Members of the revolutionary generation were influenced by religious
liberty and “The Great Awakening,” 1728-1790.
The protestant evangelical movement, taking place in England, Scotland
and Germany, simultaneously took place in the colonies. Known as
The Great Awakening (1728-1790), the religious revivals produced
new forms of religious expression and belief that influenced the
development of religious liberty throughout the colonies.
Under the leadership of a family of clergy, Reverend William Tennent
and his four sons, Presbyterians in Pennsylvania and New Jersey,
initiated revivals. From 1726-1745 at Log
College, Tennent taught pupils ancient languages and the Bible
and inspired an evangelical zeal in these future ministers. From
the Middle Colonies, religious fervor spread to New England. In
sermons such as “Sinners
in the Hands of an Angry God” and philosophical essays and lectures,
balanced the majesty of God and love of Christ with vivid portraits
of the dangers of unrepentant sin. Edwards, who became the third
president of Princeton University in 1758, influenced many to question
traditional teachings and to follow their consciences. English preacher
George Whitefield, John and Charles Wesley began the Methodist Church,
converted thousands to a new birth during seven visits to the colonies.
Charles Haynes in Finding
Common Ground summarizes the influence of the Great Awakening
and the struggles for disestablishment:
- Madison and Jefferson were greatly aided in the struggle to
remove official government support of the Church of England by
the Baptists, Presbyterians, Quakers and other ‘dissenting’ faiths
of Anglican Virginia.
- The evangelical fervor of the Awakening cut across denominational
lines and undercut support for the privileges of the established
- Many saw religion as a matter of free choice and churches as
places of self-government. The alliance of church and state was
now seen by many as harmful to the cause of religion.
- In Virginia this climate of dissent and the leadership of such
religious leaders as John Leland, a Baptist, provided the crucial
support Madison needed to win the battle for religious liberty
Use these online resources to supplement
and the American Revolution
History professor Christine Leigh Heyman provides a background essay
with ideas for guiding students to understand the relation of religion
and the American Revolution. On the National Humanities Center’s
and the Founding of the American Republic: Religion and the American
This online exhibit includes artifacts, original documents and links
to significant resources.
and the Founding of the American Republic: Religion and the Congress
of the Confederation, 1774-89
The Library of Congress online exhibit looks at the Continental-Confederation
Congress. “The amount of energy that Congress invested in encouraging
the practice of religion in the new nation exceeded that expended
by any subsequent American national government, ” according to the
site. Includes why chaplains of different denominations are appointed.
First Great Awakening
Essay gives overview of the 1730-1770 Great Awakening. National
Humanities Center Web site.
Revival: The First Great Awakening in Connecticut
The Concord Review provides a sample student paper for an Advanced
Placement U.S. History course.
Four: The Great Awakening
Wake Forest University online lecture