Religion and Democracy in Colonial America

Religion and Democracy

                Ironically, the Puritans, who came to America to escape religious persecution, had no tolerance for any other religions.  Just as it was in Britain, when they established a government, it sanctioned only one Christian denomination, gave clerics legal authority and persecuted anyone with different views.  Laws were established that required Sunday worship attendance and taxes were levied to pay minister’s salaries.   This trend continued into the eighteenth century, despite tolerance acts.

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            The strict intolerance of the Puritans and the monopoly on government, business and religion they held occurred only in New England and Pennsylvania.  The balance of  American colonies afforded a wealth of churches of several faiths, and for the most part, each tolerated the others. For a while, Virginia had an Anglican majority who, like the Puritans in the north, attempted to negate all other faiths.  However, a growing Baptist movement, soon over threw this hold of the Anglican church, thus dissolving the only major foothold it had south of Pennsylvania.  Furthermore, thanks to movements started by both William Penn and Roger Williams, colonists began seeing the logic in the separation of church and state and how the current system promoted hypocrisy and corruption.  An incident where four Quaker missionaries were hung in Massachusetts Bay, triggered intervention from England to end the corporal punishment of “dissenters.”

            John Locke, a philosopher whose writings were becoming popular at the time, advocated a liberal system of government, where there only duty of an elected government was to protect the natural rights of it’s citizens, which included the freedom of religion.  Another movement, known as the Great Awakening, was sweeping over England and the Colonies. This movement expounded the way of faith offered by the Baptists and Methodists. The large amount of conversions gave them a strong hold and helped stop the persecution they had previously endured.

            Thus, two opposite movements began the movement to separation of church and state, and freedom of religion.

Heyrman, Christine Leigh. “Church and State in British North America.” Divining America,             TeacherServe©. National Humanities Center.  May 8, 2009 <             /tserve/eighteen/ekeyinfo/chustate.htm>

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