Pierpont Edwards Organizes The Toleration Party

Pierpont Edwards Organizes The Toleration Party

Pierpont Edwards was an important player in Connecticut politics.

Edwards was a Federal Judge who created the Toleration Party. This Party brought freedom of religion to Connecticut for the first time.

Pierpont Edwards

As a young Princeton graduate, Pierpont Edwards of Connecticut had just established his law practice when the American Revolutionary War began.

Edwards briefly joined the Continental Army but at just 27 was elected to his State’s House of Representatives.  He would hold this office sporadically through the next fifteen years.

Pierpont additionally participated in the Founding Period when he was chosen as a member of Connecticut’s Ratification Convention.  After the Constitution was approved, Pierpont was sent to the Continental Congress during its final years.

By 1790, George Washington had chosen Edwards to be the United States Attorney for Connecticut.

Federal Judge

Although the majority of Connecticut voters were Federalists, Edwards had strong ties to the Democratic-Republicans due to his nephew Aaron Burr becoming Vice-President of the United States.  (Side note: his son-in-law was inventor Eli Whitney whose cotton gin forever changed industrialized slavery in America).

This connection may have assisted in Edwards receiving the appointment of President Thomas Jefferson as Justice to the United States District Court, Connecticut District.  Pierpont would retain this seat for the rest of his life.

The Toleration Party

By the time the Monroe Administration took over the presidency, the Federalist Party was in shambles.

Their outspoken resistance to the War of 1812, coupled with the disastrous Hartford Convention, led to the disappearance of the Federalists at the national level.  In many northern States, however, the Federalists were still in charge.

Connecticut was one of these Federalist controlled States.  

Pierpont Edwards saw an opening.  He decided to start a new party. This party would focus only on Connecticut politics.

The Toleration Party was formed.

The Church of Connecticut

The Toleration Party platform was twofold.

Firstly, they wanted to expand the right to vote in Connecticut and make the State more democratic.

The second reason involved ‘toleration.’

Connecticut, in 1817, still had a State Church.  Yes, 30 years after the Constitution outlawed a national church, certain governments still had state churches.  The Constitution does not specifically forbid individual States from mandating that their citizens pay tithes to a specific religion.

Connecticut at this time was Congregationalist.  Every citizen had a portion of their taxes go to the Congregationalist Church.

Pierpont Edwards was part of a growing body of Episcopalians who was unhappy with the tithes he had to pay.  He attempted to set up an Episcopalian College to compete with Congregationalist Yale. The government refused to grant the new school the same money as it did for the State Church’s school.

This was the turning point.

Edwards was able to bring together all the members of non-Congregationalist denominations with Democratic-Republicans and disaffected Federalists in Connecticut to create the Toleration Party’s base.

Sweeping Changes

The Toleration Party quickly seized control of the Connecticut Assembly.

First, they instituted their plan to make the government more democratic by making new legislation a simple majority vote.  This was an extremely close matter and almost did not happen. Fortunately, the Tolerationists were able to convince a few of their opponents to join them.

Next, the Pierpont Edwards’ Party went about eliminating the State Church.  To do this, the Tolerationists wrote a new State Constitution.

This new Constitution was approved by the citizens of Connecticut, largely due to the expanded voting system implemented when the new Party took control.

Conclusion

The Toleration Party Edwards started would dominate Connecticut politics for the rest of his life.

When he passed away, he was still a federal judge.  His legacy, the Toleration Party, would eventually evolve into the Jacksonian wing of the Democratic-Republican Party.

Pierpont Edwards most important Founding Legacy was his necessary role in bringing freedom of religion perminately to Connecticut.

While there is no modern biography of Pierpont Edwards or, shockingly, the Toleration Party itself, I recently stumbled upon ‘Connecticut Families of the Revolution.’ This book is an easy, fun read which (much like this website) gives short insights into the lives of little known Founders. Purchase through our affiliate link below if you cannot find it at the library.

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