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18th Century Colonial Literature

In the early years of the 18th century, some writers in America like Cotton Mather carried on the older traditions. His history and biography of Puritan New England, Magnalia Christi Americana, in 1702, and his Manuductio ad Ministeriul, or introduction to the ministry in 1726, were defenses of ancient Puritan convictions.

Jonathan Edwards, initiator of the Great Awakening, a religious revival that stirred the eastern seacoast for many years, defended his burning belief in Calvinistic doctrine—of the concept that man, born totally depraved, could attain virtue and salvation through God’s grace—He supported his reasoning brilliantly in clear and often beautiful prose.

The American Revolution emphasized differences that had been growing between American and British political concepts. As the colonists moved to the belief that rebellion was inevitable, fought the bitter war, and worked to found the new nation’s government, they were influenced by a number of very effective political writers; the two figures that loomed above the others—Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine.

Franklin started to publish his writings in his brother’s newspaper, as early as 1722. This newspaper used easily understood language and practical arguments. The idea that common sense was a good guide was clear in the popular Poor Richard’s almanac, which Franklin edited between 1732 and 1757. Franklin’s self-taught culture gave substance and skill to varied articles, pamphlets, and reports that he wrote concerning the dispute with Great Britain, many of them extremely effective in stating and shaping the colonists’ cause.

Thomas Paine went from his native England to Philadelphia and became a magazine editor and late, the most effective propagandist for the colonial cause. His pamphlet Common Sense (January 1776) did much to influence the colonists to declare their independence. The American Crisis papers (December 1776–December 1783) encouraged Americans to fight on through the hardest years of the war. A reason for Paine’s success was his poetic fervor, which found expression in impassioned words and phrases long to be remembered and quoted.


Source: 18th Century Colonial Literature
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