Thursday, May 18, 2006 05/18/06-American Revolution

In today's excerpt, the influence of religion on the American Revolution. At the time of the Revolution, a large number of Americans were relatives and descendents of Puritans who had fought against the King in the English Civil War of 1640 to 1649, the war that ended in regicide and with Oliver Cromwell as the head of the government. That was a religious war--the Stuart kings were reviled by these Puritans for their Catholic connections, for the ceremony of the High Anglicans, and for the resulting commercial exclusion they experienced. But Cromwell and the Puritans were finally thrown out and suffered prejudice and oppression in the aftermath, and so for American Puritans/Presbyterians in 1776, the all-to- recent memories of the English Civil War made their enmity to the King both real and personal, and made many American pulpits rage against George III as 'The Great Satan':

"King George III and other highly placed Britons called the colonists' rebellion a 'Presbyterian War.' One after another, royal governors and Anglican clergy damned Presbyterians and Congregationalists as incipient rebels and 'Oliverians.'

"...Protestants in the American colonies were infuriated by Parliament's passage in 1774 of the Quebec Act, which reestablished the rights of the Roman Catholic Church both in Canada and in the Ohio Valley territory taken from France in 1763, thereby putting French Catholicism in the way of the westward expansion that New England and Virginia believed had been promised to them.

"...Provincial religious sensitivities had also been aroused during the 1760s and early 1770s by the maneuvers of Anglican clergymen to have the Church of England appoint bishops in the colonies and to strengthen its structure and influence in North America...One religious historian notes that 'proposals for sending a bishop to America constantly reinforced' not just Puritan but Scotch-Irish and Scots tribal memories of earlier controversies and persecution.

"...To call the American Revolution a religious war is excessive as a stand-alone explanation...yet one does well to remember how religion had been the principal reason for the original settlements in New England, Pennsylvania and Maryland, and how, more recently, the importance of the religious idiom had resurged with the Great Awakening."

Kevin Phillips, The Cousins' Wars, Basic Books, 1999, pp. 92-4


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