Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Christopher P. Magra

Committee Members

Kristen J. Block, Mark D. Hulsether, Carl T. Olsson


The consensus among early American historians is that anti-Catholicism served as an important source of pan-Protestant British nationalism after the Glorious Revolution. Different Protestant denominations from around the British empire drew unity from their shared fear and loathing of Catholics. My dissertation presents surprising evidence that anti-Catholic rhetoric was not always about Catholicism itself. I argue that nascent democratic sensibilities were rooted in Reformed theological anxieties about the preservation of liberty of conscience. Liberty of conscience was a contested notion that promoted heartfelt, personal piety as the right way to worship God and that stressed the fact that a certain degree of autonomy was necessary to express this authentic devotion. Religious fears about threats to that autonomy pre-dated the Glorious Revolution. What is more, these fears divided protestant Anglo-Americans as much as they brought them together. Fear regarding the loss of religious autonomy drove contests between a variety of Protestant groups for political, economic, and social power. In the process, this fear guided a concept of ever more generous political and religious autonomy upheld by the language of anti-Catholicism. Scholars situate the connection between Protestantism and democracy in the Early Republic, and they maintain this link was the result of the American Revolution and the Great Awakening. My research proves this link existed long before either. My dissertation also suggests a foundational paradox in American life: religious xenophobia and popular anxieties about the loss of freedom of conscience proved to be effective tools in inculcating democratic sensibilities in America.

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