'diabolical, hell-conceived principle of persecution' which left some ministers of the gospel in prison for failing to get licenses and thus preaching in unlawful situations.11
In the northern colonies the Congregational Church was established except in Rhode Island, a colony founded by dissenters, especially Baptists, and which also provided a welcoming home to Quakers. The Congregationalists, descendants of the New England Puritans and in many cases enlivened by the Great Awakening revivalists and preachers, began to use religious language against the British. Some of these, among them Jonathan Mayhew, were theological liberals who were moving from rigid Calvinism towards Arminianism. This was a form of Protestantism that stressed the benevolence of God and the duties of humans - one of these duties now being, Mayhew said as early as 1750, to throw off the yoke of British-imposed slavery, meaning its taxation policies.12
While Mayhew and other Arminians, ancestors of what became the Unitarian denomination in the nineteenth century, occupied fashionable pulpits and gave learned discourses on liberty, in the shadow oftheir steeples or in the backwoods, less-prestigious, often less-educated, and almost always more fervent ministers took up the cause of liberty. Among practices that caused many to chafe were the efforts by the Anglican church establishment in England to gain footholds in New England. Some prominent citizens in Massachusetts and Connecticut had set the pace by converting to Anglicanism. But more ominous in the eyes of Congregationalists were endeavours by Anglicans through the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) not only to fulfil stated intentions to convert Native Americans but also to promote religious rule by bishops. And bishops, symbols of repression in their eyes, were abhorrent to members of the 749 Congregational churches that existed at the time of the Revolution.13 The Baptist Isaac Backus, in a book of history in 1784, was typical in citing the episcopal encroachment as the greatest single cause of the Revolution. Fighting against the intrusion of the SPG and the threat of bishops led many of these independent-minded Congregationalists to oppose anything British and to call, increasingly, for independence.
In the southern colonies the Anglican or Episcopal Church was everywhere established. At the time of the Revolution there were 406 such parish churches in these colonies. While George Whitefield, the most effective revivalist in the Great Awakening, had been an Episcopalian, few Anglicans were caught up in the revivals and they often disdained emotional religious expressions. Most scholars agree that Anglicans of the established churches in the colonies were a comparatively weak presence.
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