"In ye Service of the Lord": Boston's Churches, Public Discourse, and the American Revolution
Moerschel, Lesley Ann
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This study examines the importance of Boston's churches in shaping public discourse during the revolutionary era. By drawing upon church records, sermons, and the writings of ministers, church members, and other individuals, it argues that Boston-area churches played a vital role in the politics leading to - and present during - the American Revolution. Many of these churches consisted of religious dissenters who drew upon their traditional fears of the Anglican Church and Stuart tyranny to form impassioned political communities actively working to support resistance to British imperial policies. In contrast, the city's Anglican churches worked to support the imperial government and served as symbols of royal authority in the community. As centers of public discourse, Boston's churches actively participated in the political turmoil of the day and created an inseparable link between religious and political spheres which shaped the revolutionary movement. This study follows in the footsteps of Jurgen Habermas and historians who have focused their work on the "public sphere" which developed during the eighteenth century. This new sphere enabled a free discussion and exchange of ideas and manifested itself in a variety of settings, such as taverns and coffeehouses - often with significant political consequences. My research contends that churches in Boston served as similar centers of political discourse and that this made them vitally important to the revolutionary movement. In making this claim, this study also contributes to a long debate over the nature of the American Revolution by challenging arguments that the event was purely secular. Boston's churches were deeply involved in the revolutionary movement and many of them worked to further the Patriot cause. Church communities spread political ideology, encouraged political participation, provided religious sanction for political actions, organized resistance, and provided emotional support to their congregations in difficult times. Through such activities these churches played a central role in the political developments of the revolutionary era.