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Religious Differences in Colonial America

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Religious differences in colonial America were apparent and inevitable toward creating a diverse society. Differences in religion, and way of life, and the lasting effects of these helped to shape The United States. Branches of the Puritan and Quaker faiths were the trailblazers for American diversity.

Most of the first religions to begin the colonization of the America’s were not just common Protestants. They had not only broken ties with the Catholic Church, but now were severed from the Anglican Church of England.

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Faiths such as Puritan (which also had many branches) and Quaker were the front runners for American colonization. (2)

Quakers espoused that the Church of England violated the spirit of Christianity as much as the Catholic Church. They were fueled to reform because of the new European Renaissance feeling, which called for the literal translation of the bible, and not having a sole person lead the church, such as a king, or a pope. They said that people could worship god directly, without having to go through a clergy member.

They believed in frugality, and in dressing and living extremely plainly. The tithes paid by the members of the Anglican and Catholic churches, to them seemed to be excessive, and unnecessary for worshipping god. They refused to attend regular services for church, and were persecuted with fines and confiscation of property by English authorities. This forced them to leave England for a more tolerant society.

The Puritans, also former Anglicans, wished to purify the Church. They were more devout than the Quakers, in that they believed in clergy, and in formality, but they didn’t like some of the ceremony that was adopted by the Church of England, that was similar to that of the Catholic Church.

They were more for the literal interpretation of the scripture than a clergy member interpreting it for them. These people weren’t nobility, but simply the working men and women of England, many of which came from Cambridge University. They came to be regarded as gloomy fanatics because they didn’t believe in societies simple pleasures, such as gaming and card playing. These acts were frowned upon by them. It was said that they objected to bear baiting, which was a game that required the slaughtering of a bear, not because of the humanity issue, but because of the pleasure the spectators got from watching it. Puritans included several religions that branched from them, such as Presbyterians, Separatists and Congregationalists. Another, more radical group of Puritans was the Anabaptists who believed that true religion was solely for adults, and that baptism included the entire immersion of the body in holy water. They also believed in the strict accordance of church and state. (5)

When the first religious pilgrims came to the new world in 1620, to Plymouth, Massachusetts on the Mayflower, it began a wave of such trips. America still had a forming tolerance level, and government, therefore it still had plenty of time to be shaped by these initial settlers. They brought along their new ideas on religion and government. England, because they controlled these colonies, began to realize that toleration was needed. They then passed the Toleration Act in 1689, which said that religious diversity was allowed. This, however did not help the feeling of prejudice in England, forcing even more people out.

One group that was still persecuted was the Quakers. Lead by William Penn (the Pennsylvania namesake) they journeyed to America. When they set up their colony here, even Native Americans, and Catholics were welcome, and friends with the Quakers. Their formal name was actually the Religious Society of Friends. This helped to instill this feeling of friendship into American societal beliefs.

Puritans, and Separatists had been leaving England for years, and were not as tolerable as their Quaker counterparts. The Puritans, who were based mainly in Massachusetts, believed that their religious convictions were the only right way. They were not tolerant of other ways of thinking. Church and state were one, and clergy members lead the colonies. People were very conformed, and did not associate with the other colonies, religious or otherwise. They rarely met for any reason other than church, and were not known for having leisure time. This strong diversity between the colonies, surprisingly did not create too much controversy but rather made America more tolerant in the long run. There was even a colonial toleration act, called the Maryland Toleration Act passed in 1649, that was ahead of the British one, because of the need for it in the colonies more than in England. (3)

The governments of the new colonies in America were quite differing. The Quakers, lead by William Penn, set up a democratic form of government in which everyone had rights that were protected. Good relations were made with the Native Americans. This included many peace treaties. The most famous of which was signed on June 23, 1683, on the banks of the Delaware River, and stated that the colonists and Indians would “live in love as long as the sun gave light.” This was a revolutionary idea of this time of aristocracy and sovereignty. Quakers were well known for being very tolerable, and respectful of most lifestyles. The only exception to this was them not being very empathetic to Catholics, however they did allow them to live in their colonies.

Banking, Insurance, and book keeping were emphasized, more than anything else, besides religion. However, religion was brought into state affairs. Monthly meetings that were to attend to colonial business, were actually prayer services. This meant that there was not a strict separation of church and state, and in modern democracy.

The Puritan government was one that was entirely based on the church. Everything was under constant supervision. They were easily manipulated because of conformity, and punishment was severe for “sinners,” as is demonstrated when the Puritans have the Salem witch scare which resulted in many hangings. Education was the highest stressed issue for the Puritans, and banking was thought of as unimportant. Relations with the natives weren’t particularly good. Puritans tried to avoid contact with these strange new people, as much as possible. A Puritan government was not particularly tolerant, and was more like a hierarchy because of extensive clergy involvement in everyday life. (1)

Though governmentally, the Quakers appeared to be in the right, Puritans were much more advanced, educationally. Quakers did not stress education, at all. They believed that all you needed to know could be taught through the church, and scripture. They believed that the scripture could be read by a select few, to the public. They did not see the point in educating the people, when all that was needed to know was in the bible, and in sermons. They solely relied on inspiration and spontaneity for guidance. This idea did not carry through for long. Eventually the Quakers determined that in order to be an effective society, people had to be educated. This lead to the creation of schools and Universities under the Quaker faith. The first of which was simply a primary and secondary school called the Friends’ School. Eventually, Universities were created in and around Philadelphia.

Puritans had been educating since they came to the new world. They believed that education was very important, so that children could grow up reading and understanding the bible. There had always been schools in Puritan colonies, and in rural areas they had tutors for their children. Puritans also began to open their own Universities, such as Harvard, and Yale. Education remained strictly religious until after the American Revolution.

This educational importance that was espoused by the Puritans began to shape the education of the entire country. In 1647, and 1650, Massachusetts, and Connecticut passed laws mandating the education of children. They said that if a parent did not enroll their child in school then a business man could automatically take the child into their apprenticeship. Free education was being offered in many places in order to promote learning about the bible, and going into the ministry. By 1700, 70% of men, and 45% of women could read and write in America, which was an incredible statistic. This also increased the number of missionaries, in America, because of the increase in educated people. (1, 35)

The only real conflict that occurred in the new world was with Native Americans, and the occasional squabble within a colony. The Native American’s weren’t even a very large threat, yet, because expansion had not reached it peak. Because of the tolerable feeling of the Quaker colonies, and the hermetic feeling of the Puritan colonies, America remained a very peaceful place to live, being fairly non-confrontational.

America has picked up many of these original colonial ideas. The Puritans especially helped to form our modern day theories, and standards for education. They began the first educational establishments in this country, and introduced the strict discipline needed to succeed in learning. Many of their schools, such as Harvard, are still in use, and are very respectable.

The Quakers, too had a direct impact on current American society. Their tolerant ideas helped to spread the ideals of America. This country was built on tolerance, and democracy. Our Constitution was drawn up with these ideas, and the reason so many people came to the new world was because of the political situation here, and it’s benefits. Because of their respect for other religions, and races, America was built on good values. (4)

By coming to the new world because of injustice, the original American colonists helped to create a new country that was religiously, and socially diverse, and generally, and politically accepting. The injustice that they withstood helped to insure that America would not be like that. The original settlers to America helped to shape the way we are, today, and the way we are going to be in the future. The ideals they stressed, and fought for freedom of, have been kept with us all, and formed The United States in a democratic, and tolerable way.

1. *Kaminkow, Jack and Marion. Emigration From England to America (1718-1759).
Magna Carta Book Company, 1981, Baltimore, Maryland.
2. Keller, Allan. Colonial America: A Compact History. Hawthorn Books, Inc, 1971, New York, New York.

3. *Kupperman, Karen Ordahl. Major Problems in American Colonial History: Documents and Essays. D.C. Health and Company, 1993, Lexington, Massachusetts.
4. McFarlane, Anthony. The British in the America’s (1480-1815). Longman Group Limited, 1994, New York, New York.

5. Middleton, Richard. Colonial America Second Edition (A History, 1585-1776). Blackwell Publishers, 1996, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

6. Semonche, John E. Religion and Constitutional Government in the United States. Signal Books, 1985, Carrboro, North Carolina.

Cite this Religious Differences in Colonial America

Religious Differences in Colonial America. (2018, Sep 02). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/religious-differences-in-colonial-america-essay/

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