Debating the Issues in Colonial Newspapers: Primary Documents on Events of the Period

By David A. Copeland | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
Religious Divisions, 1740-1745

When most people think of religion in colonial America, they envision Puritans in New England, Anglicans in the South, Quakers in Pennsylvania, Catholics in Maryland, and religious dissenters in Rhode Island. Religious groups in America never broke down that simply, however, especially with the influx of immigrants with more varied religious traditions in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

Even though America was home to various religious groups, political power often rested in the hands of the larger and more powerful groups. That is why many smaller groups, such as Baptists, advocated religious freedom for Americans during the colonial period, especially in the ten to fifteen years prior to the Revolution (see Chapter 22). It is also why many of those in positions of authority in both the church and government opposed new religious groups and the denominational schisms that occurred during the 1730s and 1740s. Others opposed the splits for theological reasons. Primarily, they did not agree with the emotional response to the Gospel message as presented by George Whitefield (see Chapter 8) and ministers who adopted his style of loud, rhythmic preaching that humankind was hopelessly lost in sin and needed personally to experience God during the Great Awakening.

As a direct result of religious revival, denominations divided, particularly the Presbyterians and Puritans. For Presbyterians, the division produced two groups, the Old Sides and the New Sides. The Old Side Presbyterians opposed revivalism and the emotionalism it introduced into worship. They also insisted that ministers hold degrees from major

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