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Conservative revolutionaries" - a study of the religious and political thought of John Wise, Jonathan Mayhew, Andrew Eliot and Charles Chauncy

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(Thesis) Ph.D.
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The careers of Massachusetts Congregationalist pastors John Wise (1652-1725), Jonathan Mayhew (1720-1766), Andrew Eliot (1718-1778) and Charles Chauncy (1705-1787) extended over a crucial period of religious and socio-political change between 1680, just 47 years after the first settlement of Massachusetts, and 1787, only four years after American independence. Detailed study of the four New England ministers thus provides a unique opportunity for consideration of important historical issues, including: 1), causal connections between religious thought and activity and the origins of the American Revolution; 2), 18th century meanings and understandings of the key concept of liberty; and 3), the extent to which allegedly more liberal theological thinkers directly influenced revolutionary ideology in 18th century New England. This dissertation is the first work to compare and contrast the lives and ideas of all four influential Massachusetts ministers in ways that facilitate direct contributions to these important areas of academic debate. Beginning with an account of Wise, which serves as an historical benchmark for those of the three later figures, it does so primarily through individual case studies of them and through substantial reinterpretations of their intellectual legacies. The major new conclusions to emerge from this study are that Wise, Mayhew, Eliot and Chauncy were more conservative figures than scholars have often portrayed and that a traditionalist, dissenting, Protestant worldview was more significant in shaping their religious and political thought than contemporary philosophical influences. Their understandings of liberty, which were foundationally spiritual in origin and definition, were central to this Weltanschauung. They thus provide clear evidence of the extent to which the four ministers' "revolutionary" ideas and inclinations, such as they were, were arguably consistent with those of many similar intellectual leaders in 18th century New England, in that they were stimulated and informed more by religious than by strictly political motivations and concerns.
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