My Website Spotlight blog posts that pertain to this module

God in America (PBS)
My Website Spotlight blog post

Religion and the Founding of the American Republic (Library of Congress)
My Website Spotlight blog post

Learning Objectives:

Discuss the causes, characteristics, and consequences of the Second Great Awakening.

Indicate the ideas, leaders, and contributions of the following reform movements: temperance and the women's movement.

Discuss the growth of the antislavery movement, the difference between gradualists and immediatists, and the impact of the movement on American society.

Introduction to our module

National Expansion and Reform, 1815-1860 (Joyce Appleby) (Gilder Lehrman)
Good on American Exceptionalism

The First Age of Reform (Ronald Walters) (Gilder Lehrman)

Unit 3: Voices across Time: Expansion & Reform

Second Great Awakening

Began around 1800
Democratized American religion—as voting was being democratized
Rejected doctrine of predestination

Religion and the New Republic (Religion and the Founding of the American Republic, Library of Congress)

Evangelicalism, Revivalism, and the Second Great Awakening (Divining America, National Humanities Center)

Evangelicalism as a Social Movement, The Nineteenth Century (Divining America, National Humanities Center)

Religion, Women, and the Family in Early America

A. On the frontier: West and South

Focus on individual salvation; no impulse to reform society

1. Camp meetings
Attended by thousands
Cane Ridge (1801): 10,000 participants

Cane Ridge Revival Kentucky (Google Images)

Cane Ridge Meeting House
Plus: The Great Revival

"The Meeting Continued All Night" (History Matters)

Strange Behavior at Cane Ridge (

2. Circuit riders

Methodist Circuit Riders (Google Images)

Peter Cartwright: excerpts from his autobiography (Toolbox Library, National Humanities Center)

"A Religious Flame That Spread All Over Kentucky": Peter Cartwright Brings Evangelical Christianity to the West, 1801-04

Peter Cartwright: Colorful Preacher (

God, Man, Woman, and the Wesleys (American Heritage)

Pentecost in the Backwoods (American Heritage)

Modern example of a circuit rider
Circuit rider mixes preaching and horse sense : Robert Harris takes old-time religion to Southern hamlets (Los Angeles Times)

B. In the north ("Burned-Over District")

Congregationalists and Presbyterians
Small to medium-sized towns
Northern revivals led to an impulse to reform society

Charles G. Finney

Key name in Second Great Awakening

New York lawyer
Converted (1821)
Finney became a full–time evangelist
"I have a retainer from Jesus to plead his case"
Focused initially on the small towns in western New York.

Arminianism==Free will
A more democratic version of Christianity than predestination.
Any person who wanted to be saved could be saved.

Finney's evangelistic approach

Was controversial for its time:

a. Protracted meetings. Revivals continued nightly for a week or more.

b. Anxious bench.
"Almost saved" would sit up front
Made an object of special prayer.

c. Women allowed to speak aloud and pray for male relatives

Charles Finney (God in America, PBS)

"I Have a Retainer from the Lord Jesus Christ" (

"What A Revival of Religion Is" (

"Measures to Promote Revivals" (George Mason University)

"My Heart Was So Full of Love That It Overflowed": Charles Grandison Finney Experiences Conversion (History Matters)

Converts organized into voluntary associations

1810—Foreign Missions Board
Students at Williams College: Haystack Prayer Meeting

"The New Mission Generation" (Christianity Today)

1816—American Bible Society—distributed Bibles in the West

1825—American Tract Society—to seamen and urban poor

Benevolent Empire

Lyman Beecher (God in America, PBS)

Revivals, Burned-Over District, Benevolent Empire (George Mason University)


Converted should confirm their status as Christians
  • Live a godly life: give up vices
  • Individual self-improvement
  • Convert others
  • Ask them to perfect themselves

Reformers organized associations to address pressing social ills:

Prison reform (US

Treatment of the mentally ill

Dorothea Dix: Memorial to the Legislature of Massachusetts (Disability Museum)


A campaign against the use of alcohol was one of the key reform efforts.
  • Evangelicals considered drinking a sin
  • Forsaking alcohol a part of conversion
  • The sale of whiskey often involved a Sabbath violation
  • Whiskey destroyed families

Alcohol consumption was cut

Ordinary women formed Martha Washington societies

Cold Water Army. No drinks but cold water.

Cold Water Pledge insignia (Memorial Hall)

Teetotalers. Total abstinence for all drink.

Employers complained that drinkers took St. Monday as a holiday to recover from Sunday.

Demon rum became a prime target of reformers.

Temperance goals shifted over time:

From the moderate use of alcohol
Debate on how to define "alcohol": beer, wine, whiskey
To voluntary abstinence
To total prohibition

See also:

Temperance and Prohibition (Today in History, Library of Congress)

Prohibition (Ken Burns)

What caused the temperance movement? (Teaching

Temperance movement (Ohio History online)

Temperance Archive (George Mason University)

Women's movement

Seneca Falls Woman's Rights Convention (1848)

Rights for Women: The Suffrage Movement and its Leaders (National Women's History Museum exhibition)
[use this and the links from this URL for everything I need in this section]

Seneca Falls Convention (Today in History, Library of Congress)

1. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott the organizers:

Susan B. Anthony

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (Today in History, Library of Congress)

Elizabeth Cady Stanton obituary (New York Times)

Lucretia Mott

Lucretia Mott (National Park Service)

Lucretia Mott obituary (New York Times)

2. Felt that American society treated women no better than slaves

The Seneca Falls Convention (American Treasures of the Library of Congress)

3. Offered a "Declaration of Sentiments"
"All men and women are created equal"

See also:

Seneca Falls Convention (Finding Dulcinea)

The Seneca Falls Convention (History Now)

Antislavery Overview

We should all ask ourselves the question: Would I have been an abolitionist?

Antislavery was not a unified movement at first

Its adherents differed over several issues:
  • a. How hard to push the issue
  • b. The rights of women
  • c. The place of free blacks in American society

The issue of slavery eventually became so compelling that it consumed all the other reforms we have discussed.

See also:


Abolitionism (Africans in America)

American Abolitionism and Religion (National Humanities Center)

Abolition: The African-American Mosaic (Library of Congress Exhibition)

Abolition (African American Odyssey, Library of Congress)

Abolition and Antebellum Reform (Ronald Walters) (Gilder Lehrman)

Abolition and Religion (Robert Abzug) (Gilder Lehrman)

DC Abolishes the Slave Trade (Today in History, Library of Congress)

Gradual emancipation:

1. American Colonization Society (founded in 1816)

American Colonization Society (Library of Congress)

2. Advocated gradual emancipation of former slaves

3. Suggested resettlement in Africa

Colonization: The African-American Mosaic (Library of Congress Exhibition)

4. Liberia was set up for this purpose
Its capital, Monrovia, named for President James Monroe

Maps of Liberia

Founding of Liberia (Historian of the State Department)

Liberia: The African-American Mosaic (Library of Congress Exhibition)

Immediate emancipation

Immediatism surpassed gradualism as dominant anti-slavery approach

  • a. Immediate—right now
  • b. Complete—no other labor contract
  • c. Uncompensated—owners not paid a thing

Contrast between
"old" abolitionism: American Colonization Society
"new" abolitionism: Garrison and American Anti–Slavery society

American Anti-Slavery Society (Ohio History online)

William Lloyd Garrison

William Lloyd Garrison

Garrison was a white abolitionist

He argued for immediate emancipation

His newspaper, The Liberator, began publication in 1831

Free blacks

Free Blacks in the Antebellum Period (African American Odyssey, Library of Congress)

Washington Spalding Discusses the Condition of Free Blacks (History Matters)

Almost 250,000 in south by 1860

Highly discriminated against by whites
Legal status somewhere between slave and free
Whites feared free blacks would lead slave uprisings
States enacted "Black codes" to control movement of free blacks

Black abolitionists

Much of abolitionism was run by free blacks

By 1830, blacks had organized some 50 abolitionist societies

Notable free blacks:

1. Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass

This Far by Faith . Frederick Douglass | PBS

Frederick Douglass (Today in History, Library of Congress)

Online version of Frederick Douglass' autobiography (University of Virginia)

Frederick Douglass (Africans in America)

"The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro" (Africans in America)

Frederick Douglass obituary (New York Times)

Frederick Douglass

2. Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman (Africans in America)

Portrait of Harriet Tubman (Africans in America)

Harriet Tubman (African American Odyssey, Library of Congress)

Harriet Tubman

3. Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth

This Far by Faith . Sojourner Truth | PBS

Sojourner Truth (Today in History, Library of Congress)

Sojourner Truth (National Women's Rights Historical Park)

Sojourner Truth (National Women's History Museum)

Sojourner Truth (African American Odyssey, Library of Congress)

Sojourner Truth: Ain't I a Woman (History Matters)

Underground Railroad


Underground Railroad (Africans in America)

Fugitives Arriving at Indiana Farm (painting)

8 Key Contributors to the Underground Railroad

Underground Railroad Interactive (National Geographic)

Underground Railroad (American Experience)

Women abolitionists
  • Women more prominent in abolition than other movements
  • Women could not vote
  • Women expected to "keep their place" in the background

American antislavery movement split over women's participation:
One group: ok for women to speak to mixed gender audiences
Other group: not ok

Angelina and Sarah Grimke (National Park Service)

Angelina and Sarah Grimke

Angelina and Sarah Grimke: Abolitionist Sisters (Carol Berkin) (Gilder Lehrman)

White daughters of a South Carolina slave owner
Moved to the North
Became involved in anti-slavery and women's rights
Attacked the concept of subordination of women to men

Opposition to abolitionists: Murder of Elijah Lovejoy

Elijah Lovejoy (Today in History, Library of Congress)

Elijah Lovejoy killed by a pro-slavery mob (Library of Congress)

Many white Americans violently opposed abolitionism
They did not want to compete with freed blacks
Hostile whites threatened abolitionist editors and speakers
An example of this opposition was the murder of Elijah Lovejoy
He was a white abolitionist newspaper editor
Murdered by a mob in Alton, Illinois (1837).

Northerners outraged:
Not because they supported abolition
But because they wanted to preserve free speech

In the South, mobs blocked distribution of antislavery pamphlets

Gag rule

Many Northern church women signed anti-slavery petitions
Sent these petitions to Congress

From 1836 to 1844, Congress refused even to open or read the petitions
Southerners were happy

Northerners felt their free speech was violated.

Struggles Over Slavery: The "Gag" Rule