The Second Great Awakening | America's Religious History | Thomas S. Kidd

in this session we're going to talk

Second Great Awakening

by 1800

for revival had become a defining

feature of American Protestantism and

even though the revolution itself

America saw outbursts of regional

revivals but then in the 1790s a new

series of revivals began that would more

heavenly Christianize American society

than ever before and these series of

rivals are often called the Second Great


most of the major Protestant

denominations enjoyed successes in the

Second Great Awakening but none more so

than the Methodists the Methodists

Baptists other offshoots of American

Protestantism featured a new emphasis on

the ministry of itinerant preachers who

like George Whitfield before them toured

the country with enormous energy

preaching the gospel to most anyone who

would listen but unlike George Whitfield

these new ministers focused on a gospel

that had a strong emphasis on equality

and the spiritual democracy brought

about by the Holy Spirit

historian Nathan hatch has written that

the Second Great Awakening represented

the democratization of American

Christianity with the itinerants

preaching that in Christ everyone was

equal and that for too long

elite pastors and politicians had lorded

their authority over the common people

of America Christ brought not only a

spiritual democracy but also a new

political and cultural democracy in

which the most important Authority

anyone could have was the authority of

the Holy Spirit typical of the great

preachers driving the Second Great

Awakening was a man nicknamed crazy

Lorenzo Dow a Methodist itinerant of an

incredible energy that I suppose no one

has ever surpassed Dow was a wilder but

equally compelling version of George

Whitfield a Dow had long hair worn

similar to women's style at the time

worn and disheveled clothes a rugged

face a harsh voice and he was a

captivating preacher Dow kept up a

legendary preaching and travel

scheduled in 1804 Dowell spoke at at

least 500 meetings and perhaps as many

as 800 and that's in one year in 1805 he

traveled approximately 10,000 miles

traveling mostly on horseback he

preached all across America from New

England to Alabama and all across the

frontier western lands of the time and

many observers said that he was simply

the best preacher they had ever heard

speak Dow was perhaps the most symbolic

man of the Second Great Awakening a

prophetic figure who styled himself like

John the Baptist but also

self-consciously a radical Jeffersonian

and a believer in the self-governing

democracy of the common people Dow would

have probably hated the elitist ideas of

Alexander Hamilton the first secretary

of the Treasury

even as he probably would have tried to

share the gospel with Alexander Hamilton

perhaps the greatest meeting of the

whole Second Great Awakening was at Kane

ridge Kentucky the mass meeting and

communion service there gathered about

10,000 people over the course of a week

at a time when the largest town in the

state of Kentucky had only 2,000

residents those who attended witnessed

quote sinners falling and shrieks and

cries for mercy awakened in the mind

a lively apprehension of that scene when

the awful sound will be heard arise he


and come to judgment that's how one

observer described Cambridge women

responded particularly strongly to

revival meetings like Cambridge perhaps

because they were often the most

strongly affected by the economic and

social disruptions found in the frontier

west and places at that time like

Kentucky women also found exciting new

roles in the churches of the West as

charitable and missionary organizations

sprang up at an amazing rate and were

staffed by the legions of women

responding to the revived

perhaps most interestingly the revival

swept through the south bringing a new

interest in Christianity which had known

mostly disinterest from both whites and

blacks in the south until at least the

1760s thousands of slaves converted

during the Second Great Awakening

finding the message of spiritual

equality and a promise of a better life

in heaven very appealing given their

extremely unequal and harsh living

conditions throughout the south and west

the revivals caught on because of the

appeal of the eternal message of the

Christian gospel that a person could

find forgiveness and spiritual peace

with God but it also took on a new

democratic tone offering equality and

empowerment to the often uneducated and

marginalized settlers in the West and

slaves as well it also brought the

promise of hope and stability

particularly to an Ohio River Valley

region which was constantly in flux from

migrations competition for the best

lands a threat of Indian fighting and

Indian attacks and the loneliness of the

pioneering white settlements on the

frontier perhaps the key figure in

continuing the Second Great Awakening

and spreading a new evangelical

mentality through the northern states

and their middle-class people was the

revivalist Charles Finney many

historians believe that Finney was so

influential and so representative of the

new American culture of middle-class

evangelicalism that he deserves a rank

as one of the four or five most

influential American figures of the

whole 19th century Charles Finney was a

former school teacher and lawyer in New

York and in 1821 he experienced a

dramatic conversion closed his law

practice and began preaching the gospel

most historians have argued that

Finney's message was perfect

the rapidly expanding northern states in

1820s and 30s

Fenny focused on the individual's free

will to choose salvation to choose the

right over the wrong to take

responsibility to make the best out of

one's lot in life Fenny viewed man is

sinful but capable of choosing the good

beginning with choosing salvation but

continuing with choosing to live a moral

sober and hardworking life he also used

a number of new measures that made him

different from previous revivalists he

would hold extended revivals sometimes

staying in one place for weeks or a

month if any controversy lee insisted

that revivals were not miraculous works

of God they were just the simple result

of God's blessing on human obedience

quote a revival is not a miracle he

wrote in the sense of something above

the powers of nature there is nothing in

religion beyond the ordinary powers of

nature it consists entirely in the right

exercise of the powers of nature it is

just that and nothing else when mankind

becomes religious they are not enabled

to put forth as Gershon switch they were

unable before to put forth they only

exert powers which they had before in a

different way

and used them for the glory of God

Penny's brand of evangelical religion

represented a subtle step toward a human

centered kind of faith especially as

compared to the start towering Calvinism

of Jonathan Edwards Fetty pioneered the

use of the so called anxious bench on

which people seeking assurance of

salvation could sit up front for special

prayers in ministry in the revival

meetings Finney traveled throughout the

Northeast during the 1820s and 30s

holding famous revivals in places like


New York Boston in Philadelphia the

rising middle class culture of these

regions slowly took on a distinctively

evangelical tone holding up at least in

principle and often in reality the

ideals of personal godliness and


there can be no doubt that Christianity

had never flourished in a freer

environment or at least legally free as

it found in pre-civil war America this

had at least two main results first was

the growth of the major Protestant

denominations Baptists Methodists and

Presbyterians into true giants that

dominated American culture but the

second was the rise of all manner of

unusual religious leaders groups and

movements that transcended the usual

boundaries of Orthodox theology or

gender and race lines that usually

applied in traditional Christianity

we've already seen one example of this

in a previous lesson in the sectarian

leader Jemima Wilkinson who called

herself the public Universal friend a

similar sectarian movement that began to

develop early in the Revolutionary

period was the shakers the shakers

developed as an offshoot of the English

Quakers and their main leader the

shakers main leader was mother and Lee

who moved with her family to America

from England in 1774 Lee was a visionary

and she claimed to have had all manner

of trances and visions and she became

convinced that Christ's second coming

would be in the form of a woman and that

she in fact was that woman Lee and the

shakers developed a form of Christian

socialism that also forsook all sexual

intercourse as sin including in marriage

and that would become a real problem for

sustaining the growth of this movement

but from the 1780s to the 1840s shakers

were very active

in evangelizing the radical fringe of

other Protestant revivals especially the

Baptist's though motherly died in 1784

the movement continued to grow and

especially thrived on the radicalism of

the Second Great Awakening notably

picking off three leading converts who

had formerly led the Cambridge revival

in Kentucky the shakers continued their

celibacy and featured fervent communal

worship include including group dancing

and occasionally some speaking in

tongues or that mysterious divine

language of of tongues that scene often

than the book of Acts but there can be

no doubt that the group's main source of

radicalism was its claim that Christ's

second coming had come in a woman

another of the radical movements was the

Millerites led by william miller who

grew up in vermont miller ISM grew out

of intense expectation of the second

coming of Christ

Miller had once been a liberal deist but

was converted to a radical Calvinist

Baptist on his farm he would study the

Bible late at night and became

interested in the end times speculating

on the meaning of apocalyptic passages

from the Book of Daniel in 1818 Miller

came to the conclusion that the Bible

predicted that the end would come in

1843 with 25 years left

he became an itinerant preacher in New

England in New York spreading the word

that the end was imminent in 1839 Miller

secured the help of a Boston publicist

and before 1843 Miller had likely

influenced hundreds of thousands of

Americans who cast more than a few

glances upward during their deal daily

business in 1843 but the year came and

went Jesus didn't return and it proved

to be a huge disappointment and to some

an embarrassment

but Miller did manage to found the

Adventist Church despite these

problematic beginnings through more

intense Bible study the Adventists came

to the conclusion that observing Sunday

as the Sabbath day was a Roman Catholic

corruption and so they began the

distinctive habit of returning to a

Saturday Sabbath in the Jewish tradition

Miller was followed by Ellen White as

the most significant leader of the group

now called the seventh-day Adventists

she claimed prophetic authority over the

church and white made a number of

converts to a strict dietary regimen

including vegetarianism one of whites

converts in Battle Creek Michigan was

dr. John Kellogg whose vegetarian zeal

led him to create a new commercial

industry for cereals many of the new

religious movements in the antebellum

period had utopian or humanitarian

ideals many Christian groups have had

this ideal of course but something new

seemed to be going on in these years as

a number of radical separatist groups

tried to achieve an almost heavenly

state on earth sometimes with some

pretty weird manifestations one group of

evangelical radicals who tried this was

the Oneida community of John Humphrey

Noyes Noyes was converted in a revival

in 1831 and he went to Yale Divinity

School but he did not get along well

there and he began developing views

concerning the potential for radical

holiness and perfection and believers in

fact he came to believe that the message

of the gospel was total deliverance from

sin and that true Christian community

could only be practiced in radical

socialism he began a commune in Oneida

New York where he instituted radical

community communal life as well as

stranger practices including what he


complex marriage or multiple marriage

and sexual partners

despite its controversial practices the

commune thrived and eventually began to

manufacture what became a famous brand

of flatware eventually neues abandoned

his position on complex marriage because

the monogamous marriage was simply too

strong a cultural institution for the

United community to sustain its devotion

to multiple spouses the most famous of

all the radical groups to be birthed

during this period was the Mormons or

the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day

saints led by Joseph Smith Smith came

from a struggling farming family that

moved to upstate New York when he was a

boy Smith and his family seemed to have

been involved in some kinds of treasure

seeking or perhaps counterfeiting

schemes in his teens and Smith was once

charged with disorderly conduct for

these kinds of activities but in the

late 1820s he began to claim visitations

from an angel Moore and I who led him to

golden plates inscribed with what they

called reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics

as well as a seer stone to read them

Smith translated the plates over the

course of a few years in eighth and in

1830 he began selling the book as the

Book of Mormon this book offered an

account of God's people in North America

at the time of Christ and though it

borrowed much language from the King

James Bible it was really a remarkable

production especially from someone as

untutored as Smith Mormons say that this

means that Smith really was visited by

the angel while others have just argued

that Smith was an unusually bright and

perceptive perceptive observer of the

society around him and its religious

needs in any case Smith won many

converts to his revelation but many more


often threatened Smith and his followers

began moving west first to Ohio then to

Missouri and finally to now navoo

Illinois where Smith reached the height

of both power and controversy thousands

of Mormon converts migrated to Nauvoo

and Smith exercised near total control

there and quickly appeared as a threat

to the stability of the Illinois and

perhaps even national US government

Smith declared himself a candidate for

president of the u.s. in 1844 finally

after Smith arranged for the destruction

of an opposition press in Nauvoo he was

arrested and thrown in the Carthage

Illinois Jail where a mob then attacked

the jail and Lynch Smith from this point

Brigham Young became the leader of the

Mormons taking them eventually out to

Utah which is still the heartburn

heartbeat of world Mormonism today

during the 18th century

african-americans proved generally

resistant to conversion efforts by the

Anglican churches of the south many of

the slaves came from Muslim or Roman

Catholic backgrounds in Africa sometimes

mixed with local African religions but

many of those traditions were forgotten

or neglected and the scourging

experiences of the passage on the slave

ships and the early years of slavery in

North America many white slaveholders

proved reluctant to try and convert the

slaves because they feared that

Christianity might give them ideas about

liberty and the truth is they were often

right in the awakenings of the 1740s

through the 1760s some evangelicals had

successes in ministering to the black

population and George Whitfield made a

point to criticize the southern colonies

for their poor treatment of the slaves

but Whitfield was no abolitionist he

himself owned slaves and argued that

Christianity would make for better


but eventually the Baptist and Methodist

churches began to make great inroads

among free and slave african-americans

their message of an individual salvation

and free gift of grace from God

resonated with many african-americans

and it's greater emphasis on emotional

and musical expression as part of

Christian devotion catered to their

memories of African religious practices

many white evangelicals deliberately set

themselves up against elite Southern

society and in doing so they made

friends among African Americans some

early white evangelicals even in the

South toyed with the idea of

abolitionism and abolishing slavery and

later in the early 19th century almost

all northern abolitionists leaders were

evangelical Christians all in all the

number of church-going African Americans

rose sharply between the 1770s and the

1830s most of these Christian blacks

attended white light congregations

others however began to lead independent

black congregations even occasionally in

the south one example of this is David

George who grew up in slavery in

Virginia his master later moved to South

Carolina where George came under the

influence of an evangelical preacher who

converted him George taught himself to

read so that he could read the Bible and

he eventually became pastor of what

appears to be the first independent

black congregation in North America the

silver Bluff Church set up in 1773

George later moved on to Nova Scotia in

Canada where he endured threats and mob

violence because he dared to minister to

both whites and blacks and eventually

David George left North America to

minister in the West African colony of

Sierra Leone another key early leader in

African American church was Richard

Allen he was born like George into

slavery but he was

inverted at age 17 by Methodists in

Delaware Allen began immediately to

preach and to teach himself to read alan

went to Philadelphia where he caught a

vision for reaching the city's

african-american population with the

gospel he would preach as often as he

could sometimes as much as four or five

times a day he attended the white led

st. George's Methodist Church in

Philadelphia which he used for preaching

at times but he and his friends became

upset by the persistent bigotry of the

whites who once made a friend of Alan's

move out of a white section where he had

knelt to pray so Alan and a number of

his friends left the church and with

much difficulty started an all-black

Methodist Church the Bethel Church in

1793 frustrated over a continuing lack

of respect from white denominational

officials however Alan and his

colleagues decided to found a new

denomination in 1814 the African

Methodist Episcopal Church which went on

to become one of the leading

african-american denominations by the

1830s evangelical Christianity had

become the dominant religious movement

in America and Christianity had become

closely aligned with many facets of

dominant American culture and politics

one of the great tragedies of this

Christian growth however is that it

would offer no solution at least among

powerful white people to the

increasingly troubled question of

chattel slavery which would doom the

National denominations and eventually

jeopardize the nation itself