Culture and reform in the early nineteenth century
The Second Great Awakening - reform and religious movements
Unit 4: Learning Objective J
- [Instructor] Okay, so we've been talking about The Second Great Awakening and its context in early 19th century America. The Second Great Awakening was this period of religious revival that was kind of at its hot point in 1820 to 1840 and in the last couple of videos, we've been talking about just the nature of this society that produced The Second Great Awakening, particularly how they responded to changes in how people related to each other in business and also just broader social changes like the expansion of American democracy and the expansion of American territory west. So in this last video, I want to talk about some of the outgrowths of The Second Great Awakening. So why do we care so much that there was this period of religious revival? What did it lead to in American life? There are two major things that were directly related to The Second Great Awakening in this early 19th century. New religious movements in the United States, some of which are still with us today and even more importantly for the time period, major reform movements, including the Movement for Abolition, the end of slavery, which is going to lead to the outbreak of The Civil War. So let's look a little bit closer at these two things. So as we've talked about, The Second Great Awakening promoted both the idea that one should try to create heaven on earth and also, a more democratic approach to religion in general, that it didn't matter who you were. If you were a man, a woman, white, black, enslaved, free, you were still entitled to a personal relationship with God and a chance at salvation. So one of the things this meant in this time period is that there's just a lot of religious experimentation. A lot of new American religions emerge at this time period, some of which are still with us today, some of which are not. This here is a representation of the Shakers, which were a religious community of, they embrace kind of simplicity. They separated the sexes. They practiced celibacy. Just as kind of trying to make their daily lives more pure and unfortunately, the celibacy part meant that they more or less died out by the 1940s, although there are a handful of Shakers who are still alive today and they were called the Shakers because they would have these kind of ecstatic religious experiences, which you can see are kind of similar to what happened in the camp meetings. So even though they didn't have sex, they would kind of get out their ecstasy in this process of these big circle dances, which people looked at and they said they seemed like they were shaking, so they were the Shakers. On the other side of the spectrum, there was the Oneida community, which was led by a man named John Humphrey Noyes and they preached the idea that one should have no earthly attachments basically and that meant also to a spouse, so they believed in what was called complex marriage or what we would really call free love. There was no such thing as an individual marriage, that women and men could have sex with whomever they pleased. It's interesting that approaches to sex were very central to these religious movements. Probably the most important religious movement to come out of this time period was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as the Mormons, who were founded by Joseph Smith in Rochester, New York and Smith had a vision that he was visited by an angel who presented him with gold plates and on these gold plates was a new Scripture called The Book of Mormon and Smith's followers really continued to be devoted to the religion, even though they faced a lot of persecution, particularly over their early practice of polygamy until they continued to move west under the leadership of a second man, Brigham Young, who took over after Smith was murdered by an angry crowd in Illinois who then led the Mormons to Utah where they continue to be a major religious group to this day. Oh, and one other interesting thing about this is the Oneida community. Although, it itself did not survive, one of the ways that they made money as a community was by making silverware and so Oneida Silverware is actually the descendant company of this really interesting communal experiment and they lasted, I believe, until 2006, so if you ever had Oneida Silverware, you were looking at an artifact of a 19th century religious movement. So the last and probably the most important part of The Second Great Awakening that I wanna talk about is its influence on reform movements. So let me give myself a little bit more space to write here. There are several 19th century reform movements that are tied in to The Second Great Awakening. One of these would be The Temperance Movement, which hoped to reduce and or eliminate people's consumption of alcohol and you can kinda tie this back to the idea of heaven on earth, right? How can you have a stable family home, how can you have a godly society if everybody's drunk all the time? But I would say the most important reform movement associated with The Second Great Awakening was the Abolitionist Movement and remember that Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin, which was one of the greatest abolition or anti-slavery advertisements in the world, was the daughter of Lyman Beecher, one of the greatest preachers of The Second Great Awakening and so as people came to believe that everyone's life was equally valuable, they became more and more involved in the idea that slavery should not exist, that people who were enslaved had souls that were just as worthy of salvation as anyone who was already free and so they also saw this as one of the perversions of God's word and a perversion of the family, which they saw as the central unit of American democracy and Republicanism. So slavery should not exist. People who were really motivated by their faith in God and their faith in trying to create heaven on earth and a better society campaigned really strenuously for the end of slavery and ultimately, were successful. So this is a really complex topic, The Second Great Awakening. If we look back at our web again, we can see that this wave of religious revival was connected in all sorts of interesting ways to the economic and political changes of the time period and in its way, led to all sorts of different social changes, so I think it's a good example of how it's sometimes really hard to separate things that happened in the past into really neat boxes, right? That, oh, there was politics. There was religion. There was culture. There were economics, but in many ways, they're all bound together in a larger culture, within which everyday individuals navigated their lives and it's also good to show us that sometimes we don't exactly know why things happened in the past. We know that people got really interested in religion in this time period, but historians have differing ideas about why that might have been. Some say that it was a form of trying to control people as it was more and more important to have a dutiful workforce for a factory-based industrial society and some people say that maybe, it was just about demographic and political shifts in who had power, who had money, and who got to vote, but we do know that The Second Great Awakening and these ideas of trying to improve America, to improve the world, and to create heaven on earth led to all sorts of interesting things that are still with us today, including religious movements and the end of slavery.