“[A] Body Corporate and Politic”: Property, Incorporation, and the Political Economy of Religion in the Chesapeake, 1783–1826
This project examines the fate of the former established Anglican-cum-Episcopalian churches in the Chesapeake. These states were broadly similar in many respects. Their post-Revolutionary religious settlements, however, were radically different. In Virginia Episcopalianism faced collapse, while in Maryland it maintained institutional cohesion. I argue, through an examination of denominational life in Fairfax Parish in Alexandria, Va., and St. Anne’s Parish, Md., that this outcome can be explained by a difference in each state’s political economy of religion: Maryland allowed for the incorporation of churches while Virginia did not. Incorporation allowed capital-intensive denominations to maintain institutional integrity, while the lack of legal protection sent such denominations into a sudden free-fall. My study show that more than cultural factors played a decisive role in denominational competition and in the rise of evangelicalism in the early republic; we must expand our interpretations to make room for these factors.
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