The year was 1800. It was an American election year—bitterly fought between the often-brooding incumbent John Adams and the tall, handsome, flashy Virginian, Thomas Jefferson. The stakes were high—a "conservative" federalist fighting for his political career against a godless populist—a "liberal." It was a brutal campaign that ended in a victory for Jeffersonian democracy.

The rancor of partisan politics was exceeded only by the rancor of doctrinal divisions. For those like the Rev. Adoniram Judson, Sr., a Congregational minister in Massachusetts who looked back nostalgically to the days when Puritans like Jonathan Edwards set the standard for ministers, modern ideas were now threatening the very core of orthodoxy. Rationalism was a plague, and it was contagious.

John Adams had many years earlier been infected through an encounter with a Worcester lawyer. In his turn from Calvinism to deism, Adams did not ridicule religion as had Thomas Paine. But for him, religion was not a set of doctrines to be unraveled as true or false; rather, it was the glue that held good societies together. "One great Advantage of the Christian Religion," he wrote in his diary in 1796, "is that it brings the great Principle of the Law of Nature and Nations, Love your Neighbor as yourself. … The Duties and Rights of The Man and the Citizen are thus taught from early Infancy to every Creature." Politics and religion were tied together for the betterment of the nation.

A religious and political conservative like Rev. Judson found himself in the minority. What was the future for those who clung to the doctrines and biblical teachings that had been passed down for so many generations? Would the religion of rationalism roll right over the beliefs he held ...

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