Religion and Reform

  1. Revivalism

    1. The SGA was a series of revivals, 1800-1837

    2. Spearheaded by Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians (relatively new groups at the time)

    3. Church membership doubled

    4. Old theology weakens

      1. Calvinist pre-destination fades away

      2. Less importance of idea of original sin

    5. Replaced with newer theology

      1. Emphasis on free will and ability to change

        1. Belief that humans could turn away from sin

        2. Humans could embrace moral action

      2. Conversion, acceptance of Christ key to salvation

      3. Increasing belief in possibility of universal salvation - universalism

      4. Greater emphasis on Second Coming

      5. Conversion preceded by intense emotional experience rather than Biblical study

      6. Charles Grandison Finney, preaching at Yale 1824-1837, developed the "invitation" and many other rituals common to modern revivals

    6. The SGA arrives early in rural areas, frontier; later in the cities

      1. These frontier revivals were loud, emotional affairs

      2. Often criticized by more conservative Eastern preachers

    7. Common for whole family to convert 

    8. Greatest impact on upper and middle classes

  2. Causes and Origins

    1. Established beliefs out of sync with present experience

      1. Pre-destination had fit better with hierarchical colonial world

      2. Universalism fit better with the more free-wheeling market economy

    2. General weakening of old forms of social control opened up possibility for religious change

    3. Growing unrest in face of social changes meant many people were searching for answers

    4. New evangelicals demanded personal moral reform - led to crusades against alcohol and slavery

    5. Helped elites justify their position - they could claim to be more moral

  3. Moral reform and sectionalism

    1. Early on, SGA appeared in North and South

      1. Reformers believed it was possible to "perfect" society

      2. Believed that bad institutions corrupted inherently good people, creating the poor, the week, social outcasts

      3. reforming these institutions would break that cycle, rehabilitate people

      4. Dorothea Dix sought to humanize insane asylums, in the belief that reformed institutions could rehabilitate these people

    2. Later, emphasis moves north

    3. Slavery

      1. Perfectionism, the call for creating a perfect Christian society, helped divide North and South

      2. Finney and others against slavery, argued it was impossible in a prefect Christian society

      3. Many northern SGA preachers believed slavery interfered with ability to freely choose salvation

      4. By 1838, 1350 anti-slavery societies had appeared in the North, mostly inspired by SGA

  4. Women' Rights

    1. Women became actively involved in reform movements, leading many to turn their attention to women's rights

    2. In particular, many women active in abolitionism began to draw parallels between the position of women and of slaves

    3. Sara Grimke, and active abolitionist, drew much criticism for her work

      1. This inspired her to write Letters on the Condition  of Women and the Equality of Sexes (1837)

      2. Asserted the equality of men and women

    4. Declaration of Sentiments

      1. In part inspired by Grimke, and in part by poor treatment of women at an 1840 abolitionist conference in London, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott called for women's rights conference at Seneca Falls, NY (1848)

      2. Issued a "Declaration of Sentiments"

        1. modeled on the Declaration of Independence

        2. demanded equality in work, law, and politics.