The American Revolution and Religion
American Revolution and Religion
The period between 1760 and 1790 was a hard time for the individuals living in the British Colonies, in what is now the United States. Dealing with war, independence, money issues, and the normal wear and tear of the colonial period made their lives exceptionally hard. Religion became a major sanctuary in order to escape the problems and to ask a higher power for help. Churches dotted the countryside and there were a wide variety of religions to choose from. The major religions during this time period were the Congregationalists/Puritans, Anglicans, and the Presbyterians. In addition to those, there were some minor ones who would later grow to prominence. Due to the increase in religious attendance, historians labeled this time as the Great Awakening. The spread of religion lasted for decades and the number of churches more than doubled during the period of the Great Awakening.
Another large reason as to why the religious revival occurred was because the elite business group of people living in the colonies. Those individuals were making large amounts of money through business dealings and began to attend church services because they had a large void in their lives. Attending religious services allowed for their lives to have some sort of purpose and to mitigate any guilt that they had for ending up more fortunate than other people. Related to this, religion made capitalism more tolerable as a whole because of the message that it sent. Those that made large amounts of money still attended church along with the disenfranchised. During the actual war, religious attendance remained high because the newly formed country prayed for success. A large combination of the poor, successful business members, and people with family members fighting in the Revolutionary War led to the rise in church attendance and thus the Great Awakening.
An important question to consider is this: Why was a large chunk of the Great Awakening overlooked in how it affected the American Revolution? The most likely answer has to do with the research that historians have done looking back on the time period. When one thinks of the American Revolution, a few names come to mind. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and other Founding Fathers are the chief names. Those who looked at their writings attributed their thoughts as the will of the United States. That was a mistake. We now know that our Founding Fathers were more secular than the country and some were not very religious. Researchers assumed that since they were not religious, than the country was not either. In fact, the country was religious and our leaders were out of step with the vast majority of people. The Founding Fathers did not make this known publicly and actually used religion to get the country to come together. Religion served as a sort of “glue” during a rough time period when many divisions were occurring. Our leaders were smart to do this and the fact that religion was used shows that there was common ground that was used to hold the country together during a challenging time.
The Great Awakening did not last forever. After three decades, it faded away until the next religious revival occurred years later. From 1790 until the 1840’s the role of religion changed across the country as we expanded and the leading religions changed once again. In the mid 1800’s the leading religions were Methodists, Roman Catholics, and Baptists. That is a sharp difference from the aforementioned ones in the mid 1700’s. The two large reasons were the expansion of the country into more rural areas, which tended to embrace Methodists and Baptists. The other reason was the large number of immigrants that were making their way into the country. The largest group of immigrants was the Irish, which accounted for the skyrocketing numbers for Roman Catholics. Even with the changes made in religion, the United States remained the world’s most Christian nation, even if it was highly divided among the different sects.
Religion was not the main cause of the Revolutionary War. Regardless of that, religion certainly had a large role in it and ended up uniting people behind a common cause. History has shown that after overlooking it for many years. Why did historians underestimate the role of religion? As was stated earlier, the largest reason is because they studied the writings of our Founding Fathers. They managed to look up records from average Americans that passed them down from generation to generation, which helped set the record straight. Because of this, the common misperception that the entire Revolution was a secular event was debunked.
What does this say about our country then and now? This says that although there is a separation of church and state in our government and with our leaders, that religion is one of the strongest things that bind our country together. Not everyone may be religious, but a large majority of people believe in a higher being and in desperate times, a person’s faith tends to reveal itself. During disasters, wars, depressions, and similar grave situations, religion and other areas of common ground unite people and give them hope. At the start of this country, patriotism was not yet formed and religion was the norm among the people living in the former Thirteen Colonies. Our leaders realized the importance of finding common causes to rally around and their example has been used ever since my further American leaders from the 1700s until 2009. Religion may not be used as much to achieve this goal, but it still plays a large role in millions of Americans lives today.
More by this Author
“And the Band Played On” was an extraordinarily powerful movie giving a detailed account of the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic in the United States through the eyes of many different individuals. Several...
When one thinks of cults and the negative effects of them, the People’s Temple and the Jonestown mass suicide usually comes to mind first. The loss of life totaled over 900 members of the cult and several innocent...
While the United States remains a relatively young country compared to many others in the world, we have our fair share of history. One of the more interesting aspects of history is mysteries and solving them....