Nautilus

How Science Helped Write the Declaration of Independence

On July 4, 1776, representatives of thirteen colonies on the eastern shores of North America signed a Declaration of Independence from England. Winning independence was still a bloody war ahead, an unlikely outcome. Declaring independence was rashness, potentially carrying a death sentence for treason. Not, perhaps, what you would expect of well-educated men, many of them gentlemen steeped in the most sophisticated culture of their time. But steeped they were, and some of them really knew their philosophy and their science. The declaration they signed was no rough, back-woods piece of work.

The era was “The Enlightenment,” the “Age of Reason.” Science had become part of a cultured man’s way of thinking. Like their educated European contemporaries, signers of the Declaration, holding degrees from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and William and Mary, regarded science as a wondrously valuable tool for acquiring knowledge, and viewed its

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