Introduction
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Introduction In this book I argue that a self-imposed interdenominational transformation began in the American Presbyterian Church upon its reunion in 1758 and that the church’s experience during the American Revolution altered this process.The resulting interdenominational goals had both spiritual and national objectives. As the leaders in the Presbyterian Church strove for unity in Christ and country, I contend that they created fissures in the church that would one day divide it as well as further the sectional rift that would lead to the Civil War.The late colonial and early republican Presbyterian Church warrants study not only because of the prestigious positions Presbyterians held in academia, society, and government but also because the church is one of the best representations of a colony/nationwide denomination .1 In this position the church was able to offer its services,largely through the printed word, as a vehicle in which Americans could address the religious and civil tumults of the late eighteenth century. A study of the denomination reveals Presbyterians more than mirroring and accommodating the concerns,beliefs,and desires of Americans; it also illustrates that they were integral in fostering what captivated the American mind: Christendom , the conflict with Great Britain, nationalism, and sectionalism.2 The history of religion during the last half of the eighteenth century is, fortunately, a well-developed and well-researched field. Despite the strides historians have made, however, little has been written on denominational attempts at Christian unity or how churches during this period interacted with or affected nationalism or sectionalism. Religious histories writ- 2 / Introduction ten about the late colonial period tend to focus on the great multitude of contests—religious, social, and national—that marked the era and how they led to or influenced the American Revolution. Historians such as Carl Bridenbaugh, Arthur Cross, and, more recently, Kenneth Elliott and James B. Bell have argued the central significance of the Anglican/Dissenter conflict over the establishment of a colonial bishopric to the American Revolution .3 However,by focusing on the bishopric crisis,these historians are only able to present a narrow history of the late colonial period. While still focusing on conflicts, other historians have attempted to broaden the understanding of religion’s influence on the American Revolution . Both Alan Heimert and Patricia Bonomi stressed the importance of the Great Awakening to the origins of the American Revolution, although Heimart emphasized New/Old Light differences and Bonomi stressed the common heritage of challenging authority.4 Historians such as Nathan Hatch and Ruth Bloch focused on the millennial beliefs of American churchgoers, sparked by the conflicts between Catholic France and Protestant Britain, as motivation for the American Revolution and the foundation of the republic.5 For Jonathan Clark, the origins of the revolution lay in the religious traditions of the seventeenth century rather than the eighteenth . This last war of religion, as he defined the American Revolution, was fueled by the anxiety of colonial Dissenters, who were ideologically stuck in the seventeenth century, concerning the heterodox and hegemonic eighteenth-century Anglican Church.6 Although each of these historians provides indispensable insight into the influence of religion in the late colonial and revolutionary periods, their work, which largely focuses on conflict , overlooks processes of unity such as the interdenominational journey begun by the Presbyterian Church, as well as its eventual significance. Much of the religious history focused on the late eighteenth century forward can be divided into two schools of thought that center on the “social control” hypothesis. Those who support the argument, such as Fred Hood and Jon Butler, argue that this period was marked predominantly by the clergymen trying to retain their control over the common person.7 Although the social control thesis was the historical interpretation for a number of years,recent historians such as Hatch have attempted to counter it by rewriting the history of the Second Great Awakening. As a result, denominations during this period fall into one of two categories: the “religious newcomers”(the Methodists, Baptists, Mormons, African-American Christians and those within the various strains of the Christian movement) and the “Standing Order” (the Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and Anglicans ). For these historians, the “religious newcomers,” inspired by the democratic impulses of the American Revolution, were the true catalysts Introduction / 3 for the Second Great Awakening,as their egalitarian principles sparked the Christianization of Americans, the democratization of American Christianity , and the democratization of the United States in general.8 Although my work greatly benefited from Hatch and...


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