US History/Religious Movements
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The Methodist society continued to develop through the Revolutionary War, although with setbacks due to the connection with the Anglican Church. The third Annual Conference took place in Philadelphia in May of 1775 at the same time as the Second Continental Congress took place. The Annual Conferences were known as the "Christmas Conferences". They were held annually on December 24. The Methodists followed the Church of England so they were in a predicament during the Revolution. Wesley believed in obedience to the divine governance of God. Many restrictions were placed on the society by various colony governments. Colony governments feared the Methodism connection to the Anglican Church. Francis Asbury, the general assistant, was the head of the Methodist movement in America. Asbury moved to Delaware to seek refuge during the war. In 1778, Judge White was arrested for being a Methodist with connections to Asbury. Weslyan influence over the society declined over the course of the war.
Independence and Separation from the Anglican Church
The Baltimore Christmas Conference in 1784 resulted in the formation of the Episcopal Church. The American Methodists were now members of their own church, rather than a society that follows the Church of England. Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke were the superintendents of the Church. In 1778, Asbury changed his title from Superintendent to Bishop of the church. John Wesley was outraged with this and wrote Asbury a letter to have him change his title back. Asbury did not and this led to the complete separation of Weslyan with the Episcopal Church. Francis Asbury was a salesman of Methodism, he traveled constantly and was deeply involved in the spread of Church. He and others whom he selected to be circuit riders traveled with the expansion of as America was expanding, so was Methodism; Asbury and circuit riders traveled along with the expansion to spread their influence. Asbury was very successful in spreading the religion across the country. Methodism appealed to the lower classes and outcasts of society. It also was quite popular on the American frontier, where circuit riders preached in rural areas.
By 1800, there were about twenty-five hundred (mostly Sephardic) Jews in the U.S. Charleston had about five hundred -- the largest Jewish community at that time. In the aftermath of Napoleon's rule, a series of progroms roiled the collection of states which would later become Germany. A new wave of Jews from Northern Europe (the Ashkenazim) came to the United States. These were somewhat assimilated men and women who knew of the Enlightenment, but could not vote or own land in their native states. As tinkers and money-lenders these Jews had worked with a group of gentile German farmers who were now emigrating to the U.S. The Jewish immigrants would later create Reform Judaism. Some of the men became peddlers, selling goods from door to door, including second-hand clothing, cheap jewelry, dishes, buttons, needles, and thread. As the Sephardim had built congregations and schools in America, so did the Ashkenazim.
In the early 1800s, while the Second Great Revival was shaking the country, some people in New England chose another way to faith. Many of them were reading the German Idealists and the Higher Criticism, and some of them had read new English-language translations of Hindu scripture. They were descendants of the people who had come to America to purify their faith. Some of these decided to go further. They called themselves trascendentalists, because they thought they "transcended" any petty doctrine. The Transcendental Club was founded in 1836.
The writer Ralph Waldo Emerson was a major theorist in the movement. He held that God was one, and not the three persons seen in Christian theology. Nor was God a personal being. The great ideas and loves of human beings persisted after their deaths, creating a vast Oversoul. There was no perpetuation of the individual soul. Individuals could move toward the inevitable perfection of their species, and to become one with the Oversoul. Other individuals who held some of Emerson's beliefs included the feminist Margaret Fuller, Bronson Alcott (whose daughter was the author Louisa May Alcott) and Henry David Thoreau. Different members of the group experimented with vegetarianism, communism, pacifism, and other non-mainstream practices. Although they differed widely from their revivalist neighbors, many of them also held millenarist views: if only human beings became truly kind and wise, they could create an earthly paradise.
The Second Great Awakening was not a Catholic movement. The English and Scots immigrants were antagonistic to the Old Faith, many states remained hostile, and such religious leaders as Lyman Beecher saw Catholicism as anti-democratic. Despite this, it continued to grow in America. Some of this was due to the territorial expansion of the Louisiana Purchase. Priests had helped to found settlements in Minnesota and Louisiana, and their incorporation into the United States meant only that Protestant churches moved within their precincts. Some of this was caused by conversion, as with the Transcendentalist Orestes Brownson. And some of this was also the result of immigration from the German states. The United States had kept its Colonial-era reputation as a place of relative safety for differing faiths.
Georgetown University in the District of Columbia opened in 1789, the first Catholic college in America. New Orleans provided an early home for Catholic parochial education. But at first it was enough for Catholic school children to be sent to the new public schools.
That changed after the Irish Potato Famine of 1845. Suddenly a wave of predominately poor Irish Catholics found passage to America. Even before the Famine the Irish had been oppressed by the British government, and many of these newcomers were illiterate. The result was a movement for schools which would treat Catholics fairly. In 1852, the First Plenary Council of Baltimore urged every Catholic parish in the country to establish its own school. This influx of poor Catholics provoked renewed discrimination from the Protestants, boiling over into politics with the Know Nothing Party.
- Stone, Amy. Jewish Americans. Milwaukee: World Almanac Library, 2007.
- Bedell, George C., Leo Sandon, Jr., and Charles T. Wellborn. Religion in America. Second edition. New York: Macmillan, 1982 (1975). Pp. 214-215
- A History of Catholic Schools in the USA, http://www.internationalstudent.com/student-news/articles/catholic-schools-usa/ . Retrieved June 14, 2014.
- A History of Catholic Schools in the USA.