Republicanism, both of these authors teach us, by the mid-nineteenth century became indistinguishable from the aims of religion in the United States. A broad array of protestants agreed that the aims of religion cohered with the political principle of republicanism—or the principle that men could only achieve freedom through self-rule. Noll usefully shows that this concept of republicanism underwent a series of changes from the late eighteenth century to the mid-nineteenth. Beginning in the late eighteenth century republicanism referenced liberty from tyranny, man as citizen, and virtue as a kind of constraint on individual interests. Noll, however, argues that two versions of republicanism competed in this earlier period: communitarian republicanism, based in “the reciprocity of personal morality and social-well being,” and liberal republicanism, which valued the independence of the individual. Noll and Modern argue that by the mid-nineteenth century, the liberal version won out. Citizens imagined their freedom to be enabled by a market-based society more than by a community of virtue. For political historians these definitions are not new or controversial, but for historians of American religious history republicanism is an unlikely category of analysis because we see it as “political theory” rather than theology. But as both Noll and Modern argue, republicanism became the very substance of theology in the United States.
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