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Religious Culture in Early America, Part 2: Effects on the American Revolution

written by: Laura Jean Karr • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 3/9/2014

In this article, we continue our overview of how the religious climate changed when the American Revolution stopped the governing influence that the Church of England had established. ESL students will learn how the religious culture of early America affected the fight for independence from England.

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    Here we pick up from Religious Culture in Early America: Influences on the American Revolution:

    The early American religious climate began to shift as more people immigrated into the colonies, putting more strain on the control that First Hoisting of the Union Flag from Wikimedia Commons England and the Church of England tried to exert on the colonists. Here we continue to look deeper into how the religious culture in America began to change shape as the colonists fought to break from English rule. This information is geared toward ESL students learning about early American culture.

    The Role of the Township Church

    Every township in the colonies had its own church, which served more than a religious purpose. The early churches were courtrooms and town halls as well as the only source of formal education at the time. The more people of various faiths that immigrated, the more churches were built and the stronger their hold became on the area's residents.

    Problems arose when different churches dictated political doctrine that was in line with their own beliefs but clashed with other beliefs. Nowhere was this religious-political clash more apparent than the Anglicanism taught by the Church of England. The main tenet for the Anglicans was that the King of England was God’s representative, and all Anglican ministers had to uphold the will of the King as though it were the will of God. Putting the King before God was a problem for many of the other faiths practiced at the time. Political strain between the King of England and the general population came to a head at the start of the American Revolution. A wave of change in religious doctrine spread through the local churches, calling for an uprising against the tyranny of the Church of England.

    One of the most notable preachers of the time, Jonathan Mayhew of the West Church in Boston delivered a sermon on the anniversary of the death of King Charles I. Mayhew’s sermon Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers became an important tool, inspiring people of many faiths to break away from England. Mayhew, along with other pastors, spoke of independence from England as being a Christian duty. Catholics, Methodists, Congregationalists and even the pacifist Quakers dropped the disputes over their differences to fight for the common good of getting England and the Church of England’s influence out of America.

    A Stout Declaration

    On July 4th 1776 the Declaration of Independence was signed to formally establish the separation from England. Thomas Jefferson, the man who wrote the document, began the Declaration of Independence with: “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation." Jefferson incorporated the sentiments of various faiths in not establishing in the document any rule or acceptance of a governing religion.

    The Anglican congregations became divided and the majority of the Church of England’s ministers resigned their pulpits to return to England along with many of their parishioners. The Anglican members that stayed in America as partisans of the American cause revised the standard The Book of Common Prayer, which changed from stating that congregants pray for God "keep and strengthen in the true worshipping of thee, in righteousness and holiness of life, thy servant GEORGE, our most gracious King and Governour" to the more patriotic dictate of "it might please thee to bless the honorable Congress with Wisdom to discern and Integrity to pursue the true Interest of the United States."

    The revolution lasted through 1783 when the American Congress of the Confederation signed the Treaty of Paris with England. The treaty gave America all land east of the Mississippi and south of the Great Lakes area and established England’s acceptance that the original thirteen colonies would no longer be governed by the King of England. After the American Revolution the religious culture in America was more inclusive of the various faiths that were already established in the country. The fights between one township's ruling church and another township's ruling church became less of an issue as the Congress of the Confederation became a Congress supporting the country as a whole.

    The new governing rule of America started to establish the law-making decisions as a power of the people. It took away the power of religious dictates of individual churches to establish state religion. America allowed for men of any faith the ability to practice their own beliefs without the fear of a ruling governmental religion.