About the Author: Johnny Roy has been an Advanced Placement US History teacher for the past 8 years at Cuyahoga Heights High School just outside of Cleveland, Ohio. He has been actively involved with the AP Reading as a grader for the past 3 years having scored the DBQ, LEQ, and SAQ sections of the exam.
2nd Great Awakening
The 2nd Great Awakening was a religious revival that took place after the American Revolution between 1790 and 1840 in an effort to restore a simpler form of Christianity. This religious movement was felt nationwide and consisted of small and large gatherings alike. While not a direct rebuke of the Enlightenment movement, the 2nd Great Awakening did challenge some core Enlightenment aspects and rationalizations that embodied the scientific and logic based movement. The 2nd Great Awakening was responsible for attracting millions of new members, especially women, African Americans, and young people.
The 2nd Great Awakening was responsible for attracting millions of new members, especially women, African Americans, and young people.
Traits of the 2nd Great Awakening primarily consisted of the following tenets that were spread throughout the country by traveling ministers and organized religious societies like the American Bible Society.
- Equality of all believers before God.
- Held out the promise of Universal Salvation.
- Each Individual was to be responsible for his/her own soul.
These traits became the emphasis of ministers who traveled the countryside spreading the message of conversion and revitalization of religious beliefs.
Geography of the Revival
As the fires of revivalism throughout the country grew specific areas felt the touch of religion stronger than others. Areas along the Eerie Canal and parts of New York became known as the “burned over district” as traits of the religious revival took hold. Each of the traits tapped into a specific component of society. From early abolitionists and free African Americans to the emerging women’s reform movements, the idea of equality before god and individual responsibility empowered society to push for and achieve monumental changes.
From early abolitionists and free African Americans to the emerging women’s reform movements, the idea of equality before god and individual responsibility empowered society to push for and achieve monumental changes.
The 2ndGreat Awakening had a very specific impact on the religious expansion within the African American culture and the progressive empowerment of the women’s rights movements of the early 19thcentury.
Impact on Women
As women embraced the concepts of equality before God and each individual being responsible for their own soul, women felt empowered to expand their traditional roles as moral guardians of society. Forced out of the economic and political realm by a patriarchal society women carved out their place in the social arena. As the majority of converts throughout the 2ndGreat Awakening, women used their new found influence on society to either begin or further reform movements including temperance, abolition, and education.
Women used their new found influence on society to either begin or further reform movements including temperance, abolition, and education.
The temperance movement began to gain traction as women focused on a widely held belief that the consumption of alcohol by men was a social evil that needed to be cured. The American Temperance Society was founded in 1826 by Lyman Beecher and Dr. Justin Edwards and grew to over 8000 local chapters and more than a million members “taking the pledge” (to not drink alcohol) within ten years. A dramatic feat for the time. The movement continued into the later part of the 19thcentury and ultimately resulted with the passage of the 18thAmendment in 1920.
As the issue of slavery moved the nation closer to crisis, the abolitionists felt that the time was right to end the oppressive southern system. With inspiration drawn from the religious teachings of the 2ndGreat Awakening, women themselves were at the heart of the abolitionist movement.
While male abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison and his newspaper The Liberatorand Fredrick Douglas and his oratory skills and newspaper The North Starget a lot of historical attention (and rightfully so), female contributions to the abolitionist cause cannot go unrecognized. Female abolitionists such as Lucretia Mott who advocated the boycotting of slave labor and Sarah and Angelina Grimke toured the New England region spreading the message of abolitionism.
Female abolitionists such as Lucretia Mott who advocated the boycotting of slave labor and Sarah and Angelina Grimke toured the New England region spreading the message of abolitionism.
One of the most powerful examples of the religious influence on women and the abolitionist cause was Harriet Beacher Stowe’s book Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Religion is weaved throughout the book as Stowe tells the story of an enslaved man named Tom and a little girl named Eva. This book has even been credited with jumpstarting the Civil War with Abraham Lincoln allegedly describing Stowe as, “the little woman who wrote the book that made this great big war”.
Impact on African Americans
Outside of the clear impact of the abolitionist movement, the 2ndGreat awakening increasingly influenced enslaved and free African Americans throughout the United States. While those enslaved used religion to connect with the God and saw him as a possible savior and ender of slavery as described in the Bible regarding the enslavement and liberation of the Jews.
However, enslavers viewed the acceptance of religion as a means to make the enslaved more obedient and peaceful and encourage them to buy into the slave system. Other enslavers genuinely wanted enslaved people to have an authentic religious experience. Black Christianity became an enabling religion as it helped enslaved people to survive and express a spiritual freedom that white people could not destroy.
Free African Americans in the North embraced the 2ndGreat Awakening and the concepts of equality in the eyes of god as a justification for their desired social mobility. As African Americans gained greater control over their religious needs, society saw the continued emergence of black churches including the introduction of African Methodist Episcopal (AME) churches in 1816 by the Reverend Richard Allen and other ministers. Due to their ability to control this new environment, these religious centers became the political, social, and cultural centers of African Americans.
Free African Americans in the North embraced the 2ndGreat Awakening and the concepts of equality in the eyes of god as a justification for their desired social mobility.
Lasting Effects of the 2nd Great Awakening
An important impact of the 2ndGreat Awakening would be the 3rdGreat Awakening that occurred after the Civil War. These two religious revivals had a dramatic effect on society through the evolution of social change practices, the growth of evangelical churches, and the role of women. Women became prominent agents of change throughout the 19thand 20thcenturies.
The 2ndGreat Awakening along with the emergence of women as social reform activists set the stage for the development and growth of the progressive movement.
The 2ndGreat Awakening along with the emergence of women as social reform activists set the stage for the development and growth of the progressive movement. This movement was dedicated to promoting social and economic equality from the standpoint of the historically oppressed.
Abolition, temperance, access to education, marriage equality, voting rights, and prison reform all became issues of social improvement brought on by a belief in equality before god and individual control over salvation through good works as was laid out in the 2ndGreat Awakening.
However, the movement was not contained to simply social concerns. Political reforms were also spurred by the 2ndGreat Awakening and the resulting Progressive Movement. The rise of evangelical influence in local, state, and national politics would influence all three branches of government, as legislative agendas now had to concede to the voting power of a religious block. Presidential campaigns catered to a growing evangelical electorate and Supreme Court nominees became increasingly scrutinized by a religious ideology.
The 2ndGreat Awakening and the resulting religious revival was both far reaching and substantial to American political and social changes throughout the 19thand 20thcenturies.