Topic 5
Burgeoning Diversity, Competitive Denominationalism & the Rising Evangelical Tide

From the beginning of the Republic to the Civil War both the nation and its religious life expanded remarkably. In those seventy years American religion took on its distinctive characteristics: pluralistic, individualistic, competitive, expansionist.

As the implications of the Founders' revolutionary ideas of religious liberty became clearer, Americans invented new ways to make religious faith meaningful and relevant to national life. The results, often dizzying, controversial and contradictory, shaped American identity and character.

Marty devotes almost three packed chapters to this period. 


He organizes chapter 10, Into the West and the World around the related themes of denominational growth, westward expansion and missionary outreach to Asia and Africa


Chapter 11, Beyond Existing Bounds, looks at new ways of being religious and of dissenting from existing religious and social traditions

Because Marty's cast of characters and plot lines are so rich, his readers can easily get lost. To avoid confusion as you use these chapters  and the online materials, keep in mind the basic question for this syllabus topic: What are the connections between the growth of the nation during the first half of the 19th century on the one hand and the burgeoning system of Competitive Denominationalism and the campaign for an Evangelical Empire on the other?

"Shouting  Methodists,"
an essay by Anne Taves, examines a form of religious experience that was at the heart of evangelical revivalism. What is the thesis or major point of the essay? How does she develop that point? What does the essay reveal about how the Second Awakening differed from the first Great Awakening of the 18th century?   Porterfield also has a document on Jerena Lee (#18). How, if at all, does this source relate to the Taves essay?  Choose two passages from the source that highlight the source's  significance for understanding evangelical religion in the early republic.

Two other sources, Emerson and Dickerson (#19 & 20), illustrate a very different current in American cultural life, appealing to a different social class and marked by the spirituality  of the Transcendental Movement

The religion of the new American republic was evangelicalism, which, between 1800 and the Civil War, was the "grand absorbing theme" of American religious life. During some years in the first half of the nineteenth century, revivals (through which evangelicalism found expression) occurred so often that religious publications that specialized in tracking them lost count. In 1827, for example, one journal exulted that "revivals, we rejoice to say, are becoming too numerous in our country to admit of being generally mentioned in our Record." During the years between the inaugurations of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, historians see "evangelicalism emerging as a kind of national church or national religion." The leaders and ordinary members of the "evangelical empire" of the nineteenth century were American patriots who subscribed to the views of the Founders that religion was a "necessary spring" for republican government; they believed, as a preacher in 1826 asserted, that there was "an association between Religion and Patriotism." Converting their fellow citizens to Christianity was, for them, an act that simultaneously saved souls and saved the republic. The American Home Missionary Society assured its supporters in 1826 that "we are doing the work of patriotism no less than Christianity." With the disappearance of efforts by government to create morality in the body politic (symbolized by the termination in 1833 of Massachusetts's tax support for churches) evangelical, benevolent societies assumed that role, bringing about what today might be called the privatization of the responsibility for forming a virtuous citizenry. [Introduction to Religion in the New Republic, Library of Congress Exhibit.]

1. Expanding religion & the rise of evangelical Protestantism in the new Republic

Evangelicalism, Revivalism, and the Second Great Awakening [overview by Donald Scott, Queens College, in the Humanities Center's Divining America Series.]

In 1800 major revivals that eventually reached into almost every corner of the land began at opposite ends of the country: the decorous Second Great Awakening in New England and the exuberant Great Revival in Kentucky. The principal religious innovation produced by the Kentucky revivals was the camp meeting. The revivals were organized by Presbyterian ministers, who modeled them after the extended outdoor "communion seasons," used by the Presbyterian Church in Scotland, which frequently produced emotional, demonstrative displays of religious conviction. In Kentucky the pioneers loaded their families and provisions into their wagons and drove to the Presbyterian meetings, where they pitched tents and settled in for several days. When assembled in a field or at the edge of a forest for a prolonged religious meeting, the participants transformed the site into a camp meeting. The religious revivals that swept the Kentucky camp meetings were so intense and created such gusts of emotion that their original sponsors, the Presbyterians, as well the Baptists, soon repudiated them. The Methodists, however, adopted and eventually domesticated camp meetings and introduced them into the eastern United States, where for decades they were one of the evangelical signatures of the denomination.

"Shouting Methodists," Discussion  of essay by Ann Taves in Porterfield.

Winthrop Hudson on Shouting Methodists

Jerking Exercise
Lorenzo Dow (1777-1834) was a spellbinding but eccentric traveling Methodist evangelist who could still a turbulent camp meeting with "the sound of his voice or at the sight of his fragile but awe-inspiring presence." Dow's audiences often exhibited unusual physical manifestations under the influence of his impassioned preaching.

Charles Grandison Finney (1792-1875) also

Finney, What a Revival of Religion Is [in Porterfield #17]


Scholars disagree about the extent of the native African content of black Christianity as it emerged in eighteenth-century America, but there is no dispute that the Christianity of the black population was grounded in evangelicalism. The Second Great Awakening has been called the "central and defining event in the development of Afro-Christianity." During these revivals Baptists and Methodists converted large numbers of blacks. However, many were disappointed at the treatment they received from their fellow believers and at the backsliding in the commitment to abolish slavery that many white Baptists and Methodists had advocated immediately after the American Revolution. When their discontent could not be contained, forceful black leaders followed what was becoming an American habit--forming new denominations. In 1787 Richard Allen (1760-1831) and his colleagues in Philadelphia broke away from the Methodist Church and in 1815 founded the African Methodist Episcopal (A. M. E.) Church, which, along with independent black Baptist congregations, flourished as the century progressed. By 1846, the A. M. E. Church, which began with 8 clergy and 5 churches, had grown to 176 clergy, 296 churches, and 17,375 members.

Religious Exuberance
Emotional exuberance was characteristic of evangelical religion in both the white and black communities in the first half of the nineteenth century.

Woman Preacher of the A.M.E. Church - Another example of early 19th-century experimental religious life.
The black churches were graced by eloquent female preachers from their earliest days, although there was, as in the white churches, resistance in many quarters to the idea of women preaching the Gospel.


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2. Democratic Diversity and New Forms of Religion

The tradition of religious freedom that characterized the early American republic provided a hospitable environment for the development of new religious institutions and experiences. The result was a mushrooming of new churches, experimental worship and beliefs.  For some observers this diversity was proof of the creativity and value of democracy; for others it was a sign of democratic excesses.

      Mormons: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints The made-in-America new religion.

      Another distinctive religious group, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or the Mormons, arose in the 1820s during the "Golden Day of Democratic Evangelicalism." The founder, Joseph Smith (1805-1844), and many of his earliest followers grew up in an area of western New York called the "Burned Over District," because it had been "scorched" by so many revivals. Smith had been "seared but not consumed" by the exuberant evangelicalism of the era. However the Mormon Church cannot be considered as the product of revivalism or as a splintering off from an existing Protestant denomination. It was sui generis, inspired by what Smith described as revelations on a series of gold plates, which he translated and published as the Book of Mormon in 1830. The new church conceived itself to be a restoration of primitive Christianity, which other existing churches were considered to have deserted. The Mormons subscribed to many orthodox Christian beliefs but professed distinctive doctrines based on post-biblical revelation. Persecuted from its inception, the Mormon Church moved from New York to Ohio to Missouri to Illinois, where it put down strong roots at Nauvoo. In 1844 the Nauvoo settlement was devastated by its neighbors, and Smith and his brother were murdered. This attack prompted the Mormons, under the leadership of Brigham Young, to migrate to Utah, where the first parties arrived in July 1847. The church today is a flourishing, worldwide denomination.

      Excerpts from Smith's autobiographical recollections 

      Succinct Essay on the Mormon Faith Tradition by J. Gordon Melton

      Book of Mormon: An Introduction

      The Oneida Community

Battle Axe Letter and Noyes' letter to Miss Holton

      John Humphrey Noyes: Complex Marriage and Male Continence

      Noyes and the Oneida Perfectionists

The Shakers

The Shakers, or the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Coming, were founded by "Mother Ann Lee, a stalwart in the "Shaking Quakers" who migrated to America from England in 1774. American Shakers shared with the Quakers a devotion to simplicity in conduct and demeanor and to spiritual equality. They "acquired their nickname from their practice of whirling, trembling or shaking during religious services." The Shakers used dancing as a worship practice. They often danced in concentric circles and sometimes in the style shown here. Shaker emissaries from New York visited Kentucky in the early years of the nineteenth century to assess the revivals under way there and made a modest number of converts.

Video documentary selections

      The American Shakers - a Boadside


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Major American Denominations: Difference between 1760s and 1850s.

Congregational, Presbyterian, Anglican
Baptist, Methodist, Roman Catholic