Children of Wrath

Children of Wrath: New School Calvinism and Antebellum Reform

Leo P. Hirrel
Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 232
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Children of Wrath
    Book Description:

    In an exciting reinterpretation of the early nineteenth century, Leo Hirrel demonstrates the importance of religious ideas by exploring the relationship between religion and reform efforts during a crucial period in American history. The result is a work that moves the history of antebellum reform to a higher level of sophistication.

    Hirrel focuses upon New School Congregationalists and Presbyterians who served at the forefront of reform efforts and provided critical leadership to anti-Catholic, temperance, antislavery, and missionary movements. Their religion was an attempt to reconcile traditional Calvinist language with the prevalent intellectual trends of the time. New School theologians preserved Calvinist language about depravity, but they incorporated an assertion of nominal human ability to overcome sin and a belief in the fixed, immutable nature of truth.

    Describing both the origins of New School Calvinism and the specific reform activities that grew out of these beliefs, Hirrel provides a fresh perspective on the historical background of religious controversies.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5887-7
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    On September 10, 1828, members of Connecticut’s Congregationalist clergy assembled at the chapel of Yale College to listen to a traditionalConcio ad clerum, or “advice to the clergy.” The occasion itself was not unusual. This time, however, the selection of Nathaniel William Taylor as speaker should have caused the audience to suspect that the address would be controversial. Taylor and his fellow theology professors at Yale were at the center of theological arguments about the fundamental nature of New England Calvinism.

    That day Taylor showed that his controversial reputation was well deserved. Taking his text from Ephesians 2:3, “and...

  6. Part One: Religion
    • 1 The Challenge to Orthodoxy
      (pp. 9-25)

      At the close of the colonial period of American history the American people retained a strongly religious orientation. This interest in religion exerted a formidable influence on the American character, particularly in the northern colonies. Americans were not only a religious people, but their beliefs tended toward a Calvinist Protestantism. In Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire the Congregational churches were established by law. Although there were no legally established churches in the middle colonies, the Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed denominations had achieved a remarkably strong following. American clergy, who had improved their stature through their support of the Revolution, enjoyed...

    • 2 Theology at New Haven
      (pp. 26-40)

      In the 1820s, a new theological system emerged from the Yale Divinity Department as a rebuttal to Deism and Unitarianism. The revised system acquired substantial popularity in antebellum America because it appeared to refute skepticism while adopting the rationalist premise that God’s ways must be compatible with human ideas of morality and justice. In thus answering the challenges to their religion, the new defenders of Calvinism made moral human behavior and the moral government of God the most important aspect of their religion.

      Because of its association with Yale College this new system of divinity was termed the “New Haven...

    • 3 Theology at Princeton and Oberlin
      (pp. 41-53)

      The New Haven response to the rationalist challenge sparked a vigorous debate within the Congregational and Presbyterian communities. Other theologians either reasserted their conservatism or moved forward to a more radical departure from Calvinist orthodoxy. Conservatives, led by the faculty at the Princeton Seminary, feared that the new theology undermined the concept of divine sovereignty in order to emphasize human behavior and the moral government of God. The so-called Princeton theology became renowned for its adherence to the theocentric orientation of classical Calvinism. While the conservatives were defending Calvinist doctrines, Charles Finney and other members of the faculty at Oberlin...

    • 4 The Antebellum Congregational and Presbyterian Communities
      (pp. 54-73)

      New School Calvinism grew within the Presbyterian and Congregational communities, eventually reaching about 44 percent of the Presbyterians and a much larger portion of the Congregationalists.¹ As such, its history reflected the traditions and mores of these two churches, especially the commitment to an educated and settled clergy, an emphasis on the intellectual aspects of the religious experience, and a generally tempered pastoral style. Ethnic and geographic factors also affected the history of the New School within both churches. Despite some striking similarities, these two churches also differed in important respects. These differences would influence the spread of New Haven...

    • 5 The Role of Religion in the Republic
      (pp. 74-90)

      As Americans, New School Calvinists believed that a relationship existed between their religion and the future of the nation. Their assumption that a solid religious foundation was essential to the future of the American republic was apparent in their discussions of republican ideology and in their Sabbatarian efforts. They further believed that this nation had a special role in God’s work of redemption, which required extraordinary efforts by the American religious community.

      In the beginning of the nineteenth century, Americans shared a set of assumptions and values about the nature of government and society that recent historians have labeled “republican...

  7. Part Two: Reform
    • [Part Two Introduction]
      (pp. 91-92)

      As New School Calvinists embarked on the various reform movements discussed in this part, the assumptions that derived from their religious outlook were expressed throughout their reform rhetoric. Believing that unregenerate humanity was fearfully depraved, they typically credited the most horrifying stories about Catholics, slaveholders, and pagans. With their faith in a fixed, objectively valid truth, they expected all men to accept their religious values and attributed diversity of religious opinions to sinister motives. In short, their rhetoric represented a combination of optimism and fear, which was distinctive to their religious beliefs.

      I have based this analysis on the assumption...

    • 6 The Catholic Church and the Whore of Babylon
      (pp. 93-116)

      An intense hostility to the Roman Catholic religion characterized antebellum reform efforts within the Presbyterian and Congregational communities. To twentieth-century observers, the anti-Catholic aspects of antebellum reform do not merit the same admiration as the antislavery or temperance movements. Yet the participants viewed their opposition to the Catholic Church as one of the principal elements of their reform efforts. They worked tirelessly to prevent the spread of what they perceived to be a false religion and to convert laymen away from the Church of Rome. Anti-Catholic militants conceived of their work as an expression of disinterested benevolence. They sincerely believed...

    • 7 The Temperance Crusade
      (pp. 117-133)

      Perhaps the most popular issue of antebellum reform, the temperance crusade also exhibited the extremist tendencies of antebellum reform. Unquestionably, the movement began as a well-needed effort to correct a serious social problem. Temperance advocates, however, went beyond correcting the abuse of alcohol to asserting that the mere use of intoxicants was sinful in itself. This shift to a condemnation of all alcohol was called “ultraism” in its own time, a term that has remained with us.

      This uncompromising outlook among New School temperance reformers is not surprising, given the frame of reference provided by the New Haven theology. Believing...

    • 8 Chattel Slavery
      (pp. 134-154)

      Of all the programs of antebellum reform, the crusade against slavery involved the greatest diversity of opinions, motives, and characters. Unlike other reforms, where the Congregationalists and Presbyterians exerted a preponderant influence, the antislavery movement included atheists, Unitarians, Transcendentalists, anarchists, freethinkers, and various nonconformists. People such as William Lloyd Garrison, Abby Kelley, and Theodore Parker often overshadowed the more conventional Congregational and Presbyterian reformers. Members of each persuasion entered the cause for their own reasons, and at times they devoted a disproportionate amount of their energy to battling one another.

      Although they were only one of many groups involved, numerous...

    • 9 Benevolence, the Social Order, and the Kingdom of God
      (pp. 155-169)

      New School Calvinists were reformers in a limited sense of the word. They wished to remove perceived evils and to promote their religious values, but they did not advocate a fundamental restructuring of Northern society for social or economic objectives. To the extent that they expressed any vision of an ideal society, they looked forward to the triumph of God’s church during the millennium. Otherwise, they were satisfied with American society and its capitalist economy.

      To be sure, New School adherents were sympathetic to their less-fortunate brethren, both in the United States and abroad. Many New School adherents worked tirelessly...

    • 10 The Closing Years of Antebellum Reform
      (pp. 170-181)

      Through the mid-1830s, New School adherents could claim that they were working as part of a unified Protestant reform effort. Beginning with the Presbyterian schism in 1837 however, the appearance of solidarity began to disappear. The loss of unity was accompanied by a change in the style and tone of New School reformers. To be sure, they continued to promote their reform crusades, and generally they adhered to the basic tenets of New School Calvinism; but these years were characterized by increasing denominational consciousness, diverging trends in theology, and an increasing reliance on political action for their reform efforts. At...

  8. In Retrospect
    (pp. 182-184)

    In the years following the Civil War, the innovations of Taylor, Beecher, and other New Haven theologians were eclipsed by subsequent developments in theology. Within the Presbyterian community, the Old School and New School moved closer together, until the two sides were reunited in 1869. The Congregationalists generally moved toward a more liberal theology, following the lead of Andover Seminary. By the 1880s, Andover theologians had promulgated their concept of “progressive orthodoxy,” which emphasized figurative interpretation of the Bible and such new ideas as future probation of souls. Later, the Social Gospel of Washington Gladden and Walter Rauschenbusch achieved its...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 185-219)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 220-242)
  11. Index
    (pp. 243-250)