Antirevivalism in Antebellum America: A Collection of Religious Voices

Antirevivalism in Antebellum America: A Collection of Religious Voices

Antirevivalism in Antebellum America: A Collection of Religious Voices

Antirevivalism in Antebellum America: A Collection of Religious Voices

Synopsis

One of the most enduring images from the early years of American history is that of a preacher on horseback, slogging through mud and rain to bring folks in the backwoods the message of God and glory. Such religious revivals not only became a defining mark of American religion but also played a central role in the nation's developing identity, independence, and democratic principles.

Excerpt

One of the most enduring images from the early years of American history is that of a preacher slogging on horseback through mud and rain to bring folks in the backwoods the message of God and glory. in time, some of those folks would start talcing to the road themselves to gather at special clearings in the woods. There, for days at a time, they listened to one preacher after another roar out the gospel; the audience—those who believed, those who wanted to believe, and those who had just dropped by for the excitement—roared back, danced, barked, rolled on the ground, and generally filled the air with the joy of coming to Jesus. Similar phenomena occurred, more sedately, in city pulpits and small-town churches across the country, from Vermont to Georgia, Massachusetts to Missouri. Religious revivals, said one of their great historians, Perry Miller, were invaluable to young America for giving its citizens a common experience that united them over time and space. in their greatest century, from 1740 to 1840, not a year passed without revival-like events occurring somewhere in the territory that was, or would become, the United States.

In recovering this heritage, historians following Miller's lead have made revivals not only the defining mark of American religion but a central force in the development of the nation as a whole. To revivalism have been attributed in no small part the stirrings of national independence, the inspiration of American identity, the extension of democracy, the search for social stability, the opening of individual opportunity, the expansion of higher education, the promotion of social welfare, the abolition of slavery, and a dawning awareness of the nation's global mission.

But there are other figures in the picture whom historians have largely ignored. Off to the side, at the edge of the meeting, could be seen the antirevivalists who came along in the gospel train as surely as the ecstasies of new birth. These included locals who came to listen but left the meeting unconvinced. It included as well more practiced observers—most famously, visitors from abroad— . . .

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