Published online by Cambridge University Press: 17 December 2019
Founders of the earliest American colonies considered religious piety an essential civic virtue and therefore continued the tradition of religious establishment found in Britain and other Protestant countries. New sects and denominations (especially Quakers and Baptists) contended against Congregationalist and Anglican establishments throughout the colonies. Though prominent dissenters Roger Williams and William Penn founded colonies respecting religious liberty, the decline of religious establishment elsewhere was owed primarily to changes in British law, commercial and political expediencies necessary for increasingly diverse immigrant populations, and, in the case of Anglican establishments, the difficulty of securing ordination and a self-sustaining parish. Though Roman Catholics enjoyed some degree of toleration, enthusiastic Protestant identity on both sides of the Atlantic further reduced Catholic rights and liberties. Jews enjoyed some limited degree of toleration, but only in a handful of colonies.