Rise in Evangelicalism
The notions of freedom and democracy that fueled the American Revolution also spurred the Second Great Awakening (1790–1850). This evangelical religious movement exerted significant social influence in the first half of the 19th century. Evangelical beliefs were based on the notions of equality and free will, or one's ability to act independently of social, natural, and religious constraints. Both concepts were championed by American Patriots. While a Calvinist believes God preordains who will be saved and who will be damned, an Evangelical has a different conviction. Evangelicals believe humans can choose to turn away from a life of sin and that choice, not destiny, determines an individual's salvation.
Leaders of the evangelical movement also disregarded the notion that only those with a college education could interpret the gospel. They argued that anyone who could read the Bible could also understand its messages. A person's devotion to Evangelicalism was for the masses, not just the elite.Early proponents of evangelicalism drew a direct connection between religion and the success of the United States. To strengthen the country, Evangelical leaders made it their mission to convert, or change the religion of, vast numbers of people. This was often done through a large spiritual gathering called a camp meeting. Hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of people attended these services, which lasted for several days. Charismatic evangelists preached the gospel in huge tents and open fields. Camp meetings were highly emotional events that included hymn singing and the public confession of sins. For many, the highlight was a "rebirth," or psychological transformation of one's religious identity. The fervor of the Second Great Awakening promoted rapid growth of several Protestant denominations, including Methodist and Baptist churches. It also led to the establishment of black churches. White plantation owners had once been afraid baptizing slaves would mean having to set them free. Around 1825, under the influence of the Awakening, they began encouraging their slaves to attend revivals. They hoped their slaves would be better workers if they converted to Christianity and felt a sense of duty to God.
Many slaves and free black people found hope in the evangelical messages of love and spiritual equality. Thousands converted to Christianity. Those who followed the Methodist and Baptist traditions eventually formed their own version of Christianity that also drew upon western and central African cultures. Many voiced their sense of community and faith in spirituals—or religious songs—that expressed continuing hope in the face of slavery's hardships.