Jeffersonian Disillusions and Dreams 1799–1818

Jonathan D. Sassi

in A Republic of Righteousness

Published in print February 2002 | ISBN: 9780195129892
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780199834624 | DOI:
Jeffersonian Disillusions and Dreams 1799–1818

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The rise of the first party competition and the electoral successes of Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic‐Republican party shook the standing order's eighteenth‐century social ideology to its foundations during the dozen years between 1800 and 1812. Congregational ministers were a core element of the Federalist party base, and while they initially responded to the era's political contention with a conservative message that emphasized support for established religion and government in response to the Jeffersonians’ alleged infidelity and anarchy, they soon became frustrated with their counterparts in the civil leadership, who acted more from political expediency than from the clergy's prescribed principles of godly magistracy. At the same time, the outbreak of the Unitarian controversy divided Congregationalists in Massachusetts into Unitarian and orthodox wings, which inhibited them in the competition for adherents. On account of Democratic‐Republican gains, standing‐order ministers also experienced disillusionment with the providential role that they had prophesied for the United States, repudiated the Constitution as a godless document, and spiraled into a mood of apocalyptic doom that reached its height during the War of 1812, when the nation implicitly allied itself with Napoleonic France against Britain. The surging numbers of religious dissenters, meanwhile, gained from the Democratic‐Republicans new electoral coalition partners and more mainstream, Jeffersonian rhetoric, both of which they employed to bring down the standing order, finally achieving the Congregationalists’ disestablishment in Connecticut in 1818.

Keywords: Congregationalists; Democratic‐Republican party; disestablishment; Federalist party; religious dissenters; Unitarian controversy; War of 1812

Chapter.  19774 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Christianity

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