18th Century Colonial Literature

In the early 18th century, American writers such as Cotton Mather carried on the older traditions. Mather’s 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 was the initiator of the Great Awakening, a religious revival that stirred the eastern seacoast for many years. He defended his burning belief in the Calvinistic doctrine, which is 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 the growing differences between American and British political concepts. As the colonists came to the belief that rebellion was inevitable, fought the bitter war, and established the new nation’s government, they were influenced by effective political writers. The two most influential figures were Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine.

Franklin published his writings in his brother’s newspaper as early as 1722. This newspaper used simple 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. His writing was extremely effective in stating and shaping the colonists’ cause.

Paine moved from England to Philadelphia where he became a magazine editor and the most effective propagandist for the colonial cause. His pamphlet Common Sense (January 1776) greatly influenced the colonists to declare their independence. The American Crisis (1776–1783) encouraged Americans to fight on through the hardest years of the war. A reason for Paine’s success was his poetic fervor and impassioned phrases that were long remembered and quoted.

Source: 18th Century Colonial Literature
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