Deism in Historic American Society
As Puritanism lost its popularity, it made way for a new belief system. Deists, like Puritans, believed in God as the Creator, but Deists believed in free will, whereas Puritans believed in predestination. As Deism gained momentum, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and Thomas Paine reflected their Deist beliefs in the writings.
In The Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson constantly reflects the Deist ideas of human reason and a Creator God. For example, Jefferson states, “all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This shows that man, after he is created, has the power to pursue his own destiny. The people must take control of their own lives because “God helps them who help themselves.” For example, Jefferson states, “among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of natures God entitle them.” This illustrates that God created the world but denies that he is involved in the lives of each and every person, and that the world operates by natural and self-sustaining laws of the Creator. God is beyond the world and constructed it, but he is not active in people’s daily lives. Specific examples from Jefferson’s writings confirm his belief in Deism.
Benjamin Franklin portrays several Deistic ideas in “A Witch Trial at Mount Holly” and The Autobiography. For example, Franklin states, “The more thinking part of the spectators were of opinion that any Person so bound and placed in the water would swim, till their breath was gone, and their lungs fill’d with water.” This shows that the Deistic thinkers use human reason and scientific judgment to realize that the “test by water” is absolutely ridiculous, and that it cannot accurately reveal the truth. All one needs in Deism is his/her own common sense. For example, Franklin states, that it is possible “to make himself morally perfect by self-discipline, cleverness, and hard work.” This demonstrates that this common sense approach to God can bring a lasting sense of peace and happiness to the individual. Only the person can make himself morally perfect by doing those things. Franklin displays his beliefs in human reason, scientific judgement and moral perfection by using specific examples to show the benefit of there use.
In Thomas Paine’s, “The Crisis Number 1,” Paine conveys his underlying beliefs in Deism by expressing Deist notions in his writings. For example, Paine says, “Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods.” Paine implies that people are more likely to respect something that they have worked hard to attain. Hard work makes the object more valuable and meaningful. For example, Paine says, “I have as little superstition in me as man living. ” This shows that he believes God is not directly involved in the lives of people. This proves that he doesn’t believe that God has control over his fate, but rather, that he creates his own destiny. By using specific examples, Paine illustrates his concrete belief in Deism.
The writings of Jefferson, Franklin, and Paine all reflect their strong belief in Deism. Deism flourished due to the age of reason, and as a result the controlling God of Puritanism lost his power. Philosophers of the time used Deism in their writings to motivate the people to be self-governing, and this ultimately resulted in a revolution.