine patriot” and “the summer soldier.” Are these images appropriate? Why or why not? What connections can be drawn about a summer soldier and a winter soldier? Find three other examples of strong images.

    Persuasive writers often use analogies to draw connections between two things that have similar characteristics. Paine uses an analogy that connects the king of Britain with a common housebreaker (burglar or thief). What point is he trying to make using this analogy? Find at least one other analogy that Paine makes in this work.

    A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two unlike things without using like or as. Find at least one metaphor that Paine uses in his work.

    Paine is attempting to persuade other people to believe the same way that he does. In his writing, he makes a point, provides support for that point, and then transitions into a new point. List examples of the above elements of structure.

    Patrick Henry and Persuasive Speech

    Make a list of Patrick Henry’s persuasive appeals to logic.

    Make a list of Patrick Henry's persuasive appeals to emotion.