Early American literature reveals a constant personal desire for truths that would lift man closer to perfection and salvation. Much of the emphasis came from Puritans who settled in North America to escape religious persecution in
In William Bradford’s “of Plymouth Plantation” he refers to the “first breaking out of the light of the gospel” in
Roger Williams felt that taking Indian lands without compensating them was wrong. He also felt that the government should not be the punisher of religious infractions. He left
Later, Mary Rowlandson, wife of a Puritan minister, was taken prisoner in an Indian raid. She wrote a narrative of her experience, an unusual privilege for women. She spoke of her personal conviction that God had intervened to save her own life on many occasions. Mary was captured and taken with her wounded child and forced to walk to the Indians camp. “God was with me” she told, “bearing up my spirit…that I might see more of his Power (446). She began to see how “careless I had been of God’s holy time, how many Sabbaths I had lost and misspent and how evilly I had walked in God’s sight” (447). She felt God would be justified in casting her off and “cutting the thread” of her life (447). She told of her conviction that the Indians had been preserved to be a scourge and reminder to the settlers of the need for God in their lives (450). Such was the personal view of tragedy in early
A prominent minister during the eighteenth century Great Awakening, Jonathon Edwards, found evidence of God in the natural world around him. To him all of God’s works bore testimony of his reality (648). He talked about the need to have a personal conviction of God and “the endless variety in the particular manner and circumstances in which persons are wrought in the heart” (654). He taught that God works without “confining himself to certain steps, and a particular method” of dealing with his children (652). This was a break from the tradition of ministers judging whether a persons faith experiences were sufficiently strong to admit them into the congregation. His philosophical and scientific mind did not reject God, but he did reject the idea of predestination, thus preparing the people to later accept that all men could be saved.
In the nineteenth century when many Americans were withdrawing from inflexible faith, Ralph Waldo Emerson also found God in nature. He wrote “in the woods we return to reason and faith” (1584). He had a personal revelation that he was “a part or particle of God” (1584) as he experienced the beauty of nature around him. He, like Jonathon Edwards, saw God in all his observations of the earth as “the wind sows the seed; the sun evaporates the sea… the rain feeds the plant; the plant feeds the animal” (1585). Nature was Emerson’s cathedral and the place of his personal quest for faith and salvation.
During the Civil War, in
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Nature.” Heath Anthology of American Literature Vol B 1800- 1865. Ed. Paul Lauter. 5th ed.
Lincoln, Abraham. “Second Inaugural Address.” Heath Anthology of American Literature Vol B 1800-1865. Ed. Paul Lauter. 5th ed.
Bradford, William.” Of
Williams, Roger. “A Key to the Language of
Rowlandson, Mary White. “A Narrative of the Captivity and Restauration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson.” Heath Anthology of American Literature Vol A 1800-1865. Ed. Paul Lauter. 5th ed.
Edwards, Jonathan. “Images of Divine Things.” Heath Anthology of American Literature Vol A 1800-1865. Ed. Paul Lauter. 5th ed.
Edwards, Jonathan. “A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God”.” Heath Anthology of American Literature Vol A 1800-1865. Ed. Paul Lauter. 5th ed.
“Puritans.” Microsoft Encarta, CD-ROM. 2006