Enlightenment, Freedom, and Slavery

Liberty in the Form of a Goddess of Youth by Edward Savage, 1796.
Thomas Jefferson Foundation

Enlightenment philosophy strongly influenced Jefferson’s ideas about two seemingly opposing issues: American freedom and American slavery. Enlightenment thinkers argued that liberty was a natural human right and that reason and scientific knowledge—not the state or the church—were responsible for human progress. But Enlightenment reason also provided a rationale for slavery, based on a hierarchy of races.


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