The American Revolution: A War of Religion?

Jonathan Clark probes the anti-Catholic actions and millenarian rhetoric of 18th-century America, challenging the assumption that 1776 was solely a product of secular and constitutional impulses.

Thanks to our ruling picture of the American Revolution, a major premise of British and American history remains unrevised: the belief that both societies have pursued the uninterrupted evolution of a secular, libertarian, constitutional ideal, and that its progressive implementation has progressively freed them from internal revolutionary threat. A longer perspective is a crucial corrective: through all the vicissitudes of English politics from the 1530s to the 1820s and beyond, the most consistent theme both of popular sentiment and of ideological exegesis was anti-Catholicism. From the sixteenth century, Englishmen pictured the Roman Church not merely as a system of cruelty and intolerance, but as an international conspiracy operating through secret agents and with the covert sympathy of fellow travellers. Deliverances were attributed to direct divine intervention in favour of Protestant England. An apocalyptic or millenarian perspective on England's and America's history was generated principally in the context of Protestantism's conflict with Rome.

Want the full article and website archive access?

Subscribe now

Already a member? Log in now

 

X

Subscribe

August issue of History Today

In Print

Online

The App