previous next

[205] Dwight's observations of certain portions of Long Island and Westchester County, of the whole of Rhode Island (which he considers ‘missionary ground’), of the Indian settlements in parts of Connecticut, of the Irish settlements in central New York, and, generally speaking, of the world outside New England Congregationalism, all strengthen his conviction of the general depravity of man, and help him to confute the doctrines of Rousseau and William Godwin that men are good by nature but have been corrupted by civilization. His theology here coincides with his politics—his inveterate abhorrence of French ‘atheistic’ democracy and Jeffersonianism in general. The Travels is a Federalist document, exhibiting in its most sensible consequences the view that men are presumably bad until something makes them good. Bent therefore upon discovering and applying the incentives that will make them good—for Dwight is a convinced motivist—he exemplifies everywhere the sanctions furnished by thrift, by education, by strong government, and by strong religion. Probably there exists no completer application of Calvinistic principles to secular life. Dwight is the last of the Puritans.

The term ‘Unitarian’ was accepted by the leaders of the movement only after much reluctance and delay. The doctrine designated by it is not perhaps the characteristic note of the movement at all, for it suggests mere static belief or disbelief in a proposition; whereas Unitarianism was a dynamic tendency, and to be designated rather by some such term as ‘Liberal Christianity.’ Liberty, tolerance, the free play of the intellect, the enfranchisement of the soul from its terrors, faith in the possibilities and the worth of man,—these are more characteristic of it than the denial of the divinity of Jesus, though its high concept of humanity, indeed, renders its humanization of Christ no derogation.

Thus interpreted, Unitarianism has points of contact with whatever is liberal and hopeful in any religion. Its affiliation with Deism, Natural Religion, Benevolism, and other liberal tendencies of eighteenth-century Europe, need not be traced here. It is sufficient to observe that in America the Unitarians drew strength from the liberal wing of any or all of the Protestant churches. The less strict Calvinists, like Ezra Stiles.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Timothy Dwight (3)
Unitarian (1)
Ezra Stiles (1)
Rousseau (1)
William Godwin (1)
Alice French (1)
Christ (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: