Informative - Comparisons Of The First And Second Great Awakenings


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With the development of a civilized society in America during the 1700s and 1800s, the role religion played in an everyday person's life was becoming more and more diminished. To combat this, a series of religious revivals were set in motion: The Great Awakenings. These were a series of large, sweeping religious, social, and political changes that sought to use the basis of religion to revive faith in a neglected belief, bring about numerous social reforms, and use political factions to great effect upon society's mentality. Although most view the First Great Awakening as the ‘first' and ‘greatest' religious, social, and political influence to American society, the second Great Awakening can be considered far more influential in its religious, social, and political aspects of influence.
Even though the First and Second Great Awakenings focused its attention on other matters of life later on, religion was the theme upon which they were built. The First Great Awakening started among the American colonial Protestants during the early 1700s, mainly due to the weakening of the strict Puritan tradition of religious doctrine, and in part, the religious decline caused by negative publicity from the Salem witch trials and the Enlightenment (www.wikipedia.org). The movement to correct these problems began with Jonathan Edwards, a strictly Puritan, orthodox theologian from Massachusetts who dedicated his time to bringing the people back to the strict Calvinist roots, and to ‘reawaken the fear of God' (www.wikipedia.org). He was a powerful speaker, and preached to his large followings that it was to simply come to church was not enough to be saved, but they must also acknowledge their grievances in the heart, and feel God's love for them (Danzer, 38). He set off the wave of religious revival, as preachers traveled all across the colonies, attracted thousands of people to revival meetings of spiritual rebirth, gave impassioned sermons, and encouraged people to rededicate themselves to God (Danzer, 38). Although after the First Great Awakening America's religious zeal faded, its influence in religion was the beginning step (www.wikipedia.org). The Second Great Awakening's religious cycle took a bigger step in trying to turn the religious tide. Starting in New York during the early 1800s, the movement spread north, south, and west before ending during the 1840s (Klepp, 2). The Second Great Awakening's religious portion came about through the replacement of the predestination doctrine with the belief that anyone, whether they be sinners or not, can achieve salvation through the internal and external struggle against sin.

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The revival meetings of the First Great Awakening proved to be a success, and using that idea, the preachers of the Second Great Awakening used grand-scale camp meetings and intensified levels of revival to great effect, attracting hundreds of thousands of followers, both indoors and outdoors (Fogel, 2) to sing, dance, and participate in worship (Klepp, 2). The Second Great Awakening shows more progress being made than the efforts of the First Great Awakening, for the First merely starts it, the Second continues it.
As religion was being revitalized, the morals and themes it entailed were being applied to the social aspects of life, adding another item to the ‘to-do' list of the Great Awakenings. As the First Great Awakening gained momentum, it began to use other areas of life to supplement the religious revival: how society is run and/or what needs to be improved. Let us remember the First Great Awakening's goal: to convert people to back to a specific religion. To maximize the religious revival effort, a higher importance was placed on education to train more ministers for the rapidly developing, gospel-preaching churches (Danzer, 38). This new importance in education triggered the belief in equality of opportunity, which was "the principle that accepted the inequality of income and other circumstances of life as natural, but held that persons of low social rank could raise themselves up ––by industry, perseverance, talent and righteous behavior–– to the top of the economic and social order" (Fogel, 2). This stressed the importance of the individual, and combined with the de-emphasis of church authority, helped to create the social atmosphere that led to a particularly famous event in American history: the American Revolution (Danzer, 38). When the Second Great Awakening came into effect, the social effects were much greater. From the 1840s to the 1880s, there was tremendous rise of interest in reforming America to make it fit for the ‘Second Coming of Christ,' a popular religious idea at the time (Fogel, 2). The Second Great Awakening "merged democratic idealism with evangelical Christianity, arguing that America was in need of moral regeneration by dedicated Christians" (Klepp, 2). Social reforms, powered by dedicated men and women, included such reforms as educational improvements, the temperance movement which successfully prohibited alcoholic drinks in 13 states, the abolitionist movement which aided in the formation of the Republican Party, the anti-slavery movements, anti-corruption movements, women's suffrage movements, etc (Fogel, 2). With these movements also came a strong, continued sense of the belief in equality of opportunity. The Second Great Awakening proves to be the greater influence here, through both the quantity and quality of its social effects.
As social change depends upon the opinionated agreement of a group of people, inevitably there were political disagreements about how the religious revival movement should be handled, along with the social reforms that accompany it. As a result, the different groups of opinion, more specifically the different religious groups that were present, formed into separate, politically-oriented church denominations, each subtly different in its message of religion. As the revivals of the First Great Awakening spread, it brought together many colonists, including Native Americans and African Americans into actual Christian church factions for the first time, challenging the authority of the establish churches (Danzer, 38). Some went so far as to even abandon their old church establishments for the newer, independent denominations (Danzer, 38.) A few examples of these new dominations include the Baptists, the Methodists, the Mormons, and the Seventh Day Adventists (www.wikipedia.org). In Jonathan Edward's case, those who followed his message and were attracted to it called themselves the "New Lights," and those who did not were called the "Old Lights" (www.wikipedia.org). The numerous universities and places of scholarly thought that they set up are examples of the dispute that these factions had. Of these particular two, we know of Columbia University, then called Kings College, and Princeton University (www.wikipedia.org). With the coming of the Second Great Awakening, we see that religious revivals and church denominations have become methods of gaining power. The new denominations of Christianity, most prominently the Presbyterian, Baptist, and Methodists, used the camp meetings in more ways than one. The very first camp meeting occurred at Gasper River Church in Kentucky, July 1800, and this is where the idea sparked that religious meetings can be used as a form of organized revival, as a major mode of church expansion (www.wikipedia.org). This allowed for opinionated takeovers in politics. Take, for example, the issue of slavery with the United States. The abolitionist movement had sparked concern among the higher factions. With religion dominating most of the minds of the government, and with those religious factions split, the entire country split as well, leaving the South congregations supporting slavery and the Northern congregations opposing it (Klepp, 2). We can see that the Second Great Awakening left a bigger impact in American society. Although the First Great Awakening utilizes the use of religious factions, the Second Great Awakening uses it to a greater effect, bringing about political change to the extent where the entire country was split over a single issue.
So in effect, after both Awakenings had run their course, we see that the Second Great Awakening held a larger influence over American society. In terms of religious aspects, the Second Great Awakening had continued further along the path of religious revival than the First Great Awakening had done, bringing it to a whole new level. In terms of social aspects, the First Great Awakening may have brought about the idea of belief in equality of opportunity through education, but the Second Great Awakening took that idea and dedicated its resources to trying to make America a better place through widespread social reform. In terms of political aspects, the First Great Awakening had begun to understand the concept of using church denomination factions to try to control the methods, religion, and social reforms the people would be converted to, whereas the Second Great Awakening not only built upon that idea, but used camp meetings as an organized revival method, using it to wield political influence over social reforms and the religion at the time. It is safe to assume that the Second Great Awakening was the larger influence.

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