Religion and the Founding of the American Republic

Posted at LOC.gov:

Religion played a major role in the American Revolution by offering a moral sanction for opposition to the British--an assurance to the average American that revolution was justified in the sight of God. As a recent scholar has observed, "by turning colonial resistance into a righteous cause, and by crying the message to all ranks in all parts of the colonies, ministers did the work of secular radicalism and did it better."

Ministers served the American cause in many capacities during the Revolution: as military chaplains, as penmen for committees of correspondence, and as members of state legislatures, constitutional conventions and the national Congress. Some even took up arms, leading Continental troops in battle.

The Revolution split some denominations, notably the Church of England, whose ministers were bound by oath to support the King, and the Quakers, who were traditionally pacifists. Religious practice suffered in certain places because of the absence of ministers and the destruction of churches, but in other areas, religion flourished.

The Revolution strengthened millennialist strains in American theology. At the beginning of the war some ministers were persuaded that, with God's help, America might become "the principal Seat of the glorious Kingdom which Christ shall erect upon Earth in the latter Days." Victory over the British was taken as a sign of God's partiality for America and stimulated an outpouring of millennialist expectations--the conviction that Christ would rule on earth for 1,000 years. This attitude combined with a groundswell of secular optimism about the future of America to create the buoyant mood of the new nation that became so evident after Jefferson assumed the presidency in 1801.

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