I’ve been doing a bit of research on the Charles Chauncy / Jonathan Edwards exchange over the revivals. Each figure represents the Old Light / New Light cause respectively. I am particularly interested in Chauncy’s rhetoric. The bulk of the exchange took place during the 1730s and 1740s. Interestingly, when Chauncy criticized the revivals, he sought to link the revivals to the heretical movements of the century prior – focusing specifically on Anne Hutchinson. Chauncy argues that there are incredible similarities to the 17th century enthusiast groups and those popping up in the 18th century revivals. Subtly, Chauncy links himself to the forefathers who fought for the faith and defeated the heretics, and linked his opponents to those heretics.
There were various issues floating around these dicussions, such as the role and prominence of women (Anne Hutchinson became a key example for him), as well as, more interestingly, that both had a tendency to level-out society. Chauncy was worried that this levelling would undo the social hierarchy that was so entrenched as the proper ordering of culture. In short, Chauncy argument is what we might anachronistically call an argument against a position as “un-American.” Alan Heimart notes Chauncy’s rhetoric and even claims that Chauncy was ultimately concerned with communism! Heimart notes, “By 1774 all Liberals, Chauncy among them, were once again warning that enthusiasm, whether religious or political, endangered the very basis of American happiness” (Heimart, Religion and the American Mind, 250-251.). Whereas Ben Franklin lauded the revivals because of their social effect, Chauncy denounces them for the same reason. The levelling effect of the revivals worried Chauncy, and the rise of popular and anti-clerical religion was, no doubt, the fruit of a movement that eventually came to define America rather than undo it.