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In the immediate aftermath of the Revolutionary War, many upstanding citizens of the fledgling state of Virginia were not pleased. They were, in fact, appalled by the decline they perceived in the state of public morals. Newspaper editorials, sermons, and speeches in public assemblies resounded with references to the recent upsurge in gambling, whoring, cockfighting, and public drunkenness. That such departures from the straight and narrow are not uncommon in postwar periods, following all the social dislocations of military mobilization, was no consolation to Virginians eager to show a doubting world that government by the people could work.

The root of the problem, in the view of many, was that the churches of the new commonwealth no longer enjoyed the influence or support they had taken for granted during the colonial period. In particular, the Episcopalian Church, formerly the colony's established Church of England, was suffering. Many of its splendid edifices had been damaged in the fighting; fully half of its clergy were now exiled or discredited former tories. Those ministers who remained were having trouble eliciting sufficient voluntary contributions from congregations unaccustomed to that method of ecclesiastical support.


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