Pat Rice here:
As our regular readers know, I’ve been slowly scanning and digitalizing my backlist historicals. All the more recent ones have been English history but publishers control those. So I’ve started with the American historicals published right before the Magic series. I adore American history and wish we had more romances set amid the wonderful tumult and uproar that is our country.
One of the most fascinating aspects of American history is the development of our religious freedom. Back in jolly old England, ‘Enery the ‘Aighth raised a right bloody ruckus by overthrowing the Catholic church so he could divorce his barren wife. But essentially, in the 1600’s, Europe was Catholic and England was Anglican and anything else was viewed with skepticism at best, and with the wrath of bigotry at worst. They still hung witches. Any belief outside the state religion could and often did send the believer to jail. Or gaol, as my copyeditors won’t let me say.
So the earliest American settlements were Catholic and Anglican, with one tiny little quirk—to encourage settlement of savage lands, most settlements agreed to religious freedom. Lord Baltimore was Catholic—an unhappy religious choice in England in that period—and he declared his land in Maryland to be open to all religions. In 1682, William Penn, a Quaker and no stranger to religious persecution, encouraged settlement in a large tract west of the Delaware River. He welcomed dissenters from all over Europe. Besides Quakers, he had Amish, Baptist, and Mennonite settlers. Everyone knows about the Puritans who arrived in 1630, bringing their strict Anglican reformist beliefs that aristocratic England couldn't tolerate.
From those humble origins grew a great cauldron of different beliefs. By 1730, roughly the start of the Great Awakening, America was ripe for an explosion of evangelicalism. The settlements had an increasing demand for churches and preachers, and evangelicals could go from town to town as they pleased in a country where all religion was welcome. With that kind of encouragement, anyone could call themselves a minister. Itinerant preachers spread far and wide and before long, Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists outnumbered the state churches of the old countries. (First Baptist)
Just try denying all those preachers a pulpit! Admittedly, a few of our forefathers might have been more comfortable with a state religion. But the signers of the Declaration of Independence as well as those framing the new Constitution came from widely varied backgrounds.
So there we were, teetering on the brink of independence, needing to find agreement between aristocratic Anglicans, uptight Puritans, French and Spanish Catholics, freethinking Quakers, and Utopian societies like the Shakers (who encouraged feminism, pacifism, and abolitionism centuries before they were popular), and entire hoards of mule-riding, Bible-thumping itinerants who could rouse riots if called upon.
Separation of church and state was essential for excellent reason—divided by the dissension of religion, the new republic would fall, but united under the umbrella of freedom, we stand to this day. And so our government has survived for centuries on our right to believe any danged fool thing that makes us happy, as long as we don’t try to legislate our beliefs and enforce them on others.
America, the land where everyone agrees to disagree. Is it no wonder that I love writing about our history? Why do you think romance has left that varied and fascinating history behind for the narrow parameters of the Regency era? Is it a more comfortable era? Does the small world make it seem more familiar? Or does all that dissension in American history make us squirm?