Religion in the new nation

That left white men to determine what life in the independent colonies should look like. The common religious ethos developed in the Great Awakening and the much more passionate sense of commonality that grew while people from thirteen colonies had to be united as they risked death and gave lives during the war meant that it was possible to conceive of their thirteen separate colonies virtually as ready for a new, more interactive polity. They did this first through the frail and ineffective Articles of Confederation, which had to give place to a federal union signalled by the Constitution drafted in 1787 and ratified by 1789. Much of the rhetoric for the federal union came from clergy from across most of the colonies, though they did oppose each other in respect to major details of life in the republic as Federalist and Republican parties formed. Again, clergy became ideologues and spokespersons for these parties, often setting out as they did to find biblical warrants for their separate approaches to the new nation.

While the fifty-five drafters who gathered in Independence Hall in Philadelphia between May and September, 1787, kept religion at a distance when writing a Constitution, it is clear that many of them recognized the need to deal with the religious situation. They could not establish the religion of the Enlightenment. Such a religion was not well institutionalized - where were its sanctuaries, who were its clerics? - and any attempt to establish it would have been bitterly opposed by the churches. Yet it was inconceivable that the churches would come to sudden agreement, overcome their historic differences, graciously yield to each other, and cease competition. What should the drafters do?

It has been said that the constitutionalists solved the problem of religion by not solving the problem of religion.22 That is, they were silent, keeping it at a distance. One clause in the Constitution, Article IV, dramatically insisted that 'No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office

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