The Second Great Awakening

A revitalization of American religion

A contemporary sketch of the Cane Ridge first revival.

Peter Cartwright

Peter Cartwright was a prominent circuit preacher. Other key leaders included:

Gabriel Prosser - An African American preacher who helped with a rebellion in Richmond, VA, against plantation owners

Timothy Dwight - A Presbyterian religious leader who led a religious resurgence at Yale. As a result, he has a college named after him.

Charles G. Finney - The leader of the Second Great Awakening, he defined the movement for his followers. He led through impassioned speeches.

Defining the Great Awakening

The Great Awakening was a resurgence of religion, initiated by Presbyterian, Protestant, and Baptist churches, and followed by many more as momentum and inspiration grew. The most defining feature of the Second Great Awakening would be the sheer size of it-- it was the first religious event of this size in sixty years.

Its Mission

Its goal was to solve what religious leaders viewed as a nation-wide problem: the growth of rationalism in the church. Rationalism taught that God was less of an active force and more of a passive, theoretical entity, and many religions were threatened by this. Thus, they began to combat rationalism with impassioned sermons and lively revivals-- with surprising degrees of success.Theses beliefs led to an increase in the popularity of the idea of "free will".


These sermons were delivered at revivals and gatherings like Cane Ridge, Kentucky, the first of it's kind. People flocked to these-- 25,000 people at Cane Ridge, by one account. Hundreds of people found stability, order, and power by renewing their faith, particularly women  and African Americans. Cane Ridge was even described as:

"The noise was like the roar of Niagara. The vast sea of human beings seemed to be agitated as if by a storm. I counted seven ministers, all preaching at one time, some on stumps, others on wagons ... Some of the people were singing, others praying, some crying for mercy. A peculiarly strange sensation came over me. My heart beat tumultuously, my knees trembled, my lips quivered, and I felt as though I must fall to the ground." - Unknown

The Second Great Awakening was equally beneficial to middle-class white women. The members of the Second Great Awakening viewed women as more pious than men. Because of this, their role, especially within the home, moved from one that was subservient to men to one where they were seen as partners with their husbands. This allowed them to become the dominant gender in the educational field. These benefits, however, also limited their power to a purely domestic sphere.

Women were viewed as more pious than, and thus more equal to men.

One song sung about the Second Great Awakening camp meetings went as follows:

Camp-meetings with thy presence crown,
And show't O Lord, they blessings down;
Fill every heard with holy zeal,
And all thy righteousness reveal,
O'er all our hosts do thou preside,
And all our various movements guide;
The praying companies attend,
And show thyself the sinner's friend.
Pour cut the Spirit on thy sons,
And visit thy anointed ones;
May every virgin trim her lamp,
And glory rest upon our camp.
May prayer and praise united rise
Like holy incense to the skies;
In all our hosts display thy power!

May souls be born again this hour!

Successes and Failures

The Second Great Awakening was effecting in restoring faith in God as an active force in life, but it couldn't bring back full tradition. The idea of predestination, for example, faded somewhat. But overall, the religious leaders' goals were accomplished, and rationalism was beaten back from the faithful.


Brinkley, Alan. American History: A Survey. New York: McGraw Hill Publishing, 2009

US History (October 22, 2014)

US History (October 22, 2014)

Mr. Lincoln and Friends. (October 22, 2014)

Solomon Spalding. (October 22, 2014)

Finney, Charles G. Charles G. Finney Defines Revivalism, 1834.

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