During the 1700s, American poetry moved towards its independence from British verses.
A group of poets, David Humphreys, John Trumbull, and Joel Barlow, called the Connecticut Wits (or Hartford Wits) continued the tradition of satire. They, along with other writers, produced The Anarchiad (1786-1787), a mock epic poem warning against the chaos that would develop if a strong central government, as supported by the Federalists, was not put into practice in the United States. American poets used the British literary model of the mock epic to satirize and criticize British culture.
Some poets felt the necessity to produce a serious national poetry to celebrate their democratic ideals and America as the future culmination of civilization..
One of the most important example of this poetry is Philip Freneau’s The Rising Glory of America (1772) about America’s future greatness; The Wild Honey Suckle (1786) and On a Honey Bee (1809), that can be seen as the first expressions of a deep spiritual engagement with nature. The clarity of expression of his verses made him a very popular poet, the first poet who spoke for the entire country.
Another tipically American topic was slavery, a great contradiction in a nation that affirmed in its Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal”. African American poets wrote about American Revolution, liberty, independence, equality, and identity. Just as the white Americans experienced the division between their new American identity and their European past, the African Americans, looked always to their African past and to their problematic American present.
In the so called Age of Enlightenment also prose underwent great changes in form, theme, and purpose. American thinkers expressed their thoughts chiefly through political discourse. They asserted the supremacy of reason over church doctrine and emphasized the importance of the individual and freedom above established authorities and institutions. These ideas were spread by newspapers.like the Boston News-Letter, (1704) and the Boston Gazette (1719
In 1721, the New-England Courant, started by James Franklin, became the first newspaper to include literary entertainment. Franklin’s younger brother Benjamin Franklin published humorous social commentary under the pen name of Silence Dogood, the widow of a minister. Besides, in 1727 he, with a group of friends, established a men’s reading club in Philadelphia called the Junto, started his own printing house and published the Pennsylvania Gazette in which Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded by British author Samuel Richardson appeared for the first time in America .
Franklin’s writings (pen name Richard Saunders) advocated hard work as the key to success. He expressed his views in maxims, proverbs, and simple wisdom that filled his Poor Richard’s Almanack, published annually from 1733 to 1758.
His Autobiography , published 78 years after his death; it is considered a classic because of its portrait of American life during his time.
THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE (1787)
Other America’s great Enlightenment writers were Thomas Paine, and Thomas Jefferson who supported the American Revolution. They, together with a committee made up of Franklin John Adams, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston. wrote The Declaration of Independence (1787), an important realization in both politics and American prose.
In the document there were key statements of American freedom, but they necessitated compromises to satisfy all of their authors. One of the most significant compromises was the absence of any mention of slavery for the sake of unity with the Southern colonies, whose economy was rooted in slavery.
American fiction saw his real establishment only after the American Revolution. With the travel narrative and the first feminist writings in which women asked fror the right to vote.
The oldest surviving American play is the political satire Androborus by Robert Hunter (1714), the New York Colony’s governor who published the play as an attack on his political enemies.
Before more American plays had appeared, a company of British professional actors established a touring circuit in the 1750s with an all-British repertory. By the early 1760s this group was known as The American Company and American writers occasionally submitted plays to the actors. In 1767 The American Company staged The Prince of Parthia, a tragedy by Thomas Godfrey, in Philadelphia. This is usually considered the first professional production of a play written by an American different from imitations of the works of William Shakespeare.
Satirical plays were written as propaganda during the war, either supporting British control of the colonies or attacking it like The Blockade (1775), written by British General John Burgoyne, that depicts British soldiers as so terrified of the Americans that they dirt themselves rather than go outside to use the latrine.
In the mid-1780s professional actors were touring in America again. In 1787
Royall Tyler wrote The Contrast, a five-act comedy that owes much to The School for Scandal (1777) by Richard Sheridan as it is a comedy of manners that satirizes the upper classes. It appreciates American fashions and values like patriotism over British duplicity and artificiality.
In this peiod appeared the first American play written by a woman. The melodramatic comedy Slaves in Algiers (1794) by Susanna Rowson reflects troubles with pirates along North Africa’s Barbary Coast who interfered with shipping and ran a white slave trade that involved selling girls and women into prostitution.