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Anne Hutchingson and Freeborn Garrettson

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In 1637, Anne Hutchinson stood trial before the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. During her examination, she confessed that she had experienced an “immediate revelation” from God. She described hearing “the voice of his own spirit to my soul.” After discussion with authorities, John Winthrop concluded that “…this is the thing that hath been the root of all the mischief.” She was found guilty and banished from the colony.
In 1775, Freeborn Garrettson had a similar mystical experience. “In the night I went to bed as usual, and slept till day break: just as I awoke, I was alarmed by an awful voice, ‘Awake, sinner, for you are not prepared to die.’ This was strongly impressed on my mind, as if it had been a human voice as loud as thunder.” Shortly thereafter he went on to have a conversation with God which, despite verbal interruptions from the devil, resulted in his conversion. Like Hutchinson, Garrettson experienced an immediate revelation from God. Unlike Hutchinson, Garrettson was not banished for the experience. In fact, he chose to publish it and went on to become a key figure in the rise of Methodism in the United States. In the years between Hutchinson’s trial and Garettson’s conversion, American religion had changed. Democracy had changed it.
While the impact of religion on democracy has been well documented, it is difficult to trace the impact of democracy on religion. Nevertheless, historians like Nathan Hatch argue that democracy was a significant influence on the development of American religion. Hatch identifies three marks of democratic spirit found in early American religious movements – redefined leadership, acceptance of spiritual experience, and grand ambitions. All three are exempli...

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