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revival: “It continued spreading until about 1791 or 1792. Thousands were converted and baptized, besides many who joined the Methodists and Presbyterians. The Protestant Episcopalians, although much dejected by the loss of the Establishment, had nevertheless continued their public worship, and were attended by respectable congregations. But after this revival, their society fell fast into dissolution." 17 Under these conditions, it is not surprising that the laws of 1799 and 1802 should have been passed, nor that the law of 1802 should have been executed with a harsh disregard of minor rights. The axe was laid to the root.
Whatever may be our opinion of the spirit of this sectarian pursuit of another sect, we cannot help feeling that the logic of the event was worked out with a just completeness rare in history. So far as the Baptists were concerned, the Established Church from 1768 to 1774 had taught "instructions which being taught returned to plague” her successor, the Protestant Episcopal Church, from 1784 to 1802. During all those years, the Baptists followed with passionate eagerness the ideal of religious freedom to its logical consequence of absolute separation of Church and State. In the process they had a large share, and for the result they deserve immense credit.
The spread of Baptist and Presbyterian doctrine in Virginia during the years immediately preceding and including the Revolution, with the religious and political consequences ensuing, seems almost a repetition, due allowance being made, of what took place in England during the first half of the seventeenth century. Of Virginia too it might be said as has been said of the mother country: “ Virginia became the land of a book, and that book the Bible.”
In fact, the Baptists represent in Virginia history be
174 Semple, 38.
lated politico-religious Puritanism-not imported, not the Puritanism of England nor of New England, but native, genuine, and characteristic. The Quakers, suspected and feared when they first came into the Colony, never acquired extended nor permanent influence over the population. The average Virginian has loved and still loves too much expression and not repression. He looked upon the idea of non-resistance, passive, active, or in any other mood and tense as a reflection upon his manhood. The nobler aspects of Quakerism were for him largely obscured by their peculiar sectarian conditions. The handful of General Baptists in the southeastern corner of the Colony remained for fifty years a handful, almost unknown and without influence. The mass of the Presbyterians were at first immigrants of the sturdy Scotch-Irish stock; they brought their opinions with them, ready formulated in a distinctive creed. The Methodists were Puritan in the original sense of the word; but they remained with and in the State Church all during the Revolution, not separating from it until about twelve months before the passage of the Act for Religious Freedom.
Puritanism, then, even during the Commonwealth time, had never made itself a home in Virginia as in other colonies, Maryland, for example. Virginia had been and remained in her social, religious, and political life the most purely English of all the colonies. Conservative because of her widely scattered agricultural and plantation life, rendered still more conservative by the inevitable conditions accompanying the slavery of an alien race, Virginia felt, but
They represent also the popular resistance to Virginia semifeudalism, a feudalism at once an incipiency and a survival. Mr. John Morley, speaking (in his Oliver Cromwell, p. 23) of John Pym, says: “ He was a Puritan in the widest sense of that word of many shades; that is to say, in the expression of one who came later, 'he thought it part of a man's religion to see that his country be well governed,' and by good government he meant the rule of righteousness both in civil and in sacred things."
176 Fiske, Old Virginia and her Neighbors, i, 301-318; ii, 17-18.
did not yield to the impulse of either Quaker or Presbyterian. Slowly she ripened to the harvest. As in England, not until the social, religious, and economic conditions were favorable, did the political aspiration of the race for freedom have free vent; and then, as in England again, Teutonic individualism appeared rampant. Constrained at once and encouraged by the march of political events, this individualism gave itself free reign in religion, and, as in England just before the downfall of divine Monarchy, a kind of religious anarchy spread in Virginia, a tremendous revolutionary impulse which rapidly consolidated under the Baptist form of church organization with the Bible as the sole standard of faith.
It is this aspect which makes, in part, that early Baptist movement in Virginia of such exceeding interest to the student of history and to the lover of freedom. The people themselves were of very pure English breed, and they belonged to the yeomanry of the country. The movement was a movement “of the people, by the people, for the people"; and its aim was freedom.
In this brief sketch we have seen the rapid dissemination of Baptist religious principles under the operation of the religious, social, and economic conditions of the period just prior to the outbreak of the American Revolution; we have seen the great impetus given to those principles and the alliance formed with them by the patriotic principles of political freedom—the mainspring of the succeeding contest; we have seen how, under these influences, the Baptist organization, perhaps unconsciously, adopted the political form, and, thus armed, thrust pitilessly against the opposing religious organization until it helped to strike it down; we have seen that, though another church was fiercely followed, no individual as such was attacked or robbed of his rights; and we have seen that, at the end of the struggle, the Baptists had been largely instrumental in putting Virginia in the lead of the civilized nations in the assertion of the absolute freedom of religious faith from civil control. This was a great achievement, a thing new in the history of the world. And it is a record of which any denomination and any people may be proud, this record of the plain, every-day people of our land. For the plain people knew then, as they know now, in government as in morals, that it is the truth that shall make us free.
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