Greenfield, Ma. From the Press of T. Dickman, 1796. 107pp. plus advertisements as front endpapers, last two leaves of text as rear endpapers. 18mo. Contemporary half calf and paper- covered wooden boards. Binding worn, corners bumped, paper deteriorating on upper board, joints cracking. Ownership inscription in a contemporary hand on verso of titlepage. Moderate tanning and foxing. A good plus copy, in unsophisticated condition. Item #WRCAM55049
This rare and early work on American civics embodies the optimism of its author, prominent 18th-century minister, Elhanan Winchester (1751-1797), one of the founders of the United States General Convention of Universalists. Winchester's Universalism is key to understanding his political philosophy, a significant tenant of which is that salvation begins in this lifetime, and so abolition, educational reform, civic improvements, and political reform are not separate from the spiritual mission. Winchester preached extensively on the promise of the United States, and this book condenses his enthusiasm for Americans young and old interested in learning more about the workings of their government. The text begins with broad questions about the foundations of political authority before turning to specific questions about the young United States. Included are considerations of the various branches of government, prohibitions on government authority, powers reserved for the states, the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation, the example to be provided by the United States to the rest of the world, and much more. Winchester's ministerial career is a microcosm of multiple Transatlantic spiritual awakenings. Starting from the first Great Awakening, Winchester initially patterned himself on the Anglican evangelist George Whitefield (who had converted Winchester's father). But he soon had trouble reconciling the Great Awakening's focus on adult religious conversion with the Calvinist notions of predestination and infant baptism. In 1770, Winchester joined an Arminian Baptist fellowship and renounced his Calvinism. He was an itinerant preacher for a time, eventually taking a position at a Baptist church in Welsh Neck, South Carolina, in 1774. There he ministered to both white members of the church and converted 100 slaves, creating a new church for them much to the consternation of local whites. Winchester had never supported slavery, but his time in the South transformed him into a dedicated abolitionist, preaching and publishing on the evils of the slave trade and how it distanced both the slave and the slave holder from God. In 1780, Winchester moved to Philadelphia and began solidifying his theological and political views as a Universalist. After gaining increasing notoriety in Philadelphia and gathering supporters such as Benjamin Rush and John Redman, Winchester traveled to England, where he met Joseph Priestly, John Wesley, Richard Price, and other religious reformers, further bolstering the Universalist cause on both sides of the Atlantic. The front endpapers of this copy of Winchester's civic catechism consist of leaves from a bookseller's advertisement entitled "West's Catalogue." A Philadelphia edition of Winchester's text was also published in 1796. This work is exceedingly uncommon in the market: we found only two other copies at auction of this Greenfield edition, and those nearly a century ago. SABIN 104730. EVANS 31645. ESTC W28885.