By Brian Jaeger
U.S. History 151
Paul E. Johnson writes about the Second Great Awakening in his book A Shopkeeper's Millennium. The particular revival that Johnson is concerned with is the one that occurred in Rochester, New York, starting in 1831. Johnson wants to give detailed facts about the people who participated in the revivals. He also wants to examine which social processes "are tied... to religious belief, and whose derangement would be likely to elicit a religious response" (Johnson, Paul E., A Shopkeeper's Millennium). Essentially, he wants to find out who was affected and how they were affected by the religious events of the early 1830's. Johnson wants to use these methods to make a connection between the religious revivals and changes in politics and reform in the 1830's (Johnson 14). Charles Sellers says that Johnson shows "how our society and very personalities were transformed by the rapid advance of the capitalist market in the earlier nineteenth century" (Johnson back). This would seem to say that the new capitalistic market brought on the revivals.
Johnson attempts to prove his thesis by concentrating on one city. He first describes the economic conditions in Rochester before the revival of 1831. We learn a little about how Rochester's economy was tied to that of the surrounding agriculture. The farmers relied on city craftsmen for almost all they bought, and since these farmers were making fairly good livings, they bought a lot. Johnson ties this reliance on country trade, thus scrutinized by its moral judgments, to help explain who participated in the revival (Johnson 36). He also describes the social structure of Rochester, and the importance of family and friends. " Along with their friends, associates, and distant kin, the Rochesters formed a powerful clan whose size defies full description" (Johnson 22). The Rochesters were not the only powerful group in town, however, and disagreements would soon develop. Johnson discusses the fact that neighborhoods were not exactly socially stratified, hence people with very different incomes lived quite close at the time of the revival. He points out that people of all levels of society drank, and often drank together, stating " ...until the middle 1820's liquor was an absolutely normal accompaniment to whatever men did in groups"(Johnson 56).
All the facts that have been mentioned so far may not seem to fit into an explanation of the revivals or how they affected politics and society. These facts do, however, set up some of the conflicts within Rochester that led to the need for religion. Drinking seemed to be one of the most important topics of debate. One important fact to digest is that employers, around the time of the revivals, were beginning to loosen their hold on their employees. The employees were no longer living with the employers, and could not be considered a part of the family. They were still, however, looked on as the responsibility of the employer, and were to do what was right. Drinking, by 1829, was not considered to be right: "strong drink was ' the cause of almost all the crime and almost all the misery that flesh is heir to' "(Johnson 55). Proprietors got rid of drinking in or around the workplace, but they could not control the drinking in the homes of their workers. Because of the banning of drinking in the workplace, it became part of the employees new social lives. We might think that drinking could not have been that big a deal, but we must remember that classes began to become more definite. As this happened, the rich wanted to rule, but the poor did not want to be ruled. The proprietors tried using coercive methods to reform workers, but they simply could not control workingmen and drifters. The Sabbatarians decided that if authoritative guidance would not work, maybe force would. These elites were especially concerned with the boats that passed through the canal on the Sabbath day, and the Sabbatarians commenced boycotts, not to mention start their own stage and boat line. Other elites, many non-churchgoers, did not buy into the Sabbatarian ideology. The anti-Sabbatarians would argue that one should help purify sinners hearts. No work on Sunday and other demands of the Sabbatarians would also be bad for business, and the two groups seemed to fight each other rather than take control of the troublesome working men.
We may want to glance at the two groups of elitists in this battle to control the people. On one side were the Antimasons, Sabbatarians, and , somewhat, the temperance advocates. The other side had Democrats, Masons, and anti-Sabbatarians (Johnson 89). Family remained very important in these battles, and many churches became divided. Society seems to have been getting out of control, and the powerful were powerless to control it.
The new capitalist market was affecting society in a seemingly adverse way. The rich fought amongst themselves as to how to deal with the poor, who had no intention of being controlled. The Reverend Charles Finney would appear to have come in the nick of time. He not only united the elite, but he also brought in many new members of the middle classes into the church. Members of churches were convinced by Finney that it was their duty to save family and friends. Women were sent out talk to the Christian wives of sinners (Johnson 98). These wives convinced their husbands to join. The religious excitement that was going on at this point must have been huge. Within about a month, there seemed to be no more divisions within the Christian community. Men who dealt with all the lower classes made really big gains in membership. Lawyers, boat owners, and grocers had increases of about 70%, and these were the men who had been defending the working men. Proprietors felt responsible because they "preferred money and privacy to the company of their workmen and the performance of old patriarchal duties" (Johnson 106). These masters led their employees to Jesus. The workers began to join, but it seems with a bit less energy, for they often received extra pay to do it. People were simply no longer hired if they did not fit the moral character desired by the proprietors. Johnson mentions blacks who were helped out of their bankruptcy because they were Christians. People did believe they had a job to do - to save the world.
The Whig Party emerged from the revivals. Most Whigs were simply the unified elitists that went to church. This party brought a lot of religious influence into politics, and voting after 1830 became "explicable in terms of religion and not of social class" (Johnson 135). The Whig Party tried to bring the Finney's solution to social problems into politics.
All of these arguments seem to flow smoothly and work well. Johnson dealt with a lot of facts that led him to his conclusions, not simply impressions of the era. A new relationship between church and state was created. People would now vote as a result of religious convictions more than just because of class differences. I guess we might have trouble believing all this came about as a result of drinking, but when Johnson put it all together, I certainly bought it. Brinkly says that "reformers were attempting to promote individual moral self improvement...[and] trying to impose discipline on a disordered society (Brinkly, Alan, The Unfinished Nation 313). To what extent the reformers were trying to save souls, or to control society, I cannot be positive, but both constituted a social change that lasts to this day. Drinking in the workplace is still not accepted, while anti-abortion advocates want to control that contraversial issue, too. We may take religions role in society for granted, but it still does affect politics in a major way.
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