The European Philosophy of Enlightenment greatly influenced American writers of the 1700s. Proponents of Enlightenment thought of the universe as a highly ordered and rational place. They also believed in empiricism: that knowledge is derived from our senses and experiences.
Jonathan Edwards looked to nature for signs of God's grace. William Bartram drew nature to understand its order. Thomas Jefferson and the other "founding fathers" created a new government based on rational, "self-evident" truths. Yet, even though their civic vision was progressive, it did not allow the majority of the American population to participate.