|John Jay was the first Vice President of the ABS|
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After a disappointing Thursday, Friday turned out to be a rather productive day of work on my history of the American Bible Society (ABS) project. I spent most of the day reading and organizing things in preparation for a week in the ABS archives. This required skimming hundreds of pages of essays written in the 1960s by ABS historians and librarians. These essays, which are kept in about forty blue three-ring binders in the ABS library, are full of primary source material that will be useful to my work. (They have been digitized and made available to me). I now have a pretty clear sense of what sources I need to examine during my visits to the ABS and what sources I can read from home.
I also continued my work on the founders of the ABS. I have decided to limit the “founders” of the organization to the delegates from local Bible societies who were present at the May 1816 meeting in which the ABS was founded, the first group of officers, and the first Board of Managers. Last night I tried to identify the political affiliations of these founders and found an overwhelming number of Federalists, men with Federalist ties, and former Federalists (National Republicans). I was glad that this effort proved successful. I now think I can make a very strong argument that the founders of the American Bible Society were Christian nationalists.
the lufmiester says
Do you think there are broad ideological similarities between the more libertarian stance – which tends to emphasize state's rights – of Christian nationalists in the US today and these early founders?
John Fea says
Lufmeister: No, I don't see a lot of similarities. These men are certainly promoting a nation of rights, but they understand these rights in the framework of duty and personal morality that sometimes works against the forms of self-interest that emerges when rights language is taken to extremes.
On the other hand, very few of them see the government as a force for promoting morality. It is civil society, particularly in the form of voluntary societies like the ABS, that need to do the work of Christianizing the country. The founders of the ABS did not always think this way, however. Many were Federalists and thus saw the need for a strong government. But such a vision obviously changed after the so-called Jeffersonian Revolution of 1800 and the failure of the Federalist to win election and enforce their vision.
These ABS founders still want a strong, moral, Christian nation, but they don't seem to be relying on government any more to pull it off. This, it seems is the difference between the vision of the 1790s and that of the 1810s and 1820s.
Thanks for the comment and thanks for reading.
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