One final function of the churches that were heirs of the Revolution and the constitutional drawing of a line of distinction between religion and the civil authorities (James Madison's term for 'the separation of church and state') was the supplying of morale, common language, and national spirit. This had diminished since the colonies had momentarily united during the Revolutionary War, now decades before. Yet many in the clergy who had once used scriptural passages to justify independence now found other scriptural passages that helped them to see the nation as a whole as God's vineyard, a new Zion, an arena in which God-pleasing activity went on. Often they were propelled by millennial enthusiasm, still drawing on visions of an ever-improving world made attractive for Christ's return.
Far from being a Utopia, the new nation was often a scene of lawlessness and violence - just as it had been, especially on the frontiers, before the War of Independence. And the ideology of common nationhood began to be tested early as the North and South went separate ways in dealing with slavery. There had been many slaveholders in the North, but slavery was not as economically necessary or feasible as it seemed to be in the agricultural plantation world in the southern states. By the second decade of the new century some northerners in particular started dreaming of ways to resolve the moral dilemmas that came with slavery. Some advocated the purchase of freedom for slaves followed by their emigration back to Africa. A very few worked for the abolition of slavery without worrying about economic consequences.
In the South, slavery was taken for granted, its economic necessity implied and defended. And when challenge to the institution came, no group was more forceful and effective among the ideological and practical defenders of slavery than the clergy. Like their forebears and counterparts, they put abundant biblical texts to work justifying the enslaving of other humans. The Revolution was thus at best half-finished, if Revolution meant the striving for and effecting of basic human liberties.
Many have seen the War of Independence and its aftermath as a conservative revolution by American lawyers, landowners, and merchants who assured for themselves the kind ofeconomic liberties their counterparts in England knew. However, the legal assurance of religious freedom and the rise of voluntary churches made up a more radical revolution. The degree that that was so, the one-time British colonials had to their satisfaction effected the beginning of what another Latin phrase on their national motto so triumphantly affirmed: this meant a novus ordo seclorum, a new order of ages.
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