The Second Great Awakening
From the 1800s to the 1840s, a new religious movement began to form among people who had been previously left in the margins of religious society. These groups of people were not the wealthy, puritan descendants of New England, nor the wealthy plantation owners of the South. These were backwoodsmen, slaves, and working-class men and women. This became known as the Second Great Awakening, as these groups entered into the center of religious activity in America.
There was a great new adventure to be had on the frontier of the United States of America and people began to move into the backwoods of the Appalachian mountains. These were rough and rugged people, many of Scotch-Irish background. They lived by their own wits and had little need of the niceties of east coast society, including their religion.
James McGready saw the need for ministry among these people and started what would become known as camp meetings. People would come from miles around and camp in the woods to hear a preacher preach, participate in prayer meetings and baptisms, all centered around the idea that a person had to make a personal decision to follow Jesus. These meetings were full of emotion and excitement as people gave up their lives to Him.
Charles Finney was a lawyer who had a great awakening in his own life, becoming a persuasive preacher just as he had persuaded juries during his law career. He set up great tents to lead days-long events, preaching the need for salvation and obedience to Christ. The people responded by the droves, coming to Christ and changing their lives.
Lyman Beecher, the father of Harriet Beecher-Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, led a more conservative part of the revival but one that pushed people to better the lives of the hardest living among them. Anti-slavery movements, including the Underground Railroad, were built up in the belief that all people, including black men and women, are equal in God’s eyes. Temperance or the abstinence from alcohol was also a part of this movement. Women, in general, were advocated for, to give them rights that they had not had in the past. The YMCA and the Salvation Army were established to give young men a place to serve their communities.
This revival had a big effect on the United States. The modern evangelical movement started in these humble beginnings both in spirit and in practice. The institutions that were established at that time have formed the modern American Church’s response to inequality, poverty, and the needs of the least of these. Most of all, the need for a personal response to the Gospel became the cry of the evangelical churches until today.