New England and the Bavarian Illuminati/Chapter I
THE UNDERMINING OF PURITAN STANDARDS AND INSTITUTIONS
I. RAPID DISINTEGRATION OF PURITANISM AFTER THE REVOLUTION
BACK of the War of Independence was the less absorbing but scarcely less harrowing contest of the French and Indian War. Thus for a period of fully thirty years the people of New England had been subjected to the rough and unsettling experiences of military life. This consideration, taken in connection with the fact that a growing declension from the standards of the Puritan fathers had been the occasion of increasing comment and concern from the middle of the seventeenth century on, 1 will make explicable
- 1 An early and yet typical example of this unfavorable view of the moral and religious life of the people after the first generation of the Puritans was gone, may be found in The Result of 1679, a document prepared by the Synod in response to directions from the Massachusetts General Court, calling for answers to the following questions: "What are the euills that haue provoked the Lord to bring his judgments on New England? What is to be donn that so those euills may be reformed?" The following brief excerpt from The Result supplies the point of view: "Our Fathers neither sought for, nor thought of great things for themselves, but did seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things were added to them. They came not into the wilderness to see a man cloathed in soft raiment. But that we have in too many respects, been forgetting the Errand upon which the Lord sent us hither; all the world is witness: And therefore we may not wonder that God hath changed the tenour of his Dispensations towards us, turning to doe us hurt, and consuming us after that he hath done us good. If we had continued to be as once we were, the Lord would have continued to doe for us, as once he did." The entire document, together with much valuable explanatory comment, may be found in Walker, Creeds and Platforms of Congregationalism, pp. 421-437. Backus, History of New England, vol. i, pp. 457-461, contains a group of similar laments.
the fact that the average citizen of New England emerged from the Revolutionary struggle with the edge of his conscience dulled. The secularizing spirit of the post-Revolutionary period, when questions of national organization and unity, of the rehabilitation of commerce and industry, and of international relations and policies were foremost in the thought of the day, left marks upon the human spirit over which stern and rigorous adherents to the old order wept copiously and long. For one thing, the lives of the men and women of New England were never again to be as barren of diversified interests as they had been in the past. The successful issue of the struggle for political independence had so enlarged the mind of the common man that he of necessity entertained considerations of private desire and of public policy which he formerly would have rejected entirely. The avenue of retreat to the ancient simplicity and seclusion was forever closed.
The soundness of this estimate of the rapid disintegration of Puritanism will be apparent if the changing attitude of the people on the subject of theatrical entertainments is considered. 1 As early as the year 1750 the General Court of Massachusetts had found it necessary to enact legislation to prevent stage-plays and other theatrical entertainments. 2 That Puritan standards dominated the situation at the time is evidenced both by the reasons advanced by the framers of the law for its enactment and by the stringent penalties
- 1 Snow, A History of Boston, p. 333.
- 2 Weeden, Economic and Social History of New England, vol. ii, p. 696.
attached to it. The justification of the measure was found in the economic waste, the discouraging effect upon industry and frugality, and the deleterious effect upon morality and religion which stage-plays were believed to exercise. The penalties imposed called for a fine of twenty pounds upon any owner of property who permitted his property to be used for such purposes, while a fine of five pounds was to be assessed upon any actor or spectator found in attendance upon or participating in any such exercises where more than twenty persons were assembled together. 1 How meekly the craving for pleasurable excitement bowed its head in submission, there is no evidence to show; but it is very clear that as the century drew toward its close the people of Massachusetts began to manifest a decidedly intractable spirit with respect to legislative control of their amusements and pleasures.
The days of the Revolution supplied thrills of their own, and the colonists gave themselves in devotion to their great task-at-arms, with little desire for the amenities of life. Accordingly, when the Continental Congress, on October 1 6, 1778, passed a resolution deprecating every species of public entertainment which would be likely to divert the minds of the people from the considerations of public defence and the safeguarding of their liberties, 2 there was
- 1 Acts and Resolves, Public and Private, of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, vol. iii, pp. 500 et seq. The Preamble of this Act is highly interesting: " For preventing and avoiding the many and great mischiefs which arise from publick stage-plays, interludes and other theatrical entertainments, which not only occasion great and unnecessary expenses, and discourage industry and frugality, but likewise tend generally to increase immorality, impiety and a contempt for religion, Be it enacted", etc.
- 2 Seilhamer, History of the American Theatre, vol. ii, pp. 51 et seq.; Winsor, The Memorial History of Boston, vol. iv, ch. v: " The Drama in Boston," by William W. Clapp, pp. 358 et seq.
nothing singular about the episode, and we may believe readily that the people of New England, fortified by their grim spirit of determination and their long tradition of selfdenial, in no sense fell short of the general standard. But by the year 1790 the people living in and about Boston had come to a very different state of mind. In that year by petition to the General Court they sought to have the prohibitory act of 1750 revoked. 1 The incident has importance because it registers a determined effort to feed desires whose hunger-pains had grown insistent.
The history of this particular effort to remove legislative restrictions in the way of harmless amusements is illuminating. The petition referred to received scant consideration at the hands of the legislators of Massachusetts. The following year certain gentlemen of Boston, to the number of thirty-nine, presented a memorial to the selectmen of that city, requesting that a vote of the citizens be taken on the questions of permitting the erection and use of a building for theatrical entertainments, and the issuing of instructions to Boston's representatives in the legislature calling for the repeal of the obnoxious law. Apparently the plebiscite was not taken; but the general question was debated in town meeting. A committee was appointed to prepare instructions. The committee reported favorably concerning the proposed instructions to Boston's representatives in the legislature, and these representatives later undertook the task of bringing a majority of the members of the General Court to the more liberal point of view; not, however, with immediate success. Meanwhile, to the scandal of Governor John Hancock, and doubtless many another advocate of decency and order, theatrical entertainments, " under the
- 1 Seilhamer, op. cit., vol. iii, p. 13; Dunlap, History of the American Theatre, vol. i, p. 244; Snow, History of Boston, pp. 333 et seq.
Stile & Appellation of Moral Lectures," 1 flourished openly in Boston. 2
It was during the progress of the debate in the legislature over the proposed repeal of the law against theatrical entertainments that John Gardiner, one of Boston's representatives in that body, delivered himself of sentiments touching what he styled "the illiberal, unmanly, and despotic act" of 1750. His speech gave evidence of how fresh and independent the judgments of some minds had come to be. Addressing the presiding officer, Gardiner said:
Sir! I really and truly venerate; I would rather say, I sincerely and almost enthusiastically admire the many great and splendid virtues of our renowned puritan ancestors . . .; but still, Sir, they were only men; and, like all other men, were fallible; liable to frailties, to prejudices, and to error. Some errors, and some unjust prejudices, they undoubtedly had. Would to God a veil was drawn over all their absurd prejudices which, like spots in the sun, tend in some small degree to bedarken and obscure the otherwise truly-resplendent glories of their character. One of these prejudices, in my opinion, was their inveterate opposition and abhorrent aversion to the theatre. 3
- 1 Acts and Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1792-3, pp. 686 et seq.
- 2 The public discussion and legislative phase of the situation, together with the disorders occasioned by the determination of the supporters of the theatre to serve their enterprise at any cost, are well covered by Clapp in the chapter already cited in Winsor's Memorial History of Boston. Cf. also Seilhamer, vol. iii, pp. 14 et seq.; Dunlap, vol. i, pp. 242 et seq.; Willard, Memories of Youth and Manhood, vol. i, pp. 324, 325; Bentley, Diary, vol. i, pp. 340, 379, 380, 414, 415, 418, etc.
- 3 The Speech of John Gardiner, Esquire, Delivered in the House of Representatives. On Thursday, the 26th of January, 1792, Boston, 1792, p. 18. Another publication of the same year, The Rights of the Drama: or, An Inquiry into the Origin, Principles, and Consequences of Theatrical Entertainments. By Philo Dramatis (pseud.), discussed the subject in different vein, but with the same object in view. In the final chapter on " The Outlines of a Theatre, it's Necessary Appendages, a Plan of 'Regulation, Calculation of Expenses, Profits, &c.", doubtless by way of turning the balance of public judgment in favor of the establishment of a local theatre, the author suggests that the following ends may be served: the development of native genius, and thus the elevation of America to a high rank in the republic of letters; the reservation of a certain portion of the revenues of the theatre by the Commonwealth, for the care of the poor of Boston, or of the state, and for the support of the University at Cambridge (Harvard), thus easing the burden of taxation. The closing words of this pamphlet, stripped of their bombast, are not unworthy to stand with Gardiner's: " Whenever I consider this subject, and contemplate the formation of a Theatre, I cannot help feeling a kind of enthusiasm ... I anticipate the time when the Garricks and Siddons of America shall adorn the Stage, and melt the soul to pity. But here let me pause. Let the most rigid Stoic, or the greatest fanatic in religion, or the most notorious dupe to prejudice, once hearken to the tale of the tragic muse, whose office it is to soften, and to subdue the violent passions of the mind, by painting the real misfortunes and distresses, which accompany our journey through life; or attend to the laughable follies, and vain inconsistencies, which daily mark the character of the human species the deformity of vice the excellence of virtue, and, from the representation of the lively Comedy, ' catch the manners living as they rise,' and then say, if he can, that lessons of instruction are unknown to the Drama. If these have no effect, let him listen,^with mute attention, to the occasional symphonies, which burst from a thousand strings, and accompany, and give life and animation to the Comic scene and then, if sunk below the brute creation, let him be fortified against the impressions of sensibility. The stoicism of man must surpass our comprehension, if the dramatic scene can be contemplated without emotion; more especially when the representation of life and manners is intended to correct and to enlarge the heart. ..."
That Gardiner was the spokesman of a very considerable number of citizens is demonstrated by the fact that on March 28, 1793, a bill drawn to take the place of the older legislation against theatrical amusements and granting specifically to the people of Boston the right to erect a theatre and to have " stage plays performed under certain regulations and restrictions," was enacted by the legislature of Massachusetts. 1 It is very evident that public sentiment had veered round to a radically new and different view respecting the place and function of the theatre. So much so, indeed, that some who sought to shape the thought and determination of the times recommended the establishment of the theatre as the only possible way of drawing the desires and interests of the people away from grosser and more injurious excitements toward which, it was believed, an alarming growth of frivolity and lack of moral concern was rapidly sweeping the people of New England. 2
This alleged declension of morals may be more vitally viewed from the standpoint of the subject of intemperance.
- 1 Cf. (Boston) Independent Chronicle and Universal Advertiser, Thursday, March 28, 1793.
- 2 Pseud.: Effects of the Stage on the Manners of a People: and the Propriety of Encouraging and Establishing a Virtuous Theatre. By a Bostonian, Boston, 1792. The author is insipid enough; none the less the pamphlet is by no means void of a certain practicalrnindedness and good sense as the author argues for the frank acceptance of the theatre as an institution in the city's life. The following constitute his chief contentions: The theatre, in some form or other, is bound to come, because of the fact that the people generally are interested in the subject of amusement; the tastes and appetites of the people already give painful evidence of serious debasement and corruption; the acceptance of a " Virtuous Theatre" is the only possible expedient if the people are to be saved from worse debauchment.
The view taken by the Reverend William Bentley, Salem' s well-known minister, was less specious, though tinged with a mildly pessimistic view of popular tastes. Under date of July 31, 1792, he wrote: "So much talk has been in the Country about Theatrical entertainments that they have become the pride even of the smallest children in our schools. The fact puts in mind of the effect from the Rope flyers, who visited N. England, after whose feats the children of seven were sliding down the fences & wounding themselves in every quarter." Diary, vol. i, p. 384. Later, he wrote: " The Theatre opened for the first time [in Salem] is now the subject. The enlightened who have not determined upon its utter abolition have yet generally agreed that it is too early introduced into our country." Ibid., vol. ii, p. 81. Cf. ibid., pp. 258, et seq., 299, 322. It is clear that Bentley was apprehensive. Convivial habits were a fixed part of the New England character, and the sin of drunkenness was as old as the settlement of the country. The practice of brewing was numbered among the employments of the first settlers. 1 Rum was generally used by the people, and the commercial life of the colonies was inextricably woven with its importation and exportation. 2 Cider was the native New England beverage. 3 The importation of wine was large from the first. 4 A general tendency in the direction of increased habits of drinking was to be expected. 6
The period of the Revolution made its own special con
- 1 Weeden, Economic and Social History of New England, vol. i, pp. 188, 195; Bishop, History of American Manufactures, vol. i, pp. 245 et seq.
- 2 Ibid., p. 250; vol. ii, pp. 501, 502. See also Clark, History of Manufactures in the United States, p. 480.
- 3 Ibid. Bishop notes the fact that in 1721 a small village of forty houses, near Boston, made 3000 barrels of cider.
- 4 Ibid., p. 269; Weeden, op. cit., vol. i, pp. 144, 148 et seq.
- 5 The impression that this decline toward a general state of drunkenness set in early will appear from the following excerpt taken from the Synod's report on "The Necessity of Reformation", presented to the General Court of Massachusetts in 1679: "VIII. There is much Intemperance. The heathenish and Idolatrous practice of Health-drinking is become too general a Provocation. Dayes of Training, and other publick Solemnityes, have been abused in this respect: and 1 not only English but Indians have been debauched, by those that call themselves Christians, who have put their bottles to them, and made them drunk also. This is a crying Sin, and the more aggravated in that the first Planters of this Colony did (as in the Patent expressed) come into this Land with a design to Convert the 'Heathen unto Christ. . . . There are more Temptations and occasions unto That Sin, publickly allowed of, than any necessity doth require; the proper end of Taverns, &c. being to that end only, a far less number would suffice: But it is a common practice for Town dwellers, yea and Church-members, to frequent publick Houses, and there to misspend precious Time, unto the dishonour of the Gospel, and the scandalizing of others, who are by such examples induced to sin against God." Cf. Walker, Creeds and Platforms of Congregationalism, p. 430.
tribution to the gravity of the case. The soldiers of the Continental armies received regular rations of liquor, 1 and at the expiration of the war carried back to their respective communities the habits of intemperance which in many cases their army life had strengthened. Rum was more and more coming to be regarded as one of the necessities of life; 2 and with the revival of industry and commerce after the war the business of distilling mounted rapidly to amazing proportions. 3
A growing uneasiness over the social and economic con
- 1 Hatch, The Administration of the American Revolutionary Army, pp. 89 et seq. The supplies of beer, cider, and rum furnished the armies were not always held to be adequate. After the battle of Brandywine, Congress ordered thirty hogsheads of rum distributed among the soldiers as a tribute to their gallant conduct in that battle. C/. One Hundred Years of Temperance, New York, 1886, article by Daniel Dorchester on "The Inception of the Temperance Reformation", p. 113, for comments on the effects of the return of drunken soldiers to the ranks of citizenship.
- 2 Weeden, op. cit., vol. ii, p. 883, supplies the following concerning the character of the coasting and river trade, which the exigencies of the war greatly stimulated: "A cargo from Boston to Great Barrington and Williamstown contained u hdds. and 6 tierces of rum, 3 bbls. of wine, 2 do. of brandy, Yi bale of cotton, and i small cask of indigo. The proportion of ' wet goods ' to the small quantity of cotton and indigo is significant, and indicates the prevailing appetites ".
- 3 In 1783 Massachusetts had no fewer than sixty-three distilleries. In 1788 this state distilled 1,475,509 gallons of spirits from foreign, and 11,490 gallons from domestic materials. From 1790 to 1800 in the United States, 23,148,404 gallons of spirits were distilled from molasses; of this 6,322,640 gallons were exported, leaving a quantity for home consumption so large as to supply its own comment. Low grain prices, together with the difficulty of gaining access to the molasses markets, hastened a transition to grain distilling near the end of the eighteenth century, with the result that in 1810 Mr. Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury, reported not less than 9,000,000 gallons of spirits as having been distilled from grain and fruit in 1801. Bishop, History of American Manufactures, vol. ii, pp. 30, 65, 83, 152; Clark, History of Manufactures in the United States, p. 230.
sequences involved in the spread of alcoholism is apparent. Under the date of July 29, 1789, the Reverend Jeremy Belknap, minister of the church in Long Lane, Boston, is found writing thus to Dr. Benjamin Rush, Philadelphia's celebrated physician and early apostle of temperance reform:
With respect to spirituous liquors I believe some good has been done, but much more remains to be done. The distilleries here are so ready a source of gain, that, till the auri sacra fames shall cease to be a ruling passion, I fear there will no end be put to them. The demand from abroad I am told increases, particularly from the north of Europe, & while the stills are kept going there will be a large home consumption. In an excursion of about 80 miles into the country a few weeks since, I met many loads of pot & pearl ashes coming down, & on my return the teams which I met were loaded with dry fish, hogsheads of salt, & barrels of rum. The thirst for spirits in the back country is so ardent, that in the fall & winter they will sell their wheat for this sort of pay, & then in the spring and summer following go 40 or 50 miles after bread. However, we do what we can by way of precept & example, & we do not intend to be discouraged. 1
The correspondence which the Reverend Bulkley Olcott, minister of the church in Charlestown, New Hampshire, had with Belknap is of like import. 2 He had tried to obtain accurate statistical information from the Excise Master as to the quantity of spirituous liquors consumed in his county, and had not succeeded. However, it is a matter of his personal knowledge that many good estates have been squandered through drinking, and much time, labor, and health, and many lives destroyed in the same way. He
- 1 Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 6th ser., vol. iv, Belknap Papers, pt. iii, p. 440.
- 2 Ibid., p. 508.
recognizes that many concurring circumstances come to the aid of spirituous liquors in working fatal results; still the general abuse of drink is declared to be one of the heaviest and most threatening evils under which the country groans. The taverns of the day on all public occasions, 1 and frequently in the ordinary course of their business, were filled with gambling, carousing, drinking crowds. The extent to which the great occasions of state were seized upon as opportunities for open and shameless drinking had become a scandal. The custom of granting a certain allowance of rum per day to laborers was honored in at least some sections of the country. 2 Accidental deaths due to drunkenness, and cases of suicide and insanity traceable to the same cause, were frequently reported. 3 All classes of society,
- 1 Diary of William Bentley, vol. ii, p. 92: May 31, 1794: "The observation of holydays at Election is an abuse in this part of the Country. Not only at our return yesterday, did we observe crowds around the new Tavern at the entrance of the Town, but even at this day, we saw at Perkins' on the neck, persons of all descriptions, dancing to a fiddle, drinking, playing with pennies, &c. It is proper such excesses should be checked." Cf. also ibid., pp. 58, 363, 410, 444 et seq. Cf. also E'arle, Alice Morse, Stage-coach and Tavern Days, New York, 1900.
- 2 Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 6th Series, vol. iv, Belknap Papers, pt. iii, p. 456. Jeremiah Libbey writes of the situation at Portsmouth, [N. H.?]: "The common allowance of rum to labourers here is half a pint per day, which has been the rule or custom as long as I can remember. There are several persons in this town that are endeavouring to abolish the custom by giving them more wages in lieu of the allowance, as it is call'd; but the custom is so rooted that it is very difficult to break it. The attachment is so great, that in general if you were to offer double the price of the allowance in money it would not be satisfactory to the labourers, and altho' that is the case & it is the ruin of them and familys in many instances . . . untill a substitute of beer or some other drink is introduced in general, it will be difficult to get over it ".
- 3 Diary of William Bentley, vol. i, pp. 167, 175, 217, 218, 244, 247, 248, 255, 256, 281 et seq.
young and old, rich and poor, men and women, fell victims to the great scourge. The colleges were not immune. At Yale, wine and liquors were kept in the rooms of many of the students and intemperance was one of the commonest of student faults. 1 Clergymen, though generally restraining themselves from gross indulgence, were accustomed to feel that the spirit of conviviality and the discussion of the affairs of church and state went hand in hand; 2 and now and then the bounds of propriety were overstepped.
Other unfavorable aspects of the situation may be found in the habits of card-playing and gambling which everywhere prevailed, and in the frequent allusions to instances of social vice and illegitimacy with which the pages of the diary of such a careful observer as the Reverend William Bentley were laden. 3
- 1 Autobiography and Correspondence of Lyman Beecher, vol. i, p. 30.
- 2 Ibid., p. 24. The description of the meeting of the Consociation, pp. 214 et seq., is unusually vivid: "... the preparation for our creature comforts in the sitting-room of Mr. 'Heart's house, besides food, was a broad sideboard*, covered with decanters and bottles, and sugar, and pitchers of water. There we found all the various kinds of liquors then in vogue. The drinking was apparently universal. This preparation was made by the society as a matter of course. When the Consociation arrived, they always took something to drink round; also before public services, and always on their return. As they could not all drink at once, they were obliged' to stand and wait, as people do when they go to mill. There was a decanter of spirits also on the dinnertable, to help digestion, and gentlemen partook of it through the afternoon and evening as they felt the need, some more and some less; and the sideboard, with the spillings of water, and sugar, and liquor, looked and smelled like the bar of a very active grog-shop. None of the Consociation were drunk; but that there was not, at times, a considerable amount of exhilaration, I can not affirm." It was Beecher's judgment that "the tide was swelling in the drinking habits of society." Ibid., p. 215.
- 3 Ibid., vol. i, pp. 133, 138, 163, 255, 256, 371; vol. ii, pp. 294, 328 et seq.
The opinion that the social life of the period was desperately unsound was accepted without question by many a socalled interpreter of the times. The observations which President Timothy Dwight, of Yale, made in his Century Sermon * expressed the views of many minds. Dating "the first considerable change in the religious character of the people of this country " with the beginning of the French and Indian War, 2 he continued:
The officers and soldiers of the British armies, then employed in this country, although probably as little corrupted as those of most armies, were yet loose patterns of opinion and conduct, and were unhappily copied by considerable numbers of our own countrymen, united with them in military life. These, on their return, spread the infection through those around them. Looser habits of thinking began then to be adopted, and were followed, as they always are, by looser conduct. The American war increased these evils. Peace had not, at the commencement of this war, restored the purity of life Which existed before the preceding war. To the depravation still remaining was added a long train of immoral doctrines and practices, which spread into every corner of the country. The profanation of the Sabbath, before unusual, profaneness of language, drunkenness, gambling, and lewdness were exceedingly increased; and, what is less commonly remarked, but is perhaps not less mischievous than any of them, a light, vain method of thinking concerning sacred things and a cold, contemptuous indifference toward every moral and religious subject. 3
But this sweeping judgment of Yale's president, together
- 1 A Discourse on Some Events of the Last Century, delivered in the Brick Church in New Haven, on Wednesday, January 7, 1801. By Timothy Dwight, President of Yale College, New Haven, 1801. Cf. this author's Travels in New England and New York, vol. iv, pp. 353 et seq.
- 2 Dwight's Century Sermon, p. 18.
- 3 Ibid., pp. 18 et seq.
with the specific explanation of the situation which he offered, are to be checked up by other and less pessimistic considerations. That there was much pertaining to the customs and manners of the times to be deplored, is not to be denied. On the other hand, that society in New England, as the eighteenth century drew toward its close, was actually lapsing from soundness and virtue to the extent that its fundamental views and habits were being altered, is far from clear. Observers who spoke to the contrary listened chiefly to the murmurs of the shallows and were unresponsive to the deeps.
The fact is, new ideals and new forces were working upward in the common life of the age. The new sense of freedom which the War of Independence ushered in, the steadily growing prosperity of the people, the development of social intimacies as the population of the country increased, the intrusion and growing influence of foreign ideas and customs, the steadily diminishing domination of the clergy these all tended to inaugurate a new order which clashed more or less violently with the old. The memories of the old Puritan regime were still sufficiently vivid to make every lapse from liberty into license appear ominous in the extreme.
A general relaxing of social customs expressed itself in manifold ways over all those areas where actual stagnation had not come to pass; but this loosening was by no means characterized by deep-seated coarseness or general immorality. 1 The people had begun to claim for themselves some
- 1 The testimony of a European traveller should prove as edifying as that of an intimate participant in the country's life. In 1788, Brissot de Warville visited America. He remarked the change which had come over the people of New England, of Boston in particular. The old "Presbyterian austerity, which interdicted all pleasures, even that of walking; which forbade travelling on Sunday, which persecuted men whose opinions were different from their own " was no longer to be encountered. Yet no evidence of the corruption of morals presented itself to the distinguished traveller. On the contrary, he remarked the general wholesomeness and soundness of domestic life, and the general poise and temperance of a people which, "since the ancient puritan austerity has disappeared", was able to play cards without yielding to the gambling instinct and to enjoy its clubs and parties without offending the spirit of courtesy and good-breeding. The glow upon the soul of Brissot as he contemplates the prosperity and unaffected simplicity of the people of Boston is evident as he writes: "With what pleasure did I contemplate this town, which first shook off the English yoke! which, for a long time, resisted all the seductions, all the menaces, all the horrors of a civil war! Hovr I delighted to wander up and down that long street, whose simple houses of wood border the magnificent channel of Boston, and whose full stores offer me all the productions of the continent which I had quitted! How I enjoyed the activity of the merchants, the artizans, and the sailors! It was not the noisy vortex of Paris; it was not the unquiet, eager mien of my countrymen; it was the simple, dignified air of men, who are conscious of liberty, and who see in all men their brothers and their equals. Everything in this street bears the marks of a town still in its infancy, but which, even in its infancy, enjoys a great prosperity. . . . Boston is just rising from the devastations of war, and its commerce is flourishing; its manufactures, productions, arts, and sciences, offer a number of curious and interesting observations." (Brissot De Warville, New Travels in the United States of America, pp. 70-82.) Equally laudatory comment respecting the state of society in Connecticut is made by Brissot (pp. 108, 109) .
John Bernard, the English comedian, who was in this country at the close of the eighteenth century, found the state of society very much like that which he had left in his own country. " They wore the same clothes, spoke the same language, and seemed to glow with the same affable and hospitable feelings. In walking along the mall I could scarcely believe I had not been whisked over to St. James's Park; and in their houses the last modes of London were observable in nearly every article of ornament or utility. Other parts of the state were, however, very different." (Bernard, Retrospections of America, 1797-1811, p. 29.) Bernard found in New England abundant evidences of progress such as he had not been accustomed to in England, and splendid stamina of character (p. 30). Nothing, apparently, suggested to him that the people were not virile and sound. relaxation, and hence to amuse and satisfy themselves in the light of their enlarged conceptions of the freedom and privileges of life. On the whole, their enjoyments and amusements were such as characterize a state of healthymindedness at a time of marked transition.
In the main, the condition of the people was deplorable for what they lacked in the way of incitements to pleasurable and helpful social and cultural employments rather than because of what they possessed. 1 When it is recalled how considerable was the dearth of material for mental occupation; how undeveloped, for example, were music and painting; 2 how the newspapers and magazines of the day supplied little or nothing of a constructive or inspiring character; how science was almost totally undeveloped, 3 libraries few in number and destitute of stimulating material, the colleges for the most part mooning the years away over insipid and useless abstractions and dogmatic formulations,
- 1 Bentley, Diary, vol. i, pp. 253 et seq., discusses at length " the Puerile Sports usual in these parts of New England ". Weeden, Economic and Social History of New England, vol. ii, p. 696, comments on the dearth of public amusement. Cf. also ibid., p. 864. The changed attitude of the public toward dancing, as reported by Weeden, pp. 696 and 864, doubtless finds its explanation in the growing consciousness that the resources in the way of entertainment deserve to be increased. At the close of the century, however, dancing was still frowned upon. Bentley, Diary, vol. ii, pp. 17, 232, 233, 296, 322, 363.
- 2 Brissot, New Travels in the United Stales of America, p. 72: " Music, which their teachers formerly prescribed as a diabolic art, begins to make part of their education. In some houses you hear the forte-piano. This art, it is true, is still in its infancy; but the young novices who exercise it, are so gentle, so complaisant, and so modest, that the proud perfection of art gives no pleasure equal to what they afford." Cf. also Bentley, Diary, vol. ii, pp. 247 et seq., 292.
- 3 Brissot, New Travels in the United States of America, pp. 86 et seq. Brissot generously explains this fact upon the ground that in a country so new, whose immediate concerns were so compelling, and where, also, wealth is not centered in a few hands, the cultivation of the arts and sciences is not to be expected. On the side of invention the situation was far from being as bad as a reading of Brissot might seem to imply. Weeden, Economic and Social History of New England, vol. ii, pp. 847-858.
the wonder is that the rebound against Puritanism, in this period of intense political excitement and the growing secularization of thought, was not tenfold more violent and subversive than it was. 1
The impression communicated by this view is heightened when it is recalled that the struggle for political independence not only had affected profoundly the status of the people of New England with respect to both their internal and their external relations; it had also made substantial and significant modifications in the very constitution of society itself. When the reorganization of affairs after the Revolutionary struggle was over, it became increasingly apparent that the control of the forces and institutions of society in New England was in the hands of new leaders and arbiters. The aristocracy of unquestioned conservatism which had all society under its thumb before the Revolution, had been swept away generally in the flood of that epochal event. Up from the small towns and villages of the country to the great centers, to Boston particularly, came a small army, made up largely of squires and gentry, 2 to establish a new
- 1 Goddard, Studies in New England Transcendentalism, p. 18. While the passage cited deals with an earlier situation, the general observation made concerning the well-poised character of the New England type of mind is as valid for the close of the eighteenth century as for the corresponding period of the preceding century; and the failure of New England to take a " plunge . . . from the moral heights of Puritanism " is all the more impressive in the later period in view of the variety and character of the new incitements and impulses which the people of New England generally felt in the period following the Revolution.
- 2 Conspicuous in this group was the new merchant class. In the wake of the Revolution came an industrial and commercial revival which profoundly affected the life of New England. While the period of the Confederation, on account of its political disorganization and the chaotic state of public finance and the currency, was characterized by extreme economic depression, on the other hand, the adoption of the Constitution communicated to the centers of industry .und commerce a feeling of optimism. The sense that a federal government had been formed, equal to the task of guaranteeing to its citizens the rights and privileges of trade, gave early evidence that the economic impulses of the country had been quickened notably. Such evidence is too abundant and too well known either to permit or to require full statement here, but the following is suggestive: The fisheries of New England, which had been nearly destroyed during the Revolution, had so far revived by 1789 that a total of 480 vessels, representing a tonnage of 27,000, were employed in the industry. At least 32,000 tons of shipping were built in the United States, a very large part of this in New England, in 1791. Before the war the largest amount built in any one year was 26,544 tons. But the record of 1791 was modest. From 1789 to 1810, American shipping increased from 202,000 to 1,425,000 tons. Because of the federal government's proclamation of strict neutrality with regard to the wars abroad, the carrying trade of the world came largely into the hands of shipowners and seamen of the United States, with the result that the dockyards and wharves of New England fairly hummed with activity. The exports of 1793 amounted to $33,026,233. By 1799 they had mounted to $78,665,522, of which $33,142,522 was the growth, produce, or manufacture of the Union. Within a very few years after the adoption of the Constitution, American merchants had become the warehousers and distributors of merchandise to all parts of the world. The wharves of New England were covered with goods from Europe, the Orient, the West Indies, and from the looms, shops, and distilleries of the nation. Directed by resourceful and far-sighted men who had the instinct for commercial expansion, ships sailed from New England ports for Batavia, Canton, Calcutta, St. Petersburg, Port Louis. They carried with them coffee, fish, flour, provisions, tobacco, rum, iron, cattle, horses; they brought back molasses, sugar, wine, indigo, pepper, salt, muslins, calicoes, silks, hemp, duck. The situation is dealt with in detail by Bishop, History of American Manufactures, vol. ii, pp. 13-82; Clark, History of Manufactures in the United States, pp. 227 et seq.; Weeden, Economic and Social History of New England, vol. ii, pp. 816-857.
but less secure sovereignty, to assume control of the social and political forces of the day, and, more or less unaware of the precise significance of the turn of events, to measure its strength against those new forces of democracy which in New England, as no place else in the nation, were to find themselves compelled to fight a long and stubborn battle to secure their emancipation. Assuming without question the direction of affairs, this new aristocracy, after the fashion of the old leaders who were gone, addressed itself to the task of social, political, and religious control. 1 Manifestly the situation was big with possibilities with respect to the effect to be produced upon the thought and habits of the people. There they dwelt in their spacious houses, 2 these modern aristocrats and autocrats of fashion and custom, by no means rolling in luxury and idleness, yet claiming and enjoying a degree of relaxation and social pleasure vastly more lavish than that accorded to their plebeian neighbors, occupying themselves with their parties, their weddings and dances, 3 their refinements of dress 4 and behavior, but with little or no disposition to abandon themselves to scandalous conduct.
- 1 Winsor, The Memorial History of Boston, vol. iii, pp. 191, 203; Morse, The Federalist Party in Massachusetts, pp. 37, 38; Harvard Theological Review, January, 1916, p. 104.
- 2 Weeden, Early Life in Rhode Island, pp. 357 et seq., calls attention to the spacious and elegant houses which were built at Providence about 1790, and to the new group of merchants which the expansion of trans-oceanic commerce called into existence there. Weeden, Economic and Social History of New England, pp. 821 et seq., deals with the situation in a larger way.
- 3 Parker, History of the Second Church of Christ in Hartford, p. 172. The passage contains a vivid picture of the state of polite society in an important Connecticut center. Love, The Colonial History of Hartford, pp. 244 et seq., deals with the transformation of social life with particular reference to the disintegration of Puritanism.
- 4 An outcry against the excesses of fashion began to make itself heard. "An Old Farmer," writing to the Massachusetts Spy, March 27, 1799, complains on account of the consequent drain upon the purses of husbands and fathers: " I am a plain farmer, and therefore beg leave to trouble you with a little plain language. By the dint of industry, and application to agricultural concerns, I have, till lately, made out to keep square with the world. But the late scarcity of money, together with the extravagance of fashions have nearly ruined me. ... I am by no means tenacious of the old way, or of old fashions. I know that my family must dress different from what I used to when I was young; yet as I have the interest of husbands and fathers at heart, I wish there might be some reformation in the present mode of female dress. ... In better times, six or seven yards of Calico would serve to make a gown; but now fourteen yards are scarcely sufficient. I do not perceive that women grow any larger now than formerly. ... A few years since, my daughters were not too proud to wear good calfskin shoes; two pair of which would last them a year: But now none will suitt them but morroco, and these must be of the slenderest kind. . . . Young ladies used to be contented with wearing nothing on their heads but what Nature gave them. . . . But now they dare not appear in company, unless they have half a bushel of gauze, and other stuff, stuck on their heads". The letter closes with a humorous account of the writer's embarrassing experience with the trains of the ladies' dresses on the occasion of a recent visit to church.
The constant challenge of the political necessities of the times, it may be urged, was altogether too compelling to admit of any such looseness. Still, one cannot scan the newspapers of the period, or read the story of the social commerce of the times as it pieces itself together out of the private records and correspondence of the day, or listen even to the pulpit's copious flood of denunciations, 1 without a feeling of mingled admiration and astonishment that in an age everywhere characterized by upheaval and ferment there was really as little of shameless and wanton conduct in New England as the records of the period reveal. It cannot but be viewed as a notable tribute to the essential soundness and nobility of that type of moral and religious culture which Puritanism had supplied from the first that the New England character should be able to pass through a period of profound social readjustment, of the discarding of old value judgments and the adoption of new, such as came near the close of the eighteenth century, and this without serious loss of moral power and prestige. Manifestly, whatever hollowness and insincerity Puritanism may have
- 1 Swift, Lindsay, The Massachusetts Election Sermons (Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, vol. i, Transactions, 1892-1894), pp. 428 et seq.
developed in other lands and times, it did not so cramp and fetter the human spirit in New England as to render it incapable of self -guidance when the old restraints and limitations were no more. 1
Now that its controlling spirit of gravity and provincialism was being replaced by a general temper of comparative light-heartedness and open-mindedness, of unaffected enjoyment of the good things of life, of the acceptance of standards far more natural than those of the earlier day, the transition was accomplished with a relative absence of accompanying instances of moral lapse and disaster nothing less than remarkable. A considerable amount of the boisterousness and heat of the day over which clerical Jeremiahs and others of like conservative leanings ceased not to pour out their complaints, 2 is explicable on the ground of the growing habit of the mass of the people to exercise the rights of citizenship through direct participation in the affairs of the day. For far more significant than any evidence of moral blindness and perversity on the part of the people in general is the fact that a great, crowding, hungry democracy was knocking at the gates of the old aristocratic regime and insistently urging the consideration of its rights.
2. OMINOUS DISCONTENT WITH THE STANDING ORDER
The general impression of a revolt against morality and religion in New England near the close of the eighteenth
- 1 Weeden, Economic and Social History of New England, vol. ii, pp. 864 et seq.
- 2 Scudder, Recollections of Samuel Breck, with Passages from His Note-Books, pp. 178 et seq. Breck visited New England about 1791. He was impressed with the looseness of life and gross lawlessness which he saw. A fairer judgment appears on page 182: "The severe, gloomy puritanical spirit that had governed New England since the days of the Pilgrim forefathers was gradually giving way in the principal towns", etc.
century was deepened by the bitterness of spirit which marked the last stages of the long struggle waged by dissenters to cut the bond between church and state. 1 The Congregational Church was one of the fundamental institutions of New England, and from the first the sword of the magistrate had been invoked to enforce conformity to its worship and polity. Strange enough seem the terms "Establishment" and "Standing Order" 2 in the history of a people whose forefathers came to America in quest of religious freedom. The freedom sought, however, was to be construed as loyalty to a new order rather than as the embodiment of tolerance. Thus it happened that for two whole centuries the battle on behalf of the rights of dissent had to be waged in New England. 3 To have this struggle construed by the aggrieved representatives of the Establishment as the crowning expression of what they had come to regard as the deep-seated and widespread irreligion of the
- 1 Lauer, Church and State in. New England (Johns Hopkins University Studies in History and Political Science. Tenth Series), pp. 95 et seq.
- 2 The term "Standing Order" was generally employed in the speech and literature of the period, and had reference to the alliance between the party of the Establishment and the party of the government.
- 3 The scope of inquiry prescribed by the special object of this dissertation renders both unnecessary and unprofitable the tracing of this struggle in detail. Valuable special studies in this field are available. Among these the following are to be commended as of exceptional usefulness: Burrage, A History of the Baptists in New England; Greene, The Development of Religious Liberty in Connecticut; Reed, Church and State in Massachusetts, 1691-1740; Cobb, The Rise of Religious Liberty in America; Ford, New England's Struggle for Religious Liberty. Lauer's excellent treatise has already been cited. Of contemporaneous treatments, Backus, A History of New England, with Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptists, though deficient in literary merit, is doubtless the most trustworthy and replete. The citations made from the latter work refer, unless otherwise indicated, to the edition of 1871 (2 vols.).
age, was not the least of the bitter taunts which dissenters had to bear.
In Massachusetts the eighteenth century dawned with some faint promise of a kindlier day. The Charter of 1691 granted full liberty of conscience to all Christians except Roman Catholics. 1 The practical effects of this apparently sweeping reform were largely nullified, however, when in the following year the General Court made it obligatory for each town to have a minister for whose support all its inhabitants should be taxed. 2 With the removal of all bonds upon conscience and of all religious restrictions upon the right of suffrage on the one hand, but with the principle of enforced support of the institutions of religion on the other, the hallowed union of church and state in Massachusetts obviously stood in no immediate danger. The slight modifications speedily made in the law of 1692 did not touch the principle of taxation in the interests of religious worship. 8
A measure of relief came to the Episcopalians in 1727,*
- 1 The Charter Granted by Their Majesties King William and Queen Mary, to the Inhabitants of the Massachusetts-Bay in New-England, Boston in New England, 1726, p. 9. The principle of church membership as a qualification for voting was set aside for a property qualification.
- 2 Backus, History of New England, vol. i, pp. 446 et seq. Cf. Reed, Church and State in Massachusetts, 1601-1740, pp. 23 et seq.
- 3 Backus, History of New England, vol. i, p. 448.
- 4 Charters and "Acts and Laws" of the Province of Massachusetts-Bay, With Appended Acts and Laws, Boston, 1726-1735, p. 383. The law provided that "all persons who profess themselves to be of the Church of England", and who were so situated that " there is a Person in Orders according to the Rules of the Church of (England setled [sif], and abiding among them and performing Divine Service within Five Miles of the Habitation, or usual Residence of any Person professing himself as aforesaid of the Church of England", might have his rate-money reserved for the support of the Episcopal church.
and to the Quakers and Baptists in 1728, 1 in the form of exemption laws. In the case of the Baptists the exemption granted was not absolute, but only for a limited period of years. With the expiration of this period the struggle for relief of necessity had to be renewed. 2 The rights of dissent had begun to receive some recognition, but the limitations embodied in the foregoing legislation bore convincing testimony of a grudging temper of mind which would yield no ground without strong pressure.
The spirit of excitement and controversy which characterized the revival of religion of the third and fourth decades of the eighteenth century (t. ^., the Great Awakening) led to new complications and difficulties. Stirred by the revival, itinerant preachers, some of them of little learning and of less tact, invaded parishes of their clerical brethren without their consent, and presumed to censure the ministers and congregations that had not yielded to the emotional impulses of the revival. 3 A clash of parties followed, producing new antipathies and cleavages. Many who were in sympathy with the revival withdrew from orthodox congregations to organize new churches, nominally Baptist, with a view to obtaining exemption from the obligation to support the state church. To meet this evasion in 1752 the General Court of Massachusetts passed an act which provided
That no person for the future shall be so esteemed an A(n)nabaptist as to have his poll or polls and estate exempted from paying a proportionable part of the taxes that shall
- 1 Charters and "Acts and Laws" of the Province of Mass., etc., p. 423. The five-mile limitation formed a part of this legislation, also.
- 2 Burrage, History of the Baptists in New England, p. 105.
- 3 Palfrey, A Compendious History of New England, vol. iv, pp. 94, 95
be raised in the town or place where he or they belong, but such whose names shall be contained in the lists taken by the assessors, as in said act provided, or such as shall produce a certificate, under the hands of the minister and of two principal members of such church, setting forth that they conscientiously believe such person or persons to be of their perswasion, and that he or they usually and frequently attend the publick worship in such church on Lord's days. 1
A further provision of the act denied to Baptist ministers and their parishioners the right of furnishing the required certificates unless three other Baptist churches previously should have certified that the persons granting the certificates were regarded as members of that body. 2 To make the situation more galling, if that were possible, certificates so obtained had to be lodged annually with the town clerk before the time to pay the rates arrived.
From every point of view this legislation was objectionable to the Baptists. Their protest was instant and vigorous. 3 It was decided to send one of their number as agent to England, to carry their case before the government of the mother country. 4 A sharp remonstrance, so plain in its language that its signers came very near being taken into custody, was drawn up and presented to the General Court at Boston. 5 But great as was the sense of injustice under which the Baptists smarted, the operations of the act appear to have been most severe in the case of those who had drawn off from the orthodox churches on account of the disturbances created by the Great Awakening. The position of
- 1 Acts and Resolves, Public and Private, etc., vol. iii, p. 645.
- 2 Ibid.
- 3 Backus, History of New England, vol. ii, p. 140.
- 4 Ibid.
- 5 Ibid.
these Separatists * was peculiarly vulnerable. Baptist leaders found themselves embarrassed when called upon to certify to the Baptist affiliations of the Separatists; such a distasteful judgment of the motives and scruples of others was to be avoided wherever possible. 2 On the other hand, if the Separatists sought to set up churches and establish ministers of their own, they were confronted by the fact that a second Congregational church could not be formed in a parish without legislative permission, and the orthodox party usually showed itself capable of forestalling all such sanction on the part of the state. It was left, therefore, to the Separatists either for conscience' sake to bear the double burden of taxation, 3 or to seek a permanent religious home in one of the recognized dissenting bodies. 4
Five years later, when the exemption law of 1752 expired and with it the exemption laws that previously had been passed for the relief of the Quakers, a new law was enacted governing both sects. 5 Henceforth a Baptist who
- 1 Separatists or Separates were the names by which those were commonly designated who withdrew from the orthodox churches on account of the controversies occasioned by the Great Awakening. See Blake, S. Leroy, The Separates or Strict Congregationalists of New England, Boston, 1902, pp. 17 et seq.
- 2 Hovey, A Memoir of the Life and Times of the Rev. Isaac Backus, p. 171.
- 3 Backus, History of New England, vol. ii, pp. 96 et seq. Backus himself suffered imprisonment under this act. See ibid., p. 109.
- 4 Greene, The Development of Religious Liberty in Connecticut, pp. 235 et seq. The process of absorption referred to had much to do with the breaking up of the Separatist movement. Few of these congregations continued to exist until the struggle for religious freedom was fully won. 'Other contributory causes in the breaking up of the movement were the poverty of the members of these congregations, the difficulties they experienced in securing pastoral care, and the dissensions that arose among them in the exercise of their boasted rights of private judgment, public exhortation, and the interpretation of the Scriptures.
- 5 Backus, History of New England, vol. ii, pp. 140 et seq.
desired exemption must have his name upon a list to be presented annually to the assessor and signed by the minister and three principal members of the Baptist congregation to which the applicant belonged, with the accompanying certification that the applicant was recognized as a conscientious and faithful Baptist. Quakers were placed under the same regulations. For thirteen years this law was in operation, with manifold instances of distress resulting, particularly in the case of Baptists. 1 Through difficulty in obtaining the certificates, goods were seized, expensive and otherwise irritating court trials were held, and not a few victims, either because of poverty or on account of conscientious scruples, found their way to prison. In some instances, despite the fact that the certificates were duly obtained and presented, they were waved aside and the payment of the tax required or the process of distraint invoked. 2 It is little wonder that the feeling in the minds and hearts of New England Baptists that there was a spiirt of iniquity back of the oppressive measures of the Standing Order, came to have all the significance of a settled conviction.*
- 1 Backus, op. cit., p. 141.
- 2 Ibid.
- 3 Cf. Minutes of the Warren Association for 1769, quoted by Burrage, History of the Baptists in New England, pp. 108 et seq. Cf. the following, taken from a statement and appeal to Baptists, in the Boston Evening Post, Aug. 20, 1770: "To the Baptists in the Province of Massachusetts Bay, who are, or have been, oppressed in any way on a religious account. It would be needless to tell you that you have long felt the effects of the laws by which the religion of the government in which you live is established. Your purses have felt the burden of ministerial rates; and when these would not satisfy your enemies, your property hath been taken from you and sold for less than half its value. . . . You will therefore readily hear and attend when you are desired to collect your cases of suffering, and have them well attested; such as, the taxes you have paid to build meeting-houses, to settle ministers and support them, with all the time, money and labor you have lost in waiting on courts, feeing lawyers, &c.; and bring or send such cases to the Baptist Association to be held at Bellingham; when measures will be resolutely adopted for obtaining redress from another quarter than that to which repeated application hath been made unsuccessfully. Nay, complaints, however just and grievous, hath been treated with indifference, and scarcely, if at all credited". (Quoted by Backus, History of New England, vol. ii, p. 155.)
Further modifications in the exemption laws, made in 1 770, were so slight, leaving as they did the certificate principle practically untouched, 1 that Baptist opposition was aroused even more deeply and the determination struck deeper root to push the battle for religious freedom to a decision. The times also were propitious. The near approach of the Revolutionary struggle focused attention upon the subject of tyranny and caused acts of oppression, whether civil or ecclesiastical in character, to stand out in a new relief before the eye of the public. That dissenters were quick to see the bearing of political events will appear from the following pithy comments in the address which the Committee of Grievances 2 drew up late in 1774 and presented to the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts:
It seems that the two main rights which all America are contending for at this time, are, Not to be taxed where they are not represented, and To have their causes tried by unbiased judges. And the Baptist churches in this province as heartily unite with their countrymen in this cause, as any denomination in the land; and are as ready to exert all their abilities to defend it. Yet only because they have thought it to be their duty to claim an equal title to these rights with their neighbors, they have repeatedly been accused of evil attempts against the general welfare of the colony; therefore, we have thought it expedient to lay a brief statement of the case before this assembly. . . . Great complaints have been made about a tax
- 1 Backus, History of New England, vol. ii, pp. 156 et seq.
- 2 This standing committee of the Warren Association is itself a token of the strengthened purpose of the Baptists.
which the British parliament laid upon paper; but you require a paper tax of us annually. That which has made the greatest noise, is the tax of three pence a pound upon tea; but your law of last June laid a tax of the same sum every year upon the Baptists in each parish, as they would expect to defend themselves against a greater one. . . . All America is alarmed at the tea tax; though, if they please, they can avoid it by not buying tea; but we have no such liberty. We must either pay the little tax, or else your people appear even in this time of exetremity determined to lay the great one upon us. But these lines are to let you know, that we are determined not to pay either of them; not only upon your principle of not being taxed where we are not represented, but also because we dare not render homage to any earthly power, which I and many of my brethren are fully convinced belongs only to God. We can not give the certificates you require, without implicitly allowing to men that authority which we believe in our conscience belongs only to God. Here, therefore, we claim charter rights, liberty of conscience. 1
As the event proved, the Revolutionary period brought little legislative relief to dissenters in Massachusetts. Wherever the distractions of the war did not interrupt the ordinary course of ecclesiastical affairs, the state church continued to assert its time-honored prerogatives. The new constitution of the commonwealth which was adopted in 1780 gave conclusive proof that the Standing Order still
- 1 The address is given in full in Hovey, A Memoir of the Life and Times of Isaac Backus, pp. 218-221. It drew a kindly response from the Provincial Congress, signed by John Hancock as president, pleading the inability of the Congress to give redress and advising the aggrieved parties to submit their case to the General Court of Massachusetts at its next session. This step was taken in September, 1775; but beyond the fact that a bill, drawn to give redress, was once read in the sessions of the Assembly, nothing came of the matter. "Such", remarks Backus, "is the disposition of mankind". (Cf. Backus, History of New England, vol. ii, pp. 202 et seq. Cf. Burrage, History of the Baptists in New England, pp. 113 et seq.)
had the situation well in hand. That instrument contained a bill of rights which reaffirmed the authority of the legislature to authorize and require the various towns and parishes " to make suitable provision, at their own expense, for the institution of the public worship of God "; * affirmed also that the legislature had authority to enjoin attendance upon public worship; that towns and parishes were to have the right to elect their ministers and make contracts with them for their support; and that moneys, in the form of rates paid by the people in the support of public worship, were to be applied according to the preference of the ratepayer, " provided, there be any [minister] on whose instructions he attends "; otherwise the minister selected by the town or parish was to receive the benefit of the tax. 2 There is no difficulty in discerning here the outlines of the old ideal of a state church. The day of deliverance for dissent was not yet. 8
What did take place during the Revolutionary period to promote the cause of religious freedom and to hasten the day of its triumph was the publication of various pamphlets and treatises devoted to the cause of toleration or championing the closely allied cause of democracy in church and state.* Several of these 5 were from the pen of the indomi
- 1 The Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Passed from the Year 1780, to the End of the Year 1800, vol. i, pp. 19, 20.
- 2 Ibid.
- 3 Backus, History of New England, vol. ii, pp. 228 et seq., for cases of persecution under the operation of the bill of rights.
- 4 The contribution made by the newspapers must not be overlooked in this connection. From about 1770 on there may be traced a growing disposition on the part of dissenters to air their grievances in the public journals. Supporters of the Establishment were not slow to respond.
- 5 In addition to the two specifically referred to, Backus published the following: Policy, as well as Honesty, Forbids the Use of Secular Force in Religious Affairs, Boston, 1779; Truth is Great, and Will Prevail, Boston, 1781; A Door Opened for Equal Christian Liberty, etc., Boston, 1783.
table Isaac Backus, whose unwearied advocacy of the rights of the individual conscience was exceeded by none. The likeness of the struggle which dissenters were making for freedom of conscience to that which the colonists were making for civil liberty was a favorite notion of this doughty penman; and such an argument presented when the imaginations of his countrymen were stirred by the political situation, could not fail of its appeal. Three years before the war broke out, in his Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty, Backus had drawn for the benefit of the public a sharp distinction between the spheres of ecclesiastical and civil governments. The former was armed only with light and truth, and was commissioned to "pull down the strongholds of iniquity," to gather into Christ's church those who were willing to be governed by His teachings, and to exclude those who would not be so governed; while the latter "is armed with the sword to guard the peace and to punish those who violate the same." * In his Government and Liberty Described, and Ecclesiastical Tyranny Exposed, published in 1778, he attacked the notion of men "assuming a power to govern religion, instead of being governed by it," and asserted that the essence of true religion is a voluntary obedience to God. 2 Here was strong meat for a people for whom the word freedom was rapidly coming to have an enlarged signification.
The most convincing exposition of the democratic tendencies of the age came from another quarter, and in a sense belonged to the past. Spurred by the fact that at the beginning of the century a resolute effort had been made, both in Massachusetts and Connecticut, to obtain more compact and rigid ecclesiastical control, 3 the Reverend John
- 1 Backus, op. cit., p. 13.
- 2 Quoted from Backus, History of New England, vol. ii, p. 223.
- 3 Walker, History of the Congregational Churches in the United States, pp. 206-209.
Wise, of Ipswich, Massachusetts, in 1710 had issued a satirical tract entitled, The Churches' Quarrel Espoused, and later, in 1717, a more serious production entitled, A Vindication of the Government of the New England Churches. In 1772 a new edition of these tracts, published by subscription, came from the Boston press. 1 The enduring quality of the task Wise had performed is shown by the fact that, while these two slight volumes had been conceived as a protest against the encroachments of ecclesiastical tyranny in the first two decades of the century, they now, a half -century later, served equally well to voice the deep passions and impulses of a people who for the moment were engrossed in the concerns of civil government. 2 Wise rejected the ideals of monarchy and aristocracy for the church, and took his stand upon the proposition that democracy alone stands the test of reason and revelation. 3 Of all systems, democracy alone cherishes the precious interests of man's original liberty and equality. It alone serves effectually to restrain the disposition to prey and embezzle, and to keep the adminis
- 1 Cf. A Vindication of the Government of the New-England Churches, etc., Boston, 1772. The first edition of 500 copies was quickly subscribed for, and a second was published the same year.
- 2 An edition of Wise's tracts was published as late as 1860, by the Congregational Board of Publication. From that edition the citations are drawn. The following from the " Introductory Notice " is of interest:".... some of the most glittering sentences of the immortal Declaration of Independence are almost literal quotations from this essay of John Wise [i. e., Vindication of the Government of NewEngland Churches], And it is a significant fact, that in 1772, only fpur years before the declaration was made, a large edition of both those tracts was published by subscription in one duodecimo volume. The presumption which this fact alone suggests, that it was used as a political text-book in the great struggle for freedom then opening, is fully confirmed by the list of subscribers' names printed at the end, with the number of copies annexed." Page xx et seq.
- 3 Ibid., pp. 48-50, 54, 56.
tration of government firmly fixed upon the main point, " the peculiar good and benefit of the whole." "It is as plain as daylight, there are no species of government like a democracy to attain this end." 1
Such literary assaults upon the usurpations of government, upon the violation of individual rights, and upon obstructions erected in the path of democracy, were frontal. As has been said, they were also happily timed. The oppressed would have to content themselves a little longer with a type of toleration which seemed but the shadow of genuine freedom; but the broad dissemination of such principles as those proclaimed by Backus and Wise had had the effect of altering appreciably the spirit of the times.
The close of the struggle for political freedom gave early proof that the cause of religious toleration had passed into a new stage. Dissent had grown in numbers and influence. 2 Distant voices, too, were being heard. Virginia's noble example in adopting the Act Establishing Religious Freedom had given a practical demonstration of the complete severance of church and state. The impression created by this determination of the issue of religious freedom on the broadest possible basis had been profound throughout the country. When the Constitution of the United States was before the people of Massachusetts for ratification, in the fall and winter of 1787-88, they found in it a single pro
- 1 Wise, op, cit., p. 56.
- 2 Backus, History of New England, vol. ii, pp. 391-401, furnishes the following table of Baptist strength in New England in the year 1795: Churches, 325; ministers, 232; members, 20,902. Methodism had emerged in New England within the last quarter of the century, and Methodist ministers were indefatigable in their labors. By the close of the century as generous-minded a Congregational minister as Bentley could not altogether cover over his chagrin on account of the growth and influence of the "sects". Cf. Diary of William Bentley, vol. ii, pp. 127, 409, 419.
vision concerning religion. Article VI provided: "No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust in the United States." So far had the eyes of dissenters in Massachusetts been opened to dangers lurking in legislative measures that a large proportion of the Baptist delegates in the state constitutional convention voted against the adoption of the instrument. 1 Besides, their hearts were set on some broad and yet specific guarantee of religious freedom under which their liberties would be safe. The First Amendment to the Constitution, which Congress proposed in 1 789, seemed to fulfil their desire. It provided that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." With the adoption of this law by the majority of the states, the principle of full liberty of mind, conscience, and worship, had been written finally into the law of the land.
Yet this pronouncement of the national government could not bring to a full end the long struggle which had been waged. Only the sphere of the federal government was involved, and individual states were still free to deal with the institutions of religion and the rights of individuals as they might feel disposed, as long as the national welfare was not involved. 2 What actually happened in Massachusetts is well expressed by Isaac Backus: "The amendment about liberty of conscience is kept out of sight." 3 The goods of Baptists continued to be levied upon to meet the ministerial tax. 4 Dissensions continued to arise in parishes over the settlement and support of ministers, dissenting minorities
- 1 Backus, History of New England, vol. ii, p. 235. Cf. Burr age, History of the Baptists in New England, pp. 121 et seq.
- 2 Cobb, The Rise of Religious Liberty in America, pp. 509-511.
- 3 Backus, History of New England, vol. ii, p. 341.
- 4 Ibid., pp. 351 et seq., 379.
usually contesting the right of the majority to saddle upon them clergymen for whose ministrations they had no desire. 1 The annoyances and disabilities that dissenters and disaffected members of the Establishment suffered were clearly not so numerous nor so severe as they had been in the past; 2 none the less they were able to keep alive the impression that nothing but a spirit of bigotry and obdurate tyranny could explain the prolonged attitude and policy of the Standing Order. 3
Before directing attention to the effect which this weakening of the forces of ecclesiastical domination had upon the minds of the leaders of the Establishment, it will be necessary to review briefly the course which affairs took in Connecticut*
Despite the fact that the founding of Connecticut had directly resulted from the ecclesiasticism of Massachusetts, the forces of ecclesiastical tyranny proved to be more strongly entrenched in Connecticut than in the parent state. 5 This was due in part to the homogeneity of the population, 6
- 1 Backus, op. cit., pp. 353 et seq.
- 2 Ibid., p. 379.
- 3 Actual disestablishment did not come in Massachusetts until 1833.
- 4 Since the particular purpose of this chapter is to explain the bitter spirit existing between the orthodox party and dissenters in New England near the close of the eighteenth century, rather than to re-write the history of the struggle for full religious toleration, much that occurred in the long process of severing the bond between church and state may be passed over. Attention will be focused upon the character rather than the chronology of the struggle.
- 5 Cobb, The Rise of Religious Liberty in America, p. 238; Fiske, The Beginnings of New England, pp. 123 et seq.
- 6 Greene, The Development of Religious Liberty in Connecticut, p. 121; Cobb, The Rise of Religious Liberty in America, p. 243.
but more largely to the degree of oversight of the religious life of the people, unusual even for Puritan New England, which the General Court of Connecticut exercised from the first. 1 In this connection it is to be observed that the impulses that lay back of the oppression of dissenters in Connecticut were not the same as those that shaped the situation in Massachusetts. The founders of Connecticut were out of sympathy with the theocratic ideal that prevailed in the mother colony; they frowned upon the harsh measures of repression which the authorities of Massachusetts adopted. 2 They held before them the ideal of a state wherein the maintenance of religion and the exercise of individual freedom should not be incompatible.
Yet as the event proved, the hand of religious tyranny fell heavily upon their posterity. 3 This happened, not because they were disposed to exercise harsher repressive measures than their fathers in curbing dissent, but because, in their extraordinary devotion to the churches of their own order, in their extreme care and watchfulness to strengthen them and to safeguard the whole range of their interests, they came into open conflict with the interests of dissenting bodies. 4 As early as 1669 the Congregational church was
- 1 Cobb, op. tit., pp. 244, 246.
- 2 Ibid., pp. 240 et seq.', Greene, The Development of Religious Liberty in Connecticut, pp. 62 et seq., 68.
- 3 It was the judgment of Isaac Backus that "oppression was greater in Connecticut, than in other governments in New England ". (History of New England, vol. ii, p. 404.)
- 4 Cobb, The Rise of Religious Liberty in America, p. 244. Cobb's statement concerning the lack of harshness and ungentleness which characterized the attitude of the supporters of the state church toward dissent is extreme. The controlling spirit of the Standing Order was doubtless a positive concern for the welfare of the Establishment rather than a desire to weed out dissent; but the clash of interests became so sharp and bitter that motives did not remain unmixed, and in many an instance dissent in Connecticut was compelled to reckon with a spirit of actual persecution.
formally adopted as the state church. 1 From that day forward an intimate and intense paternalism characterized the attitude of the civil government toward the Establishment. Its most serious and permanent, as well as its lighter and occasional concerns, all were provided for with equal constancy. Contingencies of every description were either prudently anticipated or, arising suddenly, received the immediate and painstaking attention of the magistrates. 2
The following list, though far from complete, will serve to illustrate this point. Without the consent of the General Court, churches could not be organized, 3 nor bonds be severed between pastors and their flocks. 4 The formation of new parishes and the fixing of their limits, 5 the calling of new ministers, 6 the determination of the time at which arrearages in ministers' salaries must be paid fully, 7 the fixing of the location of new houses of worship, 8 the disposition of cases of discipline appealed from the decisions of local church courts, 9 the settlement of the question as to who were to be permitted to receive the Lord's Supper, 10 the proffer of counsel concerning the behavior offended members were expected to manifest toward pastors for whom they entertained no affection nor respect lx these all were regarded as part of the proper business of the General Court.
- 1 The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, vol. i, p. 21. 2l
- 2 Cobb, The Rise of Religious Liberty in America, pp. 246 et seq.
- 3 The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, vol. i, p. 311.
- 4 Ibid., pp. 356, 362; vol. ii, pp. 99, 240; vol. iii, pp. 78, 82 et seq.
- 5 Ibid., vol. iii, pp. 13, 18, 101, 216 et seq.
- 6 Ibid., vol. iv, pp. 67, 127, 136 et seq.
- 7 Ibid., vol. vii, p. 554.
- 8 Ibid., pp. 334, 335.
- 9 Ibid., vol. iii, p. 183.
- 10 Ibid., vol. i, pp. 437 et seq.
- 11 Ibid., vol. iii, p. 104.
The dangers inherent in such a system are not difficult to divine. The churches themselves upon which such paternal legislative care was imposed generally found their affairs taken out of their hands. Civil authority disciplined them and their members, and made independent ecclesiastical rule little more than a fiction. Again, the committal of the political government to a particular type of religious polity and worship aroused antagonisms in the minds of men who hated the palest shadow of the principle that the religion of a prince or government must be the religion of the people. However tolerant toward non-conformity such a state may show itself to be and none will deny that Connecticut rose to comparatively high levels of justice in this regard * the favoritism of government puts dissent at a disadvantage; and when narrow and intolerant men are at the helm of state, disadvantage passes rapidly into positive deprivation and injury. Once more, so close an alliance between politics and religion as the Standing Order in Connecticut represented, invites similar combinations on the part of men, some of whom have political and some religious objects to serve, and who, therefore, in the presence of a common foe gladly make common cause. All of which we shall see illustrated later.
Another general aspect of the situation in Connecticut concerns the development of synodical government within the Congregational church. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, out of a sense of the decay of religion in New England, as evidenced by the loosening of discipline and the weakening of ministerial influence, 2 the clergy of Massachusetts attempted to buttress church government and
- 1 Cobb, The Rise of Religious Liberty in America, p. 247.
- 2 Walker, The Creeds and Platforms of Congregationalism, pp. 465 et seq.
ministerial authority through the " Proposals of 1705." These provided for the grouping of ministers in Associations which were to function in the following ways: pastors were to adopt their advice in all difficult cases; ministerial candidates were to be examined and licensed by them; pastor less, or " bereaved " churches were to be urged to apply to them for candidates; they were also to exercise a general oversight of religion, and to inquire into charges made against the character, conduct, or faith of any of their members. The "Proposals" also made provision for Standing Councils to be made up of delegates from these Ministerial Associations and lay members of the churches. These Standing Councils were "to consult, advise, and determine all affairs that shall be proper matter for the consideration of an ecclesiastical council within their respective limits." Their judgments were to be accepted as final and obedience was to be enforced on penalty of forfeiting church- fellowship. 1 This bold step in the direction of bringing the churches of Massachusetts under more rigorous ecclesiastical control was not destined to succeed. Liberalizing elements stirred up powerful opposition, the legislature failed to give to the "Proposals" its support, and the movement fell through. 2
A very different situation developed in Connecticut. The yearning for the strengthening of church government in the interests of a general improvement of religion was if anything stronger in that commonwealth; and a propitious hour for the inauguration of such a movement came when, in 1 707, the most influential minister of the colony, Gurdon
- 1 Walker, A History of the Congregational Churches in the United States, pp. 202 et seq.; Greene, The Development of Religious Liberty in Connecticut, pp. 133 et seq.
- 2 Walker, The Creeds and Platforms of Congregationalism, pp. 491-494.
Saltonstall, of New London, was raised to the governor's chair. The following May the General Court issued the call for the famous Saybrook Synod. 1 Ministers and messengers of the churches were to assemble in their respective county towns, " on the last Monday in June next ... to consider and agree upon those methods and rules for the management of ecclesiastical discipline which by them shall be judged agreeable and conformable to the word of God." 2 By these county councils ministers and delegates were to be chosen to meet at Saybrook, at the commencement of the "infant college" (i. e., Yale), there "to compare the results of the ministers of the several counties, and out of them and from them to draw a form of ecclesiastical discipline which by two or more persons delegated by them shall be offered to this Court ... to be considered of and confirmed by them." 3
The directions of the General Court were complied with. The doctrinal results of the Saybrook Synod are no part of our concern; but this is not so with regard to its ecclesiastical formulations. The principles contained in the "Proposals of 1705 " were accepted and worked out in more complete detail. Churches were to be grouped in Consociations, one or more in each county as the churches might determine. Cases of discipline too difficult of management in local congregations were to be heard and determined by these Consociations. Refusal to answer to the summons of a Consociation, or to submit to its decision, incurred excommunication, whether a church or a pastor might be the guilty party. All matters relating to the installation, ordination, and dismissal of ministers were to be submitted by the churches to
- 1 The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, vol. v, pp. 51 et seq.
- 2 Ibid.
- 3 Ibid.
these Consociations. In like manner the ministers of the various counties were to be grouped together in Associations to consult concerning the affairs of the church, provide ministerial licensure, examine complaints, and make recommendations to the legislature concerning the settlement of pastors with " bereaved " churches. 1
The result of the deliberations of the Saybrook Synod was laid duly before the sessions of the General Court, in October, 1708, and formally adopted by that body in the following terms:
This Assembly do declare their great approbation of such a happy agreement, and do ordain that all the churches within this government that are or shall be thus united in doctrine, worship, and discipline, be, and for the future shall be owned and acknowledged established by law. Provided always, that nothing herein shall be intended and construed to hinder or prevent any society or church that is or shall be allowed by the laws of this government, who soberly differ or dissent from the united churches hereby established, from exercising worship and discipline in their own way, according to their consciences. 2
This reestablishment of the Congregational church in Connecticut determined the course of events, as far as the religious interests of the commonwealth were concerned, for a hundred years to come. By this it is not meant that the ecclesiastical system which was thus worked out and imposed upon the churches of the colony continued to operate in full force for that period; the Saybrook Platform was
- 1 Walker, The Creeds and Platforms of Congregationalism, pp. 502-506, where "The Saybrook Meeting and Articles" are printed in full. For expositions, see Backus, History of New England, vol. i, pp. 470 et seq.; Palfrey, A History of New England, vol. iii, p. 342; Dexter, The Congregationalism of the last Three Hundred Years, pp. 489, 400.
- 2 The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, vol. v, p. 87.
abrogated in 1 784. But the Congregational church in Connecticut, by the act of 1708, "attained the height of its security and power," * and, as one of the chief consequences of the act, ministerial domination was accorded a recognition and support, the tradition of which outlived by at least a quarter of a century the system by which it had been so firmly established.
Thus to the paternalism of the state the authority and sense of importance of the clergy had been added. These principles established, it was to be expected that the religious history of Connecticut during the eighteenth century would reveal the following characteristics and tendencies: a disposition on the part of the state to treat the clergy of the Establishment as the pillars of conservative thought and custom; and a disposition on the part of the clergy to exercise a controlling hand over all the religious activities of the people, as well as to react violently against all radical impulses and movements which appeared to endanger centralization of government, whether ecclesiastical or political. Certainly these were the tendencies, expressed in the attitude of mind and the activities of the Standing Order, with which the forces of non-conformity and democracy had to contend throughout the whole of the century.
We may now turn to take a brief survey of the more important events in the course of this conflict. The concluding statement of the act whereby the Connecticut General Court adopted the recommendations of the Saybrook Synod, 2 gave evidence of a tender regard for the consciences and rights of dissenters which subsequent occurrences far from justified. The fact is, the act of r establishment did not stand alone. Earlier in the same year (1708) the Gen
- 1 Greene, The Development of Religions Liberty in Connecticut, p. 151.
- 2 Cf. supra, p. 53.
eral Court had written into the law of the colony another statute whose provisions were in no way affected by the later act. For the worthy object of granting liberty of worship to sober dissenters, a liberty which they were to be permitted to enjoy " without let, or hindrance or molestation," it was provided that dissenting congregations were to qualify (i. e., obtain license) under the law. 1 It was likewise provided that this permission to qualify should in no way operate to the prejudice of the rights and privileges of the churches of the Establishment, or "to the excusing any person from paying any such minister or town dues, as are now, or shall hereafter be due from them." 2 This double burden of obtaining license and supporting the state church was not to be borne easily. An agitation to obtain relief promptly began. 3
After two decades of effort the Episcopalians were the first to meet with any measure of success. Henceforth their rate money was to be spent in the support of their own ministers and they were no longer to be required to help build meeting-houses for the state church. 4 Two years later, re
- 1 The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, vol. v, p. 50. It seems clear that either through neglect or evasion a considerable number of congregations failed to qualify under the law. In any event the legislature deemed itself warranted in passing an act, May, 1721, imposing a fine of five shillings on persons convicted of not having attended "the publick worship of God on the Lord's day in some congregation by law allowed." (See ibid., vol. vi, p. 248.) Churches which for doctrinal or other reasons withdrew from the Establishment suffered serious embarrassments on account of this law respecting the licensing of congregations.
- 2 Ibid., vol. v, p. 50. Any infraction of this law was to be punished by a heavy fine. Failure to pay the fine involved heavy bail or imprisonment.
- 3 Greene, The Development of Religious Liberty in Connecticut, pp. 191 et seq.
- 4 The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, vol. vi, p. 106.
lief was granted to Baptists and Quakers. The exemption laws passed in their behalf, however, made necessary the presentation of certificates vouching for the claims of the holders that they were conscientious supporters of the principles and faithful attendants upon the worship of one or the other of these bodies. 1
The introduction of the custom of requiring certificates encountered the same sense of injustice and bitter resentment that dissenters in Massachusetts manifested. Besides, the exemption laws just referred to failed to operate in a uniform and equitable manner. Episcopalians and Baptists, particularly, found frequent occasion to complain of the miscarriage of this legislation and to groan under the double burden of taxation from which they had obtained no actual relief. 2
But as in Massachusetts, so in Connecticut, the greatest hardships befell the Separatists who went out from the fold of the orthodox church. Unable to achieve within the Establishment that reformation of doctrine, polity, and spiritual life which they deemed requisite, they associated themselves together in churches committed to their own convictions. Opposition confronted them at every turn. Obstructions were thrown in the way of their efforts to obtain legal permission to constitute their churches; the civil power persisted in treating them as law-breakers and incorrigibles; their ministers were drastically dealt with by Consociations which regarded them as wicked men filled with the spirit of insubordination. 3 A group of laws as severe
- 1 The Pub. Records of the Colony of Conn., vol. vi, pp. 237, 257. Unlike the Massachusetts exemption laws passed on behalf of these two bodies, these were perpetual.
- 2 Collections of the Connecticut Historical Society: Talcott Papers, vol. v, pp. 9-13; Backus, History of New England, vol. ii, pp. 98 et seq.
- 3 Parker, History of the Second Church of Christ in Hartford,. pp. 117, 119; Papers of the New Haven Colony Historical Society, vol. iv: The Bradford Annals, pp. 318 et seq.; Backus, History of New England, vol. ii, pp. 57 et seq., 79 et seq. For the account of the difficulties of a particular Separatist congregation, see Button, The History of the North Church in New Haven, pp. 25-28. Cf. The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, vol. xi, pp. 323 et seq.', also Beardsley, The History of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, vol. i, p. 140.
and intolerant as any the statute books of Connecticut ever contained were enacted in 1742-43 to curb and if possible to eradicate the Separatist defection. 1 Ordained ministers were forbidden to preach outside the bounds of their parishes unless expressly invited so to do. 2 Ministerial Associations were restrained from licensing candidates to preach outside the territorial jurisdiction of the Association granting licensure. 3 Ministers of the Establishment were empowered to lodge certificates with society clerks, attesting that men had entered their parishes and preached therein without first having received permission. No provision for
- 1 The bigoted and unfeeling spirit which controlled the authorities is well expressed in the act of May, 1743. Proceeding on the assumption that the Separatists, taking advantage of the act of May, 1708, were responsible for the disruptive tactics and measures of the times, by means of which " some of the parishes established by the laws of this Colony . . . have been greatly damnified, and by indirect means divided and parted," the General Court repealed the act in question, and put in its place the following: "And be it further enacted, that, for the future, if any of His Majesty's good subjects, being protestants, inhabitants of this Colony, that shall soberly dissent from the way of worship and ministry established by the laws of this Colony, that such persons may apply themselves to this Assembly for relief, where they shall be heard. And such persons as have any distinguishing character, by which they may be known from the presbyterians or congregationalists, and from the consociated churches established by the laws of this Colony, may expect the indulgence of this Assembly [Italics mine. V. &.], having first before this Assembly taken the oaths and subscribed the declaration provided in the act of Parliament in cases of like nature." (The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, vol. viii, p. 522. Cf. Backus, History of New England, vol. ii, p. 58.)
- 2 The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, vol. viii, p. 454.
- 3 lbid., p. 456.
ascertaining the facts in such cases was contemplated by the law. Justices of the peace were forbidden to sign a warrant authorizing the collection of a minister's rates until they were assured that no such certificate had been lodged against the clergyman involved. 1 Heavy bonds were to be imposed upon ministers from outside the colony who might venture to preach within its limits without invitation, with the added provision that such men were to be treated as vagrants and bundled out of the colony as speedily as possible. 2 Ministers who had not been graduated from Yale or Harvard, or some other Protestant college or university, were debarred from all benefits of ministerial support as provided by law. 3
The climax of the high-handed measures of the supporters of the Establishment was doubtless reached in this legislation. A retrograde movement in the cause of religious toleration set in, 4 the direct effects of which were not quickly overcome. Henceforth dissenters were to be annoyed and hampered as they had not been before. The necessity of appearing in person before the General Court when seeking exemption from ecclesiastical burdens, 5 the embarrassments and hardships that dissenting ministers suffered in their efforts to supply religious counsel to their people, 6 the growing aversion of the General Court to granting permission to unorthodox and dissenting groups
- 1 The Pub. Records of the Colony of Conn., vol. viii, p. 456.
- 2 Ibid., p. 457.
- 3 Backus, History of New England, vol. ii, p. 57.
- 4 Cobb, The Rise of Religious Liberty in America, pp. 274 et seq. Greene, The Development of Religious Liberty in Connecticut, pp. 244 et seq.
- 5 Cf. supra, note i, p. 57.
- 6 Backus, History of New England, vol. ii, pp. 59 et seq., 62, 65 et seq., 77 et seq., 81 et seq.
to organize, 1 all serve to indicate the strength of the reaction that had set in.
The impressions produced by this excess were even more significant than the direct results, deplorable as the latter were. 2 In the middle of the eighteenth century the Standing Order in Connecticut had gained for themselves an unenviable record for bigotry and persecution from which the events of the latter half of the century by no means cleared them.
For a quarter of a century following the enactment of the legislative measures just considered, no advance step, general in its nature, was taken. Here and there a little larger measure of freedom was doled out to this or that aggrieved dissenting minister or church; but the situation as a whole was not materially changed. "Restriction was the rule, freedom the exception, and government the absolute and irresponsible dispenser of both." 3 Finally, in 1778 some evidence that a change in sentiment was under way appeared in the fact that Separatists were exempted from taxes to support the state church. Six years later, in 1784, more satisfactory proof was forthcoming. That year, by the passing of an act entitled, " An Act for Securing the Rights of Conscience in Matters of Religion, to Christians of Every Denomination in this State," 4 the General Court tacitly abrogated the Saybrook Platform and set the institutions of religion in Connecticut upon a new base. The act declared
- 1 Greene, The Development of Religious Liberty in Connecticut, pp. 248-262. The difficulties experienced by three congregations in New Haven, Canterbury, and Enfield, are dealt with in detail.
- 2 A revision of Connecticut laws took place in 1750. The unjust legislation of 1742-43 and of the following years was quietly left out.
- 3 Papers of the New Haven Colony Historical Society, vol. iii, pp. 398 et seq.
- 4 Acts and Laws of the State of Connecticut, in America, p. 21.
That no Persons in this State, professing the Christian Religion, who soberly and conscientiously dissent from the Worship and Ministry by Law established in the Society wherein they dwell, and attend public Worship by themselves shall incur any Penalty for not attending the Worship and Ministry so established, on the Lord's-Day, or on account of their meeting together by themselves on said Day, for public Worship in a Way agreeable to their consciences.
It was further declared that Christians of every Protestant denomination, " whether Episcopal Church, of those Congregationalists called Separates, or of the people called Baptists, or Quakers, or any other Denomination who shall have formed themselves in distinct Churches or Congregations," and who helped to maintain their worship, were to be exempted from the support of any other church than their own. Further, all such dissenting congregations were to enjoy the same power and privileges in the support of their ministry, and in the building and repairing of their houses of worship, as those churches which were established by law. Such persons as did not belong to any of these dissenting bodies were to be taxed for the support of the state church. 1
The spirit of toleration had traveled far; but that the struggle for complete religious freedom was yet by no means won will immediately appear from the following restrictions: ( i ) Protestants only were contemplated as beneficiaries under the act; (2) the principle of taxation for the support of the state church was retained 5(3) the obligation to support some form of Christian worship was required; (4) the benefits of that provision of the act which guaranteed to dissenters exemption from ecclesiastical taxation were to be available only on the condition that a certificate, signed
- 1 Acts and Laws of the State of Connecticut, in America, p. 21.
by an officer of a dissenting congregation, should be deposited with the clerk of the state church near which the dissenter lived.
A formidable number of the objectionable features of the older legislation were thus retained. The state church was still in existence. Taxation for the support of religion was still the law of the commonwealth. Dissenters were still compelled to put themselves to the trouble and humiliation of obtaining the detested certificates. Besides, the ghost of religious persecution was not yet laid. Goods and chattels of the religiously indifferent, or of conscientious dissenters, continued to be seized and sold by officers of the law, to discharge unsatisfied levies made for the support of the Establishment. 1
The principle of requiring certificates proved to be the chief bone of contention between the Standing Order and dissenters as the century drew to its close. The rapid growth of dissenting bodies in the period following the Revolution, aided as they were by a zeal for proselyting on the part of their leaders and by a set of the public mind decidedly favorable to their propaganda because of their democratic leanings, was met by corresponding anxiety and sternness on the part of the supporters of the Establishment. Confusing, as they habitually did, the interests of the state church with the cause of religion, the representatives of the Standing Order led themselves to believe that a contagion of irreligion was spreading alarmingly, and therefore restrictive religious legislation was in order. a In line with this conviction, in May, 1791, the
- 1 Parker, History of the Second Church of Hartford, pp. 170, 171. Cf. Beecher, Autobiography, Correspondence, etc., vol. i, p. 302. The latter's account of the situation is much softened by his sympathies with the dominant party.
- 2 By this time dissenters and Anti-Federalists had largely consolidated their interests. The political program of the latter drew upon the former all the suspicions and antagonisms which the Standing Order entertained toward the foes of Federalism. The acrimonious discussion which arose at this time over the disposition of the Western Reserve and the funds thus derived, admirably illustrates the crosscurrents of religious and political agitation in the last decade of the century. Cf. Greene, The Development of Religious Liberty in Connecticut, pp. 380-392.
legislature enacted a law requiring dissenters to have their certificates signed by at least one, and preferably two, civil officers, instead of as provided in the act of 1784. This law proved peculiarly distasteful to dissenters. 1 A powerful opposition developed; and the authorities, made aware of the fact that they had over-reached themselves, six months later withdrew the obnoxious act, substituting for it another which permitted each dissenter to write and sign his own certificate, but requiring him, as before, to file it with the clerk of the state church near which he lived. 2 The momentary wrath of dissenters was thus mollified; however, the retention of the certificate principle continued to gall and to excite them. A disagreeable discussion dragged itself along, marked by acrimony, pettiness, and personal attacks on both sides; by a consolidation of the forces and interests of dissenters and Republicans on the one hand, and a growing sense of injured innocence and of concern for the fate of religion on the part of the Standing Order. 3
- 1 This is readily explicable in view of the fact that most of the magistrates were adherents of the Establishment. The comment of Backus touches the pith of the matter, as dissenters saw it: " Thus the civil authority in the uppermost religious party in their State, was to judge the consciences of all men who dissented from their worship." (History of New England, vol. ii, p. 345.)
- 2 Acts and Laws of the State of Connecticut, p. 418.
- 3 In September, 1818, by the adoption of the new state constitution, the long wearisome struggle was brought to an end, and State and Church in Connecticut were separated completely.
By way of summary, a few general comments, based upon the situation in Massachusetts and Connecticut jointly considered, are now in order. Looking back upon the activities of the Standing Order after the lapse of something more than a century, we see that they were zealously contending for an ideal which had won their whole allegiance a body politic safeguarded and made secure by a state church. To prevent deterioration of the state and its people the bulwark of a religion established by law seemed imperative. 1 The interests involved were far too serious to put them at the mercy of a voluntary support of the institutions of religion. 2 Moreover, an established church seemed to this group of men no necessary enemy of non-conformity. The degree of toleration possible under an establishment of religion was deemed sufficient actually to favor the growth of sects, and at the same time to make the sway of orthodoxy
- 1 This point of view was tersely set forth in the election sermon preached by the Rev. Mr. Payson, at Boston, May 27, 1778: "Let the restraints of religion once be broken down, as they infallibly would be by leaving the subject of public worship to the humours of the multitude, and we might well defy all human wisdom and power to support and preserve order and government in the state." Quoted by Backus, Church History of New England, from 1620 to 1804 (ed. of 1844, Philadelphia), pp. 204 et seq.
- 2 The state of feelings shared by the supporters of the Establishment at the time when the blow fell severing the bond between the church and state in Connecticut, is vividly expressed by Beecher: " It was a time of great depression. ... It was as dark a day as ver I saw. The injury done to the cause of Christ, as we then supposed, was irreparable. For several days I suffered what no tongue can tell for the best thing that ever happened to the State of Connecticut." (Autobiography, Correspondence, etc., vol. i, p. 304.)
- 3 This was the view propounded by President Ezra Stiles, of Yale, in his election sermon of May 8, 1783: "Through the liberty enjoyed here, all religious sects will grow up into large and respectable bodies. But the Congregational and Presbyterian, denominations, however hitherto despised, will, by the blessing of Heaven, continue to hold the greatest figure in America, and, notwithstanding all the fruitless labors and exertions to proselyte us to other communions, become more numerous than the whole collective body of our fellow protestants in Europe." (Quoted by Backus, History of New England, vol. ii, p. 312.)
To this exposition and bold forecast Backus took decided objections, on the grounds (i) that persecution and not tolerance had promoted the growth of sects in America, and (2) that the numerical increase of the Congregationalists and Presbyterians in this country did not justify any such prediction. Cf. ibid., pp. 403-407. How, then, were men of such opinions to interpret the ever-growing agitation for a larger measure of toleration, accompanied as it was by an ever-growing resentment toward the political influence and activities of the Standing Order, as anything other than a covert attack upon religion itself? These bitter complainings over the religious measures adopted by government, these flauntings of authority through stubborn refusal or passive resistance to the payment of ecclesiastical rates, these unrelenting efforts to dispossess the clergy of the Establishment of their traditional honors and emoluments what were they all but so many proofs of the impiety of the age and an abominable conspiracy to drive pure religion from the land? As the representatives of the Standing Order saw the situation, the church was obviously in grave danger and to steady the tottering ark of the Lord was the most imperative duty of the hour.
On the other hand, in the light of the growing liberality of the times, it was impossible for the forces of dissent to be patient with such men. They were men of the past, callously unresponsive to the spirit of the new age. They were an embittered minority, exerting themselves to keep a struggling and confident majority a little longer under their thumb. They were mischievous meddlers in the affairs of others, using religion as a cloak to hide their social and political self-seeking. As for the cry, "The church is in danger!", that was to be regarded as the most signal proof of the hypocrisy of those who raised it. 1
- 1 Perhaps no man more boldly stated this interpretation of the motives that inspired the Standing Order than Abraham Bishop, leader of the forces of Republicanism in Connecticut and arch-enemy of " ecclesiastical aristocrats." "The religion of the country is made a stalking horse for political jockies . . . Thanksgiving and fasts have been often improved for political purposes and the miserable gleanings from half a year's ignorance of the true interests of our country have been palmed on the people, by the political clergy, as a pious compliance with the governor's very pious proclamations. . . . The union of Church and State . . . [is] the grand fortress of the ' friends of order and good government.'" (Oration delivered at Wallingford, New Haven, 1801, pp. 46, 83.) That " the church is in danger " has for some time past been one of the most frequent and frantic of all the absurd cries heard in the land, and that New England through her clannishness has produced " patriarchs in opinion " who assume the prerogative of dictating the opinions of the people on all subjects, are further trenchant comments of the same orator. (Ibid., pp. 13, 17.) Bishop's observations respecting the alleged specious and insincere character of those public utterances by which "the friends of order and good government " sought to preserve the status quo, are equally pointed. " The sailor nailed the needle of his compass to the cardinal point and swore that it should not be always traversing. So does the New England friend of order: but he cautiously conceals the oppression and imposture, which sustains these habits. . . . This cry of steady habits has a talismanic effect on the minds of our people; but nothing can be more hollow, vain and deceitful. Recollect for a moment that everything valuable in our world has been at one time innovation, illuminatism, modern philosophy, atheism. . . . Our steady habits have calmly assumed domination over the rights of conscience and suffrage. Certainly the trinitarian doctrine is established by law and the denial of it is placed in the rank follies. Though we have ceased to transport from town to town, quakers, new lights, and baptists; yet the dissenters from our prevailing denomination are, even at this moment, praying for the repeal of those laws which abridge the rights of conscience." (Ibid., pp. 14, 16.)
3. ALARMS DUE TO THE SPREAD OF RELIGIOUS RADICALISM AND SCEPTICISM
During the eighteenth century the progress of religious thought in New England in the direction of liberal positions was marked. Near the beginning of the century, in his Ratio Disciplines, Cotton Mather was able to speak confidently of the solid and compact character of religious opinion in his generation, and felt free to dispose of the subject with a few general statements regarding the universal adherence of the churches of New England to the orthodox standards of the mother country. He made the added comment: "I can not learn, That among all the Pastors of Two Hundred Churches, there is one Arminian: much less Arian, or a Gentilist." * At the end of the century, it is very certain that no such all-inclusive generalization, by the widest stretch of the imagination, would have been possible. Indeed, when a noted Philadelphia minister of the day, the Reverend Ashbel Green, visited New England in 1791, he found an aptitude for polemical discussion on the part of the clergy which impressed him as most extraordinary. Through his contact with the Boston Ministerial Association he encountered "Calvinists, Universalists, Arminians, Arians," and at least one "Socinian," all participating in pleasant social intercourse, despite their radical differences of religious opinion. To the mind of the visiting Philadelphia clergyman the situation was explicable only on the basis of an extreme laxness in the matter of religious sentiments and doctrines, a judgment which obviously requires some modification in view of the predilection for doctrinal controversy which he himself remarked. 2
From the days of the Great Awakening, the lines of doc
- 1 Quoted by Walker, in his History of the Congregational Churches in the United States, p. 216.
- 2 Green, Life, pp. 224, 225.
trinal cleavage had grown increasingly distinct in the religious thought of New England. Apart from those effects of the revival which already have been noted, 1 it may be said that the one really permanent result of that notable wave of religious enthusiasm was the polemical controversy which it precipitated. 2 The question concerning the " means of grace/' around which the controversy in its initial stage raged, 3 became larger and more complicated by virtue of the massive system of theology which Jonathan Edwards developed upon the fundamental notion of the utter worthlessness of man, due to his depravity and consequent helplessness.
Into the metaphyskal subtleties of the Edwardean system we are not called to go; it is sufficient to observe that the reaction against such a conception of human nature was bound to be marked in the midst of an age generally responsive to enthusiasms born of fresh conceptions of the essen
- 1 Cf. supra, pp. 36 and 37 et seq.
- 2 See Walker, Creeds and Platforms of Congregationalism, p. 287.
- 3 The lowest point of religious decline in the history of New England was reached in the first quarter of the eighteenth century. The absence of vital piety was generally remarked. The prevailing type of religious experience was unemotional and formal. The adoption of the HalfWay Covenant in the third quarter of the previous century helped to precipitate a state of things wherein the ordinary distinctions between the converted and the unconverted were largely obscured. Emphasis came to be laid heavily upon the cultivation of morality as a means of promoting spiritual life. Prayer, the reading of the Bible, and church attendance were other "means". In other words, man's part in the acquisition of religious experience came prominently into view. The promoters of the revival attacked these notions, asserting that repentance and faith were still fundamentally necessary and that the experience of conversion, i. e., the conscious sense of a change in one's relation to God, was the prime test of one's hope of salvation. Charles Chauncy, minister of the First Church, Boston, in his Seasonable Thoughts on the State of Religion in New England (1743), championed the former position; the great Edwards came to the defence of the latter.
tial dignity and worth of man. The virtue of humility was destined to divest itself of much of that abject quality with which the whole Calvinistic theology had clothed it, and to accommodate itself to candid and unblushing convictions of human endowments, abilities, excellencies, and prospects, because of which it would be impossible to retain the traditional contempt for human nature. 1
The reaction against the Edwardean theology was fruitful in the encouragement of liberal notions along other closely related lines. The bold necessitarianism of that system could not but produce an effect generally favorable to the promotion of man's confidence in himself, in the midst of an age characterized by prodigious political initiative and love of liberty, and by conceptions of the Deity which stressed the very vastness of those reaches of space stretching between God and the world. The heavy emphasis which the new theological system laid upon the notion of the divine sovereignty, true as it was in spirit to the traditional Puritan interest in the cause of theocracy, was doomed to find itself belated within an age beginning to glow with humanitarian passion and with enthusiasm for the ideal of democracy; and, positively considered, to give impulse in the general direction just noted. The very heat and intensity of the controversy which, from the middle of the century on, filled New England with its din and confusion, in itself bore witness to the degree of pressure which the more secularized notions of human worth and destiny had begun to exert. That a system so staggering in its assumptions, so all but invulnerable in its logical selfconsistency, and withal so inexorable in its demands upon the human spirit for the abandonment of all thought of independent ability and worth, having been brought to close
- 1 Channing, Memoirs, vol. i, pp. 287-290, 387. Cf. also Goddard, Studies in New England Transcendentalism, pp. 13 et seq.
quarters with more or less vague and undefined, but none the less vital human interests and passions, should tend to give rise to a variety of radical opinions and judgments, was to be expected. And thus it operated, 1 not, to be sure, without the assistance of significant concurrent causes.
- 1 Riley, American Philosophy, p. 192. Note: It is not here maintained that radical religious ideas in New England had their earliest roots, or found their sole stimulus, in the controversy which the theological formulations incident to the Great Awakening provoked. Incipient religious liberalism is distinguishable as far back as the publication of Cotton Mather's Reasonable Religion, in 1713. In his erudite essay on " The Beginnings of Arminianism in New England/' F. A. Christie adopts the position that prior to the Great Awakening there were rumor and alarm over the mere arrival of Arminian doctrines in this country; but that after 1742 the heresy spread rapidly, chiefly due to the growth of the Episcopal church, with its marked leanings to the Arminian theology. Cf. Papers of the American Society of Church History, Second Series, vol. iii, pp. 168 et seq. But however that may be, the cause of Arminianism during the eighteenth century was promoted by men in New England who drew at least a part of their inspiration from the writings of leaders of thought in the mother country whose theological positions inclined strongly toward rationalism. Cf. Cooke, Unitarianism in America, pp. 39, 44 et seq., 79. Harvard College, from the close of the seventeenth century on, was increasingly recognized as a center of liberalizing tendencies, although none will dispute that the kernel of intellectual independence was found, all too frequently, well hidden within the tough shell of traditional conceits. Cf. Quincy, The History of Harvard University, vol. i, pp. 44-57, 199 et seq. Independent impulses were largely responsible for the following events which mark the definite emergence of Unitarianism in America: the organization of the first New England Unitarian congregation at Gloucester, Mass., in 1779; the publication in this country, five years later, of the London edition of Dr. Charles Chauncy's Salvation for All Men; and the defection from Trinitarian standards of King's Chapel, Boston, in 1785-87. Still it must be maintained that the controversies which raged around the doctrines of the New Calvinism beyond all other factors stiffened the inclinations and tendencies of the century toward liberal thinking. Such terms as "Arminianism", " Pelagianism", " Socinianism", "Arianism", etc., which occur with ever-increasing frequency from the fourth decade of the century on, are in themselves suggestive of the divergencies in religious opinion which the doctrinal discussion incident to the Great Awakening provoked. Cf. Fiske, A Century of Science and Other Essays: " The Origins of Liberal Thought in America", pp. 148 et seq.
The wash of the wave of the great deistic controversy on the other side of the Atlantic was not without its effect upon the religious thought of New England. The direct evidence of this is, however, much more elusive than one might at first suppose. 1 That the reading public was acquainted with the writings of the great English deists, Herbert, Chubb, Shaftesbury, Tindal, Wollaston, Toland, Hume, is clear from references to their works which appear with considerable frequency in the private and public records of the day; but invariably these references are made in a more or less casual manner, and, for the most part, in connection with sweeping generalizations made by the clergy respecting the prevailing scepticism of the age. Apart from such allusions and the appearance of titles in the lists of booksellers who were advertising their stocks in the newspapers, it would be difficult to cite specific evidence, Thomas Paine' s Age of Reason alone excepted, to the effect that the impact of English deism upon the thought of New England was anything like direct.
The amount of independent literary expression which the doctrines of deism obtained in New England was practically negligible. 2 The quality was even less noteworthy.
- 1 As a typical illustration the comment of Lyman Beecher may be cited: " The Deistic controversy was an existing thing, and the battle was hot, the crisis exciting." (Autobiography, Correspondence, etc., vol. i, p. 52.) The date is about 1798. In the same connection President Dwight of Yale is referred to as " the great stirrer-up of that [**. e., the deistic] controversy on this side the Atlantic." (Ibid.) It is certain that Dwight had some acquaintance with the works of the leading English deists, and that he opposed their views. Cf. Travels in Nezv England and New York, vol. iv, p. 362; but his main target was infidelity of the French school. Beecher fails to distinguish between the two.
- 2 One discovers no convincing evidence that the deistical views of Benjamin Franklin produced any direct effect upon the thought of New England. As respects Thomas Jefferson the case was different. But New England Federalists were so successful in keeping public attention fixed on Jefferson's fondness for French political and religious philosophy, that his alleged " French infidelity " rather than his opinions concerning natural religion became and continued to be the bone of contention. That he was regarded as a deist is, however, not to be questioned. Bentley, Diary, vol. iii, p. 20.
Ethan Allen's Reason the Only Oracle of Man, 1 published in 1784, was perhaps the only production of native origin to which anything like general attention was accorded; and the evident inability of this work to root itself deeply in the thought of the people, despite the prestige due to the author's Revolutionary record, was demonstrated the moment Paine's more serious work began to circulate in this country. The crudeness of Allen's style, coupled with the ferocity of his onslaught on the advocates and absurdly credulous devotees of supernaturalism, as Allen regarded the orthodox party of his day, went far toward determining the attitude of contempt and high-minded scorn with which his work was generally treated, when leaders of conservative thought deigned to notice it at all. 2
- 1 Allen's book of some 477 pages bore the following pretentious and rambling title: Reason the only Oracle of Man, or a Compendius System of Natural Religion. Alternately Adorned with Confutations of a Variety of Doctrines incompatible to it; Deduced from the Most Exalted Ideas which we are able to form of the Divine and Human Characters, and from the Universe in General. By Ethan Allen, Esq. Bennington, State of Vermont. The Preface is dated July 2, 1782. Evans records the fact that the entire edition, except about thirty copies, was destroyed by fire, said to have been caused by lightning, an event which the orthodox construed as a judgment from heaven on account of the nature of the book. Cf. American Bibliography, vol. vi, p. 266. The author's aim has been interpreted as an effort " to build up a system of natural religion on the basis of a deity expressed in the external universe, as interpreted by the reason of man, in which the author includes the moral consciousness." (Moncure D. Conway in Open Court [magazine], January 28, 1892, article: "Ethan Allen's Oracles of Reason," p. 3119.)
- 2 The Literary Diary of Ezra Stiles, vol. iii, p. 345. The comment of Yale's president is fairly representative: "And the 13th Inst died in Vermont the profane & impious Deist Gen lEthan Allen, Author of the Oracles of Reason, a Book replete with scurrilous Reflexions on Revelation. 'And in Hell he lift up his Eyes being in Torments.' " (Ibid.) In 1787, at Litchfield, Connecticut, where Allen's home had once been, there was published an anonymous sermon, from the text: "And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks which the swine did eat." (Luke 15: 16.) The sermon was planned to counteract the effect produced by the "prophane, prayerless, graceless infidel," Allen, through the publication of the book in question. The author, "Common Sense" (apparently Josiah Sherman), adopts for his sermon the caption, "A Sermon to Swine," and explains in the Advertisement the temper of his mood: " By way of apology, I hope Gen. Allen will pardon any reproach that may be supposable, in comparing him to the Prodigal Son, sent by the Citizen into his fields to feed Swine with husks, when he considers, what an infinitely greater reproach he casts upon the holy oracles of God, and upon his Prophets, Apostles and Ministers, and upon the Lord of life and glory himself; at whose tribunal we must all shortly appear; when he represents Him as an impostor and cheat, and all the blessed doctrines of the gospel as falsehood and lies." (A Sermon to Swine: From Luke xv: 16 . . . Containing a concise, but sufficient answer to General Allen's Oracles of Reason. By Common Sense, A. M., Litchfield, 1787.)
An amusing albeit suggestive episode is recorded by William Bentley in his Diary, in connection with certain reflections on the dangers involved in the loaning of books: "Allen's oracles of reason . . . was lent to Col. C. under solemn promise of secrecy, but by him sent to a Mr. Grafton, who was reported to have died a Confirmed Infidel. . . . The book was found at his death in his chamber, examined with horror by his female relations. By them conveyed to a Mr. Williams ... & there examined reported to be mine from the initials W. B., viewed as an awful curiosity by hundreds, connected with a report that I encouraged infidelity in Grafton by my prayers with him in his dying hour, & upon the whole a terrible opposition to me fixed in the minds of the devout & ignorant multitude." (Ibid., vol. i, p. 82.)
The following extract from Timothy Dwight's poem on The Triumph of Infidelity supplies another interesting contemporaneous estimate of Allen's assault upon revelation:
" In vain thro realms of nonsense ran
The great Clodhopping oracle of man.
Yet faithful were his toils: What could he more?
In Satan's cause he bustled, bruised and swore;
And what the due reward, from me shall know,
For gentlemen of equal worth below."
A foot-note explains the point in the last two lines: "In A—n's Journal, the writer observes, he presumes he shall be treated in the future world as well as other gentlemen of equal merit are treated: A sentiment in which all his countrymen will join." (The Triumph of Infidelity: A Poem. [Anonymous], 1788, pp. 23 et seq. The copy referred to is dedicated by the author "To Mons. de Voltaire.") But Thomas Paine's attack upon the foundations of supernaturalism was by no means taken lightly. From the time of its arrival in this country, the Age of Reason produced an amount of excited comment which gave to its appearance and circulation all the elements of a sensation. 1 The natural interest of the public in the appearance of the production was admittedly great; but at least a partial explanation of the attention which the book received is to be found in the fact that its author was able to effect plans to have the work published cheaply abroad and extensively circulated in this country. 2 In any event, whatever may
- 1 The Age of Reason: Part I, appeared in America in 1794. Cf. The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine, edited by Moncure Daniel Conway, New York, 1901, p. vii; also advertisements of its offer for sale, Massachusetts Spy (Worcester), Nov. 19, 1794. The Connecticut Courant (Hartford), Jan. 19, and Feb. 9, 1795, contains examples of pained newspaper comment. Wolcott Papers, vol. viii, 7.
- 2 At least fifteen thousand copies of the second part of the book arrived in America in the spring of 1796, despatched from Paris by Paine, consigned to his Philadelphia friend, Mr. Franklin Bache, Republican printer, editor, and ardent servant of radicalism generally. It was clearly Paine's purpose to influence as many minds in America as possible. Cf. Conway, The Writings of Thomas Paine, vol. iv, p. 15; Paine's letter to Col. Fellows, in New York, explaining the forwarding of the books. This effort to obtain a general circulation of the Age of Reason did not escape the attention of men who were disturbed over the prevailing evidences of irreligion. In a fast day sermon, delivered in April, 1799, the Reverend Daniel Dana, of Newburyport, Massachusetts, called attention to the matter in the following fashion: "... let me mention a fact which ought to excite universal alarm and horror. The well-known and detestable pamphlet of Thomas Paine, written with a professed design to revile the Christian religion, and to diffuse the poison of infidelity, was composed in France, was there printed in English, and an edition containing many thousand of copies, conveyed at a single time into our country, in order to be sold at a cheap rate, or given away, as might best ensure its circulation. What baneful success has attended this vile and insidious effort, you need not be told. That infidelity has had, for several years past, a rapid increase among us, seems a truth generally acknowledged." (Two Sermons, delivered April 25, 1799: the day recommended by the President of the United States for National Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer. By Daniel Dana, A. M., pastor of a church in Newburyport, 1799, p. 45). Cf. also ibid., p. 20.
have been the precise influences which promoted the distribution and perusal of the book, the Age of Reason aroused an immediate public interest, chiefly antagonistic, the like of which probably had been accorded to no other volume circulated in America before its day. The bumptious and militant nature of its deism, as well as its raw and unceremonious ridicule of much that passed in the thought of the times for essential orthodoxy, drew popular attention from the worthier and more exalted passages in the volume, 1 and
- 1 The Age of Reason was written from the standpoint of a man who believed that the disassociation of religion from political institutions, and the elimination from it of fiction and fable, would bring in the true religion of humanity. The following excerpt sets out the author's approach and aim: " Soon after I had published the pamphlet, * Common Sense ', in America I saw the exceeding probability that a revolution in the system of government would be followed by a revolution in the system of religion. The adulterous connection of church and state, wherever it had taken place, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, had so effectually prohibited by pains and penalties every discussion upon established creeds, and upon first principles of religion, that until the system of government should be changed those subjects could not be brought fairly and openly before the world; but that whenever this should be done a revolution in the system of religion would follow. Human inventions and priestcraft would be detected; and man would return to the pure, unmixed, and unadulterated belief of one God and no more." (The Writings of Thomas Paine, vol. ii, pp. 22 et seq.) Paine's exposition of the tenets of natural religion was far from scholarly, and as soon as the public became aware of the eccentric and uneven character of the book, the storm of criticism speedily blew itself out. The recoil of Paine's ugly attack upon Washington, in the same year in which the Age of Reason was extensively circulated in this country, materially helped to discredit the book.
irritated the opposition beyond control. A vociferous chorus of hostile criticism arose. 1 Clergymen poured out
- 1 A partial list of the books and pamphlets, separate discourses not included, which were published in this country immediately following the appearance of the Age of Reason will serve to emphasize the depth of the impression which Paine's book made: (i) Priestley, Joseph, An Answer to Mr. Paine's Age of Reason; being a Continuation of Letters to the Philosophers and Politicians of France, on the Subject of Religion; and of the Letters of a Philosophical Unbeliever. Second Edition. Northumberland town, America, 1794; (2) Williams, Thomas, The Age of Infidelity: an Answer to Thomas Paine's Age of Reason. By a Layman (pseud.). Third Edition, Worcester, Mass., 1794; (,a) Stilwell, Samuel, A Guide to Reason, or an Examination of Thomas Paine's Age of Reason, and Investigation of the True and Fabulous Theology, New York, 1794; (4) Winchester, Elhanan, Ten Letters Addressed to Mr. Paine, in Answer to His Pamphlet, entitled The Age of Reason, Second Edition, New York, 1795; (5) Ogden, Uzal, Antidote to Deism. The Deist Unmasked; or an Ample Refutation of all the Objections of Thomas Paine, Against the Christian Religion; as Contained in a Pamphlet, intitled (sic), The Age of Reason, etc., Two volumes, Newark, 1795; (6) Broaddus, Andrew, The Age of Reason and Revelation; or Animadversions on Mr. Thomas Paine's late piece, intitled "The Age of Reason", etc. . . . Richmond, 1795; (7) Muir, James, An Examination of the Principles Contained in the Age of Reason. In Ten Discourses, Baltimore, 1795; (8) Belknap, Jeremy, Dissertations on the Character, Death & Resurrection of Jesus Christ . . . with remarks on some sentiments advanced in a book intitled " The Age of Reason," Boston, 1795; (9) Humphreys, Daniel, The Bible Needs no Apology; or Watson's System of Religion Refuted; and the Advocate Proved an Unreliable One, by the Bible Itself: of which a short view is given, and which itself gives a short answer to Paine: in Four Letters, on Watson's Apology for the Bible, and Paine's Age of Reason, Part the Second, Portsmouth, 1796; (10) Tytler, James, Paine's Second Part of the Age of Reason Answered, Salem, 1796; (n) Fowler, James, The Truth of the Bible Fairly Put to the Test, by Confronting the Evidences of Its Own Facts, Alexandria, 1797; (12) Levy, David, A Defence of the Old Testament, in a Series of Letters, addressed to Thomas Paine, Author of a Book entitled, The Age of Reason, Part Second, etc. . . . New York, 1797; (13) Williams, Thomas, Christianity Vindicated in the admirable speech of the Hon. Theo. Erskine, in the Trial of J. Williams, for Publishing Paine's Age of Reason, Philadelphia, 1797; (14) Snyder, G., The Age of Reason Unreasonable; or the Folly of Rejecting Revealed Religion, Philadelphia, 1798; (15) Nelson, D., An Investigation of that False, Fabulous and Blasphemous Misrepresentation of Truth, set forth by Thomas Paine, in his two volumes, entitled The Age of Reason, etc. (This volume appears to have been published pseudonymously. Advertised in Lancaster, Pa., Intelligencer and Advertiser, October, 1800); ( 16) Boudinot, Elias, The Age of Revelation, Or, The Age of Reason shewn to be an Age of Infidelity, Philadelphia, 1801.
the vials of their wrath and execration, despite their evident desire to appear undisturbed; newspaper editors and contributors gave voluminous expression to their sense of chagrin and pained disappointment that so scandalous and impious a publication should be in circulation; 1 observers of and participants in the college life of the day felt called upon to lament the extent to which unsettling opinions of the nature of those expressed by Paine had laid hold of the imaginations and altered the convictions of youthful minds. 2 The impression that Paine had aided and abetted the cause of impiety and irreligion was general. 3
- 1 Cf. Morse, The Federalist Party in Massachusetts, Appendix I, pp. 217 et seq., for a detailed and fairly satisfactory statement of the character and extent of the discussion which Paine's book precipitated in New England.
- 2 Channing, Memoirs, vol. i, pp. 60, 61. On the latter page it is asserted that in order to counteract such fatal principles as those expressed in the Age of Reason, the patrons and governors of Harvard College had Watson's Apology for the Bible published and furnished to the students at the expense of the corporation. This was in 1796. Beecher's Autobiography, Correspondence, etc., vol. i, pp. 30, 35, 52, touches upon the situation at Yale. Cf. Dwight, Theology: Explained and Defended, vol. i, pp. xxv, xxvi. The extensive prevalence of infidelity among Yale students is commented upon and the statement made that a considerable proportion of the class which President Dwight first taught (1795-96) "had assumed the names of principal English and French Infidels; and were more familiarly known by them than by their own." (Ibid.) Cf. Dorchester, Christianity in the United States, p. 319.
- 3 The impression lingered on after the stir caused by the appearance of the Age of Reason. In 1803 Paine was in southern New England. His presence was disturbing, as the following comment of William Bentley will show: "Reports are circulated that Thomas Paine intends to visit New England. The name is enough. Every person has ideas of him. Some respect his genius and dread the man. Some reverence his political, while they hate his religious, opinions. .Some love the man, but not his private manners. Indeed he has done nothing which has not extremes in it. He never appears but we love and hate him. He is as great a paradox as ever appeared in human nature." (Diary, vol. iii, p. 37. Cf. ibid., vol. ii, pp. 102, 107, 145.)
It was not the doctrinal controversies of the period, however, nor yet the intrusion of the principles of natural religion, by which the unsettling tendencies of the times were believed to be promoted most directly and powerfully. In the judgment of practically every leader of conservative thought in New England, and of all America for that matter, that unholy preeminence belonged to the effect produced upon the public mind in this country by the French Revolution, and more especially the impious principles of infidelity and atheism by which, they concluded, that colossal overturning of institutions was stimulated and guided. No single phenomenon of our national history stands out in sharper relief than the impression which the great European convulsion made, first upon the imaginations and later upon the political and religious ideals of the citizens of this young republic in the West, who followed the earlier fortunes of the French Revolutionary cause with breathless interest and concern. The memory of the recent struggle of the American colonists for independence, for the happy issue of which France had made such timely and substantial contributions, in itself supplied a pledge of profound sympathy for that country. That the spark of revolution had been communicated originally by America to France was, moreover, one of the favorite conceits of the day. Gratitude, the bonds of political friendship and alliance, the supposed similarity of popular enthusiasms and passions all the essential factors requisite for the development of a spirit of tender and affectionate regard were clearly present. Thus it happened that from the hour when the first rumblings of the impending European revolution were heard on this side of the Atlantic, the citizens of these states evinced an earnest and sympathetic concern; 1 and as the revolutionary drama unfolded through its earlier scenes the enthusiasm and lively sympathy of the people grew apace. The atmosphere was electric. Anticipations of citizens ran high. Liberty was again in travail. 2 The institutions of freedom were about to descend upon another nation. The shackles of political and ecclesiastical tyranny were being torn from the limbs of twenty-five millions of slaves. 8 Having revolutionized France, America's ideals might be expected to leaven the whole of Europe. 4 The millennium could not be far away. Admiration for the French cause and devotion to it swept all before them. So much so that when, in the autumn and winter of 1792-93, the thrilling news of the successes achieved by the French armies in repelling the invaders of the new republic began to arrive in America, a wave of irresistible and uncontrolled enthusiasm swept over the land. 5 The "French Frenzy/' with its maudlin outbursts of professed attachment for the great watchwords of the Revolution Liberty, Equality, Fraternity with its pageants and civic feasts, its cockades and liberty caps, its ribald singing of republican songs and dramatic intertwinings of the standards of the two sister republics, deserves a place altogether by itself as an extraordinary expression of the public mind.
- 1 Hazen, Contemporary American Opinion of the French Revolution, pp. 141 et seq.
- 2 Ibid., p. 143.
- 3 Dwight, Travels, vol. iv, p. 361.
- 4 Writings of Thomas Jefferson, vol. v, pp. 154, 274; Massachusetts Historical Collections, Sixth Series, vol. iv, Belknap Papers, p. 503.
- 5 The entire episode is treated with great fullness and equal vividness by Hazen, Contemporary American Opinion of the French Revolution, pp. 164-188.
To this wild riot of tumultuous and spectacular enthusiasm an effectual check was soon to be given. With the execution of Louis XVI, in January, 1793, the admiration of the more thoughtful observers of the Revolution, who had accustomed themselves to pass soberly but apologetically over the earlier excesses of the revolutionists as unavoidable concomitants of a struggle necessarily desperate in its character, 1 received a rude shock. 2 The brutal death of a monarch whose personal services on behalf of their own cause during the days of deep necessity had been considerable, brought home to American citizens their first clear conviction respecting the excessively bloody and relentless spirit of the forces in control of the Revolution. The day of disillusionment had dawned. Leaders of thought made no effort to conceal their sense of mingled horror and regret. The amount of popular sympathy for the cause of the Revolution was still too great to allow anything approaching a general condemnation; but none the less a decided chill was felt. 3
- 1 Writings of Thomas Jefferson, vol. vi, pp. 153 et seq.
- 2 From the first, devotion to the French cause had not been quite unanimous. Here and there, scattered through the country, a man might be found who from the beginning of the Revolution had cherished misgivings as to the essential soundness of the principles of the French in the conflict they were waging with despotism. Occasionally a man had ventured to speak out, voicing apprehension and doubt, although usually preferring to adopt the device of pseudonymity. Conspicuous in this by no means large group were the elder and the younger Adams, the former declaring himself in his "Discourses on Davila" (Cf. The Life and Works of John Adams, vol. vi, pp. 223-403), and the latter in the " Publicola " letters, written in 1791, in response to Paine's treatise on "The Rights of Man". Morse, John Quincy Adams, p. 18. But events, much more than political treatises, were to break the spell which the Revolution in its earlier stages cast over the people of America.
- 3 No better testimony concerning the unfavorable impression created by the execution of the French king could be had than that supplied by the comment of Salem's republican minister, the Reverend William Bentley. Under date of March 25, 1793, he wrote: "The melancholy news of the beheading of the 'Roi de France is confirmed in the public opinion, & the event is regretted most sincerely by all thinking people. The french lose much of their influence upon the hearts of the Americans by this event." (Diary, vol. ii, p. 13. Cf. Hazen, Contemporary American Opinion of the French Revolution, pp. 254 et seq.) This thrill of public horror also found expression in the following lines taken from a broadside of the day:
" When Mobs triumphant seize the rheins,
And guide the Car of State, Monarchs will feel the galling chains,
And meet the worst of fate: For instance, view the Gallic shore,
A nation, once polite See what confusion hovers o'er,
A Star, that shone so bright. Then from the scene recoil with dread,
For LOUIS is no more, The barb'rous Mob cut off his head,
And drank the spouting gore. Shall we, the Sons of FREEDOM dare
Against so vile a Race? Unless we mean ourselves to bare (sic)
The palm of their disgrace. No! God forbid, the man who feels
The force of pity's call, To join those Brutes, whose sentence seals,
Whose hearts are made of gall." (The Tragedy of Louis Capet, and Printed next the venerable Stump of Liberty Tree, for J. Plumer, Jun., Trader, of Newbury-port.) (In Vol. 21 of Broadsides, Library of Congress.) The murder of the king soon enough appeared to Americans a mere incident in a wild orgy of unbridled violence and blood-letting. A stream of information concerning the swift march of events in France, mostly having to do with enormities and excesses which gave all too patent proof of the fury of the currents of passion upon which the participants in the Revolution were being tossed, began to pour its waters through the channels of public utterance and discussion in America. The atrocities of the Reign of Terror brought fully home to the American public, to the conservative-minded particularly, the conviction that the Revolution had become diverted from its original principles and aims, and had descended to the plane of brutal despotism, reprehensible both in principle and practice above anything the eyes of men had ever beheld. 1 The leaders of the Revolution clearly were not the high-minded patriots and emancipators their admirers on this side of the ocean had adjudged them to be. The terms "assassin," "savage," "monster," "regicide," began to be employed as the only fit terms whereby to characterize the leading figures in an awful spectacle of butchery and rapine. 2
But not until the religious aspects of the French Revolution are considered, is the deep revulsion of feeling which took place in New England completely laid bare. This feature of the situation had been regarded with deep solicitude from the beginning; 3 and as time went on through the cloud of confusion raised by the dust and smoke of the political developments of the Revolution, it became increase
- 1 Webster, The Revolution in France considered in Respect to its Progress and Effects, New York, 1794. Webster's discriminating pamphlet is one of the most suggestive of all American contemporaneous documents. Cf. Hazen, Contemporary American Opinion of the French Revolution, p. 259.
- 2 For characteristic outbursts of this nature, cf, Adams, Life and Works, vol. ii, p. 160; Gibbs, Memoirs of the Administrations of Washington and John Adams, vol. i, p. 90. Typical newspaper comment similar in vein may be found in the Western Star (Stockbridge, Mass.), March n, 1794, and the Gazette of the United States (Philadelphia), April 13, 1793.
- 3 As early as 1790 John Adams had spoken of the French nation as a "republic of atheists." (Works, vol. ix, p. 563.) Other leaders responded to similar sentiments. (Hazen, Contemporary American Opinion of the French Revolution, p. 266.) Familiarity with French philosophical and religious opinions before the French Revolution had supplied a basis for this concern.
ingly clear to the conservative class in New England that an alliance between the forces of anarchy and impiety had been effected. What else could explain the rapid development of a fierce reforming spirit, which in turn, within the space of not more than two or three years at the most, stood forth as a spirit of overt persecution in the handling of all ecclesiastical affairs? The vociferous affirmation of deistical and atheistical principles on the part of Revolutionary leaders in the councils of clubs and in sessions of the National Assembly, the reiteration and growing boldness of the demand for the elimination of the ancient system of religious faith, the successive efforts to supplant that system, first with the cult of Reason and later with the cult of the Supreme Being, how were these to be construed other than as the expressions and performances of men who were bent upon the utter abolition of the Christian faith? There was wanting in New England, of course, intimate knowledge of the true state of French religious affairs and of the reactionary spirit displayed by the higher clergy and their devotion to the cause of monarchy. Little was known of the growing sense of resentment felt by a people who had begun to contemplate frankly the burdens which had been imposed upon them under the ancient regime, the multiplication of religious offices and establishments, the absorption of the land into vast ecclesiastical estates, and the indifference of the spiritual guides of the nation to private and public distress. It was hardly to be expected that spectators as far removed from the scene as the shores of New England would be able to interpret correctly the essential spirit of a people who had grown weary of the abuses of a religious system in whose principles and purer forms they still believed, despite the momentary violence of their leaders. 1
- 1 Aulard, Le culte de la Raison et de I'Etre supreme, pp. 17 et seq. Cf. Sloane, The French Revolution and Religious Reform, pp. 53, 79. 97. The effort to dechristianize the institutions of religion in France is admitted by both writers, but the superficial occasion of this hostile effort is made clear.
By the year 1794 the belief that the revolutionists in France had added atheism to their program of anarchy was well established in New England. The difficulty of weighing this opinion exactly is greatly enhanced on account of the political handling which the situation received. Over the question of foreign alliances the Federalists and Republicans had split violently in 1793. The war which had broken out between England and France, regarded from any point of view, was of vast consequence in the eyes of the citizens of this young nation, just beginning to cope with the problems of diplomacy and international relations. The outbreak of hostilities between the two European nations with which the United States had had and must continue to have its most intimate and important intercourse forced an alignment among its citizens so sharp and decisive as to constitute the outstanding political feature of the country for years to come. 1 For reasons which we shall not now pause to consider, Federalists championed the cause of England in the European conflict, and Republicans the cause of France. Seizing upon the issue of " French infidelity," Federalist editors were disposed to see in it the gravest peril by which the American people were threatened. The anti-religious spirit of the French Revolutionary leaders represented a danger-point of infection against which every citizen must needs be warned. On the other hand, Republican editors felt it incumbent upon them to do their utmost to minimize the genuineness and importance of all such damaging views of the case. 2
- 1 Cf. infra, pp. 103 et seq.
- 2 The practice of looking to the religious situation In France for ammunition to serve the artillery of political parties in America, is well illustrated in the following instances: The Western Star of March 2 S>!794i dwelt at length upon the depravity of French irreligion, and asserted that the lack of public alarm in this country must be accepted as convincing evidence that the American public has already yielded itself to the seductive influence and power of atheistical opinions. On the other hand, the Independent Chronicle, issues of March 6 and July 24, 1794, pounces upon Robespierre's scheme for the rehabilitation of religion under the guise of the cult of the Supreme Being, and with great gusto asserts that here is the positive and sufficient proof that the charge of atheism which has been lodged against the Revolutionists is as baseless as it is wicked. An examination of the newspaper comment of the day supplies abundant warrant that this crying up and crying down of the charge of French infidelity went far in the direction of investing the political situation in New England with those characteristics of bitter and extravagant crimination and recrimination with which all political discussion in that section, as in fact throughout the entire country, near the close of the eighteenth century, was so deeply marked.
But considerations of party advantage fall far short of furnishing a full explanation of the general sense of alarm the people of New England experienced on account of the open hostility to religion which they saw manifest in France. Out of France came a series of reports which taken together were calculated to raise their fears to the highest pitch. The confiscation of the property of the church, the abolition of religious vows, the promulgation of the "Civil Constitution of the Clergy," 1 the banishment of non- juror priests, the infamy of the Goddess of Reason, the abolition of the Christian Sabbath, the secularization of festivals 2 here were evidences of impiety as shameless as they were shock
- 1 By the adoption of this measure the Catholic clergy in France were turned into state officials. The relation of the Pope to the French clergy became that of a spiritual guide and counsellor only. The principle of territorial limitation on the part of ecclesiastics was also abolished. Cf. Sloane, The French Revolution and Religious Reform, pp. 121 et seq.
- 2 Aulard, The French Revolution, vol. iii, pp. 152-191, gives an excellent resume of the dechristianizing movement.
ing. 1 Such principles and measures appeared as so many deadly thrusts at the Christian faith. It was difficult, if not impossible, for the most sympathetic admirers of France to find a way to explain this ominous cast of events. 2
How thoroughly the fear of " French infidelity " had gripped the imaginations of men in New England will appear more clearly if the following considerations are weighed. The presumption that the intimate relations which Americans had been having with the people of France had produced a serious blight of morals and religion among the former, seemed to find its justification in the currents of skepticism and irreverence which, by common consent, had set in among the youth of the land. This phase of the situation as reflected in conditions within the colleges was held to be particularly deplorable. It was the settled conviction of President Dwight of Yale that " the infidelity of Voltaire and his coadjutors " had a special attractiveness for youth, for reasons which do not impress one as being highly charitable, to say the least:
Youths particularly, who had been liberally educated, and who with strong passions, and feeble principles, were votaries of sensuality and ambition, delighted with the prospect of unrestrained gratification, and panting to be enrolled with men of fashion and splendour, became enamored of these new doctrines. The tenour of opinion, and even of conversation, was to a considerable extent changed at once. Striplings, scarcely fledged, suddenly found that the world had been involved in a general darkness, through the long succession of the preceding
- 1 The conservative press of America saw to it that this information did not escape the attention of its readers. Cf. Hazen, Contemporary American Opinion of the French Revolution, pp. 267 et seq. Cf. Morse. The Federalist Party in Massachusetts, pp. 80-87, 98 et seq.
- 2 Hazen, Contemporary American Opinion of the French Revolution, pp. 269 et seq.
ages; and that the light of wisdom had just begun to dawn upon the human race. All the science, all the information, which had been acquired before the commencement of the last thirty or forty years, stood in their view for nothing. . . . Religion they discovered on the one hand to be a vision of dotards and nurses, and on the other a system of fraud and trick, imposed by priestcraft for base purposes upon the ignorant multitude. Revelation they found was without authority, or evidence; and moral obligation a cobweb, which might indeed entangle flies, but by which creatures of a stronger wing nobly disdained to be Confined. 1
This somewhat theoretical view of the case was not unsupported by tangible evidence. The students of Yale were sceptical. 2 In the religious discussions of the lecture- rooms the cause of infidelity stood high in student favor. 3 Of seventy-six members of the class that graduated in 1802 only one was a professed Christian at the time of matriculation. 4 At the time President Dwight entered upon the leadership of the college, the college church was practically extinct. 6 Altogether the situation was highly alarming to the friends of Christianity. 6
The condition of affairs at Harvard showed little if any improvement. When William Ellery Channing matriculated in that institution in 1794 he found the thought and
- 1 Dwight, Travels, vol. iv, p. 362.
- 2 Beecher, Autobiography, Correspondence, etc., vol. i, p. 30.
- 3 Baldwin, Annals of Yale College . . . From Its Foundation to the Year 1831, New Haven, 1831, p. 146.
- 4 Field, Brief Memoirs of the Members of the Class Graduated at Yale College in September, 1802. (Printed for private distribution), p. 9.
- 5 Beecher, Autobiography, Correspondence, etc., vol. i, p. 30.
- 6 Sprague, Annals of the American Pulpit, vol. ii, pp. 164, 165. Cf. Sketches of Yale College., with Numerous Anecdotes . . . New York, 1843, p. 136.
principles of the students on a lower level than they ever before had reached. 1 The French Revolution, which generally throughout the country had shown itself to be contaminating, already had left its marks deep upon the life of the college. The old loyalties were shaken; conversation had become bold and daring in tone; the foundations upon which morals and religion had been built in the past were now believed to be seriously undermined. 2
On the part of men who held themselves responsible for the education of youth, everywhere the feeling prevailed that a popular mood of skepticism had developed for which the precepts and example of the French were chiefly responsible.
With the clergy and in their state of mind we are interested especially this feeling was hardly less than an obsession. The special conservators of the moral and religious health of the people, they had long been concerned over the possible effects of radical French political and religious notions; and when they seemed to see the triumph of those notions in the excesses of the French Revolution, their sense of alarm was intense. It was, of course, the exhibition of violent hostility to organized Christianity in France which the Revolutionists were making, over which their hands were flung high in horror.
The clergy of New England, like the majority of their fellow-countrymen, in the beginning had not adopted an attitude of hostility toward the French upheaval. There was that in the earlier struggles of the French people to tear the yoke of despotism from their necks which appealed mightily to the sympathies of the clerical heart. It was not without some travail of spirit that clergymen arrived at the
- 1 Memoir of William Ellery Channing, vol. i, p. 60.
- 2 Ibid. Sidney Willard, in his Memories of Youth and Manhood, vol. ii, p. 101, tones down the picture appreciably.
conclusion that their sympathy and enthusiasm for the French Revolution had been misplaced. 1 Two factors contributed to this result. In the first place, the changed complexion of the Revolution; in the second place, the new party alignments at home which brought the orthodox clergy, almost to a man, into the Federalist camp.
Which of these two factors was the more decisive in its power of control over the clerical mind, it would be difficult to say. As a matter of fact, the two influences were interrelated to an extraordinary degree. Political alignments, as we have seen, were interwoven closely with the question of foreign alliances. Conversely, the status of foreign affairs was bound to react strongly upon the judgments of clergymen with whom patriotic concerns were second in importance only to the interests of religion. Be that as it may, the years 1793 and 1794 saw the Federalist clergy in New England rapidly veering round to the fixed position of vehement antagonism to French principles. The following is a brief account of the course they pursued.
On the occasion of the annual fast in Massachusetts, April ii, 1793, the Reverend David Tappan, professor of divinity in Harvard College, preached a sermon that indicated the trend of a clerical mind. 2 In language not unmarked by vagueness, he called upon his hearers to bear witness to the present corrupted state of religion, due to the bold advance and rapid diffusion of " sceptical, deistical, and other loose and pernicious sentiments." Waxing more confident, he continued: " May I not add that a species of atheistical philosophy, which has of late triumphantly reared its head in Europe, and which affects to be the offspring
- 1 Morse, The Federalist Party in Massachusetts, pp. 88 e t seq.
- 2 A Sermon Delivered to the First Congregation in Cambridge, and the Religious Society in Charlestown, April n, 1793. By David Tappan. A. M., Professor of Divinity in Harvard- College, Boston, 1793.
and the nurse of sound reason, science, and liberty, seems in danger of infecting some of the more sprightly and freethinking geniuses of America." 1
Something more than a year later, a pulpit deliverance was made at Medford, Massachusetts, on the occasion of the annual state Thanksgiving, which supplied ample evidence that clerical fears were rapidly gathering force. Medf ord's minister, the Reverend David Osgood, 2 was heard in a vigorous discussion of the leading political and religious concerns of the day. 3 First taking occasion to eulogize the
- 1 Ibid., p. 16.
- 2 David Osgood (1747-1822) was one of the best known New England clergymen of his day. Possessing a fondness for unusual public occasions, such as state and church festivals, he acquired the habit of turning them to account by way of airing his political and religious ideas, a custom which drew to him the cordial support of the Federal school to which he belonged, and the no less cordial contempt of the Republicans. Cf. Sprague, Annals of the American Pulpit, vol. ii, PP. 75, /6.
- 3 The predilection of the New England clergy for political preaching requires a word. The clergy emerged from the period of the American Revolution with their reputation considerably enhanced. The cause of the struggling colonists they had supported with resolution and ability and their moral force had shown itself remarkably effective. It is also to be noted that from the settlement of the country, the clergy had been extraordinarily influential in the direction of public affairs. They were the intimates and advisers of public officials as well as the trusted counsellors of the people. After the setting up of the government most of the questions which agitated the public mind had definite moral and religious aspects. The New England clergy would have regarded themselves as seriously remiss and therefore culpable had they not spoken out upon the burning questions of the day. With the intrusion of foreign affairs into the sphere of American politics the impulse in the direction of political preaching was decidedly strengthened. Definite issues regarding morality and religion were thus raised, and the passions of patriotism and religious devotion became inextricably woven together. Love, The Fast and Thanksgiving Days of New England, p. 363; Swift, The Massachusetts Election Sermons: Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, vol. i: Transactions, 1892-1894, pp. 422 et seq.
Federal government by way of atonement for the failure of Governor Samuel Adams to make reference to the same in his Thanksgiving proclamation, the reverend gentleman thereupon launched into a vehement denunciation of the Democratic Societies, 1 because of their subservience to foreign emissaries, and because of the outrageous activities of Minister Genet. Not content with this, he proceeded to lay heavy emphasis upon the ferocious zeal and desperate fury which the French were manifesting in their attacks upon the institutions of religion, the far-reaching import of which, he declared, was already apparent in the fact that, under the power of their blind devotion to the French cause, not a few American citizens were casting off their allegiance to the Christian religion. 2
The notes of warning sounded by Osgood in this sermon were both clear and loud. They fell on numerous sympathetic and responsive ears. Committed promptly to type, the sermon passed rapidly through six editions, a sufficient proof of the extent of the sensation which it produced. Its author's reputation was established; but beyond this, and what is more to the point, the shibboleths of future clerical pronouncements had been uttered. Henceforth the public
- 1 The Democratic Societies (or Clubs), to which fuller attention is given on pp. 104 et seq., instantly assumed a position of first importance in the minds of many clergymen of New England. Coupled as their emergence was with the amazing performances of Genet, they had the effect of suggesting to the clerical mind the fatal thrust at religion which might, and probably would result, on account of their subterranean operations. This idea of a secret combination against the institutions of religion in America, which proved to have a powerful attraction for many clerical minds, was definitely related to the spasm of anxiety and fear which swept the country when the presence of these secret clubs became generally known.
- 2 Cf. [Osgood, David], The Wonderful Works of God are to be Remembered. A Sermon delivered on the day of the Annual Thanksgiving, November 20, 1794, Boston, 1794, pp. 21 et seq.
utterances of the Federal clergy were to be characterized by a violent antagonism to the French Revolution and the spread of French influence in America. 1
The chorus of clerical complaint on account of the dangers that threatened the cause of religion, either because of the progress of the Revolution abroad or the overt and secret diffusion of infidel principles at home, grew steadily in volume. One or two -added instances of this type of pulpit utterance will suffice.
Tappan was again heard from, in February, 1795, on the day set for the observance of the national thanksgiving. 2 He dealt with the political situation at length, and empha
- 1 On account of the virulence of party feeling, it was not to be expected that Osgood would succeed in stating the case in a manner acceptable to all. Popular opinion respecting the wisdom and fairness of Osgood's performance was far from unanimous. An opposition, inspired by political interests, quickly developed, to which 'Republican newspapers willingly enough gave voice. The Independent Chronicle of Dec. u, 1794, contains typical expressions of adverse comment. An exceptionally forceful counter-attack was made in the guise of an anonymous "sermon", entitled: " The Altar of Baal Thrown Down: or, The French Nation Defended, Against the Pulpit Slander of David Osgood, A. M., Pastor of the Church in Medford. Par Citoyen de Novion" The author of this pamphlet, who, as time demonstrated, was none other than James Sullivan, later governor of Massachusetts, right valiantly took up the cudgel in defence of the French. The French, he argues, are to be regarded as a mighty nation by whom our own nation has been preserved from destruction. Their excesses are most charitably and fairly explained in the light of the frightful oppressions which they had long suffered. Their attitude toward religion should not be regarded as hostile. The French strike only at a clergy who have linked their power with that of the nobility, and who together have made the people's lot intolerable. Cf. ibid., pp. 12 et seq. The entire sermon abounds in caustic criticism of Osgood for having stepped " out of ... line to gratify a party."
- 2 Christian Thankfulness Explained and Enforced. A Sermon, delivered at Charlestown, in the afternoon of February 19, 1795. The day of general thanksgiving through the United States. By David Tappan, D. D., Hollisian Professor of Divinity in Harvard College, Boston, 1795.
sized particularly the destructive effects of French influence. Before his sermon was committed to the hands of the printer, Tappan was made acquainted with the fact that the minister of Rowley, the Reverend Ebenezer Bradford, had made certain apologetic comments, on the occasion of the national thanksgiving, respecting the importance of French success to the peace and tranquility of America, and the propriety of seeking the reason for the recent insurrection in western Pennsylvania in " impolitic laws " rather than in French influence exerted through Democratic Clubs, 1 as Federalists had made bold to claim. 2 To these observations Tappan made the following sharp retort:
The destructive effects of them [i.e., secret political clubs] in France have been noticed in the preceding discourse. Their unhappy influence in this country is sufficiently exemplified in that spirit of falsehood, of party and faction, which some of them, at least, assiduously and too successfully promote, and especially in the late dangerous and expensive western insurrection, which may be evidently traced, in a great degree, to
- 1 The Nature and Manner of Giving Thanks to God, Illustrated. A sermon, delivered on the day of the national thanksgiving, February /9, 7795. By Ebenezer Bradford, A. M., pastor of the First Church in Rowley, Boston, 1795.
- 2 The so-called "Whiskey Rebellion" came in for a considerable amount of hostile comment on the part of the Federalist clergy at this time. Generally speaking, the New England clergy felt sure of their ground respecting the alleged causal relation between the Democratic Clubs and the Pennsylvania uprising. 'Hence it happened that the tone of clerical condemnation with respect to everything which had the semblance of a secret propaganda was appreciably heightened. The moralizing tendencies of the clergy with respect to the secret combinations which were believed to be back of the "Whiskey Rebellion" is well illustrated in the following: A Sermon, delivered February 19, 1795, being a day of general thanksgiving throughout the United States of America. By Joseph Dana, A. M., pastor of the South Church in Ipswich. Newburyport, 1795. Cf. also, Wolcott Papers, vol. viii, 7.
the inflamatory representations and proceedings of these clubs, their abettors and friends. 1
Medford's minister acquitted himself with something more than his customary fiery earnestness on the occasion of this same national festival. Mounting his pulpit, he pictured to his hearers " the reign of a ferocious and atheistical anarchy in France," whose authors had " formed the design of bringing other nations to fraternize with them in their infernal principles and conduct." 2 Their emissaries, Osgood argued, have spread themselves abroad and entered into every country open to them. In Geneva these abandoned creatures have been "horribly successful in overthrowing a free government but lately established, and in bringing on, in imitation of what had happened in their own country, one revolution after another." The same identical agents have found their way into the United States and have begun here their poisonous fraternizing system. 3 The sermon as a whole could scarcely have been more violent in tone. It is very clear that Osgood had resolved to do what he could to rouse the country.
As a direct result of this kind of pulpit utterance a result that doubtless had much to do with persuading the clergy that an alarming decline of religion was under way in New England the charge of "political preaching" rapidly developed into one of the standing accusations of the day. The bitterness of party strife grew apace. Opposition to Federalist measures of government, such as Jay's Treaty and the handling of diplomatic relations with France,
- 1 Tappan's Sermon, p. 36.
- 2 A Discourse, delivered February 19, 1795. The day set apart by the President for a general thanksgiving throughout the United States. By David Osgood, A. M., pastor of the church in Medford, Boston, 1795, P. 18.
- 3 Ibid., pp. 1 8, 19.
mounted steadily higher. In consequence, the Federal clergy found themselves drawn farther and farther into the maelstrom of political discussion. Out of this developed the sentiments entertained by the opposition that the clergy were the tools of the Federalists, and that public occasions were eagerly pounced upon by them and used to promote the cause of party advantage.
This shaft struck home; and yet not so much in the nature of a personal affront as an added proof that a state of deep impiety had settled down upon the land. Well might the clergy lament, not that they had been so foully slandered, but that they were called upon to reckon with a people who had drifted out so far upon the sea of irreverence and disrespect. To illustrate: The Reverend Jeremy Belknap was before the convention of the clergy of Massachusetts, in May, 1796, to preach the convention sermon. His mind turned to this new burden which had lately fallen on the already heavily-laden shoulders of the ministry. Thus he sought to mollify the wounded feelings of his brethren:
Another of the afflictions to which we are exposed, is the resentment of pretended patriots, when we oppose their views in endeavoring to serve our country. There is a monopolizing spirit in some politicians, which would exclude clergymen from all attention to matters of state and government; which would prohibit us from bringing political subjects into the pulpit, and even threaten us with the loss of our livings if we move at all in the political Sphere. But, my brethren, I consider politics as intimately connected with morality, and both with religion. . . . How liberal are some tongues, some pens, and some presses, with their abuse, when we appear warm and zealous in the cause of our country! When we speak or write in support of its liberties, its constitution, its peace and its honor, we are stigmatized as busy-bodies, as tools of a party, as meddling with what does not belong to us, and usurping authority over our brethren. 1
A couple of years later another staunch clerical supporter of Federalist policies, the Reverend John Thornton Kirkland, minister of the New South Church in Boston, came somewhat closer to the main point. The spirit of the times, he urged, had greatly changed, and that for the worse. Clergymen now were being severely censured for what only a few years earlier they had been warmly commended for as constituting a peculiar merit. The leaders of the American Revolution, for example, had praised the clergy for throwing the weight of their influence into the political scale, recognizing that there exists a moral and religious as well as a civil obligation on the part of ministers to warn the people of the dangers which threaten their liberty and happiness. But now, however, at a time when the dearest interests of religion and patriotism, of church and state, are fiercely assailed and imperiled, the clergy are met with calumny and insult when they venture to speak out. Only the debasement of morals and piety could explain so lamentable a transformation. 2
A growing sensitiveness to the objections of Republican partisans that they were stepping aside from the legitimate responsibilities of their calling and prostituting the func
- 1 A Sermon, delivered before the Convention of the Clergy of Massachusetts, in Boston, May 26, 1796. By Jeremy Belknap, minister of the church in Federal- Street, Boston. Boston, 1796, pp. 15 et seq. A similar note was struck by Tappan in the convention of the following year. Cf. Sermon, delivered before the Annual Convention of the Congregational Ministers of Massachusetts, in Boston, June i, 1797, Boston, 1797, p. 26.
- 2 A Sermon, delivered on the 9th of May, 1798. Being the day of a National Fast, Recommended by the President of the United States. By John Thornton Kirkland, minister of the New South Church, Boston. Boston, 1798, pp. 18 et seq.
tions of their sacred office to unworthy ends, is apparent on the part of the clergy; * but when the very slander and abuse which they suffered supplied added evidence, if that were needed, that the institutions of religion and of government were being rapidly undermined, there could be no damping of their spirit nor turning back from the performance of a service, however unappreciated, to which by tradition and by present necessity they believed themselves bound.
Thus matters stood with the clergy of the Standing Order in New England at the close of the eighteenth century. Whether they were mistaken or not, a state of general irreligion seemed to them to have been ushered in. On all sides the positions of traditional orthodoxy were being called in question. The cause of revealed religion had found new enemies, and the cause of natural religion new agencies for its promotion. The French Revolution had given a terrifying exhibition of what might be expected to happen to a nation in which radical and sceptical opinions were allowed to have complete expression. As for the progress of impiety at home, the youth of the land were contaminated, the state of public morals was unsound, opposition to measures of government was increasing in power and virulence, the institutions of religion were commanding less and less respect, the clergy were treated with a coldness and criticalness of spirit they had never faced before. Seeking for the
- 1 Complaints of the nature indicated, and justifications of ministerial conduct in continuing the practice of " political preaching " increase in number from about 1796 on. The following examples are picked almost at random: The sermon preached by John Eliot at the ordination of Joseph M'Kean, Milton, Mass., November I, 7797, Boston, I 797, P- 33J James Abercrombie's Fast Day Sermon, May 9, 1798, Philadelphia, Philadelphia, (n. d.); Eliphalet Porter's Fast Day Sermon of the same date, at Roxbury, Boston, 1798, p. 22; Samuel Miller's Fast Day Sermon, also of the same date, at New York, New York, 1798.
causes of this baneful condition of affairs, the clergy believed they were to be found mainly in the dissemination of revolutionary opinions issuing from France, but in part also in native tendencies to exalt reason and throw off the restraints of government in church and state.
Before taking leave of the subject, a few final illustrations may be considered by way of fixing upon the mind the strength of this general impression which the New England clergy entertained.
On the occasion of the general fast, May 4, 1 797, at West Springfield, Massachusetts, the Reverend Joseph Lathrop preached a sermon to which he gave the expressive title, God's Challenge to Infidels to Defend Their Cause. 1 The inspiration of the discourse was drawn from the conviction that " this is a day when infidelity appears with unusual boldness, and advances with threatening progress, to the hazard of our national freedom and happiness, as well as to the danger of our future salvation." 2 According to this interpreter of the signs of the times, the dissemination of infidelity was to be regarded as the outstanding fact in the life of America, as well as in the life of the world.
An unusually lugubrious view of the situation was that taken by the Reverend Nathan Strong, in the sermon which he preached, April 6, 1798, on the occasion of the Connecticut state fast. In the eyes of this modern Jeremiah, the situation was desperate almost beyond remedy:
There are dark and ominous appearances. I do not mean the wrath and threatening of any foreign nations whatever, for if we please God and procure him on our side, we may bless
- 1 God's Challenge to Infidels to Defend Their Cause, Illustrated and Applied in a Sermon, delivered in West Springfield, May 4, 1797, being the day of the General Fast. By Joseph Lathrop, minister . . . Second Ed., Cambridge, 1803.
- 2 Ibid., p. 4.
his providence, and hear human threatenings without emotion. But the dark omens are to be found at home. In our hearts, in our homes, in our practice, and in a licentious spirit disposed to break down civil and religious order. In affecting to depend on reason in the things of religion, more than the word of God; so as to reject all evangelical holiness, faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and the ministrations of the spirit in the heart. In substituting anarchy and licentiousness, in the room of rational and just liberty. In supposing that freedom consists in men's doing what is right in their own eyes; even though their eyes look through the mist of wicked ambition and lust. Here is our real danger, and these are the omens that augur ill to us. 1
Far less subjective in its analysis was the sermon which the now celebrated minister of Medford, the Reverend David Osgood, preached not many days later, on the occasion of the national fast. 2 Once more the eyes of his hearers were invited to contemplate the horrible spectacle abroad. It had now become certain that the legislators of France had abolished the Christian religion. Preposterous indeed was the idea of those who supposed that they were engaged in anything so beneficent as " stripping the whore of Babylon, pulling down the man of sin, destroying popery, 3 and
- 1 A Sermon, preached on the State Fast, April 6th, 1798 By Nathan Strong, pastor of the North Presbyterian Church in Hartford. Hartford, 1798, pp. 14 et seq.
- 2 Some Facts evincive of the Atheistical, Anarchical, and in other respects, Immoral Principles of the French Republicans, Stated in a sermon delivered on the <?//? of May, 1798. ... By David Osgood . . . Boston, 1798.
- 3 One of the curious results of the reflection of the American clergy on the significance of the French Revolution was a marked disposition to treat the Roman Catholic Church with unwonted sympathy and respect. Osgood's implied apology not infrequently received an unblushingly frank statement. Cf. for example, Nathan Strong's Connecticut Fast Day Sermon, cited above.
making way for the introduction of the millennium. That which they had set their hearts upon was to bring it to pass that Christ and His religion should no longer be remembered upon the earth. The French republicans were so many infernals who had broken loose from the pit below. 1 Their profession of principles of liberty and philanthropy were deceptive in the highest degree. They sought to fraternize with other nations merely to seduce them. Their emissaries employed the arts of intrigue and corruption, they were charged to stir up factions, seditions, rebellions, so as to disorganize established governments and make them more readily the prey of the infamous French government. 2
That these were not the pulpit utterances of men of peculiarly morbid dispositions, who stood apart from the main currents of thought and life in their day, would seem to be proved by the following instances of formal declarations issued by associations of churches.
On the 1 7th of May, 1798, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, then in session in the city of Philadelphia, issued an address to the members of its various congregations scattered throughout the country, urging attention to the extraordinarily gloomy aspect of affairs. The situation was interpreted as follows:
- 1 This estimate of the case appealed to Osgood's mind and satisfied his fancy. A year later he was heard on the following subject: The Devil Let Loose; or The Wo occasioned to the Inhabitants of the Earth by His Wrathful Appearance among Them. For lurid rhetoric Osgood outdid himself on this occasion. " Not in France only, but in various other countries, is the devil let loose; iniquity abounds; unclean spirits, like frogs in the houses and kneading-troughs of the Egyptians, have gone forth to the kings and rulers of the earth, . . . the armies of Gog and Magog are gathered together in open hostility against all unrighteousness, truth and goodness." (The Demi Let Loose, etc. Illustrated in a Discourse, delivered on the Day of the National Fast, April 25, 1799, Boston, 1799, pp. 13 et seq.)
- 2 Some Facts Evincive, etc., pp. 13, 16 et seq.
The aspect of divine providence, and the extraordinary situation of the world, at the present time, indicate that a solemn admonition, by the ministers of religion and other church officers in General Assembly convened, has become our indispensable duty. When formidable innovations and convulsions in Europe threaten destruction to morals and religion; when scenes of devastation and bloodshed, unexampled in the history of modern nations, have convulsed the world; and when our own country is threatened with similar calamities, insensibility in us would be stupidity; silence would be criminal. The watchmen on Zion's walls are bound by their commission to sound a general alarm, at the approach of danger. We therefore desire to direct your awakened attention, towards that bursting stream, which threatens to sweep before it the religious principles, institutions, and morals of our people. We are filled with a deep concern and an awful dread, whilst we announce it as our real conviction, that the eternal God has a controversy with our nation, and is about to visit us in his sore displeasure. A solemn crisis has arrived, in which we are called to the most serious contemplation of the moral causes which have produced it, and the measures which it becomes us to pursue. 1
As to the " moral causes " referred to, the address proceeds to define them as " a general defection from God and corruption of the public principles and morals/' the evidences whereof are such as a general dereliction of religious principle and practice, a departure from the faith and simple purity of manners for which the fathers were remarkable, a visible and prevailing impiety, contempt for the laws and institutions of religion, and " an abounding infidelity." 2
The same year, on May 3 1, the Congregational clergy of
- 1 Acts and Proceedings of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, May 17, 1798, pp. n et seq.
- 2 Ibid.
Massachusetts, assembled in annual convention, "without a dissenting vote" adopted an address to their churches, wherein they expressed their deep sorrow and concern on account of " those atheistical, licentious and disorganizing principles which have been avowed and zealously propagated by the philosophers and politicians of France; which have produced the greatest crimes and miseries in that unhappy country, and like a mortal pestilence are diffusing their baneful influence even to distant nations." * A year later the same body of clergy, again assembled in their annual convention, formulated and later published an address similar in tone, but strongly emphasizing the American aspects of the case. The growing disbelief and contempt of the Gospel are loudly lamented; the lack of exemplary piety and morality even among the members of churches, and the dissipation, irreligion, and licentiousness prevalent among the youth of the day, are accounted to be of so much weight as to constitute a national apostasy. " The voice of God to us in these events," continues the address, " is emphatically this: Come out of the infidel, antichristian world, my people; that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues." 2
- 1 The Massachusetts Mercury (Boston), June 19, 1798, contains the address in full.
- 2 This address may be found in the Independent Chronicle of July 4, 1799, and the Newburyport Herald of June 28, 1799. A further comment, of more than average significance, on the unparalleled degeneracy of the times may be found in the sermon preached by the Reverend William Harris, of Marblehead, Massachusetts, before the annual convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church, held in Boston, May 28, 1799. Cf. A Sermon delivered at Trinity Church, in Boston. ... By William Harris, rector of St. Michael's Church, iMarblehead. Boston, 1799. A decade and a half later Lyman Beecher preached his famous sermon on "Building Waste Places." The impression which lingered in his mind concerning the period under survey is worthy of consideration. After having discussed the unhappy condition of religious life in the churches of New England during the first half of the eighteenth century, he said: "A later cause of decline and desolation has been the insidious influence of infidel philosophy. The mystery of iniquity had in Europe been operating for a long time. The unclean spirits had commenced their mission to the kings of the earth to gather them together to the battle of the great day of God Almighty. But when that mighty convulsion f Foot-note: The French Revolution] took place, that a second-time burst open the bottomless pit, and spread darkness and dismay over Europe, every gale brought to our shores contagion and death. Thousands at once breathed the tainted air and felt the fever kindle in the brain. A paroxysm of moral madness and terrific innovation ensued. In the frenzy of perverted vision every foe appeared a friend, and every friend a foe. No maxims were deemed too wise to be abandoned, none too horrid to be adopted; no foundations too deep laid to be torn up, and no superstructure too venerable to be torn down, that another, such as in Europe they were building with bones and blood, might be built. . . . The polluted page of infidelity everywhere met the eye while its sneers and blasphemies assailed the ear. . . . The result was a brood of infidels, heretics, and profligates a generation prepared to be carried about, as they have been, by every wind of doctrine, and to assail, as they have done, our most sacred institutions." Cf. Beecher, Autobiography, Correspondence, etc., vol. i, pp. 239, 240.
To a very considerable number of earnest lovers of religion in New England and elsewhere throughout the nation, the century's sun seemed to be setting amid black and sullen clouds of the most ominous character.