THE LEADERSHIP OF THE CHURCHES
In the intellectual life of America, the churches assumed a role of high importance. There were abundant reasons for this. In many of the colonies—Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New England—the religious impulse had been one of the impelling motives in stimulating immigration. In all the colonies, the clergy, at least in the beginning, formed the only class with any leisure to devote to matters of the spirit. They preached on Sundays and taught school on week days. They led in the discussion of local problems and in the formation of political opinion, so much of which was concerned with the relation between church and state. They wrote books and pamphlets. They filled most of the chairs in the colleges; under clerical guidance, intellectual and spiritual, the Americans received their formal education. In several of the provinces the Anglican Church was established by law. In New England the Puritans were supreme, notwithstanding the efforts of the crown to overbear their authority. In the Middle colonies, particularly, the multiplication of sects made the dominance of any single denomination impossible; and in all of them there was a growing diversity of faith, which promised in time a separation of church and state and freedom of opinion.
=The Church of England.=—Virginia was the stronghold of the English system of church and state. The Anglican faith and worship were prescribed by law, sustained by taxes imposed on all, and favored by the governor, the provincial councilors, and the richest planters. “The Established Church,” says Lodge, “was one of the appendages of the Virginia aristocracy. They controlled the vestries and the ministers, and the parish church stood not infrequently on the estate of the planter who built and managed it.” As in England, Catholics and Protestant Dissenters were at first laid under heavy disabilities. Only slowly and on sufferance were they admitted to the province; but when once they were even covertly tolerated, they pressed steadily in, until, by the Revolution, they outnumbered the adherents of the established order.
The Church was also sanctioned by law and supported by taxes in the Carolinas after 1704, and in Georgia after that colony passed directly under the crown in 1754—this in spite of the fact that the majority of the inhabitants were Dissenters. Against the protests of the Catholics it was likewise established in Maryland. In New York, too, notwithstanding the resistance of the Dutch, the Established Church was fostered by the provincial officials, and the Anglicans, embracing about one-fifteenth of the population, exerted an influence all out of proportion to their numbers.