The American States during and after the Revolution, 1775-1789

By Allan Nevins | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TEN PROGRESS IN LIBERALISM AND HUMANITY

AN impressive revolution in the character of social institutions accompanied the Revolution which we regard as primarily political. A number of important changes in the laws and practices concerning religion, land-tenure, penal affairs, charities, and education proceeded from the establishment of independence, and almost all these changes were salutary. In many ways the colonists had been hindered by England from taking progressive action. Even if innovation did no injury to British interests, it was likely to be inharmonious with British traditions, and seemed to broaden the gap between the two lands. But all too frequently British interests were involved, as in the maintenance of the slave trade, of the Episcopal establishment, and of fairly uniform sets of laws in the home and daughter countries. Even during the years of fighting the State legislators were busy with the overthrow of the Establishment and the guaranty of religious liberty; the annulment of laws of entail and primogeniture in favor of a democratic system of inheritance; and the opening up, with the new political prospects, of new vistas of humanitarianism also.


I. PROGRESS TOWARDS RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

The establishment of church equality and freedom of conscience had always been an ambition of the most liberal colonial leaders, and one that in several Colonies had been thwarted by the popular majority, not by British authority. Roughly speaking, in New England outside Rhode Island the Congregational church was favored by the State, though British authority had no predilection for it. In the Middle Colonies the Church of England and the Friends divided a place of slight advantage over other sects; the Anglicans having certain special statutory privileges in a part of New York and in Maryland, and the Quakers enjoying real though

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