The revival of 1740 : one phase of the extraordinary religious reformation in eighteenth century America
Bretl, Alden Andrew
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One of the really dramatic and highly significant movements in the history of America, in the history of the world no less, is frequently relegated to a lesser importance than it merits because of the glowing political events leading up to and culminating in American independence. This movement is the extraordinary religious reformation of eighteenth century America. Much of the history of man is a sickening anecdote of religious war, suppression, intolerance, and persecution. In the total of six thousand years plus that so called "civilized man" has inhabited the earth only less than two hundred of these have been enacted in the relatively pure environment of freedom of religious conscience. When the eighteenth century opened in America the religious climate was very little different than that of the suffocating medieval period. By the time the eighteenth century had closed a remarkable about- face had occurred. Freedom, not mere toleration, of worship and distinct separation of church and state had pretty much obtained general acceptance, as evidenced by Amendment I of the Constitution. This concept might well be "the most striking contribution of America to the science of government."1 How could so stunning a reversal have been affected in the limited span of a century! 1. Sanford H. Cobb, The Rise of Religious Liberty in America. (New York: MacMillan, 1908), p. vii. The main subject of this paper, however, is just one phase of the amassing revolution—The Revival, the evangelistic stimulus that manifested itself in a microscopic sort of way in the middle 1720's and grew to shuddering proportions in the early 1740's. Since, the total reformation is of overwhelming significance other factors in its development will be alluded to, but the major portion of the paper will be limited to the revivalist phase. Since even that subject is wide in scope, an emphasis will be restricted to cause and effect analysis, with only a sketch of the chronological detailed history of the movement and the people responsible for it. The paper will begin with a brief suggestion of religious conditions at the end of the seventeenth century in America. It will go on to confess that the revival was only one phase of the reformation and briefly reflect on some others. The next chapters will take up the revival, first a definition, then causes, a sketchy chronological history, effects, and last an evaluation of the movement and the degree of its contribution to the dramatic reformation.