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He could enjoy all the delights of the traveler without his fatigues, exposures, and temptations.
History was favorite reading with those who were older, especially English history. The people were but a few generations removed from their English ancestors, in whom tradition, government, and trade kept them interested. They themselves were British subjects until 1776. To understand their rights as such, they must read English history which informed them how these rights were obtained. The rulers of the people, and those who expected to be rulers, were readers of history. Some of the published debates in the Connecticut Legislature show a familiarity with historical facts. It is remarkable that in the Connecticut Convention which adopted the present Federal Constitution, the great argument of Oliver Ellsworth in its favor was largely historical, implying that the members were so much acquainted with history, that they could appreciate its force. Ministers of the Gospel in those days not unfrequently, in their sermons, stated facts of history, as the teaching of Divine Providence. The famous sermon of President Stiles before the Connecticut Legislature in 1783, is largely historical. Many other facts might be adduced to show what were the prevailing tastes and sentiments in the Commonwealth, growing out more or less from the perusal of books furnished by these book companies.
The good influence of these libraries upon every class of the population, from the highest to the lowest, cannot be measured, any more than can the influence of “the all-pervading spirit of literature” generally, any more than can the influence of the light in the firmament, glancing as it does from the highest hill-top down into the lowest vale.
These “book companies" lived, some of them, more than a hundred years, accomplishing great good to the several communities, others had a shorter term of life. They all, from various general causes in operation, lost their hold on the hearts of the people, and were neglected. Some of the libraries were sold at auction, and the proceeds distributed among the members. Some were distributed to them, each
member receiving his share of books. Some were scattered and lost. And the remains of one, at least, are boxed up in a large chest.
The causes that produced this change began to operate about the commencement of the present century, though they did not produce their full effect until something like thirty years afterwards. To state what these causes were, would exceed my limits.
If this letter, my dear sir, shall furnish you with any aid in your laudable attempt to obtain materials for an Educational History of the State, I shall have accomplished my purpose in complying with your request. Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
WILLIAM C. FOWLER.
OWNING THE COVENANT.”
The covenant here mentioned refers to the covenant made by the parent for the infant child at its baptism. It refers to the beautiful idea connected with family religion, that the parent could enter into covenant, not only for himself, but for his child. In this way the baptized child became a member, or a quasi member of the church; and, upon his “owning the covenant,” enjoyed the privilege of having his own children baptized. At least, this was the general practice in Connecticut for a long period.
This was slightly stigmatized by the opposers of the practice, by calling it the "half-way covenant."
When the New Divinity men, under the lead of President Edwards, dropped the practice and confined baptism to the children of those who were in full communion, there was often great dissatisfaction expressed by those who were thus excluded. Within my knowledge some went so far as to leave the Congregational church and go to the Episcopal.
For a specimen of the form of owning the covenant, see Con. to the Ecc. Hist, of Conn., page 410.
During the War of the Revolution there seems to have been a truce between the New Divinity men and the Old Divinity men.
They were equally patriotic in sustaining the war. Thus, in the county of New Haven, Pres. Ezra Stiles, Dr. Elizur Goodrich, and Dr. Dana, Old Divinity men; and Dr. Jonathan Edwards, Dr. Benj. Trumbull, and Mark Leavenworth, New Divinity men, earnestly supported the war.
The Old Divinity men held generally to the doctrines taught by the Church of England in the thirty-nine articles, and also to the doctrines of the Westminster Catechism.
To know what were the doctrines of the New Divinity men, it would be necessary to read some of the writings of Edwards the elder, Edwards the younger, Samuel Hopkins, Joseph Bellamy, Dr. Smalley, Levi Hart, Nathaniel Emmons, Charles Backus, who had as many as fifty theological pupils, and Stephen West.
I. One point of difference between the Old Divinity men and the New Divinity men was, that the Old Divinity men were willing to baptize the children of those who owned the covenant, while the New Divinity men were generally opposed to the practice.
II. Another point of difference was, that the Old Divinity men relied largely upon the cultivation of family religion, while the New Divinity men were more in favor of conference meetings than their opponents.
III. Another point of difference was, that the Old Divinity men preached less upon the doctrine of election and kindred doctrines, than their opponents, though they were generally the professed believers in that doctrine.
Said the Rev. Mr. Thomas Bray, an Old Divinity man of North Guilford: “I am a believer in election, but not in the Durham election.” He alluded to the doctrine taught in the latter place at that time.
In the year 1823, the orthodox friends of Amherst College united with the Democratic party in Massachusetts in electing for Governor, William Eustis, a Democrat, and a reputed Deist. This they did for the purpose of obtaining a charter for Amherst College, which the Federalists and Unitarians, whose candidate was Harrison Gray Otis, had refused to grant. Soon after the election, the defeated candidate, Harrison Gray Otis, met the successful candidate, William Eustis, and accosted him jocosely in some such terms as these: “I beg to inquire whether you have adopted the Calvinistic system of doctrines?” He replied, “I believe in the doctrine of election.”
The term, election, was in those days put by synedoche for the group of doctrines with which it was connected.
IV. Another point of difference between the Old Divinity men and the New Divinity men was the hostility of the latter to balls, assemblies, and dancing generally.
During the period of thirty years, from 1788 to 1818, the New Divinity ministers grew in numbers and influence, incurring justly or unjustly the charge of a propagandism that hazarded the unanimity and peace of churches and towns. During the same period, the Standing Order, denominated Presbyterians or Congregationalists, were weakened by the desertion of numbers to the Baptists, to the Episcopalians, to the Methodists, or to the Universalists; thus foreshadowing the revolution of 1818, which was partly ecclesiastical and partly political.
Two excellent men, both of them Doctors of Divinity held a discussion in my presence something like the following: "The great success which has attended the preaching of the doctrines of New Divinity in revivals of religion is a sufficient proof of the truth of these doctrines.”
“No," said the other. “I do not think it is. It is rather the thoroughgoing character of the men who preach them that produce the success. It is neither New Divinity Calvinism nor Old Divinity Calvinism that is essential to the production of revivals of religion, for the Methodists have powerful revivals of religion under the preaching of opposite doctrines, namely, the doctrines of Arminianism."
FAIRFIELD, June 23rd, 1777. REV. AND Hon's Sir:
The General Association have met here. They had no great business. It was an agreeable and social interview; and they kept out of political matters—tho' the fingers of one Gentleman seemed greatly bent after fishing in the troubled waters. ****
Great are the expectations of people from this summer's campaign.
“Never had Gen. Washington so fine an army. Howe's numbers are much smaller than they were last year.” They predict mighty events. It will be a sad disappointment if America does not prevail.
Last week I saw a Flag which came out of New York. It was Mr. Webb of Wethersfield, who had been sent by Gov. Trumbull. He says that vast preparations were making for action somewhere. The Britons and their adherents glory much on account of the late action of Danbury and think that they can go any where—they were attacked, say they, by ten thousand Rebels, and made their way through them all. They want another tour to Connecticut. Major French, who has been a Prisoner, and made his escape
from Hartford, has solicited for a command to go to that Metropolis, attesting in the strongest terms the practicability of such an Expedition. But he has no great Influence at Head Quarters.
The Boston refugees are fed with the notion that they shall ere long be in their Habitations. Many of them have heretofore believed that the great preparations were making for an attack on that town. Ben Davis, on his entering into New York was closeted by Lord Howe for six hours. He talks of his sufferings while in Boston_his fortitude in standing firm to the rules, and his mighty attachment to Government. * * * * *
The British Ships are almost every day in sight. They seem determined to prevent any more excursions to Long