Lambert recognizes that two sets of spiritual fathers defined the place of religion in early America: what Lambert calls the Planting Fathers, who brought Old World ideas and dreams of building a "City upon a Hill," and the Founding Fathers, who determined the constitutional arrangement of religion in the new republic. While the former proselytized the "one true faith," the latter emphasized religious freedom over religious purity.
Lambert locates this shift in the mid-eighteenth century. In the wake of evangelical revival, immigration by new dissenters, and population expansion, there emerged a marketplace of religion characterized by sectarian competition, pluralism, and widened choice. During the American Revolution, dissenters found sympathetic lawmakers who favored separating church and state, and the free marketplace of religion gained legal status as the Founders began the daunting task of uniting thirteen disparate colonies. To avoid discord in an increasingly pluralistic and contentious society, the Founders left the religious arena free of government intervention save for the guarantee of free exercise for all. Religious people and groups were also free to seek political influence, ensuring that religion's place in America would always be a contested one, but never a state-regulated one.
An engaging and highly readable account of early American history, this book shows how religious freedom came to be recognized not merely as toleration of dissent but as a natural right to be enjoyed by all Americans.
But Habersham's story is more than biography. It also provides a window into colonial Georgia and its transformation from a struggling colony on the brink of collapse in the 1740s to a prosperous province in the 1770s, confident enough to defy the Crown. Ranging over such topics as the rise of Methodist missionary fervor, the development of transatlantic trade, the introduction of slavery, and the escalating debate over American independence, Frank Lambert tells how Habersham's success is inextricably tied to Georgia's fortunes and how he played a major role in helping the colony exploit its abundant resources. Habersham's economic development plan provided a blueprint for attracting new settlers, supplying an abundance of cheap labor, and opening new markets.
Habersham's achievements, however, are obscured by his unpopular stance on American independence. While his three sons distinguished themselves as Patriots, Habersham remained loyal to the Crown, though he had opposed Britain's new imperial policies in the 1760's. Nevertheless, it was Habersham's loyal service to colonial Georgia that enabled the colony to separate successfully from the mother country and assume its place in the new republic as a prosperous, vigorous state.