Philosophical Comparisons: Bradstreet, Thoreau, Jefferson

Have you ever wondered where we came from? Who or what constructed our complexity? One would say the Creator above designed our physical bodies, as well as our destinies. Others would say we evolved over time after the continents were separated and developed following Pangaea. While we all, in modern day, have our opinions and beliefs, so did the Puritans, Founding Fathers and Transcendentalists. Jefferson, and Henry David Thoreau all boldly proclaim their beliefs shown in their writings from these time periods.

First, the Puritan view of God strictly prohibited and punished sin to try and form a “utopian society.” Puritans kept people on short leashes, hardly giving them room to breathe. They focused so much on the fear of God, whereas the modern day Christian perspective focuses not so much on fearing God but the love of God equally. Anne Bradstreet, a Puritan woman and writer, attempted to live a life devoted to the Lord, but at one point struggled with doubt of the existence of God.

Finally, the evidence of creation itself, rather than blatant theology, finally pushed her over the fence as we see in “Meditations,”(Norton 97) written for her children when struggling with the Truth of scriptures:

“That I see, the vast frame of the heaven and the earth,

The order of all things, night and day, summer and winter,

Spring and autumn, the daily providing for this great household upon the earth,

The preserving and directing of all to its proper end”.

Here, she comes to the realization that the earth and everything in it had to come from somewhere, and could not have been man-made or “natural”.

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As Anne might say, the created cannot be greater than the Creator. Next, a number of our Founding Fathers actively practiced their religion. The difference shows in their motives and incentives. Some promoted their faith, but did not let their faith influence how they ran America, as if their religion was only a “section” of their life. As opposed to consuming their lives, like the Puritans, they believed there should be some separation of church and state. Thomas Jefferson advocated freedom of worship and ministry, as well as freedom FROM religion, shown in a bill written for Virginia:

“No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, ministry, whatsoever. . . but that all men should be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or effect their civil capacities.” (Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. Sect II). To summarize, our Founding Fathers had their own beliefs, but it wouldn’t be true to say they established this country based on their faith.

Lastly, Transcendentalism came roaring like a lion. Amongst these time periods, I believe this era influenced and exclaimed self-exaltation like no other. Transcendentalism “goes against the grain,” fundamentally supporting the idea of believing in whatever you want, without the pressure of conforming to society. In many cases, transcendentalists held emotion over reason.Henry David Thoreau, transcendental poet and philosopher, believed in the significance of self-contemplation and the importance of nature, but most of all, Thoreau felt simplicity was a necessity for one’s life. Never did Henry support materialism, because he believed accumulated “stuff” only filled up your homes, not happiness. You can see this portrayed in a section of his poem “Conscious”:

“I love a life whose plot is simple,

And does not thicken with every pimple.

A soul so sound no sickly conscience binds it,

That makes the universe no worse than ‘t finds it.”

Thoreau strongly promoted self-sufficiency, and also separation from our government.

In America today, we are so possessive over our technology and belongings. Extraction of these could be a wake-up call to some, and complete and total devastation to others. All in all, these Puritans, Founding Fathers and Transcendental activists essentially moldedthe infrastructure of this country. Between the crack and crevices of discrepancy of beliefs, there existed a learning process that could only be achieved during these times of discovery. This would not have been possible if they hadn’t stuck to what they believed in.

I believe we, as Americans, are lacking in that type of commitment. Therefore, we need to sit down, take paper and pencil, and take notes of what really took place during this time that so tremendously affected our perspectives on how we live our lives today. While many put their faith in a document, a totem pole, or crucifix, we can agree that any faith lost is not faith worth keeping.

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Philosophical Comparisons: Bradstreet, Thoreau, Jefferson. (2023, Feb 14). Retrieved from

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