Our Essay Answer
The Second Great Awakening challenged the
traditional ways of society in America between 1785 and 1825. During the 18th century, the
strict ideas of such religions as Puritanism and Calvinism taught the beliefs of original
sin and predestination. People believed that a person was either saved or condemned by God
from their birth, a fate that could not be changed. There was no separation of church and
state and religion was centered around authority and order. It was the Second Great
Awakening that changed all this.
In the late 18th and early 19th century, there were signs of a new way of thinking based on a wave of religious revivals that began to sweep through the United States. They were partly a reaction against the rationalism that had dominated the country during the Enlightenment and the American Revolution. The idea of predestination was replaced with individualism and hope. These new ideas appealed to the people because they now believed that they had a chance to redeem themselves on earth and were able to go to heaven. Unlike the early Calvinists, the new breed of people allowed free will to play a role in their salvation. Order and authority no longer played a major role in religion. Ministers, such as Peter Cartwright, preached that "the people were a free people and lived in a free country, and must be allowed to do as they pleased."(B) After hearing this, many people left their Presbyterian minister to join Peter Cartwright's Methodist congregation. Religions such as Mormonism and Revivalism gave a feeling of patriotism to North America. Brigham Young preached of the intent "to build up Zion (a promised land) and purify and cleanse it from all pollutions."(C) This led Americans to see themselves as the society to create an utopia that could redeem the whole world from evil. In 1923, a Presbyterian minister by the name of Charles G. Finney, started a radical form of revivalism in upstate New York. Instead of basing his sermons on rationalism, he appealed to the people's emotions and fear of damnation and persuaded thousands of people to publicly declare their revived faith. He preached all could be saved through faith and hard work, which appealed to the rising middle class. The Baptists and Mormonists also made their appearance by converting many of the unchurched into respectable members of the community. These two religions became the largest Protestant denominations in the country. Much of the religious enthusiasm of this time was based on the belief of the Second Coming of Christ and the end of the world. This was later continued by a new religion, the Millerites. Activist religious groups provided both the leadership and the well-organized voluntary societies that drove the reform of this time.
Although this awakening had begun in New York, it spread to places like Kentucky, where the most non-religious person was converted. Reverend G. Baxter saw the transformation and said "that the character of Kentucky travelers was entirely changed and that they were now, as distinguished for sobriety as they have formally been for dissoluteness: and indeed I found Kentucky the most moral place I had ever been in."(F) Although this religious revival moralized the people, it was not quite perfect. Reverend Dr. Finley saw many "irregularities...but if only the tenth person convicted is truly converted, 'tis a great work." The son of Reverend James Finley saw "the number of people computed from 10 to 21,000"(D) and how religion appealed to all people "of all ages, from 8 to 60 years."(D) Many people found the ideas of the Second Great Awakening appealing, so there was a multitude of different and diverse people who joined it, not only because of the new ideas, but because of the change it brought to the role of people in society. It was now not only the wealthy who could be ministers. The idea of hope appealed to people like farmers and the poor. The most drastic change happened to the role of women and African Americans. It was the women who first dominated the the early camp meetings because they were allowed to speak freely.(H) This changed their traditional roles from being subordinate in religion to them being continually active during meetings.(I) In fact, it was women who first converted their elite businessmen husbands to being active in the new religion. African Americans also benefited from the Second Great Awakening. They too became active in religion, not only by being included in desegregated camp meetings, but also by becoming preachers themselves.(G)
The Second Great Awakening, therefore, did challenge the traditional ways of society in America. Not only did the ideas of this time change, but also the roles that people played in society. This awakening caused new divisions in society between the newer, evangelical sects and the older Protestant churches.This not only changed roles and ideas in society, it also helped along reform movements and a new way of writing called Transcendentalism.
Click here for a grading rubric -->