The Pre-Civil War Era (1815–1850)

History
Summary

Religious Revivalism: 1800–1850

Summary Religious Revivalism: 1800–1850

When Smith was killed by a mob in Illinois in 1844, his disciple, Brigham Young,took charge of the church and led a mass migration to the desert around the Great Salt Lake (then still part of Mexico). Utah eventually became a U.S. territory after the Mexican War but was not admitted to the Union until 1896, when Mormons agreed to abandon the practice of polygamy.

Utopian Communities

Inspired by lofty ideals to improve mankind and end social discord, some people during this period attempted to create new utopian communities based on cooperation and communism. Roughly a thousand people, led by Robert Owen, founded the New Harmony community, one of the first utopian communities in the antebellum era. Although New Harmony failed in just a few short years, it spurred the creation of others.

Brook Farm was established in 1841 and came to be one of the most famous attempts at communal living. Closely affiliated with the Transcendentalist movement, these farmer-intellectuals tried to hew a modest living out of the wilderness. Like New Harmony, this community also collapsed within a few years.

John Noyes’ Oneida Community had some lasting success. The community believed in radical ideas such as communal marriage, birth control, and eugenics. The Shakers, too, had a sizeable following in the 1840s, but eventually died out because believers were forbidden to marry or have sex.

Class and Sectional Differences

The new sects and denominations that sprung up during the revivalist movement attracted different social groups. Most of the new evangelical denominations attracted poor, uneducated followers in the West and South. Less frenzied denominations, such as the Unitarians, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians, flourished in wealthier cities in the North. The rise of these different denominations thus widened already-growing sectional rifts in the United States.

Revivalism, Women, and Reform

However, despite the differences among their followers, all of the revivalist movements had the same goal: to refine humanity and make sense of the rapidly changing American social and economic fabric. Virtually all of the new denominations denounced alcohol, prostitution, gambling, and lotteries. Thus, the movements also had a huge impact on the reform movement.

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