The Second Great Awakening

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Evaluate the extent to which religious ideas of the Second Great Awakening shaped reform movements in the first half of the nineteenth century.

The religious ideals of the Second Great Awakening influenced the reform movements of the first half of the nineteenth century to a great extent. The renewed emphasis on spiritual regeneration gave rise to the belief that society, like individuals, could be reformed. Many of the major reform movements of the antebellum period, particularly the abolition movement, had their roots in the religious revivalism that swept the nation.

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The religious ideas of the Second Great Awakening shaped several reform movements in the first half of the nineteenth century. One of the movements that these ideas really shaped was the temperance movement.

The preachers in the Second Great Awakening fervently preached against the consumption of alcohol. They taught that...

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The religious ideas of the Second Great Awakening shaped several reform movements in the first half of the nineteenth century. One of the movements that these ideas really shaped was the temperance movement.

The preachers in the Second Great Awakening fervently preached against the consumption of alcohol. They taught that consuming alcohol led people astray from Jesus’s teachings and was therefore a sinful act. It was also said that getting drunk was a misuse of God’s gifts. This idea inspired many people to encourage others to be “temperate” in their consumption of alcohol. However, over time, the movement became more and more against alcohol until it advocated for complete abstinence from it.

Preachers in the Second Great Awakening also converted many women during this time, as they called on women to fulfill their religious and moral duties. To many women, this included getting involved in the temperance movement (though this also fueled the women’s rights movement as well). It was very common for men to overindulge in alcohol in this era, and this had many negative impacts on their family lives. Women knew that if they encouraged abstinence from alcohol, they might experience less domestic violence and tension in their households.

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The Second Great Awakening and its religious ideas had a very profound impact on the reform movements of the early nineteenth century. This was because the Awakening sought to bring Christian teaching to bear upon various evils in society, such as slavery, child labor, and alcohol consumption (and, by extension, drunkenness and domestic abuse).

The movement was based on the belief that society, in order for it to become truly godly, needed to be perfected. In practical terms, this meant Christians working together to rid society of its many persistent problems. In turn, this led to the establishment of a vast network of Christian groups and organizations expressly set up to reform society.

The various groups and organizations that sprang out of the Second Great Awakening were renowned for their remarkable inclusivity, allowing marginalized groups such as women and African Americans into their ranks.

In fact, women were at the forefront of social reform in the nineteenth century, a position that gave them the opportunity to attack male chauvinism by showing that there was nothing that men could do that women couldn't also do themselves. Women were key contributors to movements such as the Temperance Movement, which encouraged limiting or completely abstaining from alcohol consumption.

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The early nineteenth-century religious revival movement known as the Second Great Awakening had a profound influence on the reform movements of the period. This was due in large part to the inclusive nature of this religious movement. These religious revivals were noteworthy in that they accepted all people regardless of social class, national origin, race, or gender.

As a result, the Second Great Awakening drew in many people from many backgrounds. This is because revivalists saw all people as being equal before God. Consequently, they sought to create a society that also valued people in the same way. This led to efforts to reform education, expand women's rights, and end slavery.

Revivalists did not consider it enough to merely worship in a new way. They considered themselves to be instruments of God who were tasked with creating God's kingdom on earth. To do so, the world needed to change, and social activism became a large part of how they expressed their religious zeal.

Of course, not all reformers of the period were religiously motivated. Some, like the educational reformer Horace Mann, based their guiding principles on ideas derived from the Enlightenment. However, their overall goals were usually the same, as they desired to create a more equitable society.

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Most of the reform movements of the antebellum period were heavily influenced by the spiritual revival known as the Second Great Awakening. This religion movement was characterized by an increased conviction that individuals were responsible for their own salvation. It also stressed that people should model the religious salvation they had received, a stance that encouraged them to participate in society. Some religious reformers were millenarians, meaning they believed they could create, through their actions, a heaven on earth. This contributed to the many utopian movements that sprang up during the period.

But others, motivated in no small part by religious conviction, took on the many societal ills of the period. These included temperance, which was seen as especially urgent in what one historian has called an "alcoholic republic." It also included abolition, the movement which was perhaps the most explicitly religious in its origins. Abolitionists charged that slavery was a sin, because all men were equal in the eyes of God. Some, like William Lloyd Garrison, even argued that to tolerate slavery in a nation was a sin, and urged the nation to destroy slavery or part ways with the slaveholders. The prison and asylum reform movement, the public school movement, and many other reforms were equally influenced by religious mores.

Even the movement for women's rights, which ranged from moderates demanding less stringent divorce laws to women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who demanded the right to vote, bore the stamp of a new emphasis on the spiritual equality of men and women. Churches and voluntary organizations built orphanages, sent missionaries to Native peoples, and provided medicine to the poor. Missionaries, as well as women's organizations, formed the backbone of opposition to Indian removal in the 1830s. In short, it is very difficult to imagine the reform movements of the antebellum period without the religious revivals that preceded, and existed alongside, them.

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