Primary Sources

Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1776. Pamphlet. From the Library of Congress. Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

Paine stated his choice to support colonial rebellion was more a matter of feeling than thought. This attitude resembles First Great Awakening thinking just like an evangelical conversion. He explicitly discussed how the colonies were an asylum of religious liberty. Paine desperately attempted to force colonists to arms in order to protect religious freedom and quite impressively accomplished his goal.

“The Yankee Doodles Intrenchments Near Boston 1776.” Cartoon. From the John Carter Brown Library. Image Collections.

This political cartoon reflects British views of the colonial cause. The main point of the piece is to claim the colonists reason to fight stemmed from improper religious motives similar to Oliver Cromwell a century prior. Upon examination of the cartoon, a solider in the background is holding a flag that reads “Tis Old Olivers Cause no Monarchy nor Laws.”

John Witherspoon, The Dominion of Providence over the Passions of Men: A Sermon, Preached at Princeton, on the 17th of May, 1776.

Witherspoon’s sermon explored how God can work through human suffering and the “sins of man” can lead us to glorify God in unexpected ways. He referred to the human suffering being the revolutionary war and “sins of man” oppressive British rule. The chance to glorify God in Witherspoon’s mind was to ensure England had no roots in America.

John Odell, The American Times: A Satire in Three Parts in which are delineated…..the Leaders of the American Rebllion, 1780. Pamphlet. From the Library of Congress. Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

Odell was an Anglican priest that decided to remain loyal during the revolution and serve in the British army. He scrutinized the patriot cause, specifically Witherspoon. Odell disagreed with British tax and trade policy but did not think colonists had the moral right to overthrow their government. He pointed out in his pamphlet that colonial forces were physically and spiritually inferior.

William White, The Cause of the Episcopal Churches in the United States Considered, 1782. From the Library of Congress. Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

Even before the war for American independence was formally ended, Anglican ministers who had remained in the colonies began planning for an independent American church. William White discusses at length this issue in his work.  He felt a church government and revised Book of Common Prayer that reflected colonial sentiments would benefit the new nation. Due to White’s work, the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States was formed.