Fighting 'A Spirit of Fanaticism:' Antirevivalism in antebellum America
Zwirecki, Paul J.
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The New Measures religious revivals led by Charles Grandison Finney in New York and New England created controversies and debates over revivalism and evangelicalism in antebellum America. This dissertation examines five different antirevival discourses that emerged around the New Measures revivals between 1824 and 1850. This study argues that two major themes connect these discourses. The first is the theme of social disorder. Rather than viewing revivals as a force for order on the frontier, moderate revival leaders from the clergy believed that the New Measures brought disorder upon the participants and their communities. Secular antirevivalists worried about disorder as well. Amariah Brigham, the superintendent of the New York State Lunatic Asylum, criticized the New Measures and admitted patients suffering from "religious insanity" brought on by their experiences with revival religion. The importance of the orderly expansion of Christianity across the United States was related to the second theme. This study also argues that millennial anticipation fueled both revivalism and antirevivalism. Evangelical Protestants believed that successful revivals of religion, comprised of legitimate conversions, accelerated the arrival of the millennium. Thus, the definitions of "successful" revivals and "legitimate" conversions were hotly contested. Frederick Douglass and other abolitionists saw slavery as an impediment the millennium and opposed revivals because they contributed to indifference towards abolition. Taken together, these antirevival discourses shed new light on the opponents of antebellum religious revivals: those who resisted the conversion efforts of revival preachers, members of the clergy who were disinterested or oppositional to revivalists, and secular opponents of the revivals.