Martin Luther other reformists succeeded in initiating church reformation aided by the powers of the printing press and other external factors (Pestana 35). One of the aspects that Protestant reformists challenged about the Catholic Church was the selling of indulgences for the purposes of sin remission. Initially, the term Protestant was used in reference to all who opposed Roman Catholic teachings. The 16th century protestant reformation challenged the dominance of the Catholic Church as the sole power religiously and politically (Carlisle and Golson 15). It is important to note that Religious and political powers and persons were so intertwined in late medieval Europe that it was impossible to attack one without affecting the other. The situation meant that by challenging the Papal authority and the Catholic teachings, the church reformists were also challenging the political power players of the day. Therefore, in this exposition, the argument maintained is that Protestant Reformation influenced the divisions of colonies, shaped their religious beliefs and values and set the stage for the development of democracy, political and economic development.
The continuers of the reform movements like John Calvin and Presbyterians played a vital role in the settlement of America and shaping the colonial beliefs and values (Carlisle and Golson 56). Numerous other reform movements independent of Luther’s views across Europe also fueled the advancement of reform agenda. Apart from the printing press, external and internal factors distracted the Catholic Church and enabled reformation to advance. Ottoman threats in the central Europe, political autonomy, and princely protection power plays among others fueled success for the church reformation (Pestana 59). When the Spanish King sent ships to destroy a new colony founded by the Huguenots, all eyes focused towards the New World. Protestant reformation hence increased movement to North America. However, the reformists had profound influence in the colonies.
The principal influence that reformists had on the colonization of the colonies is challenging the papal system. Papal system meant the subduing and illegalizing of any faction deemed as secular or contrary religious beliefs challenging the Catholic teachings on various facets like science, faith, heaven, and death among others. In light of its power and position threatened by the Protestants, it is only natural that the Church in Rome was keen to reject the attempts and formed counter-reformation to severely deal with the Protestants in order to preserve and defend Rome’s position and legacy (Pestana 44). Spain predominantly Catholic and wealthy courtesy of wealth acquired from the ‘New World’ was put in charge of Rome’s Counter-Reformation movements such as the Jesuits black robes who cracked heavily on Protestants. Hence, for the reformists, they challenged the initial status quo established by the Church since Christianity, although in its initial stages of development, was inseparable from politics. Political influence and dominance was from the Catholic Church which reformists were keen to redress and with their influence, they reduced the papal powers in major colonies.
The effect that reformation had in the colonies can be explained from how they exerted pressure on the Church and led to the discovery of the New World. The Catholic Church had put a restriction on the scientific discoveries, the protestant reformation reinforced the scientific revolution whose advancement had earlier been suppressed and subdued by the Catholic Church. According to Pestana (184) these scientific discoveries challenged the Catholics teaching on several phenomena. In the wake of reformation, great minds in science, mathematics, engineers, philosophers, and other scholars also began advancing their ideologies. Meanwhile, the liberal ideologies of Western of equality, government inclusivity, banking and capitalism that rose with the thinking minds saw an opportunity of implementation and realization in the New World (Pestana 22). Hence, the reformation movement led to the discovery of The New World, especially by the explorers such as Columbus was hence timely and created an avenue for movement and migration of the dissatisfied factions into Europe.
Accordingly, the reformation would be responsible for the division, establishment and shaping of the major American colonies, and as such, played a major or key role in colonization of major colonies like the New World (North America). As the reformers and Protestants migrated to the North America, openings were also created for politically hungry leaders who wanted to colonize not only for religious purposes but also for economic purposes. Unlike their Catholic counterparts, Protestantism put a premium on wealth as an indication of God’s grace and the New World promised untapped opportunities (Pestana 44).The main colonial powers were Spain, England, France, and Netherland with Spain being the first colonial power to move in the interior of North America for exploration and settlements. Profoundly, the settlements led to a major disruption of the Native settlements as they lost their lands. Taylor observes that the main colonials were Spain (Catholic) and England (Protestant) and the competition by these reformists over religion and economic resources would instigate a serious conflict with Spain losing to Britain’s Queen Elizabeth (Pestana 44).
The reformation movement from Europe was meant to neutralize the papal powers and with their movement to other colonies, it was possible to amass world’s wealth (economic resources) which would be used to gain dominance or ouster the papal powers. The English Protestants saw the domination of the sea and colonization of the New World as the strongest weapon against the papal power who was aided by Spain. Owing to the pressure put by the Protestants, the Pop mediated the Tordesillars treaty giving colonization rights to Portugal and Spain (Parker and Vaughan-Williams 102). The treaty challenged the initial Spanish colonialist as the first to dominate North America and the Atlantic region. Hence, the reformation movement led to a major weakening of the papal system as different factions moved to colonize new areas as their own and the rise of migration which meant empowering of the middle class. Immigrants and refugees in form of Pilgrims, explorers, soldiers, farmers, and traders took the settlement in different parts of North America and new cities thrived. In essence, as the reformation movement gained ground, the papal system or powers were weakened as the smaller states got the opportunity of extending their powers abroad, and this would also mean the immigration of the middle class hence the establishment or advancement of the new colonies.
The founding of American colonies during the 17th and the 18th centuries was characterized by leading theological figures such as New England Calvinists and Puritans, as earlier reformists(). Accordingly, the pressure or influence by the Protestant reformation would lead to the establishment of new colonies including Middle Colonies, Upper South and the Lower South and the Frontier.
The reformation movement, despite creating new or different colonies, equally caused major social, economic and political issues or problems in the emerging colonies. The effect of church reformation was largely felt in the New England colonies where the Puritans settled. The Puritans had sought to reform or purify the Church of England from some of the traditions retained from Catholicism (Pestana 36). The New England colonies comprised of Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachutes. According to Taylor, the Puritans pilgrims led by John Winthrop settled in Massachusetts in attempt to create a “city upon a hill” for other people to look upon them as a shining example of a Christian nation (Carlisle and Golson 36). Whether they realized it or not, it is clear that the Puritans practiced the same religious intolerance that existed in the Catholic Church which had inspired reformation in the first place. The Mayflower compact was drafted and signed for by colonists aboard the ship in order to prevent dissent among Puritans and non- separatist’s pilgrims who had earlier landed at Plymouth 2 (Carlisle and Golson 37). It was also set up as an act of self-government in the colonies to help govern Massachusetts. The colony of Massachusetts would later instigate a Revolutionary war against England 150 years later. The people who had opposed this model of the church controlled government were either banned as heretics or simply left on their own accord to settle in other colonies. The heretics led by Roger Williams moved and formed Rhode Island which accommodated religious tolerance and believed in the separation of the church and state. The heavy migration, high birth rates, low death rates and inexpensive farmland gave way to rapid economic growth in these colonies.
The middle colonies including Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Delaware which comprised of European settlers with mixed religions such as the Quakers, Anglicans, Mennonites, Lutherans, Dutch Calvinists, and Presbyterians also felt the political, religious and social impacts of the reformation movement (Pestana 110). Unlike the New England colonies, the regions embraced religious pluralism and cultural diversity amidst wrangling and competition among different denominations. The areas served as distribution centers in the English mercantile system. When William Penn established Pennsylvania as a Quaker’s church member, he set forth democratic principles which would later inspire the US constitution. The colonies had also the presence of African-Americans and Native Americans who were significantly converted to the Christian faith. The Quakers are credited to be among the first groups to denounce human slavery and trafficking in the 1750s (Pestana 111). Therefore, the positive impacts as regards to human advancement politically, socially and economic was observed in the Middle colonies that embraced religious, political and social inclusion thus redressing the dominance and anarchy that was once a characteristic of the Catholic Church or the papal system.
Class stratification or emergence of new classes was equally an impact of the reformation movement on the new colonies, especially in the Chesapeake Bay or the Upper South Colonies. Accordingly, the class emergence also set the pace for economic structure and system, Church values and the overall political system. The Upper South colonies comprised of Virginia and Maryland. Virginia was occupied by Wealthy Englanders and saw the establishment of the Church of England (Pestana 36). Here, the Church of England was supported by taxes from non- Anglicans and non-church supporters. Many people in these colonies were not faithful churchgoers and reformation influenced the set of government in place. Unlike the theocracy model of governance in Massachusetts, Virginia adopted England’s county court system. Maryland was settled by Catholics or papists fleeing protestant intolerance in England as the first propriety colony (Pestana 75). The irony is that only a few Catholics settled here as opposed to many Protestants who were attracted to the inexpensive land offered by Baltimore. Religious tolerance wavered in this colony which was predominantly Protestant with appeals and counter-appeals that continued for years. Colonies supported and advanced the slavery practice to enhance their economic development.
We can do it today.
Furthermore, the effects or reformation movement was equally felt in Lower South. Georgia and Carolina were the lower south colonies. The first settlers were from Virginia followed by Barbadians and the England settlers who came to Carolina, majorly Anglicans and Dissenters. The English languages and standards were adopted in this colony. Georgia was founded by London philanthropists James Oglethorpe a soldier who brought alongside persecuted Protestants and English debtors from jail to allow them a fresh start (Carlisle and Golson 209). It was named Georgia in honor of King George II. Slavery was strictly prohibited and even declared immoral by Oglethorpe. In these colonies, reformation influenced religious tolerance and economic empathy for those looking to start over, moreover, reformation promoted human dignity and equality by abolishing slavery.
In summary, protestant reformation encouraged free thinking and questioning of the controversies in the Catholic Church which resulted in religious conflict and migration to the New World. Most of the new colonies formed by these reformers in North America adopted the concepts they believed in such as religious tolerance, cultural diversity, capitalism, and innovation. However, the governments were still marred with religious doctrines such as paying of tithe to support the Church irrespective of one’s religious affiliation. Moreover, in the formation of American Constitution, the religious moral ground was the base for the documented law which has led many to believe that the founding fathers were Christians. The free New World gave rise to philosophers and scholars who believed in justice and democracy and promoted the same through forums of individual liberty and equality. The reformists wrote famous speeches on the importance of free speech and the importance of people to have a say in the government. For instance, the philosophers left ideas that inspired America’s founding fathers to revolt against British unfair taxation and later inspire the American Revolution.
- Carlisle, Rodney, P and Golson Geoffrey, J. Colonial America from Settlement to the Revolution. ABC-CLIO, 2006. Print.
- Parker, Noel and Vaughan-Williams Nick. Critical border studies: Broadening and deepening the ‘lines in the sand’ agenda. Routledge, 2016. Print.
- Pestana, Carla. Protestant empire: Religion and the making of the British Atlantic world. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009. Print.