Rebuilding the Christian Commonwealth

Rebuilding the Christian Commonwealth: New England Congregationalists and Foreign Missions, 1800-1830

John A. Andrew
Copyright Date: 1976
Pages: 240
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130j783
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Rebuilding the Christian Commonwealth
    Book Description:

    The foreign missionary movement of the early 19th century grew out of the efforts of churches in New England to deal with the changes then taking place in society. The erosion of traditional institutional structures and social values plus the rise of Unitarianism threatened the destruction of the traditional faith. Mr. Andrew holds that the Congregational clergy used foreign missions not only to implant New England culture in heathen lands but also to awaken a sense of community at home.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5696-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-3)

    A small band of dedicated missionaries met in Park Street Church, Boston, on October 15, 1819. They were to sail four days hence to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) in the mid-Pacific and thereby usher in a new age of American religious activity. How did they get to Boston? Where did they come from? Why were they going? The answers to these questions reflect a society enmeshed in change—social, political, economic, and religious.

    Forces of change—increased land pressure, improvements in transportation, competition from agricultural areas to the west, and growing political factiousness—moved to divide society and alter communities....

  5. 1. THE SEARCH FOR IDENTITY
    (pp. 4-24)

    At the beginning of the nineteenth century the Second Great Awakening burst forth in New England. This Awakening affected all denominations, but was especially crucial for Trinitarian-Congregationalists. No longer complacent or secure about their influence on society and determined to preserve a Christian commonwealth, they sought to enlist new supporters and generate new interest in religion. The revivals provided the impetus for an effort to give new direction to social and communal values.

    Revolution and its aftermath had stunted Congregational church growth, and the religious revivals were in part a response to shifts in the power and structure of community...

  6. 2. A PANORAMA OF CHANGE
    (pp. 25-35)

    Why was such a campaign necessary? What had happened to the economic, social, and religious structure of New England? The Awakening suggested a catalog of ills, and closer examination exposed their magnitude. During the early decades of the nineteenth century, fundamental shifts occurred in the economic structure of New England. These transformations disrupted old societal patterns. Traditional extractive and household industries lost their grip as manufacturing developed.

    A variety of problems confronted New England farmers. After generations of settlement and exploitation the soil presented a major obstacle to productivity. Even on the best land fertility declined. Crop production failed to...

  7. 3. THE NEW ENGLAND CLERGY AND THE PROBLEM OF PERMANENCY
    (pp. 36-53)

    By the first decades of the nineteenth century the traditional ministerial world was in disarray. Ministers who had long enjoyed respect and tenure in their positions of community leadership now found their situation precarious. It became increasingly difficult to distinguish the pastor from any other citizen.

    This clerical instability reflected years of unrest and can be measured in the noticeable decline of permanency among settled pastors throughout New England. A number of problems confronted the clergy during these years, most of which were linked to the situation of impermanency. The issue of “waste places,” or towns without settled pastors, always...

  8. 4. THE GLORY IS DEPARTED
    (pp. 54-69)

    That religion should become less central in the everyday lives of New Englanders was not surprising. Nor was it new. Since the arrival of Puritan settlers in Massachusetts Bay, the decline of religious fervor in the face of a mounting concern for worldly matters had beset the clergy. Local problems and material concerns repeatedly disrupted community relations throughout the eighteenth century. The ideal of the voluntary cooperative commonwealth dimmed as local factiousness grew. If ancient habits succumbed to pressing worldly and divisive impulses, traditional institutions might not withstand the storm. “Should these be changed, as I much fear this new...

  9. 5. ENLISTING THE PUBLIC
    (pp. 70-96)

    In the midst of this religious and social turbulence the new foreign missionary societies and their auxiliaries emerged. Under the direction of a leadership cadre centered in Boston and the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions—men like Samuel Worcester, Jedidiah Morse, and Jeremiah Evarts—these societies attempted to insert new life into New England Congregationalism. In the face of growing denominationalism and religious division they sought, through voluntarism, to preserve the ideal of the United States as a Christian republic. They hoped to graft new forms onto an old order and consequently save not only the region but...

  10. 6. THE SYSTEM AT WORK: THE SANDWICH ISLANDS MISSION
    (pp. 97-119)

    Until 1819 the activities of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions had been more domestic than foreign. The board had sponsored three missions: one to India in 1812, another to India and Ceylon in 1815, and the most recent again to India in 1817. All had gone to sectors that were under British control, and none had produced much excitement among New Englanders. Appeals for support reflected this inertia, as they continued to emphasize the numerous advantages and broad principles of foreign missions. News from these missions slowly filtered back to the board, and newspapers printed whatever seemed...

  11. 7. THE STRUGGLE FOR STABILITY
    (pp. 120-139)

    Clergy and laymen alike rejoiced at the departure of the Sandwich Islands Mission. After almost a decade of trying to encourage public support for foreign missions the ABCFM appeared to have been successful by the fall of 1819. But news from the islands would not reach the board’s offices in Boston for several months, and the excitement sparked by the mission’s departure could not last without something to sustain public interest. What remedies did the Prudential Committee have to offer? To their dismay, committee members quickly discovered that despite the enthusiasm surrounding the Sandwich Islands Mission, little had changed from...

  12. 8. ACHIEVING PERMANENCE
    (pp. 140-150)

    Directors of foreign missions now believed they were on the threshold of permanence. Further to explain and publicize their motives they issued yet another outline of their proposed system. The new directive indicated the sweep of this activity. Agents were to visit every neighborhood in search of donations and were to facilitate regular contributions and prompt action. The board also used an array of sermons, public addresses, and monthly concerts. All had proved effective in creating excitement for foreign missions in previous years. “Especially the attention is aroused,” it noted, “when these services are performed by a stranger, who visits...

  13. 9. FIGHTING THE WAY TO EMPIRE
    (pp. 151-170)

    The appearance of destitution, degradation, and barbarism, among the chattering, and almost naked savages, whose heads and feet, and much of their sunburnt swarthy skins, were bare, was appalling. Some of our number, with gushing tears, turned away from the spectacle. Others with firmer nerve continued their gaze, but were ready to exclaim, “Can these be human beings! … Can such beings be civilized? Can they be Christianized?”¹

    The American missionaries at the Sandwich Islands yearned to fulfill two goals. Confronted by what seemed to them the grossest degradation, vice, and ignorance, they hoped to apply religious principles to extend...

  14. APPENDIX: A NOTE ON SOURCES
    (pp. 171-174)
  15. NOTES
    (pp. 175-222)
  16. BIBLIOGRAPHICAL ESSAY
    (pp. 223-228)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 229-234)