The Democratic Dilemma
Religion, Reform, and the Social Order in the Connecticut River Valley of Vermont, 1791–1850
By Randolph A. Roth
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print Publication Year: 1987
Online Publication Date:August 2010
Chapter DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511664946.004
Subjects: Early republic and Antebellum history
With the formal separation of church and state in 1807 and the demise of the national Federalist Party in 1815, many Vermonters, particularly those who were Federalists or devout Calvinists, began to fear that their society might become amoral and politically chaotic. Those fears were unfounded, however, for after the War of 1812 church members and like-minded townspeople of all denominations and political persuasions moved toward common ground in their commitments to their communities and to basic moral precepts. They did not come to that common ground consciously, or all at once. Denominational differences and antagonisms remained. Yet differences seemed to pale in importance before threats of immorality and disorder, especially after a massive crop failure in 1816, and the first signs of economic and demographic congestion in the valley.
Agitated by these concerns, Vermonters flocked to the valley's churches and Masonic lodges between 1815 and 1828, strengthening the institutions that gradually helped church members and like-minded towns-people bring a degree of order to postrevolutionary society. The burgeoning churches and lodges fostered networks of mutual assistance among church members and townspeople who shared their values, and those networks subtly helped them gain control over town resources. That in turn enabled them to draw others into their circle and into their campaign to uphold moral standards within their communities. Leading Federalists and Republicans also undertook interdenominational reform movements to bolster efforts to uphold moral standards, and through these movements they discovered new grounds for unity and won new political prestige.