With the rise of the new liberalism in the American colonies no name is more conspicuous than that of Jonathan Mayhew (1721-66), whose eloquence was of a more modern type than most of his day. He is credited with having deeply moved many who became leaders in turn, whether as ministers or laymen. After the interruption of normal development inevitable during the War of Independence, things moved more rapidly. The French Revolution evoked the warmest sympathy in the United States, and its effect on religion there was largely to increase a sense of the worth of man. ‘Universalism,’ the final restoration of all, became a conspicuous doctrine with some. The need for practical measures to uplift the general life here was a theme more to the mind of others. The distinctly ‘Unitarian’ trend was from the first associated with this eager attention to the higher culture. Harvard College, in the very heart of New England, rapidly developed into a fruitful source of the newer ideas, which were embodied in the lives of ’statesmen, merchants, physicians, lawyers, and teachers’; and thus the community, in all its more vigorous members, became charged with a fresh conception of life and religion.
In the first decade of the nineteenth century we begin to trace publications more or less distinctly Unitarian. One of these was the Monthly Anthology, the pioneer among American literary magazines. One of its two editors was the Rev. William Emerson, father of Ralph Waldo Emerson. As the divergence of ideas grew more distinct debate began to be fierce. The new magazine took a bold line, while many liberals were still hesitating. In 1808 the trouble came to the surface. Harvard was denounced by the orthodox party, in consequence of the appointment of a liberal minister, Henry Ware, to a professorship involving pastoral care of the students. An orthodox rival school was set up at Andover. A few years later a pamphlet appeared giving letters alleged to have been sent to England by Boston ministers reporting that a certain number were Unitarians. The name was unwelcome at the time, especially because it was associated with the ‘humanitarianism’ then becoming widely taught in England. The implicated ministers, being charged with cowardly evasion, replied with warmth; they were, in fact, mostly Arians, and thus their views really were different from the English type. Moreover, again in contrast with the English, they expressed strong dislike of controversy; all they asked was to be left alone to proclaim the ’Simple Christianity’ in which they believed.