I'm talking about 18th-century republicans — the Revolutionary War kind of republicanism. I just finished The American Revolution: A History (2002) by Gordon S. Wood. It includes ten pages on "Republican Religion" that speak directly to the religious background of Joseph Smith, Jr., and his parents. Seems like a topic worth sharing.
Here's what happened according to Wood:
The Revolution shattered traditional structures of authority, and common people increasingly discovered that they no longer had to accept the old distinctions that had separated them from the upper ranks of the gentry. ... [H]alf-literate plowmen were being told (even by aristocrats like Thomas Jefferson) that they had as much common or moral sense as learned professors.
Just as throwing off the established political system of England allowed political experimentation, so throwing off the established religious system (Anglicanism in the South; Puritanism or Congregationalism in the North) allowed religious experimentation.
Under such egalitarian circumstances, truth itself became democratized, and the borders the eighteenth-century Enlightenment had painstakingly worked out between religion and magic, science and superstition, naturalism and supernaturalism, were blurred. Animal magnetism seemed as legitimate as gravity. Dowsing for hidden metals appeared as rational as the workings of electricity. Popular speculations about the lost tribes of Israel seemed as plausible as scholarly studies of the origins of the Indian mounds of the Northwest.
Gone was the dominance of Anglicans and Puritans. Instead, "enthusiastic groups of revivalist Baptists, New Light Presbyterians, and Methodists had moved from the margins to the center of American society." And brand new groups popped up out of nowhere: "Universal Friends, Universalists, Shakers, and a variety of other splinter groups and millennial sects."
This is still a generation or two before the flowering of Mormonism, but it's quite a prologue. As Wood concludes the section, "There was nothing like it in the Western world." Two hundred years later, that's still true.