The Great Awakening

It was after the American Revolution, after everything had been settled and the future of the new republic looked promising. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he was not expressing new ideas or principles when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. No indeed. He was expressing ideas that already had become settled in the American mind.

John Adams wrote much the same thing. "What do we mean by the American Revolution? The Revolution was in the minds of the people . . . a change in the religious sentiments."

What they were referring to was the Great Awakening, a religious revival that swept the American colonies in the first half of the 18th century. In the decades preceding the War of Independence, revivalism taught people that they could confront religious authority when that authority wasn't living up to the believer's expectations. As a result many Christians broke with the Church of England and formed their own church. It was the democratization of religion and overnight a number of new denominations sprung up across the land, especially in New England.

Thanks to the Awakening, Colonists realized that religious power resided not with the established church but rather resided in their very own hands. After a generation or two passed with this kind of mindset, it wasn't that much of a stretch for Colonists to realize that political power did not reside in the hands of the English monarch, but in their own desire to be self-governed. By 1775, even though Colonists did not all share the same theological beliefs, they did share a common vision of freedom from British authority. Thus, the Great Awakening created a climate that made the American Revolution possible.

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