The Democratization of American Christianity

The Democratization of American Christianity

Copyright Date: 1989
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 326
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  • Book Info
    The Democratization of American Christianity
    Book Description:

    In this prize-winning book Nathan O. Hatch offers a provocative reassessment of religion and culture in the early days of the American republic, arguing that during this period American Christianity was democratized and common people became powerful actors on the religious scene. Hatch examines five distinct traditions or mass movements that emerged early in the nineteenth century-the Christian movement, Methodism, the Baptist movement, the black churches, and the Mormons-showing how all offered compelling visions of individual potential and collective aspiration to the unschooled and unsophisticated.

    "Rarely do works of scholarship deserve as much attention as this one. The so-called Second Great Awakening was the shaping epoch of American Protestantism, and this book is the most important study of it ever published."-James Turner,Journal of Interdisciplinary History

    "The most powerful, informed, and complex suggestion yet made about the religious, political, and psychic 'opening' of American life from Jefferson to Jackson. . . . Hatch's reconstruction of his five religious mass movements will add popular religious culture to denominationalism, church and state, and theology as primary dimensions of American religious history."-Robert M. Calhoon,William and Mary Quarterly

    "Hatch's revisionist work asks us to put the religion of the early republic in a radically new perspective. . . . He has written one of the finest books on American religious history to appear in many years."-James H. Moorhead,Theology Today

    The manuscript version of this book was awarded the 1988 Albert C. Outler Prize in Ecumenical Church History from the American Society of Church History

    Awarded the 1989 book prize of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic for the best book in the history of the early republic (1789-1850)

    Co-winner of the 1990 John Hope Franklin Publication Prize given by the American Studies Association for the best book in American Studies

    Nathan O. Hatch is professor of history and vice president for Graduate Studies and Research at the University of Notre Dame.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15956-1
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)

    • CHAPTER ONE Introduction: Democracy and Christianity
      (pp. 3-16)

      This book is about the cultural and religious history of the early American republic and the enduring structures of American Christianity. It argues both that the theme of democratization is central to understanding the development of American Christianity, and that the years of the early republic are the most crucial in revealing that process. The wave of popular religious movements that broke upon the United States in the half century after independence did more to Christianize American society than anything before or since. Nothing makes that point more clearly than the growth of Methodist and Baptist movements among white and...

    • CHAPTER TWO The Crisis of Authority in Popular Culture
      (pp. 17-46)

      By 1814 Timothy Dwight, the president of Yale, had ample cause for good cheer. Under his tutelage, a remarkable coalition of talented leaders had developed and were now coming to maturity across New England. Innovative and forward looking, Dwight’s disciples were revitalizing Calvinism as both an intellectual and a spiritual force. The collaborations of activists such as Lyman Beecher and Asahel Nettleton and theologians such as Moses Stuart and Nathaniel William Taylor gave evangelical Calvinism a firmer foundation than it had known since the days of Dwight’s grandfather, Jonathan Edwards. The founding of Andover Seminary in 1808 stood as a...


    • CHAPTER THREE Storming Heaven by the Back Door
      (pp. 49-66)

      In May of 1806, Bishop Francis Asbury paused long enough in New York City to send a report to his English colleague, Thomas Coke, on the state of American Methodism. His four thousand–mile pilgrimage in the preceding eight months had taken him through fifteen states, from Vermont to Georgia, from Massachusetts to Kenrucky. These travels left Asbury more confident than ever of the role of the Methodists in converting the New World. He spoke glowingly of the hundreds of gospel ministers under his charge, of the 8273 new members added during the last year, and of the pervasive sense...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Thundering Legions
      (pp. 67-122)

      The democratic religious movements of the early republic all took root in the same soil, an environment that favored certain approaches, answers, and leadership styles. Competition in the religious marketplace muted the appeal of orthodox churches and amplified the message of insurgents. A variety of disparate movements manifested a common style and demeanor.

      At the same time, these distinct religious movements need to be understood on their own terms. Each of the five treated in this chapter is a complicated stream of diverse interests and tendencies, and each stands apart from others in theological emphasis and organizational structure. John Leland...


    • CHAPTER FIVE The Sovereign Audience
      (pp. 125-161)

      Networks of religious communication were altered in two profound ways in the generation after the American Revolution. First, clergymen lost their unrivaled position as authoritative sources of information. In Massachusetts as a whole, for instance, clergymen had constituted 70 percent of all learned professionals in 1740; by 1800 they were only 45 percent, despite the fact that their number had doubled. The turnover rate of clergymen everywhere mounted sharply; other professionals, most noticeably lawyers, competed as sources of information, narrowing the scope of clerical authority; printers, newspapers, and post offices multiplied at a geometric rate after 1780. By 1820, Massachusetts...

    • CHAPTER SIX The Right to Think for Oneself
      (pp. 162-190)

      American churches’ profound commitment to audience in the early decades of the nineteenth century shaped the way religious thinking was organized and carried out. When the commoner rose in power, people of ideas found their authority circumscribed. As a result, democratic America has never produced another theologian like Jonathan Edwards, just as it has never elected statesmen of the caliber of Adams, Jefferson, and Madison. Insurgent religious leaders were not so much anti-intellectual as intent on destroying the monopoly of classically educated and university-trained clergymen. The insurgents considered people’s common sense more reliable, even in theology, than the judgement of...


    • CHAPTER SEVEN Upward Aspiration and Democratic Dissent
      (pp. 193-209)

      In 1856, seventy-one-year-old Peter Cartwright published his own story as a way to focus attention on Methodism’s primitive circuit riders. Converted in a Kentucky revival in 1801 at the age of sixteen, Cartwright was licensed as an exhorter before his seventeenth birthday. After itinerating in Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, and Indiana, he settled in Illinois in 1824, where he farmed and preached for almost a half century. A rugged and fiery preacher, Cartwright’s wit, homespun sermons, and dedication to the Methodist cause contributed significantly to the movement’s progress in Illinois. He also represented the Sangamon district in the state legislature from...

  9. CHAPTER EIGHT Epilogue: The Recurring Populist Impulse in American Christianity
    (pp. 210-219)

    The vengeance with which religious issues have again entered the public arena illustrates what pollsters long have known: the United States contains more citizens who value religion than other western industrial societies. This odd combination of modernity and religion defies conventional wisdom, which suggests that secularity and socioeconomic development are positively related. Such manifest religiosity in an advanced industrial and technological society raises interesting questions about the nature of popular religious movements in the United States and about the contrast between American popular culture and that of other western industrial nations.¹

    Studies show that two out of three adults in...

  10. Redefining the Second Great Awakening: A Note on the Study of Christianity in the Early Republic
    (pp. 220-226)

    Gordon S. Wood has called the early republic “the time of greatest religious chaos and originality in American history.” W. R. Ward has written that the period 1790 to 1830 is “the most important single generation in the modern history not merely of English religion but of the whole Christian world.”¹ Unfortunately, there are more generalizations and less solid data on the dynamics of American religion in this period than in any other in our history. The most dramatic contours of the landscape remain to be sketched: the rise of the camp meeting, the African-American embrace of Christianity, and the...

  11. APPENDIX: A Sampling of Anticlerical and Anti-Calvinist Christian Verse
    (pp. 227-243)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 244-304)
  13. Index
    (pp. 305-313)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 314-315)