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08 The First Great Awakening

The First Great Awakening
American Beliefs
The American spirit and the family served as foundations for life in the colonies. In addition, Americans shared
a commitment to education, strong religious beliefs, and openness to new ideas. Most colonists valued education.
Parents often taught their children to read and write at home. In New England and Pennsylvania people set up
schools to make sure everyone could read and study the Bible. The result was a high level of literacy in these
areas. By 1750, about 85 percent of the men and about half of the women were able to read.
The First Great Awakening
In the early 1700s, many colonists feared they had lost their religious passion that
had driven their ancestors to found the colonies. Religion seemed dry, boring, and
distant, even for regular churchgoers. In the 1730s and 1740s, a religious
movement called the First Great Awakening swept through the colonies. Traveling
ministers gave sermons that appealed to the heart and drew large crowds. Jonathan
Edwards, a well- known preacher, terrified listeners with images of God’s anger
but promised they could be saved. Across the colonies ministers called for "a new
birth," a return to the strong faith of earlier days.
Effects of the First Great Awakening
The First Great Awakening inspired greater religious freedom. It led to the formation of
many new types of churches. The new churches placed an emphasis on having personal faith
rather than on church rituals. More colonists began choosing their own faiths, and the
strength of established official churches declined. This independence of thought brought
new teachings that encouraged colonists to challenge authority. They believed they had the
ability and the right to make their own decisions in government matters as well.
The Enlightenment
Unlike the Great Awakening, which stressed religious emotions, the Enlightenment
emphasized reason and science as the path to knowledge. Benjamin Franklin was a
famous American Enlightenment figure. Other Enlightenment thinkers applied the idea
of natural law to human societies. The English philosopher John Locke argued that
people have natural rights. These are rights to life, liberty, and property. People create
government to protect their natural rights, he claimed. If a government fails in this duty,
people have the right to change it. This intellectual movement appealed mostly to
wealthy, educated men. But it, too had far-reaching effects on the colonies.
Civic Virtue
Freedom of the press became an important issue in colonial America.
Newspapers in colonial cities carried political news and often faced
government censorship. Censorship is the banning of printed materials
because they contain unpopular or offensive ideas. In 1733 a newspaper
publisher, John Peter Zenger, accused New York's governor of corruption.
For criticizing the governor officials threw Zenger in jail. The jury found
Zenger not guilty. The case is seen as a key step in the development of a free
press in this country. Colonists began thinking of civic virtue or the practices
and values that form a free society.
Adapted from McGraw Hill Education