To Contest with All the Powers of Darkness

New England Baptists, Religious Liberty, and New Political Landscapes, 1740–1833

  • Author(s): Hicks, Jacob E.
  • Series: America's Baptists
  • Imprint: University of Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 2024-06-28
  • Status: Not Yet Published - Will Back Order
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Scholars often use descriptors such as ‘individualistic’ and ‘democratic’ to describe Baptists in early national America. But as Jacob Hicks demonstrates, these terms don’t offer much help in understanding how Baptist luminaries including Isaac Backus and John Leland organizationally transformed their movement from a persecuted sect into a respected denomination. Hicks breaks new ground by locating Baptists in the era’s vibrant milieu of politicking, publishing, and partisanship.
—Thomas S. Kidd, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary


In this new history of the New England Baptists, Jacob E. Hicks teases out the social and political contexts that transformed “rustic” young men like John Leland not only into volunteers for Christ—as wide-roving preachers in the mold of George Whitefield—but also into influential opinion leaders, media entrepreneurs, networkers, and lobbyists in the contentious First Party era of the Early Republic.

Baptist leaders like Isaac Backus, Noah Alden, Samuel Stillman, John Leland, Jonathan Going, and Luther Rice exploited their church-based ministerial training in public speaking, conflict resolution, and intra-denominational networking to become political organizers. With significant gains in the formation of the Warren Association (1767), the Backus-led Grievance Committee (1769), and Leland’s formative experience in the campaign to disestablish Virginia (1780s), the Baptists allied themselves with the rising Democratic-Republican Party, touching off a coalition of anti-Federalist politics and evangelical religion that, while not directly disestablishing Massachusetts, would bear significant fruit in the Religious Freedom Act of 1811.

To Contest with All the Powers of Darkness brings a unique movement into focus that had at its inception the communal values and ministry preparation practices of a loose network of New England Baptist churches. This movement drove a significant first wedge in the church-state fusion of the Early Republic and, simultaneously, left memorable lessons in successful collective action for a New England Baptist community on the verge of an institutional explosion on the western frontier.


JACOB E. HICKS is assistant professor of religion at Grand Canyon University. He has written book reviews for a variety of publications, including Church History, Nova Religion, and Religious Studies Review.