Development of the US to 1865


The Great Awakening was a spiritual period marked with the regeneration of religious philosophies that swept and brushed America colonies, especially in the beginning of the first half of the seventeenth century and in the eighteenth century. Certain Christians started to separate themselves with the already established methods of worship at the time. This led to the overall sense of satisfaction among believers, and as an alternative they adopted a method which was characterized by considerable courtesy and sentiment and emotions in prayer. This fresh spiritual regeneration began with people like George Whitefield Jonathan Edwards and the Wesley brothers.

 Most influential figures during The Great Awakening were George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards. Jonathan Edwards was also a key American revivalist during the Great Awakening. He preached for almost ten years in New England. He stressed a personal method to issues relating to religion. He is also known to have bucked the puritan customs and called for harmony amongst all Christians as opposed to prejudicing. One of his most well-known sermons during his entire preaching period is the ‘sinners in the hands of an annoyed God’ which he delivered in the year 1741. During this sermon, Edwards clarified that salvation was something straight resulting from God and it cannot be managed or achieved by human works as it was being preached by the puritans. Unlike Edward, Whitefield was a British minister who migrated to colonial America. He was also recognized as the ‘great itinerant’ this was because he expounded and travelled all around North America and Europe between 1740 and 1770. His sermons led to many changes and the great awakening spread from Europe continent to North America.  

 The spiritual renewal crossed over to the American colonies in the early 18th century. Different from the somber, largely puritan spirituality of the early 1700s the revivalism steered in by the Great Awakening permitted people to express and show their feelings more overtly so as to feel and experience a greater intimacy with God.                            

The Great Awakening can also be described as the period of religious resurgence in the American religious history.  Theologians and historians have categorized The Great Awakening into waves of amplified religious eagerness occurring between 17th century and late 19th century. Each of the waves was branded by widespread revivals that were led by evangelical Protestants ministers; a philosophical sense of belief, a sharp upsurge of interest in religion, redemption on the part of those affected and  finally the formation of new religious dominations and movements.  

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In the first wave, occurring around 1730 to 1760, there was a deep impact on the progress of the United States, particularly in the 18th century. It   was entrenched in spiritual development which brought a national uniqueness to the colonial America.  It started in the 17th century in England; this was after political steering that led to the extinguishment of profound spirituality. With the demise of Oliver Cromwell in the 1658, Charles II assumed the throne and the majority of the citizens welcomed him with open arms. He attempted to erase all the influences of puritanism even in the court rooms. He went to the extreme of even ordering the exhuming of Cromwell's body to give people a chance to examine or see it.           

The major cause of the Great Awakening in the late seventeenth century in England was fighting between political and religious groups. It came to a standstill with the glorious revolution of 1688, an occasion which recognized the Church of England as the ruling church of the country. The colonists received the 1688 restoration and revolution of rights, they assumed, would help bring England and her colonies. Other religions, such as Judaism, Catholicism and puritanism were consequently curbed.

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The religious contentment occurred during the post revolution years which offered England a period of decent times as well as an experience of national supremacy. England government was pleased with itself, as marginal religious sets like Catholics, Unitarians and Jews were intimidated through severe penalties and punishments.  From a political standpoint, this led to steadiness since everyone now practiced a similar religion, but as an alternative of being a positive driving strength for religious beliefs in general, it produced a satisfaction and spiritual dryness among the followers. Religions became something of a past time in which people would go through the motions or debates during religious services shorn of deeply felt convictions of the soul and heart. It was only after some decades that this kind of satisfaction in American and English colonies, along with spiritual renewal of the Great Awakening, came about. 

The Effects of Great Awakening

The main effect of the Awakening was the rise of rebellion against the authoritarian religious decree which spilled into other areas of the colonial life. In 18th century, when there was an increase in population growth and mass gathering, enigmatic personalities such as Tennent and Whitefield delivered their messages. The Great Awakening also had some ramifications in the political and cultural spheres through religious movement. The custom of courtesy, civility and the governing standards of life in the colonies were set aside in favor of a more confrontational and querulous age.  The mindsets and practices were fundamentally altered by the awakening like never before.

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The revivalism within the colonies failed to form around the multifaceted theology of religious autonomy. However, the ideas that were produced opposed the concept of a single church or a single truth. Therefore, as the preachers visited various towns, numerous religious sects began to separate from the larger churches. Eventually, a mass of protestant denominations sprouted out from the larger churches. The popularity of Anglican and Puritan who were the oldest group that dominated the colonies began to drop drastically. Although, they were composed of about 40 percent of the American churchgoers as at 1760, the number dropped to less than 2.5 percent by 1790s. It is essential to note that the social effect of new denominations was not the fracturing of the communities, but was the loss of the unifying drive that helped in the creation of national consciousness in the colonies.

Another key effect of the Great Awakening on the colonial culture was the rise of the belief of state rule as a contract with the people. During the revival, the congregation gained an understanding of the agreements with their church as being a contractual scheme. The idea was that the church owed their congregants the duty of being faithful to the gospel, and, in return, each believer fundamentally owed the church their obedience. Therefore, the congregation had reserved rights to break the agreement or to split from the church without an aforementioned permission. This concept was most popular among the Puritan society and portrayed a common biblical appreciation of the association. The outcome of these covenants was that the agreement grew to link the religion with the politics in the colonies. The puritanical ideals were, actually, manifested in the social compact of the freedom declaration.

Another effect of the Great Awakening was the loss religious uniformity. The religious pluralism and uniformity within the colonies fueled the revolutionary fire that began burning in late end of the18th century. Unlike England, which after the 1688 revolution became spiritually stagnant under the great Church of England, the colonists strictly adhered to single church. The separation of the churches that has been caused by revivalism prevented the uniformity of religion from becoming a reality. Even though, religious group such as Anglican and Quakers still existed in the region, none of them could rise to pose religious dominance or become a primary religion in America.

Eventually, the religious enthusiasm and fanaticism turned to the opinions of self-governance and revolution. The religious spirit of the colonists becomes an essential component of driving the move for independence. As noted by Hofstadter, “Every man being allowed to be his own pope, he becomes predisposed to the wishes of becoming his own king”. The revival of the Great Awakening blended the colonists in a unique way that would be impossible. This is because it nurtured a concept of shared beliefs. During 18th century, the thought of religion by Americans was a form of social cooperation rather than a good endeavor of the individual that was envisioned by the world of commerce. Christians were modeled to make sacrifices and to be benevolent, and many were brought together through shared mass conversions.


The Great Awakening is considered to be the farthest outpost of reformation. This is because the wave of raise in religious movements among the protestant swept across America and influenced American religion. This resulted from reading preaches that deeply impacted the congregation with a sense of individual guilt and Christ deliverance.  The Great Awakening led to the situation when religion become personal by forming a sense of redemption and spiritual guilt. The new way the people practiced their faith and sermons breathed a new dawn into the American religion. Furthermore, people across the colonies became more emotionally and passionately involved in their religion rather than listening passively to academic discourse in an isolated way.

It is crucial to note than the Great Awakening contributed to the decline of religion's public purpose. This is because it resulted in sequential doctrinal change and fundamentally influenced the public social and political thought. The preachers who used the new style were referred to as the new light while those who remained unemotional were simply referred to as the old light. Therefore, people who were affected by the revival started to lose the religious public purpose. This was reflected by an increase in number of people who started studying Bible at home. This led to decentralization of means of informing the public on religious manners, a trend that was parallel to the individualistic trend present in Europe during the protestant reformation.

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