Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation



First Advisor

Daniel Littlefield


This dissertation examines the early modern ritual traditions of oaths, thanksgivings, and fast days in Revolutionary America and argues that American politicians and citizens negotiated the meanings of these rituals for American citizenship throughout the Revolutionary era. Oaths of office and allegiance, thanksgivings and fast days were tools for creating a united nation, but they also posed significant challenges because of the religious and political associations inherent in such rituals. These rituals came out of early modern Europe's religious and political culture which was useful for establishing America as a legitimate European nation. As colonials on the edge of the European world, grounding the nation in European tradition was an important step in presenting themselves as a nation on equal footing with Britain, France, and Spain. These same rituals, however, presented problems for unifying a society with as much religious and political variety as appeared in the American colonies.

Thus, for the thirty years between the first Continental Congress in 1774 and the third peaceful exchange of presidential power in 1801, Americans negotiated what constraints the state and federal governments could place on American citizens' religious and political beliefs while simultaneously searching for rituals which would draw the v

nation together in religious worship and public duty. This negotiation was often not the product of debates over political philosophy, but was enacted by groups and individuals petitioning for more religious freedom or who were viewed as loyal citizens with religious scruples. Early modern nation states typically established a particular version of Christianity while allowing varying levels of dissent from this norm and while some Americans advocated for this type of established religion in America the reality was that such uniformity of behavior was unlikely to be tolerated in the new nation. Instead, politicians and citizens alike searched for a compromise between an established denomination and total religious freedom which many feared would lead to widespread immorality and poor civic virtue.

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