The Friends of Education
Most European immigrants to America came from regions that were officially Roman Catholic or Protestant, and some came from areas that were in dispute. Even nonbelievers in Europe could not avoid religious taxation and citizenship rights and responsibilities anchored in sectarianism.
As members of different sects emigrated, and as previous immigrants disagreed over doctrinal matters, they realized that in America people could not be forced to acquiesce in beliefs with which they disagreed or stay in a community where they felt oppressed. The right to vote had been tied to orthodoxy in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Virginia, but on the frontier governance was not often associated with any established church. People quickly learned the value of ignoring differences that were simply personal beliefs. Indeed, apparent indifference to sectarian religion by many frontier residents was one of the worrisome indicators to eastern Americans and to New Englanders recently arrived at the frontier, a sign that established values were in jeopardy.
There were several waves of religious revivalism. The first one, called the Great Awakening, ran from 1720 to the 1740s. Persuasive evangelists advocated more feeling, more emotional enthusiasm in religion. (The Pennsylvania pietists discussed in Chapter 7 were part of this.) In concentrated periods of preaching (revivals), many people converted. While the enthusiasm of the moment passed quickly for some, new sects--or new branches of existing religious groups--resulted from the converts. Missionizing revivalists preached regularly in America. Several sects sponsored these, notably the Methodists (dissenting Anglicans) who sent "circuit riders" throughout the frontier supporting themselves by preaching.
Revivals came to be frequent activities in many parts of the country,