1760’s Decade Analysis













Jared Key, Hannah Robinette, and Matthew Malcolm

Religion 319: 18th Century Theology

Professor Don Westblade

February 15, 2021

This decade was one wrapped in political fervor and world-changing events. In the realm of ideas, this energy and movement were even more pronounced. The Colonies were racked event after event that laid the groundwork for the Revolution. Immigration and introduction of multi-religious societies undermined the religious unity previously felt in New England. This decade set the stage for the Revolution and saw the beginning of several significant figures in American history. These figures include Thomas Jefferson beginning his education in 1760, Parliament refusing to seat radical free press activist and colonist supporter John Wilkes in 1769, and Edmund Burke, famous for his support of the revolutionaries, enters Parliament in 1764. Beyond the material politics, the Enlightenment, both the radical French and the moderate Scottish, had earth-shaking events that fundamentally transformed the thinking of New England and all the Colonies. These events set the powder keg that would on April 19, 1775 erupt into war.

Education, Economy, and Religion

The period of 1760 to 1770 also featured many interesting events in the areas of economy, education, and religion. After the French and Indian War ended and the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1763, England “stripped the French of Canada, took over all the land to the Mississippi River, and drove the Spanish out of Florida”.[1] This influx of new lands for expansion led to a predominance of farming in the economy, which caused agriculture to diversify.[2] New land opportunity and larger markets meant immigration from places like Scotland, Ireland, and Germany increased which caused the population of the colonies to soar from around 360,000 in 1713 to over one million during the 1760’s.[3] Education also soared during this time period due to the amount of secondary schools in the colonies. By 1763, these schools made Americans who lived in the older colonies some of “the most literate people in the world”.[4] New England especially “possessed an education system that was probably excelled nowhere”.[5] Education extended beyond secondary schools into the collegiate realm as well. There were six colleges that already existed, and three more were added before the Revolutionary War.[6] One of these was founded by James Manning, who sought a charter for a Baptist school in Rhode Island during 1764. The charter was very liberal and allowed officers, teachers, and students not of the Baptist denomination to attend the university. The first class would graduate in 1769, and the school became modern day Brown University.[7]

The religious tones of the decade also looked very different from previous time periods. In the Northern colonies religious tolerance and variety was increasing with Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists, Quakers, and Presbyterians all finding a home. The first synagogue in America was also dedicated in New Port, Rhode Island on December 2nd, 1763 and, by 1770, there would be around 1,000 Jews living throughout all the colonies.[8] The Methodist movement also got its start in this decade when “in 1769 the first of eight lay missionaries Wesley named for America arrived”.[9] The movement would not really grow until after the Revolutionary War but the seed was planted. The introduction of sects, “groups that remained within the wide spectrum of Christian belief but that broke off into what they considered pure communities of ethics and doctrine based upon their interpretation of scripture”, also added to the growing religious diversity.[10] Some of these included the Sandemanians, the Quakers, and the Mennonites, all of which were spread throughout the colonies.[11] The increase in religious diversity did not come without problems. Catholicism was still very disliked and even liberal colonies like Maryland did not allow Catholics to hold public office.[12] The Anglicans also were greatly disliked due to their desire for bishops in the colonies. This clash was especially prevalent in New England where “The descendants of the Puritans could not forget their father’s persecution at the hands of bishops such as Laud”.[13] The matter was further complicated by the political climate of the time. The men who supported the coming of bishops had also supported England during the time of the Stamp Act which made the New England Congregational Clergy think “asking for bishops was all part of a great plot to deliver the Puritan colonies back into the hands of king and said bishops”.[14] The conflict would come to a head when Congregationalists and Presbyterians joined together to form a plan of attack. To spread word “Articles were written in newspapers, pamphlets were turned out by the hundreds, and eloquent sermons were delivered from pulpits”.[15] The “older General Baptists and the Separate Baptists began to work together” during this time as well, and the combining of both forces was seen as “essential in the struggle to dismantle the Anglican establishment and assure religious liberty”.[16] This fight for "religious liberty" would add to the tension already building between England and the Colonies, and helped push the colonies into Revolution.

Political History and Effects on Christianity

During the 18th century, church membership and the right to own property, cast votes, and participate in society were intimately related to each other; indeed, both political and theological discussions took place within the walls of the same building—the church. Thus, this relationship between church and state caused serious theological problems in the church, mainly pertaining to church membership, participation in the Lord’s Supper, and the like. Needless to say, the political events that transpired between 1760 and 1770 in the colonies deeply affected the religious landscape and, in some instances, even formed the framework of the interpretation of the Bible itself.

In 1760, King George III took over the throne of England and henceforth began his fifty-nine-year reign.[17] England, at the time, was essentially the most powerful nation in the world. Importantly, a changing of the throne often times marks the weakest point in the history of any great empire. It is also worth noting that King George III inherited this nation in the midst of the Seven Years War, which was fought mainly between France and England.[18] Following the end of the war in 1763, Great Britain was deeply in debt, due to war expenses. As a result, British Parliament passed the Stamp Act in 1765.[19] This order, as we will see, was fundamental for the political—and by extension, the religious—life of the colonists in America. Additionally, the Stamp Act, along with several other actions, paved the way for the American Revolution. 

The Stamp Act of 1765, imposed under the rule of King George III, greatly affected the colonies, as it was the first tax imposed on these people by the British Parliament.[20] Through this law, British Parliament successfully imposed taxes on the colonists’ use of “all paper documents” in the colonies.[21] Though the Stamp Act was repealed the following year, it was immediately succeeded by the Declaratory Act, which emphasized the king’s rule over the colonists and expressed the near limitlessness of his power over them; this is evidenced by the following: “and that the King’s majesty…ought to have, full power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies and people of America, subjects of the crown of Great Britain, in all cases whatsoever.”[22] During the course of these political developments, clergymen in the colonies actively produced early forms of pro-Revolution ideals; among those politically active pastors was Jonathan Mayhew. In response to the Stamp Act, Mayhew urged his listeners to embrace the freedom, or “liberty,” they have in Christ, appealing mainly to the book of Galatians; in his first sermon after the Stamp Act was issued, Mayhew placed a large emphasis on what he called “civil liberty,” essentially stating that Britain had no right to treat the colonists as slaves.[23] In 1766, following the repeal of the Stamp Act, Mayhew preached one of his last sermons of his life, in which the practice of applying Scripture to current political events is clearly seen. This is evidenced as Mayhew likens the relationship of the colonists to Parliament to the bird and snare in Psalm 124:7 in the following: “thus ‘our soul is escaped as a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we are escaped;’ tho’ not without much struggling in the snare, before it gave way, and set us at liberty again.”[24]

Radical Enlightenment and the Mainstream Appeal of Theism

            The decade began with Thomas Jefferson beginning his college years at the College of William and Mary in 1760. College constituted the first real exposer Jefferson had to enlightenment ideas. He was exposed to William Small, a son of a Presbyterian minister from Scotland. He introduced Jefferson to the emphasis on reason and natural influence, "When Jefferson said that Small gave him his 'first views on the expansion of science & of the system of things in which we are placed,' he was no doubt referring to the system of the cosmos described by Copernicus and Newton and derived from human sensory perceptions and reason, not the heaven-and-earth system of Genesis based on God's revelation."[25] William Small represents Jefferson’s first exposure to empiricism and Locke's writing, particularly his 2nd Treatise.[26]

            Jefferson's first exposer is just one event for the emerging American Deist movement. In 1764, Elihu Palmer was born. He is credited with taking American Enlightenment’s Deism mainstream and pressuring the early republic’s churches and moral sensibilities in the early 1800s. He argued against the double despotism of the state and the church as the twin obstacle to overcome. He championed rational investigations as the source of ethical principles as well as religious ones. He opposed the subjugation of women, Africans' enslavement, and the "coercion of conscious." He will eventually be the founder of the Deistical Society of America.[27]

In Scotland, Thomas Reid founds what he names Scottish Philosophy, fully culminating what will be called the Scottish Enlightenment in his book Inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense in 1764.[28] He wrote this to reject David Hume’s skepticism. The distinction, however, of bringing this new strand of the Enlightenment to America belongs to John Witherspoon. In 1768, John Witherspoon came to the new world to be president of the College of New Jersey, representing the established Scottish philosophy's first real ambassador.[29]

In France, several massive events fundamentally transformed the Enlightenment. On March 10, 1762, religious tensions resulted in protestant merchant Jean Calas being accused of killing his son to prevent his conversion to Catholicism. He was broken on the wheel while proclaiming his innocence. On July 1, 1766, 19-year-old Chevalier de La Barre was beheaded by the state for insulting a religious procession and damaging a crucifix. Voltaire took up the case in both events. Voltaire was successful in proving the innocence of Jean Calas after his death. This cruelty disgusted the populous, and Voltaire saw these actions as a vindication of his radical enlightenment philosophy of Christianity's evils and barbarity.[30] This barbarity played a role in laying the groundwork for the French Revolution. Finally, in 1762 Voltaire’s book Candide where he rails against structured Christianity and the aristocracy, was added to the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, having already been banned by Geneva. In 1768, Voltaire claimed the authorship of Candide.[31]

This French Enlightenment influence culminates in Jean-Jacques Rousseau's The Social Contract in 1762.[32] This book is fundamental for the French Revolution. This book argued for sovereignty residing in the people, not in divinely ordained monarchs. His work, building on thinkers like Locke, divides the sovereign power to govern from government and rest this power with the common man. He moved the government from a divine oriented mission to one of protecting the rights of its people. Sovereignty moved from a divine/ upper orientation to a lower human concern. [33]

This theory and the Enlightenment more generally means that the puritan style of government is incompatible with natural law and, by extension, nature's God. Through policing the table, preachers like those in Massachusetts deny the natural rights of the citizens. By this theory, they are sinning against God. The horror of events in France of religious totalitarianism and cruelty is a significant reason why the separation of church and state was embraced. It originally intended to prevent a state-sponsored religion as in the 1st Amendment.[34] This is the solution to religious oppression of natural rights— remove any sovereign power from the church.

The decade of 1760 to 1770 was a time filled with energy and ideas. The French and Scottish Enlightenments transformed the thoughts of those in New England and the rest of the colonies as well. These ideas would affect the men who would come to be the founding fathers of this country and would help to lay the groundwork for the Revolution. This decade also featured a branching out from Puritan Congregationalism which, when combined with new land opportunities and mass amounts of immigration, created a variety of religious traditions and beliefs to spread throughout the colonies. This influx of new ideas on all areas of life would become the cornerstones in the foundation for the Revolutionary War and, ultimately, the United States of America.                          
































Enlightenment/ Philosophical Events

Jayne, Allen. Jefferson's Declaration of Independence Origins, Philosophy, and Theology. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2015. 

Gies, David Thatcher. The Eighteenth Centuries: Global Networks of Enlightenment. Charlottesville ; London: University of Virginia Press, 2018.

Bailyn, Bernard. “Political Experience and Enlightenment Ideas in Eighteenth Century America.” American Historical Review 67, no. 2 (1962). 

Israel, Jonathan Irvine. Democratic Enlightenment: Philosophy, Revolution and Human Rights 1750-1790. Oxford: University Press, 2013.

Walters, Kerry S. The American Deists: Voices of Reason and Dissent in the Early Republic. Lawrence, Kan.: Univ. Press of Kansas, 1992. 

Bowden, Henry Warner, and Paul Charles Kemeny. American Church History: a Reader. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1998.

Lacorne, Denis, and George Holoch. Religion in America: a Political History. New York: Columbia University Press, 2014. 

Grenda, Christopher. “Thinking Historically about Diversity: Religion, the Enlightenment, and the Construction of Civic Culture in Early America.” Journal of Church & State 48, no. 3 (n.d.): 567–600. 

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, and Victor Gourevitch. The Social Contract and Other Later Political Writings. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2019.

U.S. Const. Amend. I

“Voltaire.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., January 7, 2021. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Voltaire.

Political Events

Holifield, Brooks E. Theology in America: Christian Thought from the Age of the Puritans to the Civil War. Yale University Press, 2003. 

Witham, Larry. A City Upon a Hill: How Sermons Changed the Course of American History. HarperCollins Publishers, 2007. 

Long, David F., editor. A Documentary History of U.S. Foreign Relations: The mid-1890s to 1979. University Press of America, 1980.

Great Britain Parliament. "The Declaratory Act." Avalon Project - Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy. Last modified March 18, 1766. https://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/declaratory_act_1766.asp.

History.com Editors. "George III." HISTORY. Last modified September 20, 2019. https://www.history.com/topics/british-history/george-iii.

History.com Editors. "Stamp Act." HISTORY. Last modified July 31, 2019. https://www.history.com/topics/american-revolution/stamp-act.

Mayhew, Jonathan. "1766: Mayhew, The Snare Broken (Sermon)." Online Library of Liberty. Accessed February 12, 2021. https://oll.libertyfund.org/page/1766-mayhew-the-snare-broken-sermon.

Witham, Larry. A City Upon a Hill: How Sermons Changed the Course of American History. New York: HarperCollins, 2007. NCh.

Religion/Assorted Important Events

Holifield, E. Brooks. Theology in America: Christian Thought from the Age of the Puritans to the Civil War. New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2003. Accessed January 31, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1nq5wz

Holmes, L. David. The Faiths of the Founding Fathers. England: Oxford University Press, 2006. 

Ahlstrom, E. Sydney. A Religious History of the American People. 2nd ed. London: Yale University Press, 2004.

Library of Congress. Touro Synagogue.  //www.loc.gov (accessed January 31, 2021). 

Poole, Stafford. “Southern and Caribbean Christianity in the Eighteenth Century.” In Christianity Comes to the Americas, 334-347. New York: Paragon House, 1992.

Handy, T. Robert, Lefferts A. Loetscher, H. Shelton Smith. “The Methodist Phase of the Awakening.” In American Christianity: A Historical Interpretation with Representative Documents, 366-371. Vol. 1. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1960.

Handy, T. Robert. “The Era of the Great Awakenings in Colonial America.” In A History of the Churches in the United States and Canada 1720-75, 76-115. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Brauer, C. Jerald. “Religion and Revolution.” In Protestantism in America: Revised Edition. 63-73. Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1953.



[1] Jerald C. Brauer, “Religion and Revolution,” In Protestantism in America: Revised Edition, Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1953, 65.

[2] Sydney E. Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People, 2nd ed. London: Yale University Press, 2004, 344.

[3] Ibid,.

[4] Ibid, 346.

[5] Ibid,.

[6] Ibid,.

[7] Ibid, 376.

[8] Library of Congress, Touro Synagogue,  //www.loc.gov. 

[9] Robert T. Handy, “The Era of the Great Awakenings in Colonial America,” In A History of the Churches in the United States and Canada 1720-75, New York: Oxford University Press, 1977, 96.

[10] David L. Holmes, The Faiths of the Founding Fathers, England: Oxford University Press, 2006, 3. 

[11] Ibid,.

[12] Ibid, 18.

[13] Jerald C. Brauer, “Religion and Revolution,” In Protestantism in America: Revised Edition, Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1953, 67.

[14] Ibid, 68.

[15] Ibid,.

[16] Poole, Stafford, “Southern and Caribbean Christianity in the Eighteenth Century,” In Christianity Comes to the Americas, New York: Paragon House, 1992, 342.


[17] History.com Editors, "George III," History, last modified September 20, 2019, https://www.history.com/topics/british-history/george-iii.

[18] History.com Editors, "George III.”

[19] History.com Editors, “Stamp Act,” History, last modified July 31, 2019,  https://www.history.com/topics/american-revolution/stamp-act.

[20] History.com Editors, “Stamp Act.”

[21] History.com Editors, “Stamp Act.”

[22] Great Britain Parliament, "The Declaratory Act," Avalon Project - Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy, last modified March 18, 1766, https://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/declaratory_act_1766.asp.

[23] Larry Witham, A City Upon a Hill: How Sermons Changed the Course of American History (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), 61.

[24] Jonathan Mayhew, "1766: Mayhew, The Snare Broken (Sermon)," Online Library of Liberty, accessed February 12, 2021, https://oll.libertyfund.org/page/1766-mayhew-the-snare-broken-sermon.

[25] Allen Jayne. Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence : Origins, Philosophy, and Theology. The University Press of Kentucky, 2015.

[26] Ibid

[27] Walters, Kerry S. The American Deists: Voices of Reason and Dissent in the Early Republic. Lawrence, Kan.: Univ. Press of Kansas, 1992.

[28] Ibid

[29] Ibid

[30] “Voltaire.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., January 7, 2021. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Voltaire.

[31] Ibid

[32] Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, and Victor Gourevitch. The Social Contract and Other Later Political Writings. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2019.

[33] Ibid

[34] U.S. Const. Amend. I