Have you ever wondered why the United States is one of the most religious countries in the world, and yet, it’s one of a handful of countries that have expressly limited the relationship between government and religion? Well, the Second Great Awakening helps answer that question. This moment in U.S. history also has important implications for the abolition of slavery, and other social reforms. Keep reading to prepare for Second Great Awakening APUSH exam questions!
What was the Second Great Awakening?
You might be wondering, “There’s a Second Great Awakening?! I didn’t even know there was a First!” Well, there was. We have a whole post about it! The First Great Awakening happened in the 1730s and 1740s.
The Second Great Awakening describes the period starting in the 1790s and lasting through the 1830s. (Although, it’s important to remember that with historical periodization—an important skill for the APUSH exam—the start and end times of these events are loose. There were likely activities that would fit under the Great Awakening characterization before the 1790s and after the 1830s.)
The term “Great Awakening” describes a period of religious fervor, and that’s the core component of the Second Great Awakening.
The Second Great Awakening was unlike the first, in that many people were converted into different sects of Christianity through camp meetings and tent revivals. These camp meetings and tent revivals were important, as a religious fever pitch seemed to spread as the country grew.
These more informal events would happen in places that were less developed than the East, and were equal parts entertaining and overwhelming. Fitting in with their informal settings, preachers developed a style of delivering religious sermons that made individuals feel as though they could feel the presence of God themselves, not through religious traditions and texts.
This was a huge transformation in how religion was viewed in the United States, and was the beginning of what was called Evangelism. Evangelists were less interested in keeping up traditions and religious hierarchies than other denominations of Christianity. Instead, their services had a more populist feel that elevated the experiences of the common man.
What was the effect of the Second Great Awakening?
Methodists and Baptists were a product of the new, more Evangelical trend of the Second Great Awakening. When compared with the Puritanical and Calvinist denominations that came before them, Methodists and Baptists believe that humans could exercise some amount of free will and choose to be “saved.”
Intended or not, one of the consequences of this line of thinking was that there seemed to be a new role for women and African Americans (enslaved or not) in these new Christian denominations. There was an emphasis on the role that an individual could play to change his or her situation. Although this change was bound up in the social mores of the time, men and women, enslaved and free, could find a place in these more evangelical denominations.
Who were some important figures in the Second Great Awakening?
There were many men and women who held influential roles in stoking the flames of religious fervor across the country. I’ll detail one I find to be representative.
Charles Finney is, perhaps, the most well-known minister of the Second Great Awakening. He opposed the traditions of presbyterianism and was socially progressive, supporting abolition and the rights of women and African Americans to be educated. He even served as President of Oberlin, which admitted women and African Americans long before most other universities thought about doing so.
Finney’s theology and his activism were not well-received by some who had more traditional Biblical interpretations. Upon hearing a rumor that Finney would preach in Connecticut, one minister declared, “I know your plan and you know I do. You mean to come into Connecticut, and carry a streak of fire to Boston. But if you do attempt it, as the Lord liveth, I’ll meet you at the State line, and call out all the artillery-men, and fight every inch of the way to Boston, and I’ll fight you there.”
Nevertheless, Finney’s ideas show how central a role the Second Great Awakening had in stoking the fires of other types of social reform (including temperance) in the United States, perhaps its most important legacy.
So every religious figure during the Second Great Awakening was an abolitionist?
Well, no. Some, including plantation owners, would argue that although enslaved men and women could participate in religious activity, this religious activity would help those enslaved before more obedient to their “owners.” Others believed that encouraging those who were enslaved to be devout Christians was their responsibility, but that was it. Converting to Christianity was one thing, but advocating abolition was something else entirely.
What is an example Second Great Awakening APUSH question?
What was one of the most important implications of the Second Great Awakening on social life?
A. The Second Great Awakening tended to reduce social class differences among men and women.
B. Because of the strain of populism that ran through revivals, this movement promoted religious diversity.
C. Because of informal camp meetings, the Second Great Awakening discouraged church membership and promoted spiritualism.
D. The Second Great Awakening greatly weakened women’s social position throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions.
B. Many denominations were formed during this period.
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About Allena Berry
Allena Berry loves history; that should be known upfront. She loves it so much that she not only taught high school history and psychology after receiving her Master's degree at Stanford University, she is now studying how students learn history at Northwestern. That being said, she does not have a favorite historical time period (so don't bother asking). In addition to history, she enjoys writing, practicing yoga, and scouring Craigslist for her next DIY project or midcentury modern piece of furniture.
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