By 1815, the Native Americans had been pushed mostly out of the New England area and into territories just east of the Mississippi River and the entirety of the territory west of the Mississippi River. The Native Americans were a significant obstacle to expanding American territory.
Jedidiah Morse, an author and Congregational minister in the United States, spread a rumor that the French Revolution was part of an international conspiracy to both eliminate Christianity and civil government altogether. See Gordon S. Wood, Empire of Liberty, 244. Morse explained his theory that the French were infiltrating the Republican party “to subvert America’s government and religion.” Id.
Gordon Wood explains in Empire of Liberty that Morse’s conspiracy theories “were believed by a large number of distinguished and learned American clergymen, including Timothy Dwight, president of Yale College, and David Tappan, Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard.” Id.
If those types of fears sound familiar, it is because some individuals in modern American society have similar views about various groups and movements all over the world.
But why? Why do prominent figures in religion have so much sway within the church and throughout the country in convincing others to believe their conspiracy theories?
It could be engrained in the American psyche. Americans have valued freedom of religion since the earliest of the days of the Republic. It could also be a common tactic for changing the public opinion about a particular development within the country or internationally.
Whatever the case may be, it is one example of the notable parallels existing between modern America and the early Republic. It does not require a vivid imagination to imagine hearing words similar to Morse’s in modern day media. For some, that may be troubling, but it should serve as a reminder that some of the most common collective fears in the United States are the most predictable, most repeated, and perhaps most easily disproven.