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Religion and the Founding of the American Republic
Religion and the American Revolution
About Reverend Abraham Keteltas
Revolutionary Battle Flag
Jamaica Minute Men- 1775
Hard Times followed Battle of Long Island
Old maps of Long Island

Researched by Carl Ballenas

Religion played a major role in the American Revolution by offering a moral sanction for opposition to the British--an assurance to the average American that revolution was justified in the sight of God. As a recent scholar has observed, "by turning colonial resistance into a righteous cause, and by crying the message to all ranks in all parts of the colonies, ministers did the work of secular radicalism and did it better." 

Ministers served the American cause in many capacities during the Revolution: as military chaplains, as penmen for committees of correspondence, and as members of state legislatures, constitutional conventions and the national Congress. Some even took up arms, leading Continental troops in battle. 

The Revolution split some denominations, notably the Church of England, whose ministers were bound by oath to support the King, and the Quakers, who were traditionally pacifists. Religious practice suffered in certain places because of the absence of ministers and the destruction of churches, but in other areas, religion flourished. 

 The Revolution strengthened millennialist strains in American theology. At the beginning of the war some ministers were persuaded that, with God's help, America might become "the principal Seat of the glorious Kingdom which Christ shall erect upon Earth in the latter Days." Victory over the British was taken as a sign of God's partiality for America and stimulated an outpouring of millennialist expectations--the conviction that Christ would rule on earth for 1,000 years. This attitude combined with a groundswell of secular optimism about the future of America to create the buoyant mood of the new nation that became so evident after Jefferson assumed the presidency in 1801. 

Revolution Justified by God
Sermon by Reverend Abraham KeteltasSelect here for more on Abraham Keteltas
Many Revolutionary War clergy argued that the war against Britain was approved by God. In this sermon Abraham Keteltas celebrated the American effort as "the cause of truth, against error and falsehood... the cause of pure and undefiled religion, against bigotry, superstition, and human invention... in short, it is the cause of heaven against hell--of the kind Parent of the Universe against the prince of darkness, and the destroyer of the human race." 
Abraham Keteltas Newbury-Port: John Mycall for Edmund Sawyer, 1777 Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (87)

A Revolutionary Chaplain
Painting of Reverend James CaldwellJames Caldwell (1734-1781), a Presbyterian minister at Elizabeth, New Jersey, was one of the many clergymen who served as chaplains during the Revolutionary War. At the battle of Springfield, New Jersey, on June 23, 1780, when his company ran out of wadding, Caldwell was said to have dashed into a nearby Presbyterian Church, scooped up as many Watts hymnals as he could carry, and distributed them to the troops, shouting "put Watts into them, boys." Caldwell and his wife were both killed before the war ended. "Reverend James Caldwell at the Battle of Springfield" Watercolor by Henry Alexander Ogden Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia (90)

American Revolution Battle FlagRevolutionary Battle Flag 
Like this one, many battle flags of the American Revolution carried religious inscriptions.

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