American Christianity in the early Republic

Today, as in the past, the question of what causes a welfare nation continues to plague us. What exactly is a welfare nation and what is the moral obligation of our country to protect its poor? These questions have been asked for over a century in our Republic.  One clear cause a poverty is a lack of education. It is only through education that the poor have a chance succeed.  

On November 1, 1834, a clergyman by the name of Jasper Adams delivered an address to the College of Charleston: Society of Graduates entitled “The moral causes of a welfare nations” and he addressed the specific need of universal education from a Christian perspective.  (

Adams begins his address by discussing the prosperity that has surged in the country since its founding. He discusses how the past 50 years have been a period of scientific and political revolutions and that with all the found innovation there still is a disparity between rich and poor.

Adams points out that while he has been examining the principles of this disparity he has “been frequently surprised, that they have ascribed national prosperity so much to physical, and so little to moral causes. Assuredly, the state of education in a country, the general diffusion of knowledge, the state of the arts, sciences and literature, refinement of manners and other social improvements, wise and solitary laws, the standard of public and private morals, civil and religious freedoms, a just well-regulated government, war and peace, social and benevolent institutions, and general prevalence of sound religious principles, must be at least as influential in promoting national prosperity, and prosperous climate, mineral riches, a soil of fruitful and valuable productions, and other physical causes to which the welfare of nations is more commonly described.”

Adams states “No one of these causes is more salutary in its influence, than education, and the general diffusion of knowledge among all ranks of a nation. And uneducated people must necessarily be without self-respect, without reputation, without spirit, without strength, without virtue, and without hope.”  Even in 1834, if not before, it was well known that education was the only way to help the majority of people out of poverty. Adams goes on to say, “The idea of rendering education universal among all orders of men, was introduced with the Christian religion, and does not appear to have been contemplated as possible, by anyone of the ancient philosophers or statesman; though they were not unacquainted with its meliorating or refining influence on the human character.”

But why is this a Christian value?  “Christianity considers the stated worship of God, and instructions in its own principles essential to the welfare of every human being” and the way to ensure proper worship is via understanding.   According to Adams,“Christianity enjoins the conscious practice of every virtue which can elevate and adorn the human character, and fit men for action in the widest sphere, and under the influence of the noblest principles. She enjoins under pain the everlasting displeasure of the almighty, purity of person in mind and most impartial justice towards all men, sympathy and goodwill coexist if with human wants and human suffering, industry, the strictest integrity, and the firmest control over those passions, which are accustomed so much to disturb the peace society and destroy the happiness of mankind. Christianity, I say, and joins all the virtues, and many more; — but in using this term, I do her injustice, — she requires the habitual practice of all these virtues, as all satisfactory evidence which she admits, of a title to the rewards held out by her, in prospect, to her disciples.”

It is clear that Jasper Adams and other Christians in the early Republic sought to influence the new world order by promoting not only the Christian faith but the principles of Christianity as well and for at least for this particular clergyman, education was of the highest order.