The Second Great Awakening

The Second Great Awakening took place during the 19th century. Revival leaders such as Charles Finney and Lyman Beecher preached to large crowds to renew their Christian identity. This movement enthused the religious passion and participation in the United States.


During the 19th century, there was religious revival in the United States. The recent economic boom as well as individuals desire for salvation lead to this movement. This religious movement began in the North East and quickly spread to the across the Country with the help of such preachers as Lyman Beecher, Charles Finney, Barton Stone, Alexander Campbell, and Joseph Smith. Each one of these individuals spread their unique messages to their followers. These men would be found preaching to thousands of individuals at camp meeting which could be found from Cane Ridge, Kentucky to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. The effects of this movement ranged from social to religious. In an attempt to limit alcohol consumption, blue laws were instituted to prohibit their sale on Sunday. In addition, religious groups were created and reformed. During this time period religions such as Mormonism and The Disciples of Christ were created. The Second Great Awakening instilled a new wave of Christian faith and enthusiasm throughout the country.

Thomas Campbell

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Thomas Campbell, a Presbyterian minister who separated from his church in Pennsylvania in 1809, started his own nondenominational congregation called the “Christian Association of Washington (Pennsylvania)." Thomas Campbell emphasized the philosophy, "Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent." Campbell wanted to eliminate new ideas and interpretations of the gospels in the New Testament by members of the congregation. Should individuals feel privileged to internalize the messages of the gospels to suit their own needs, then they would have to face the consequences on judgement day.

Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone

In 1809 Alexander Campbell, Thomas’ son, returned from the University of Glasgow and became minister of the Brush Run Church, a new affiliation of the Christian Association. Although they were intentionality affiliated with the Baptists, Campbell’s followers severed their ties with the old religion and began their own reform movement. Meanwhile, Barton Stone, a Kentucky revivalist, had similar issues with the strictness of the Presbyterian doctrines and policies. Like Campbell, Stone broke away from the Presbyterians. He believed, “the rational means by which an individual comes to believe in the testimony of the gospel, has faith in the promise of salvation, and is thereby reconciled to God.” In 1821, a school teacher from Scotland united both Campbell’s and Stone’s followers and began the Disciples of Christ. The primary principals of this new were “faith, repentance, baptism, remission of sins, gift of the Holy Spirit, and eternal life.”

Charles G. Finney

Charles G. Finney, an evangelical preacher, began his revival meeting in New York in 1825. Finney was know for preaching to enormous crowds in large outdoor gatherings. Known for his extreme emotional drama, many individuals denounced his teachings. In 1835, Finney moved to Ohio were he began affiliated with Oberlin College. While there, he inspired many converts to follow his interpretations of Presbyterism and Congregationalism. Finney believed that, “people chose the way of Christ and the way of holy living--that ‘perfection’ meant the potential for unlimited moral improvement.” Even though God provided the right message, it was the responsibility of the individual to constantly work for salivation.

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Joseph Smith

Born in 1805 on a small farm in New York, Joseph Smith went on to become one of the most important religious revivalists of all time. Smith’s religious experiences began when he was 14 years old. During this time, the near-by town of Manchester was starting to get excited about the spreading religious movement. One day, Smith went into the woods by himself to ask God which church he should join. According to his account of the experience, he was visited by God and Jesus Christ who told him to not join any of the churches. Later in 1823, he was visited by an angel who told him that somewhere in America, there was a detailed account of God’s interactions with the original inhabitants of the continent. By 1827, Joseph had retrieved these tables and by 1830, he wrote the Book of Mormon. On April 6, 1830, Joseph Smith officially organized The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Throughout his religious career, Smith accomplished a number of important achievements. Smith worked to establish thriving religious communities in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois. He also was successful in establishing many missionaries throughout the world. Smith and his brother were killed by a mob in Illinois on June 27, 1844.

Camp Meetings

Camp Meetings were a way for a preacher to speak with to a large audience and spread his message. They were a big gathering of people from all over the county coming together to listen to a famous preacher. Camp m
New Georgia Encyclopedia
New Georgia Encyclopedia
eetings were very festive often having song and dance. Although the point of camp meetings was to spread Christianity, it became more than that. It was a place for family and friends to reunite and be together. The first meeting was in Georgia in 1803, but is spread rapidly throughout America. They were very popular all along the east coast, but the biggest crowds happened in the south where they originated. "In the nineteenth century most Georgians were farmers who lived solitary, demanding lives. Camp meetings were festive affairs celebrated annually at a time when crops were laid by, thus providing a reprieve from the rigorous routine of farm life." Although many of the audience at these meetings were farmers there was a large population of city dwellers. Around the time of the meetings in the early 19th century, there was an economic boom in America bringing many families to the city. There was in increase in population and a growth in industries forcing many people to miove into the big cities. They felt helpless and confused in the city so many of them turned to religion in order to help ease the transition from the rural farms to the urban cities. The camp meetings in America were so popular that Methodist Lorenzo Dow witnessed one and brought the concept back to England where it was widely popular.
Camp meetings still take place today, but are not nearly as popular as they once were. In Martha's Vineyard there are still camp meetings held at the regional high school, but draw a much smaller crowd.

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Perfectionist theology stated "all humans are fully capable of perfect compliance with God's laws." This challenged the Calvinist beliefs of predestination. People wanted salvation, Calvinism had the idea of predestination and that you were not in control of your afterlife. Many people turned towards new Christian beliefs like Evangelicalism or Mormanism which promised salvation to anybody. Mormanism promised salvation to any one who believed in jesus and followed morman laws. Mormanism started in the burned over district in northern New York. The burned over district got its name because of all the religious revivals that took place there. Many new Christian beliefs started in the burned over district but Mormanism is one of the only still practiced religions today which started there.

Blue Laws

Blue laws are laws in place to limit the sale of alcohol on sundays. Blue laws were made by puritans in seventeenth century england. They were to enforce gods law and make sure nobody did anything unchristian-like. In the middle of the 19th century laws in America were passed that were very close to the blue laws passed in Britain 200 years earlier. The Blue laws were used to enforce religious standards. In America these laws were passed by the states and were to enforce alcohol sales. Liquor stores have to abide by the blue laws in certain states regulating when they can sell alcohol.


The Second Great Awakening had long-term effects on both social reform issues as well as new religious groups that advocated for principals espoused by the revival leaders. One way that the reformers believed they could improve the moral standards of society was to institute laws preserving the sanctity of Sunday. These laws which were known as the blue laws were promoted by the leaders of the revival movement in the late 1820s-1830s. Businesses and public amusements were prohibited from opening on Sundays, for Sundays were believed to be a day of rest to honor God and family. Evangelical Protestants preached their reform messages and influenced political decisions such as the blue laws. Following the Civil War, the blue laws were used as a way to “Americanize immigrants who otherwise did not seem to conform to the Anglo-Protestant norms of American life,” for they believed Sunday were a day for merriment. The desire for moral reform, especially among men who consumed excessive amounts of whiskey, was addressed by evangelicals who advocated for abstinence of alcohol. As a result, the blue laws incorporated the ideals of the temperance movement by prohibiting the sale of alcohol on Sundays, a law that remains in existence in many states today.
Following the Second Great Awakening, a number of prominent reformers broke away from their original evangelical groups and formed new religious groups. One example of this came when Barton Stone and Thomas and Alexander Campbell formed the Christian Church, also known as the Disciples of Christ. These men looked to renew the Christian way of life as exemplified in the bible. In 1827, Campbell and his followers identified the six elements that they believed best depicted the ideals of the Christian Church: “faith, repentance, baptism, remission of sins, gift of the Holy Spirit, and eternal life.”