“We hold these truths self-evident. All men are created equal “: thus, with a logic in which it is not difficult to recognize the echo of philosophers such as J. Locke and the Rousseau of the ‘social contract’, begins the Declaration of Independence, formulated in 1776 by T. Jefferson. In its most significant expressions, the American eighteenth century finds in the Enlightenment thought the basis of an elaboration which, due to the particular historical and political conditions, assumes connotations of great concreteness and practicality in America. An example of this is the Notes on the State of Virginia (1787), in which Jefferson himself, starting from the critical observation of data from everyday reality, actually comes to formulate his own scientific vision of politics. But already in the Letters from an American farmer (1782) by H. Saint-John de Crèvecoeur the spirit of the time is fully felt: in them there is not only the romantic sentimentality of nature, but also a nucleus of thought of political economy and agronomic practice. ● However, the personality who for better or for worse can be considered most representative of the American spirit of this period is B. Franklin, who, at a very young age, managed to establish himself from the columns of The New England Courant, owned by his brother, as an eclectic Liberal-inspired polemicist in stark contrast to the old intellectual aristocracy of his native Boston. Opening his own printing house in Philadelphia, he achieved great success with the various volumes of his most famous work, Poor Richard’s al; manack (1733-38), a sort of encyclopedic summa of common sense and a breviary, often simplistic and narrow-minded, of the nascent mercantilism. But it is his Autobiography, republished several times between 1771 and 1779, to constitute the most valuable literary testimony, endowed with a simple elegance that is the result, as he himself tells, of a relentless improvement carried out on the best models of English prose of the time. ● Letters from a farmer in Pennsylvania to the residents of the British colonies published in 1767 by J. Dickinson, even if colonies were to be spoken for a little longer: in April 1775 the revolution that the now seventy-year-old Franklin had helped to prepare with diplomatic action broke out, and it was the war of independence against England. The eloquent animator of the struggle was T. Paine, whose pamphlets (including Common sense, 1776) exerted a decisive action on public opinion. The rationalistic orientation, reinforced by the fact that for the new nation born of independence it was necessary to face constitutional and political problems, sanctions, in this period, the domination of a prose more attentive to things to say (the wide debate on the alternative between the independence of individual states and federalism) than to the ways in which to say them. In addition to T. Jefferson, the third president of the Confederation, the most prominent personalities were J. J. Adams, also president, J. Jay. In the two years (1787-88) in which the former colony of New York was uncertain whether to ratify the federal constitution, Hamilton published in his hometown newspapers a series of 85 essays (which also collaborated with Jay and Madison) in favor of ratification, later collected in a volume under the title The federalist (1945). All these politicians maintained voluminous correspondences in which their happiest moments as writers are often caught.
African American literature
Apart from this literature of political interest, one of the most interesting literary phenomena of the second half of the eighteenth century is the difficult emergence of an Afro-American writing still largely imitative and conventional, which nevertheless acquires an important historical value, since indicates the appropriation by slaves of an instrument, that of writing, explicitly forbidden to them by laws and prohibitions. Among the most important interpreters of this new development, J. Hammon, the first black poet to be published in America, of which some passages with a religious background, sermons of the revolutionary period and the pamphlet Address to the Negroes are remembered. In the State of New York (1787), and P. Wheatley, kidnapped from Africa while still a child and transplanted as a slave to Boston, whose Poems of neoclassical inspiration were originally published in volume in London in 1773. But the most prominent personality in this area is undoubtedly that of Oulaudah Equiano, also known under the western name of Gustavus Vassa, who, embarked as a slave on several ships, in his early twenties he managed to buy back his freedom. A fervent abolitionist of the first hour, Equiano is the author of one of the first autobiographies of former slaves, The interesting narrative of the life of OE, or GV, the African (1789), in which he reveals an undoubted narrative talent.
On the poetic side, the post-revolutionary period is dominated by the decline of the long philosophical poem, of which A. Pope had been the model: a situation of substantial stagnation from which few escape. Among these, two exponents of the so-called Hartford wits: J. Trumbull, author, among other things, of The progress of dullness (1772-73), a satirical poem on university life, and of the essay in verse An essay on the use and advantages of the fine arts (1772); and J. Barlow, whose fame is mainly linked to The hasty pudding (1793), a long reconstruction in verse of ancient rural paintings. The most important presence, however, is that of P. Freneau, considered by many to be the first important poet of the American tradition, who thanks to political satire and farce begins to free his language from conventional eighteenth-century schemes, to land, with poetry The power of fancy (1770), a first affirmation of that pre-romantic spirit that permeates the more mature compositions, from The wild honey suckle (1786) to The Indian burying ground (1788).