Religion and the Founding of the American Republic

Topics: Christianity, Religion, Islam Pages: 5 (1629 words) Published: December 8, 2013

G.K. Chesterton depicts the early republic as “a nation with the soul of a church”1 meaning that America was founded on religious principles. Many of those who came to the colonies did so for religious refuge from the Church of England. Although there were many independent religious groups in the new colonies, the commonality they shared was the desire to practice their separate beliefs. This religious foundation influenced the political and social structure of the colonies as they became an independent and separate nation from Great Britain. Colonists seeking religious refuge from England characterized the early days of the American colonies. Religious freedom was the unifying factor among colonists coming to America to escape persecution from The Church of England. The Monarchy left very little room for individuality or independence among religious groups, thus groups such as the Puritans and Roman Catholics came to America seeking refuge from persecution. They were seeking a place where they would have the opportunity to share and practice their religious beliefs. This common ground of religious refuge was a crucial catalyst in the American Revolution. However, because there was no monarchy forcing the citizenry to conform to one religion, division was created among colonists. Puritans wishing to cleanse the Church of England from Catholic influence commonly came into conflict with Roman Catholics, many times persecuting or even banishing them from the region in some cases. In the case of Puritans in Massachusetts who were not tolerant of any other religious group, Presbyterians, Baptists, and Quakers were banished and Catholics were not accepted. The same happened with Virginian Anglicans saying “if not our religion, no religion.”2 This intolerance led to a separation between people, which inevitably weakened America. The founders of America realized the success of Pennsylvania with its emphasis on separation of church and state. People were given the choice of which religion to follow without the government interfering or persecuting them. Religion in the early republic was the base for politics and government. A new structure of government had to be formed in the new nation, as they were no longer governed by a monarchy. It was agreed that the former political structure did not work and an entirely new government run by the people, for the people was necessary for the future success of America. Congress was both a supporting and an opposing force of Christianity and religion. Laws requiring the population as a whole to attend church and be catechized by ministers were enforced to keep a strong Christian influence in American society, as well as the printing of the first English language Bibles, authorized by Congress. Government was not always in favor of freedom of religion, especially on the state level. In New Amsterdam, the Dutch governor, not in support of welcoming all religions as William Penn was, tried to make free worship difficult for Jews. In Maryland staunch Puritans deported Catholic leaders to England as prisoners after inspiration from the English Civil War and later attempted to outlaw the Catholic religion as a whole. Although Congress supported national Christianity, state governments were often not as open to ideas as each region had a different religious sect that was not accepting of other groups. Pennsylvania was a prime and isolated example of a state that welcomed all religious groups without persecution. Congress was extremely influenced by Christianity, as shown by their adoption of a covenant theology which said that there was a sort of contract between man and God whereas God would use punishment as payment for his sins and reward him with blessings for his faithfulness. The war with Britain was seen through the covenant theology as a punishment from God for America’s sins. America as a whole had to recognize God’s “overruling Providence,” the war and the evils that caused it,...
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