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Enlightenment to the Great Awakening

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Luis Castro

Enlightenment to The Great Awakening

The great awakening started in the 1720s and endured until the 1910s. It was a time when almost the entirety of the thirteen colonies had been attending sermons of many popular preachers, preachers such as George Whitefield. But it wasn’t always like that; the great awakening was preceded by a lack of Christianity, and a degradation of moral values. To try to fix this William Stoughton, a minister from New England, in 1688, went to the legislature in Massachusetts and said “O what a sad metamorphasis hath of later years passed upon us in these churches and plantations! Alas! How is New England in danger to be buried in its own ruins”^1. What he tried to say was that throughout time the churches have diminished, and that because of this New England will be sending itself to its grave. The Great Awakening was one of the most swaying religious movements that led people to do good, such as the American Revolution, and in some cases unpleasant acts. To quote Doctor Edwin S. Gaustad “… A revolution, while bringing deprivation and hardship, would bring also a new wholesomeness and vitality to American life.” He said this because he was trying to explain that in the eyes of the colonist’s Britain was starting to become evil, which he showed by quoting John Adams “Calamity will have this good effect, at least: it will inspire Us with many Virtues, which We have not, and correct many Errors, Follies, and Vices, which threaten to disturb, dishonor, and destroy us.” ^2. The general bettering of the Americas wasn’t always brought out by new light teachings such as those from George Whitefield, who’s sermons always appealed to the people emotionally. Sometimes it was brought about by old light teachings, specifically those of Minister Jonathan Edwards. Most of his teachings were contrary to Whitefield’s, while he focused on bringing people to God emotionally, Edwards brought people to God through their reasoning. In some of his sermons his words had such power that they, to quote Edwards Davenport, “… He wrought out an appeal to the fears of his hearers, which stirred them to the very depths of their souls. They wept, they turned pale, they cried aloud. Some fainted, some fell into convulsions, some suffered thereafter from impaired health and some lost their reason.” It goes to show that there is always more than one way to help a person. Of course just because someone preaches good acts does not mean that those who have been preached such thing will act in such ways. Take into consideration James Davenport, who like Whitefield, who spoke in large areas. In March 6, 1743 he somehow managed to make his followers think that, to quote Sarah Valkenburgh, “They must burn their idols.” Afterwards “ Singing psalms and hymns, the participants in this outburst burned their books on the street.”^3. It didn’t end there though, while they were still intoxicated by Davenport’s message, they started setting up for another fire. This fire would have been a very large one due to the fact that Davenport’s followers made it from “petticoats, silk gowns, short cloaks, cambrick caps, red-healed shoes, fans, necklaces, and Davenport’s breeches.” (How they managed to get his breeches is something that continues to elude this author.) thankfully someone managed to persuade them to not set the pile on fire, this shows the power of the religious fervor sweeping the nation at the time. The Great Awakening was not completely good to all states. In Connecticut, and many other colonies, the church was the very center of towns. There were taxes imposed on the colonies, by the church, to both pay for the building of a meetinghouses, which served as the church and as the center of politics of the city, and to pay the ministers, who often served the church for their entire lives. And in response to the Great Awakening, the churches started splitting due to different opinions of both the old lights and new lights. When the new lights started opposing the current establishment, all of the different churches started to tear apart the unity of Connecticut’s religion, and bred religious bigotry. Thomas Paine, a Quaker turned Deist, saw that religion was rising in the colonies and having some distain for the British crown wrote his famous pamphlet Common Sense. When he released Common Sense it was very widely received and highly appraised by the colonists. Why is this? It is because to quote Christine Heyman “… it is a kind of secular sermon, an extraordinarily adroit mingling of religion and politics.”^4 Such a combination, would of course be well received by the currently Pious colonists. In the beginning of Common Sense he states “Time Makes more converts than reason.”^5. When he was writing that he was trying to state that like in converting to a religion, the choice to contribute to the imminent rebellion as a choice of feeling not as a choice of reason. He also used the Bible to convey that the very act of having hereditary monarchy is sinful first by Gideon’s story, and then the very events preceding King Saul’s reign. Paine shows that Gideon after wining a fight with the Midianites was asked to become the king of Israel, as well as his son and as well as his grandson. As a response Gideon rejected the offer and stated “ The Lord will reign over you.” The very act of having a hereditary monarchy sin is shown in the book of Samuel. In the book the Israelites asked their current leader, Samuel to get them a king so they could be like everyone else. When asked this Samuel became displeased, and had a meeting with God. In that meeting God revealed that by asking to be ruled over by a king is the same as, pointlessly, refusing God from ruling them. By saying this in Common Sense he called the colonists, who were -again- pious, to learn from Israel’s mistake and to take political actions against the crown, as God’s fresh and new chosen nation. To make his work influence the readers of Common Sense, he used the same diction as the Bible at times, to instill his words into them. But all great things have to come to an end, or at least the beginning of an end, and the Great Awakening is no exception. In July 20, 1742 a jury from Suffolk County convicted James Davenport for two things, first for committing heresy, (understandable, seeing as how he started preaching that people should not read the Bible.) and second for “serving as an instrument of satan” which is code for davenport has gone crazy, and so they expelled him from the state of Massachusetts on grounds of him being insane.^3. He still preached but he added more fervor to his sermons and caused a great deal of chagrin to the other new lights with his stunt in March 6, 1743. George Whitefield also started going down, through most his sermons he cast aspersions to the high class as well as ministers from well-known congregations, estranging the new lights from said groups. In that same year as Davenports stunt, people began to question the validity of the Great Awakening. Charles Chauncy, a reverend and former supporter of the Awakening, started an attack against it and along the way stated “ true religion is not shriekings and screamings, convulsion-like tremblings and agitations, struggling and tumblings. True joy comes from sober and obedient Christian living.”^3. The Associated Ministers of the country of Windham furthered the downfall of the first Great Awakening. They did this by crushing the five pillars the new lights had stood upon in the only way they knew, with fractured logic. Affected by this the Connecticut Assembly repealed the Toleration Acts and the new lights, the driving force behind the Great Awakening, found themselves to be persecuted. The reasoning the Connecticut Government has supplied was “ Itinerant Preaching had caused divisions which destroyed the ecclesiastical constitution established by the laws of the colony and prevented the growth of piety.”^3. Thankfully, from the ashes of the first Great awakening arose the second Great Awakening, through the enacting of the Tolerance Acts of 1777 and 1784. Which allowed the repressed new lights to come out and preach their messages again.
Works Cited:

^1 King Jr. Martin Luther. “ An Appraisal of the Great Awakening. ” 11/17/1950. http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/kingpapers/article/ volume_i_17_november_1950

^2 Dr. Gaustad.Ph.D, Edwin S. “ Sins of the Fathers: Religion and the Revolution.” http://www.americanrevolution.org/gaustad.html ^3 Valkenburgh. Sarah. “ A Dramatic Revival: The First Great Awakening in
Connecticut.” 1993/1994. http://www.tcr.org/tcr/essays/EPrize_Awakening.pdf ^4 Heyman. Christine Leigh. “Religion and the American Revolution.”
Divining America, TeacherServe©. National Humanities Center. 11/12/12. http:// nationalhumanitiescenter.org/tserve/eighteen/ekeyinfo/erelrev.htm ^5 Paine. Thomas. “ Common Sense”. 1776.
http://www.ushistory.org/paine/commonsense/index.htm

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