The Diplomatic Relations of the United States with the Barbary Powers, 1776-1816

By Arthur Alphonse Ekirch Jr. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
THE DEFENCE OF SOCIAL STABILITY

IN contrast with the groups which interpreted progress in the light of a social reform were those whose distrust of the times found expression in a pessimistic or a conservative interpretation of the idea of progress. Foremost among these conservatives were the church spokesmen who counselled that social progress be surrounded and restrained by the stabilizing influence of religion. Intellectuals, steeped in the traditions of the classics and history, cynical of the possibility of reform, and distrustful of an age of innovation, also became the advocates of social stability or the voices of despair. Representatives of the propertied interests of the country, uncertain of the implications of the idea of progress, did their best to emphasize its gradual and conservative aspects. Therefore the idea of progress, vague enough to be interpreted in the light of their own interests and beliefs, seldom had to be denied completely by the advocates of social stability.

In the religious writings of the period Christianity was invoked as the decisive element in the progress of civilization. Christian clergymen, in addressing college audiences, expressed their regret that the possibilities of religion were neglected, and they predicted great future progress and a perfect state of society only if the promise of Christianity was realized.1 Among the orthodox ministers true progress was believed impossible unless the efforts of man were inspired by the Grace of God. Contributors to the popular religious periodicals of the day therefore advocated an unquestioned reliance on the progressive purposes of a divine Providence. In the words of the Presbyterian Quarterly Review

____________________
1
See for example: Lyman Beecher, The Memory of Our Fathers ( Boston, 1828) ; Jonathan Blanchard, A Perfect State of Society ( Oberlin, 1839) ; W. D. Snodgrass, An Address . . . Washington College ( New York, 1845); Leonard Bacon, Christianity in History ( New Haven, 1848) ; W. H. Green, The Destiny of Man ( Phil., 1853); Nathan Lord, The Improvement of the Present State of Things ( Hanover, 1853).

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