Martin E Marty

The War of Independence (1776-83), fought by the British colonies in North America against the British government, was the dominant but by no means the only defining event in American religion between 1765 and 1815. The period also saw colonists living off the spiritual capital they had created in the First Great Awakening, which had climaxed in the 1740s, and then citizens realizing what many historians have called a Second Great Awakening beginning around the turn of the nineteenth century.

Further, in the aftermath of the war, the colonists came together to form a new nation. The central act of that formation was the writing and acceptance of the United States Constitution (1787) with its Bill of Rights (1789) that dealt with religious issues.1 The new charter of religious liberties in that Bill of Rights was one of the many stimuli for developing denominational patterns and practices which American citizens adopted so rapidly and with such enthusiasm that these would provide a framework for much religious life in the United States ever after.

Through the period, the overwhelmingly predominant religion was Christianity; among Christians, Protestantism possessed a near monopoly and among Protestants, English-speaking Protestants made up a majority. They played the most visible role in the Revolution and in the shaping of national life. As for the others: in a population estimated at 2.5-3 million people at the time of the nation's founding in 1787, African American slaves counted for little in public life, deprived as they were of rights. Demographers estimate that approximately 30,000 citizens of colonies were Roman Catholics, most of them living in Maryland and Pennsylvania. While Catholics and the very few Jews played their parts in the Revolution, any strong national influence on their part would await the immigration of their fellow-adherents decades after 1815.

Church-based orthodox Protestantism was not the only form available. In the middle of this period many elite Americans came to favour the beliefs and

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