The Second Great Awakening
a period of great religious revival that extended into the antebellum period
of the United States, with
widespread Christian evangelism and conversions. It was named for
the Great Awakening
, a similar
period which had transpired about half a century beforehand.
generated excitement in church congregations throughout New England, the mid-Atlantic, Northwest and the South.
Individual preachers such as Charles Grandison Finney
, Lyman Beecher
, Peter Cartwright
became very well
known as a result. Evangelical
participation in social causes was fostered that changed American
life in areas such as prison reform
, and temperance
Spread of revivals
York, the spirit of revival encouraged the emergence of
Restorationism and other new
religious movements, especially the Mormons
and the Holiness movement.
the South's western regions, especially at
Kentucky and in Tennessee — the revival supported growth of the Methodists and Baptists.
Baptists and Methodists were also
successful in some parts of the Tidewater
where an increasing number of common planters and slaves joined
their congregations. Backcountry traditions along the Appalachian
spine included the camp meeting
Congregationalists set up missionary societies to evangelize the
western territory of the northern tier. Members of these groups
acted as apostles for the faith and also as educators and exponents
of northeastern urban culture. Publication and education societies
promoted Christian education; most notable among them was the
American Bible Society
founded in 1816. Social activism inspired by the revival gave rise
to abolition groups as well as the Society for the
Promotion of Temperance
. They began efforts to reform prisons
and care for the handicapped and mentally ill. They believed in the
perfectibility of people and were highly moralistic in their
1839 Methodist camp meeting
, who also sent preachers to the South
, made enormous gains; to a lesser extent
Among the new denominations that were formed, and which in the 21st
century still proclaim their roots in the Second Great Awakening,
are the Evangelical Christian
Church in Canada
, Christian Church
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
, and the Cumberland Presbyterian
. . This cultural phenomenon also contributed to growth
in non-denominational churches, such as the Churches of Christ
, which insisted on
congregational governance and insisted on "return" to earliest
Biblical practice. Many people sought a return to what they
believed were fundamental concepts of New Testament Christianity in
preference to the later doctrines and practices developed through
centuries of European and English Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and
various Protestant traditions.
Baptists and Methodists in the South preached to slaveholders and
slaves alike. Conversions and congregations started with the First
Great Awakening, resulting in Baptist and Methodist preachers being
authorized among slaves and free blacks more than a decade before
1800. Early congregations were formed among slaves and free blacks
in South Carolina and Virginia. Especially in the Baptist Church,
blacks were welcomed in multiple roles. By the early 1800s,
there were independent black congregations numbering in the several
hundred in some cities of the South, such as Charleston,
South Carolina; and Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia.
With the growth in congregations and
churches, Baptist associations formed in Virginia, for instance, as
well as Kentucky and other states. Despite white attempts to
control independent black congregations, especially after the
Uprising of 1831, a number of
black congregations managed to maintain their separation, even when
laws passed requiring them always to have a white man present at
their worship meetings.
Appalachian region, the revival used and promoted camp
It took on characteristics similar to the First Great Awakening
of the previous
century. The camp meeting was a religious service of several days'
length with multiple preachers. Settlers in thinly populated areas
looked to gathering at the camp meeting as a refuge from the lonely
life on the frontier. The sheer exhilaration of participating in a
religious revival with crowds of hundreds and perhaps thousands of
people inspired the dancing, shouting, and singing associated with
these events. The revivals followed an arc of great emotional
power, with an emphasis of the individual's sins and need to turn
to Christ, restored by a sense of personal salvation. Upon their
return home, most converts joined or created small local churches,
which grew rapidly.
One of the
early camp meetings took place in July 1800 at Gasper River Church in southwestern Kentucky.
larger gathering was held at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, in 1801, attracting perhaps as many as 20,000
, Baptist and Methodist
ministers participated in the services. This event helped stamp the
revival as a major mode of church expansion for denominations such
as the Methodists and Baptists. Cane Ridge was also instrumental in
fostering what became known as the Restoration Movement
. This was made up
of non-denominational churches committed to what they saw as the
original, fundamental Christianity of the New Testament. They were
committed to individuals' achieving a personal relationship with
Christ. Churches with roots in this movement include the Evangelical Christian
Church in Canada
, the Churches of
, Christian Church
Christian Churches/Churches of Christ
The Restoration Movement began during, and was greatly influenced
by, the Second Great Awakening. While the leaders of one of the two
primary groups making up this movement, Thomas Campbell
and Alexander Campbell
what they saw as the spiritual manipulation of the camp meetings,
it was an important factor in the development of the other other
major branch, led by Barton W.
. The Southern phase of the
Awakening "was an important matrix of Barton Stone's reform
movement" and shaped the evangelistic techniques used by both Stone
and the Campbells.
The Second Great Awakening served as an "organizing process" that
created "a religious and educational infrastructure" across the
trans-Appalachian frontier that encompassed social networks, a
religious journalism that provided mass communication, and church
In a reappraisal of American exceptionalism, Long (2002) notes that
since the 1980s, scholars have connected American religious camp
meetings to Scottish holy fairs
17th-18th centuries. Formerly they were thought to have originated
in the unique conditions of the American frontier experience. The
great wave of Scots-Irish
immigrants to the colonies before the American Revolution
traditions with them.
Long examines the sacramental theology in communion sermons given
by James McGready
in Kentucky during
the first decade of the 19th century. McGready's sermons
demonstrated adherence to reformed theology, a Calvinist
understanding of salvation, and a sacramental emphasis. A central
theme of McGready's sermons was that of believers' meeting Christ
at the communion table.
Appeal of Christian restoration
The ideal of restoring a "primitive" form of Christianity grew in
popularity in the U.S. after the American Revolution
. This desire to
restore a purer form of Christianity played a role in the
development of many groups during the Second Great Awakening,
including the Mormons
. Several factors made the restoration
sentiment particularly appealing during this time period.
- To immigrants in the early 19th century, the land in America
seemed pristine, edenic and undefiled - "the perfect place to
recover pure, uncorrupted and original Christianity" - and the
tradition-bound European churches seemed out of place in this new
- The new American democracy seemed equally fresh and pure, a
restoration of the kind of just government that God intended.
- Many believed that the new nation usher in a new millenial age.
- Independence from the traditional churches of Europe was appealing to many Americans who were
enjoying a new political independence.
- A primitive faith based on the Bible alone
promised a way sidestep the competing claims of all the many
denominations available and
find assurance of being right without the security of an
established national church.
revival quickly spread throughout Kentucky, Tennessee and southern
- Lyman Beecher, Presbyterian
Campbell, Presbyterian, then early leader of the Restoration Movement
- Thomas Campbell
Presbyterian, then early leader of the Restoration Movement
- Peter Cartwright,
- Lorenzo Dow, Methodist
- Timothy Dwight IV, Congregationalist
- Charles Finney,
Presbyterian, but non-Calvinist
- Asahel Nettleton, Reformed
- Joseph Smith, Jr., Latter Day Saint movement
- Barton Stone, Presbyterian
non-Calvinist, then early leader of the Restoration Movement
- Nathaniel William
- William Miller,
Millerism, forerunner of Adventism
- Ellen G. White, Seventh-day Adventist Church
Each denomination had assets that allowed
it to thrive on the frontier. The Methodists had an efficient
organization that depended on ministers known as circuit riders
, who sought out people in
remote frontier locations. The circuit riders came from among the
common people, which helped them establish rapport with the
frontier families they hoped to convert.
The Second Great Awakening exercised a profound impact on American
religious history. The numerical strength of the Baptists and
Methodists rose relative to that of the denominations dominant in
the colonial period—the Anglicans
, and Reformed
. Efforts to apply Christian
teaching to the resolution of social problems presaged the Social Gospel
of the late 19th century.
The United States was becoming a more culturally diverse nation in
the early to mid-19th century, and the growing differences within
American Protestantism reflected and contributed to this diversity.
The Awakening influenced numerous reform movements, especially
In the midst of shifts in theology and church polity
, American Christians took it
upon themselves to reform society during this period. Known
commonly as antebellum reform
this phenomenon included reforms in temperance, women's rights
, abolitionism, and a multitude
of other questions faced by society.
Historians stress the understanding common among participants of
reform as being a part of God's plan. As a result, individual
Christians contemplated their roles in society in purifying the
world through the individuals to whom they could bring salvation.
Interest in transforming the world was applied to mainstream
political action, as temperance activists, antislavery advocates,
and proponents of other variations of reform sought to implement
their beliefs into national politics. While religion had previously
played an important role on the American political scene, the
Second Great Awakening highlighted the important role which
individual beliefs would play.The Association movement was a larger
phenomena and understanding the presence or absence of religion in
that movement will help the more neutral reader to understand The
Great Awakening. Clearly, the United States presented to many
Europeans a place to experiment with social order and social
theory, specifically communal living which is a part of some of
these religious expressions. The number of these social experiments
is at least as great, if not greater, than the number of purely
To portray the revivals as purely and solely focused on religion is
very misleading. In addition to the Association movement, the
matter of marriage and conception was as or more important than a
godly aspect. The Mormons, the Oneida
, and the early eugenics experiments in Vermont are
but a few of these related communal attempts during this
- Presbyterian historian Matzko notes that "Oliver Cowdery
claimed that Smith had been 'awakened' during a sermon by the
Methodist minister George Lane."
- On Scottish influences see Long (2002) and Elizabeth Semancik,
"Backcountry Religious Ways" at 
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