US religious evangelical revivalist movement, lasting from about 1800 to 1870. The Second Great Awakening permanently changed the face of religion in the USA; it saw a rise in the numbers of Baptists and Methodists relative to that of the Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists in the colonial period, and spawned many new denominations, such as the Mormons and the Seventh-Day Adventists. Revivalists strongly believed in the second coming of Jesus and were eager to make the USA ready through committed, morally motivated action. The movement inspired a wave of social reform in public education, temperance, women's suffrage, abolition, and commercialization. The rise of African American and women preachers was also a feature of its progressive and inclusive spirit.
The new evangelical theology began in New England and rapidly spread westwards. It held that, through a determined struggle with sin, salvation was available to all. Virtue would be rewarded by God through increased health and fortune on earth. In the 1830s and early 1840s, William Miller, an upstate New York farmer and Baptist lay preacher, popularized a theory of the second coming, and tracts, prophecy conferences, and tent services became widespread.
Meeting places Revivalist meetings were held in small towns and large cities, while on the frontier and more rustic outreaches the ‘camp meeting’ became the new form of religious expression. The most famous camp meeting took place in Cane Ridge, Kentucky and was led by Barton W Stone, a former Presbyterian minister. It lasted a week with 23,000 people attending and claiming to experience what they believed to be ‘God's presence’. Lay preacher Peter Cartwright penetrated the wilds of the western frontier on horseback, while Dwight L Moody swept through the UK and major US cities with a preaching tour that marked the beginning of the urban mass evangelistic campaign.
Education In the so-called ‘Burned-Over District’ of western New York State, the enlightened abolitionist preacher Charles Grandison Finney's sermons drew enormous crowds. Believing that the denial of education was a form of slavery that affected African Americans and women, he later founded Oberlin College, the first coeducational college to include African Americans. Finney believed that the revival was not something sent down by God, but that people were free to choose their spiritual destinies and could initiate change themselves. In 1835, Charles Finney told a New York audience that if Christians did their duty, the millennium could come in three years. Yale University's revivalist president Timothy Dwight preached for seven years, and converted half the student body to Christianity.
Temperance Lyman Beecher, a Congregational minister, educator, and vocal leader of the American Protestants, wrote and delivered six sermons on temperance between 1825 and 1827. He preached that intemperance was, ‘the sin of our land... that river of fire, which is rolling through the land, destroying the vital air, and extending around an atmosphere of death’. Annie Wittenmyer organized the national Women's Temperance Crusade, whose slogan became ‘For God and Home and Native Land’.
Organizations and individuals While women played an important role in the revivalist movement, the leading organizational beneficiaries of the revival, the Young Man's Christian Association (YMCA; established in the USA in 1851) and the United States Christian Commission (USCC), celebrated manly vigour, patriotism, and the compatibility of religion and business. US retailer John Wanamaker, who founded the modern department store in the 1870s, was such an exemplary Christian businessman. Several African Americans, born into slavery, also rose to prominence and founded new churches, such as Richard Allen, who founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Other notable figures of the new revival were the Quaker and holiness advocate Hannah Whitall Smith (1832–1911), who popularized the doctrine of ‘second blessing’ in order to receive spiritual power, and Lottie Moon (1840–1912), a Southern Baptist missionary to China from 1873.