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American CreedPhilanthropy and the Rise of Civil Society, 1700–1865$
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Kathleen D. McCarthy

Print publication date: 2003

Print ISBN-13: 9780226561981

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: March 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226561998.001.0001

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The Legacy of Disestablishment

The Legacy of Disestablishment

(p.49) 3 The Legacy of Disestablishment
American Creed
University of Chicago Press

Protestantism—especially evangelical Protestantism—was the single most important factor in the growth and elaboration of American philanthropy during the early national period, not only because it had the greatest number of adherents, but because of the ways in which it encouraged church members to structure their public lives. Voluntarism lay at the heart of the Benevolent Empire, and female parishioners had a vital place in these activities, raising funds and often providing the services themselves. Evangelicalism was the primary impetus for the rapid spread of Bible and tract societies. Evangelical injunctions to go out and save the world provided another stimulus to organizational elaboration and reform. The doctrines of immediate grace and human perfectibility were deeply empowering, giving female converts as much of a stake in defining and acting upon social ills as men. Disestablishment gave their activities an economic slant as well. During the colonial era, appointment to a ministerial post in one of the established churches was usually regarded as a sinecure.

Keywords:   Protestantism, evangelicalism, disestablishment, tract societies, public lives

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