As we have seen from our study of colonial history, the New England experience gave rise to a particular sort of theologically-based world-view that viewed history in a linear fashion and the Puritan settlers of the region as a new ‘chosen people.’ Over time New England was secularised to a great extent, and the dogmatic and crusading spirit of the culture was channeled in new directions. This was in sharp contrast to the societal development of the earliest Southern mainland colonies founded in the Chesapeake Bay region and the Lowcountry of Carolina. In recent months we have explored the Caribbean roots of the Lower South in particular and how the plantation system developed in the eastern Atlantic, was transplanted into northern Brazil and the Caribbean and was later brought to the mainland South. In the following excerpt from pages 3-6 of his book Calhoun and Popular Rule: The Political Theory of the Disquisition and Discourse, Dr H Lee Cheek, Jr, professor of political science and religion at Gainesville State College, makes the point that Southern society developed with a different understanding of itself and attitude towards liberty, government and social structure than did New England.
The consummation of the New England experience was the development of a civil theology based upon the special status of the American regime. America was regarded as the “New Israel…. America’s situation in the pantheon of world political history was understood as unequaled. The regime was special, a providential gift offered to the world, a city on a hill, a light amidst the darkness of political despotism.
Alongside the development of the self-interpretation of New England, there arose a less dogmatic and more explicitly pastoral presentation associated with the other great colonial settlement, Jamestown.
Dr Cheek goes on to talk about what he calls the ‘South Atlantic tradition,’ that is the Southern tradition. His primary focus in this passage is on Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay region, not on the Caribbean and the Lower South, but it is easy to see parallels in the colonies south of Virginia even though these societies had a smaller White yeoman class and large African slave majority. Cheek writes:
…The English and South Atlantic tradition produced a political understanding different from the New England version. Instead of the tendency to endorse a theocratic and unitary form of political order, the South Atlantic experience accommodated divergent theological and political understandings of order and sought to nurture an ecumenism grounded in the acceptance of dissent and a diffusion of political power.
…Liberty was conceived in terms of its corporateness, a societas, combining the family and larger units of an interconnected citizenry with each other to form associations. Instead of using the rigorous moral codes found in New England, the South Atlantic colonies were more dependent upon the English model of ecclesiastic and civil subsidiarity, relying on representatives nearest the situation to provide order and preside over the settlement of disputes. …[T]he political and social developments within the South replicated an English cast founded upon a spirit of localism in theory and practice.
…[E]merging planter and yeoman classes looked to the past as a means of understanding the future, incorporating a preexisting political world-view and adapting it to a new and difficult environment.