Second Great Awakening

Mid 1790s to 1840s

A painting of a Methodist camp meeting (1839); camp meetings were usually how the gospel spread and how their numbers rose among the others.

The Second Great Awakening was a Protestant revival movement that took place in the very early 19th century, beginning around 1790 and in full swing by 1820. This Awakening moved westward, coinciding with the nation's huge population boom. As the nation's cities developed, so did its sense of religion. This revival spurred millions of people to join existing churches and form new branches of those existing churches, and emphasized personal beliefs and religions over the traditional method of schooling and theology. This Second Awakening led to social activism, which in turn led to many other methods of reform and "awakenings" including abolitionist groups, suffrage groups, and the temperance movement, which were only some of the turning points of our nation. The Second Great Awakening left a lasting impact on America, more than any other revival movement, leaving behind new churches, democratization, and social reform.

This political cartoon represents one of the many effects the Second Great Awakening had after it ended, even in present day America.

"Small Camp Meetings are usually of little account, and often something worse than valueless; therefore when it it proposed to hold one on any District, every preacher who does not desire to identify himself with it, should by all means oppose the holding of the meeting at all.  

Let every such brother state all his objections plainly and fully in the council, and then, on taking the vote on the question of holding the meeting, if there is not a very near approach to unanimity, I would advise to reconsider immediately, and discuss further, till either the reluctant brethren pledge themselves to yield their prejudices to the majority, and identify themselves fully and heartily with the meeting, or the whole enterprise be abandoned or postponed. There are few misfortunes to a District greater of its kind, than a miserable failure of a Camp Meeting. Let us never attempt to draw out the forces of Zion for one of these tremendous onsets upon the powers of darkness, while there is distraction in our councils, and faintness in the heart of officers and men. 

There is no such thing as mediocrity in a Camp Meeting. To escape contempt, it must be the greatest assemblage and the most thrilling occasion of religious worship known to the church. 

When, therefore, it has been resolved to hold one for any District, the Presiding Elder, in his larger sphere of influence, and the preachers upon their respective charges, should labor unremittingly to rally the people to the ground from every part of the District. In this thing the preachers must take the lead. I have been upon several charges where the people have coolly said at first, “We don’t go to Camp Meetings here;” but with proper exertion have never thus far failed to see a good representation of my flock on the ground." - The Camp Meeting Manual: A Practical Book for the Camp Ground, Reverend Barlow Weed Gorham (1854)

During the Second Great Awakening, camp meetings were a popular method of spreading the gospel. These meetings would usually be held in churches and were led by reverends or pastors. This 'how-to' guide was written to outline how camp meetings were run and provides activities to be carried out throughout the day. This guide also provides useful advice and insight for whomever is reading the book and would've been looking to run their own camp meeting.

The Details

When the American Revolution swept through America, it was a secular revolution. The Founding Fathers had made it clear how much they hated religion mixed with politics, and this secular revolution indirectly spurred this second sweeping revivalist movement. The infamous camp meetings the Methodists and Baptists had not only met the religious needs of the people, but their social needs as well. If anyone wanted to get baptized, married, or take communion, they would've needed to attend a camp meeting.

The second revival also inspired many social reform movements, including women's suffrages, anti-slavery, and the temperance movement. It allotted a much higher role for women and African-Americans in the involvement of the church, and priests stressed women as the ultimate cultivators for the "love and self -sacrifice" virtues and therefore they were perfect "guardians" of religious and moral values. Religiously, the second awakening was a turning point in America. Beforehand, religion was what the churches said it was and they claimed the only way to have a relationship with God was through the church itself. But this revival introduced the idea of free will within religion; the idea that your relationship with God is through you, not the church and that you could be "saved" only if you wanted to be. By stressing that salvation and redemption was for all individuals (instead of just the white elite), this revival held a more optimistic view of the human race.

Some important figures during the Second Great Awakening included Francis Ashbury, Timothy Dwight, and Alexander Campbell. Francis Ashbury was a Methodist and was the pioneer of circuit riding, the idea that because not everyone could go to the church or camp meetings, the religion should come to them. Circuit riding became popular as the movement grew and more and more preachers volunteered to ride across the country, delivering sermons and speeches. Another important figure was Timothy Dwight, the grandson of Jonathan Edwards, who led the First Great Awakening. Dwight led a revival at Yale, which later gained momentum and spread to other colleges. Alexander Campbell published the Christian Baptist and founded the Disciples of Christ.

The Second Great Awakening was an indirect effect of the American Revolution because when the Constitution was drafted, the Founding Fathers made it clear how much they hated the mixture of religion and government by weaving their beliefs into the first amendment. While the government and style of rule was developing through the various amendments, this revival was developing and re-idealizing America's idea of religion.

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