What was the impact of the Great Awakening on colonial attitudes toward authority? Why is the Great Awakening considered to be the beginning of an "American" identity?

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The Great Awakening is generally regarded by historians as sowing the first seeds of what would later become a full-scale rebellion against colonial rule. Like all religious revivals, The Great Awakening represented a stirring of the spirit, and it derived from a growing dissatisfaction among Protestant Christians with what they saw as the restrictions of authoritarian religious rule. Right from the outset, then, The Great Awakening had worldly as well as spiritual aims.

By the late 18th century, America was becoming more religiously diverse. Anglicans and Puritans no longer formed a significant percentage of Christian believers in the colonies. Instead, most Americans were attached to the almost bewildering array of small churches that had grown exponentially, and which jealously guarded their independence and their right to determine their own form of worship. The main consequence of this development was that Americans became much less deferential to authority, be it secular or temporal. The great chain of authority was no longer held to run from God to ruler to people, but from God to people to ruler. Just as more and more Americans were joining churches where they got to choose their own pastors and ministers, so they increasingly felt that the same principle should apply to their secular rulers.

In the aftermath of The Great Awakening, there developed a growing consensus that the institutions of government, like the churches, existed to carry out certain functions invested in them by the people themselves. It is just such a notion that finds its most eloquent expression in the Declaration of Independence:

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

In theological terms, The Great Awakening was nothing new; the ideas it advanced had been established Calvinist doctrine for centuries. But in political terms, this great religious revival movement was new in that it took its inspiration from American soil. In that sense, one can indeed speak of The Great Awakening as representing the emergence of a distinctive American conscience, one that with its principles of self-government, independence, and religious freedom, found ultimate expression in the American Revolution, and the Republic to which it gave rise.

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