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Presently, it is very much a work in progress, and makes no claim to balance or completeness (except that you can safely expect a lack of same). Religion is the most thoroughly treated general heading, because I started with it, and also because it very important to understanding Jacksonian America, and has been emphasized in Jacksonian Miscellanies, the source of most of the online readings.
Nearly all colleges - especially in the northeast, had a religious basis, and most college presidents -- perhaps most college teachers, were trained for the ministry.
Religion was "on the march". The "camp meeting" in the woods, and the "extended meeting" in the meeting house were used to nurture revivals. (c.f. Cane Ridge; Shopkeeper's Millennium; Autobiography of Peter Cartwright ... C.G. Finney). These were likely to go on for days.
America was overwhelmingly Protestant (with widespread anti-Catholic bigotry). But it was a very fragmented Protestantism, mostly as a heritage of England's breakdown of religious orthodoxy, which climaxed in the Cromwell years.
Calvinists believed strongly in searching the Bible for truth, and the tradition included an emphasis on learning -- learning the original languages of the Bible, and developing analytical minds for interpreting it. For this reason, the Calvinists of America built important educational institutions like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. They also developed, in New England, the strongest network of primary schools anywhere in the world at that time, and helped encourage a thriving printing industry.
The doctrines used by the Calvinist churches of America are widely available on the Web. Two very good places are: John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, A New Translation, by Henry Beveridge, Esq.; and Great Books of Protestantism. You can also find the Westminster Confession of Faith complete with line by line links to the Biblical "proofs" of each doctrine (NOTE: Locate it).
Two major strains of Calvinism: Presbyterianism, with its roots in Scotland, and "puritanism", which became New England Congregationalism, were well represented. At the very beginning of the 19th century, there was an attempt, for a while, to unite these two forms of Calvinism. Both valued scholarship, and the tradition of the clergyman being the most learned man in the community, and were losing ground to Methodism and other highly emotional sects.
There was a strong tendency, particularly in the educated northeast, towards the secular ideas of the enlightenment, such as deism, summed up in the popular phrase "nature and nature's God" (Click here to see how many "hits" the Internet search engine Altavista gets on the phrase. It gave me 470). As the massive physical reality of the earth was growing more comprehensible, and as knowledge of it began to give mankind unprecedented new powers, it was natural for some to look there, in the "book of nature", for knowledge of the universe, and of whatever Being created it and made it work, rather than to a book whose origins are known at fifth hand. (Similar concerns about the Bible, and the traditions through which we know it, may also have helped convince Quakers to listen for direct experience of being "moved by the spirit".) But the basic intellectuality of the Calvinist tradition made a movement towards liberal Christian, deistic, or even secular intellectualism more likely than one toward any form of mysticism.
Finally, in men like Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson, we had real American heroes (though Paine was on the outs), and brilliant writers lending weight to a skeptical approach to religion. Thus we have Timothy Dwight, at Yale, and Lyman Beecher in Long Island, at the beginning of the century, fighting to turn back the secular tide.
Memoirs of frontier Baptist and Methodist preachers in Jacksonian
Issue #9: March 11, 1997 (Calvinism in Frontier Tennessee and Kentucky),
Issue #10: March 18, 1997 (Baptist Preachers on the Early Frontier),
Issue #16: April 29, 1997 (The Arminianization of Granville Moody).
In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, in a different climate of thought, and during a period of lax church discipline, a similar "drift" had led some English congregations towards Puritanism. When the church hierarchy moved to squelch the trend, many congregations sought a permanently abolition of hierarchical discipline. Ironically, this in turn facilitated the emergence of a liberal church.
It took a couple of decades for Unitarianism to attain anything like the coherence of a denomination, but Harvard became an enclave of the new doctrines about 1805, and by the mid 1820s, "Unitarian Christianity" had a clear identity.
Unitarians were strongly influenced by Enlightenment thought, particularly by John Locke, and rejected any such mysterious concept as the Trinity, an entity that was somehow three "persons" and one at the same time. Their basic attitude might be summed up in the title of one of Locke's works: The Reasonableness of Christianity (for an excerpt, and related discussions, click here). They also firmly rejected the Calvinist doctrines of man as "innately depraved" and of an inscrutable God, repulsed by his creation, who has decided in advance who will be saved, and damned the rest of mankind to eternal torment.
Jacksonian Miscellanies #1 presented a hymn, "Lord I am Vile", an adaptation of Psalm 59, by Isaac Watts, illustrating the doctrine of human depravity, and the attitude of fear and cringing in God's presence. This is contrasted with hymn or poem by Levi Frisbie (1784-1822), Professor of Moral Philosophy at Harvard, portraying God as a warm and kind being, whom man can approach without shame or fear.
A quick summary, well known at the time, of the Calvinist doctrine,
was the "Five Points of Calvinism" (1. Total depravity (Original Sin) 2.Unconditional
election (God's Election) 3.Limited atonement (Particular Redemption) 4.Irresistible
grace (Effectual Calling) 5.Perseverance of the Saints -- note the 1st
letters spell "TULIP"). Two sites for the "Five Points" of Calvinism: click
here or here.
In Jacksonian Miscellanies #9 are backwoods "plain talk" defenses of the doctrine of election and other Calvinist doctrines, as well as a plain statement of the doctrine of Original Sin, and similarly plain rejection of it.
The Chesapeake Bay colonies, and those further south, were not typically settled by religious dissenters, so the Episcopalian church was strong there. It was also fairly strong in the upper middle colonies, especially New York. The Episcopalian church retained a toned down version of the grandeur and ceremony of the Catholic church. It appealed to upwardly mobile, polite society, tended to be anti-evangelical (see Pintard, John, Letters from John Pintard to his daughter..., 1816-1833 for complaints of anti-evangelicalism in New York), and usually built the tallest, most graceful churches. See (Richard Bushman, The Refinement of America for the contrast in style between the Episcopal and other churches, and how the difference shrank in the early 19th Century.
The Episcopal church was, at first, almost nonexistent in New England, but due to upward mobility and sometimes just rebelliousness, it began to grow there in the period. See Odell Shepard, Pedlar's Progress, the Life of Bronson Alcott for one example.Jacob Abbott in his book, The Cornerstone. See J.M. #70: September 22, 1998 (Revival (In the Old Sense) at Amherst). Cyrus Hamlin vividly implies the same thing in describing a revival at Bowdoin College. He said it "came as silently as the dew", and its coming was first signaled when the "colored sister of the church", asked why she was kneeling in prayer on the church doorstone, said "I know the Lord is coming; I feel it in my bones.". Generally, Unitarians shared the old style Congregationalist's disdain for revivals.