Revivalism and Social Reform in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America

Revivalism and Social Reform in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America

Revivalism and Social Reform in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America

Revivalism and Social Reform in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America

Excerpt

Could Thomas Paine, the free-thinking pamphleteer of the American and French revolutions, have visited Broadway in 1865, he would have been amazed to find that the nation conceived in rational liberty was at last fulfilling its democratic promise in the power of evangelical faith. The emancipating glory of the great awakenings had made Christian liberty, Christian equality and Christian fraternity the passion of the land. The treasured gospel of the elect few passed into the hands of the baptized many. Common grace, not common sense, was the keynote of the age.

The Calvinist idea of foreordination, rejected as far as it concerned individuals, was now transferred to a grander object -- the manifest destiny of a Christianized America. Men in all walks of life believed that the sovereign Holy Spirit was endowing the nation with resources sufficient to convert and civilize the globe, to purge human society of all its evils, and to usher in Christ's reign on earth. Religious doctrines which Paine, in his book The Age of Reason, had discarded as the tattered vestment of an outworn aristocracy, became the wedding garb of a democratized church, bent on preparing men and institutions for a kind of proletarian marriage supper of the Lamb.

This is not the place, of course, to measure the vast gap between these hopes and their fulfillment. Historians acquainted with the scandalous conduct of good churchmen like Jay Gould and Daniel Drew will be understandably skeptical. Instead of a marriage supper after the Civil War we had what Vernon Louis Parrington called the Great Barbecue. And only men of privilege were invited. Those who lived through the twenty-five years before 1865, however, thought the hopes were grounded in reality.

What has made the preparation of this book exciting has been the dawning discovery that revivalistic religion and the quest of Christian perfection lay at the fountainhead of our nation's heritage of hope. My original purpose was simply to trace the extent and significance after 1850 of what I thought . . .

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