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Outlines of English and American Literature
Religious Writers
by Long, William J.

A very large part of our early writings is devoted to religious subjects, and for an excellent reason; namely, that large numbers of the Colonists came to America to escape religious strife or persecution at home. In the New World they sought religious peace as well as freedom of worship, and were determined to secure it not only for themselves but for their children's children. Hence in nearly all their writings the religious motive was uppermost. Hardly were they settled here, however, when they were rudely disturbed by agitators who fomented discord by preaching each his own pet doctrine or heresy. Presently arose a score of controversial writers; and then Anne Hutchinson, Roger Williams and the early Quakers were disciplined or banished, not because of their faith (for the fact is that all the colonies contained men of widely different beliefs who lived peaceably together), but because these unbalanced reformers were obstinately bent upon stirring up strife in a community which had crossed three thousand miles of ocean in search of peace.

Of the theological writers we again select two, not because they were typical,--for it is hard to determine who, among the hundred writers that fronted the burning question of religious tolerance, were representative of their age,--but simply because they towered head and shoulders above their contemporaries. These are Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards; the one the most busy man of his age in politics, religion, education and all philanthropic endeavor; the other a profound thinker, who was in the world but not of it, and who devoted the great powers of his mind to such problems as the freedom of the human will and the origin of the religious impulse in humanity.


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