Features Of Society
Near the coast.—Colonial society in the older settled regions was aristocratic rather than democratic This was due mainly to English customs and traditions, to an increasing wealth and corresponding raising of the standard of living, to the strength of the religious institutions, and to the colonial system, which provided for a considerable body of officials. In New England the ruling classes were the clergy and the selectmen, who occupied the important places both in the church and in political use; the official class, at the head of whom was the governor; and a third group, the merchants, who usually were not admitted to the governor's circle, and who were apt to voice their social disapprobation in their influence upon legislation. In New York and eastern New Jersey the great landholders and the official group controlled politics and society. In western New Jersey and Pennsylvania the Quakers were politically, socially, and commercially the preponderant element. In the South the plantation owners formed an aristocracy whose social lines were drawn with distinctness.
The frontier.—In contrast to the tide-water country, frontier society was distinctly individualistic and democratic. The Scotch-Irish and Germans had flocked to the mountain country. There they had built their cabins, made their clearings in the forest, and lived a life free from the conventions of the longer settled communities. Hunting, fur-trading, lumbering, and cattle raising were their chief pursuits. The danger from Indian attack was a constant menace, and personal bravery and resourcefulness were strongly marked characteristics. With it all they were a religious people, the Presbyterians and Pietists being predominant.
The Anglican church.—The religious lines marked out in the seventeenth century were followed in the eighteenth with one notable exception, namely, the growth of the Anglican church. This was due mainly in the first instance to the efforts of the Bishop of London who sent commissaries to America, the first being James Blair who was sent to Virginia in 1689, and the second Thomas Bray, who in 1695 was sent to inquire into the state of the colonial church. The result of Bray's inquiry was the founding in 1701 of the Society for Propagating the Gospel. At the time of its foundation nearly all of the Episcopal churches were in Virginia and Maryland. In 1759 Thomas Sherlock, the Bishop of London, reported that, "at least one half of the Plantations are of the established Church.... This is the case of So. Carolina, N. Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Jamaica, Barbadoes, Antegoa, Nevis, and the rest of the Caribbee Islands. On the other side—Pennsylvania is in the hands and under the governmt of the Quakers, and New England and the adjoining Colonies are in the hands of the Independents. But in some of them are great numbers of Churchmen."
The Great Awakening.—The eighteenth century witnessed a great change in the New England churches. After a hundred years the early enthusiasm of the Puritan church had subsided, and though its doctrine had changed but slightly, a marked change in emphasis had taken place. Conversion was still considered a divine work, but the belief had become current that the soul could be put in touch with the spirit of God by prayer, scriptural study, regular church attendance, participation in the Lord's Supper, a moral life, and having been born of parents who belonged to the church, by "owning the covenant." Against these views Jonathan Edwards rebelled. In 1734 at Northampton, Edwards preached a series of sermons in which he defended the doctrine of justification by faith alone. He pleaded for immediate repentance and denied that good deeds would lead to salvation. The religious revival, started at Northampton, soon spread throughout Connecticut, and reverberated in Boston. At the height of the movement George Whitefield, the friend of the Wesleys, after preaching in Georgia and South Carolina, in 1740 visited New England where thousands were converted. By 1744 the movement had somewhat spent itself, and when Whitefield arrived at Boston for a second preaching tour he found that a reaction had set in. The followers of Edwards and Whitefield had come to be known as the "New Light" party, while the reactionaries formed the "Old Light" party. Two generations later this led to the separation of the Congregational body into the "Orthodox" and "Unitarian" groups.
Colleges.—Religion played a large part in eighteenth century education. William and Mary College, founded in Virginia in 1691 under Anglican influence, was the only institution of advanced learning in the South. Yale, founded in 1701 under strong clerical influence, became the seat of orthodox Calvinism. Harvard also came on apace, in 1721 and 1727 establishing professorships in divinity and natural philosophy. Through the influence of Presbyterian ministers, in 1746 the College of New Jersey was granted a charter. King's College, now Columbia University, founded in New York in 1754, was made possible by the efforts of Dean Berkeley. In 1755, largely through the instrumentality of Benjamin Franklin, the first college was founded in Pennsylvania, the institution being freer from religious influence than any other colonial college.
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