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Preaching Politics

The Religious Rhetoric of George Whitefield and the Founding of a New Nation

Jerome Dean Mahaffey

Publication Year: 2007

The third volume in the Studies in Rhetoric & Religion, Preaching Politics traces the surprising and lasting influence of one of American history's most fascinating and enigmatic figures, George Whitefield. Jerome Mahaffey explores George Whitefield's role in creating a"rhetoric of community "that successfully established a common worldview among the many colonial cultures. Using a rigorous method of rhetorical analysis, Mahaffey cogently argues that George Whitefield directed the evolution of an American collective religious identity that lay underneath the emerging political ideology that fueled the American Revolution.

Published by: Baylor University Press

Front Cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xiii

My interest in George Whitefield began in 1993 when I heard a couple of stories about him in a history class with John Corrigan at Arizona State University. While telling the anecdotes about how Whitefield could make audiences tremble by his pronunciation of the word “Mesopotamia,” and that the famous actor David Garrick would give a hundred guineas just to say “O” like Whitefield, the taciturn Dr. Corrigan could not contain his mirth and let a chuckle escape. ...

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1 The Quest for American Origins

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pp. 1-20

If ever a diverse people occupied one land, they were the Euro-American colonists in the decades before the American Revolution. Consisting of various cultures, speaking different languages, adhering to dissimilar religions, and accustomed to the authoritarian rule of monarchs, it was unlikely that from 1735 to 1775 these colonists would find sufficient common ground upon which to construct a popular revolt against the British crown. ...

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2 Whitefield: Finding his Talents, Forming his Identity

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pp. 21-48

George Whitefield’s childhood resembles that of any fatherless youth experiencing self-doubt, searching for a vocation, and attempting to find his niche. For Whitefield, born a commoner in England, discovering his talents was simple; deciding where those gifts should lead him was a struggle. The rise from a commoner to an influential international figure did not often occur in the early eighteenth century, and Whitefield would have to figure out the method for himself. ...

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3 American Identity

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pp. 49-74

The America that George Whitefield found on his arrival was uniquely situated to receive a rhetoric of community, although neither he nor the American settlers understood just how closely that rhetoric could address their situation. Beyond the fact that Great Britain granted the charters and protected all the American colonies in what is now the United States, the diverse groups of colonists living in America possessed little in the sense of a shared identity...

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4 America Awakened

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pp. 75-107

George Whitefield traveled directly to Philadelphia upon his arrival in America with an agenda and a message. He intended to initiate an American revival to add an American extension of his “parish” and raise money to build the orphanage. In his eight-day visit to the city (November 3–11, 1739) Whitefield reports to have attended three church services and to have preached at least eleven times in various places to crowds of up to eight thousand people.1 ...

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5 Toward Colonial Unification

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pp. 109-145

As George Whitefield left America to return to England, all seemed well to him except the conflict with established clergy regarding enthusiasm and clerical conversion, but the situation rapidly shifted. The controversy over the revival deepened when subsequent itinerant preachers exacerbated harsh feelings by continuing to reproach unconverted ministers and encourage their parishioners to join New Light churches. ...

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6 The War against Arbitrary Power

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pp. 147-183

Whereas from 1736 to 1744 George Whitefield primarily sought to spread the message of the new birth to the entire world, constraints in Great Britain and America compelled him to extend the goals of his enterprise. Whitefield said, “I hope I shall always think it my bounded duty, next to inviting sinners to the blessed Jesus, to exhort my hearers to exert themselves against the first approaches of Popish tyranny and arbitrary power.”1 ...

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7 The Deep-Laid Plot

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pp. 185-212

As the French and Indian War came to a close in 1763, the new British administration sought to raise funds from abroad to ease the national debt, recovering some of the costs of the war from the colonists whom they viewed as the central beneficiaries of the victory. In 1763 George III replaced the Earl of Bute with George Grenville as the new prime minister, who promptly began a program of taxation and increased British control known as the Grenville Program. ...

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8 A Blueprint for Revolution

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pp. 213-241

As 1770 drew to a close and George Whitefield was laid to rest in Newburyport, Massachusetts, whether colonists had recognized it or not, Whitefield’s influence on the development of the colonial mind had been profound. Beginning with the personal sense of identity of all those who had been directly awakened by a conversion experience and extending to those who began to think in the bifurcated terms that the Awakening popularized...

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9 The Legacy of Whitefield

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pp. 243-254

At a structural level, the parallels between religious patterns of thought disseminated by Whitefield in the 1740s and the political ideology of the 1770s are striking. Republican notions of virtue and liberty were deeply rooted in Reformation and revival theology that redefined the concepts for the church. Subsequently, the new logic underneath the new definitions operated as inventional topics to empower republican ideas and afford them a rapid acceptance in the people. ...


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pp. 255-277


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pp. 279-289


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pp. 291-295

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781602580848
E-ISBN-10: 1602580847
Print-ISBN-13: 9781932792881
Print-ISBN-10: 1932792880

Page Count: 310
Publication Year: 2007

Edition: 1st

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Rhetoric -- Political aspects -- United States -- History -- 18th century.
  • United States -- History -- Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775.
  • Whitefield, George, 1714-1770.
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