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Sharing 'Early America’s Political Pulpit' by Glenn A. Moots

"The pulpit is essential for understanding Early America and America’s Founding. Regular church attendance, essentially mandatory in Anglican and Congregational colonies for many years, meant that the clerical voice was heard more often than that of any politician—and was likely more influential. Calvinist New England looked to ministers as prophets and mediators of the covenant with God. Clergy served as both representatives of de facto (or de jure) religious establishments and of dissenters against establishments. Ministers delivered not only spiritual counsel and theological instruction, but also essential interpretation of local and world events using lenses of scripture, classical sources, and contemporary philosophies.

"General interest in religion was not confined to Sunday worship or formal membership. Public occasions such as fasts, thanksgivings, martial mustering, and election day gatherings also put ministers before the public. Nor was interest in religion or scripture confined to the doctrinally orthodox. John Adams was so interested in the opinions of ministers that he wrote to Abigail about sermons he’d heard while travelling. Even the skeptic Tom Paine conceded the cultural and rhetorical value of the sermon genre: Common Sense’s reliance on scripture essentially makes it a political sermon.

"Publishing sermons alongside other political pamphlets added profit to piety, making them a staple of early American print culture. Benjamin Franklin did a brisk business with the sermons of his friend George Whitefield, for example. In his groundbreaking (but imperfect) survey of 15,000 early political publications, Donald Lutz asserted that at least 80 percent of those published in the 1770s and 1780s were sermons.

"In Britain, foes of independence lamented the influence of Patriot ministers. The Fourth Earl of Orford, Horace Walpole wrote to a friend, 'One has griefs enough of one’s own, without fretting because cousin America has eloped with a Presbyterian parson.' Peter Oliver decried Patriot James Otis’s appeal to a 'black regiment' of rebellious ministers. Such indispensable support of ministers for the Patriot cause was chronicled by the earliest historians of the Revolution, the Patriot David Ramsay and the Loyalist Joseph Galloway. John Wingate Thornton (1860) and Frank Moore (1862) published anthologies of patriotic sermons during the sectional crisis, no doubt hoping to stir religious fervor for the second civil war by recalling its first.


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