This new edition and update of the seminal study, Power, Authority, and the Origins of American Denominational Order, questions the assumption that colonial American churches were seedbeds of democratic sentiment merely awaiting the American Revolution to cast off the shackles of both political and religious domination. Jon Butler points out that pre-Revolutionary Americans spoke of themselves as British and replicated familiar British forms in their North American settlements. In this work, he shows that colonial American religious organization reflected a clear and conscious commitment to British patterns of life and faith.
Examining late-17th-century and early-18th-century North American Quaker, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Anglican groups and religious structures, Butler finds that ministers wielded considerable power over their congregations, and the minutes of their meetings reveal that these ministers were hardly “proto-democrats” or individualists impatient with religious discipline. On the contrary, they themselves seem to have enthusiastically followed established norms of faith and order, and their congregations seemed quite satisfied with such proceedings.
In a nation still grappling with issues about religion in the public sphere and the ways religious bodies assert their own authority, this history of four English Protestant groups in America's earliest plural colonies speaks with a remarkably prescient voice.