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The Journal of Religion 



Volume I JULY 1921 Number 4 



REVIVALISM AS A PHASE OF FRONTIER LIFE 



PETER G. MODE 
University of Chicago 



Revivalism has been one of the outstanding features of 
American Protestantism. Through it probably more than 
through any other channel our evangelical Christianity has 
brought the impact of the gospel to bear upon the problems of 
American society. In congested centers no less than in isola- 
ted farming communities the normal procedure has been 
periodically to stage an elaborate evangelistic city campaign 
or the more unconventional "special meetings" in village or 
countryside. Hence the confusion that in many minds 
completely identifies evangelism with revivalism; hence also 
the difficulty that some good folk experience in conceiving of 
an evangelism that dispenses with a professional revivalist, 
and their conclusion that to question the merits of the revival- 
istic method is to betray an ominous lack of evangelical fervor. 
In all fairness it may as well be frankly admitted that the 
religious history of America in some measure at least justifies 
this way of thinking. For almost two hundred years it is 
revivalism more than any other phenomenon that has supplied 
the landmarks in our religious history — the undulations, 
upheavals, points of departure, and lines of continuity. It 
would not be difficult and by no means unsatisfactory to write 
the history of American Protestantism from the standpoint of 
its periodic awakenings. Such a treatment, of course, would 

337 



338 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

pass lightly over the fine distinctions between Pilgrim and 
Puritan, the rigor of the Massachusetts Bay theocracy, the 
"Rhode Island experiment" of Roger Williams, the church 
affiliations of Calvert's first colonists, and the peculiarities of 
the "sectaries" of Pennsylvania. These and many related 
topics which have received from historians consideration 
entirely out of proportion to their real significance would be 
pushed into the background, while serious effort would center 
in tracing the moral and spiritual decline that befell the several 
colonial settlements as the inevitable result of their economic 
struggle, exclusiveness, and deeply rooted prejudice. 

But in one spot at least it would be shown that the spiritual 
fervor failed to abate. Through the long pastorate of Solomon 
Stoddard the church at Northampton had the joy of reaping 
five revival harvests, so that it was into an atmosphere of 
revivalistic expectancy that Jonathan Edwards entered when 
he assumed the pastoral charge of this church. And soon the 
Great Awakening was in progress, reaching out from the little 
Northampton village until the entire colonial area from north 
to south and from the sea to the utmost fringe of settlement 
had felt its power. For the first time in American religious 
history large accessions were made to Christian forces, church 
organizations and edifices were vastly multiplied, materialism 
suffered a decided setback, and coarse immoralities were 
checked. Of greater importance was the establishment of 
contacts between religious groups that hitherto had greatly 
misunderstood each other. A common bond of sympathy and 
interest contributed toward the creation of a colonial religious 
consciousness and concerted lines of religious effort. In short 
the Great Awakening marks the beginning of an aggressive 
American Christianity. 

So slow was the subsidence of this quickening that at most 
only a few years of "normalcy" intervened before the awaken- 
ing of the Revolutionary era, in which the Presbyterians and 
Baptists, finding spiritual inspiration in their advocacy of 



REVIVALISM AS A PHASE OF FRONTIER LIFE 339 

democracy and free-church ideals, acquired such prestige and 
numerical strength as to give them a recognized place among 
the religious forces of the country. The denominational 
foundations of the Baptists and Presbyterians were laid in a 
period of revival accession. From this same awakening the 
Methodists reaped almost as largely. Emerging from the 
ostracism and persecution due to the British affiliations of 
its pioneer traveling preachers, Methodism entered upon an 
era of large ingathering, strategically significant as forming a 
base from which it was able so courageously to push its outposts 
into the newly settled districts of the enlarging interior. 

Soon followed the Second Awakening, the stirrings of which 
were felt not only along the seaboard and particularly in the col- 
leges, but in the remote settlements of the Carolinas, Kentucky, 
Tennessee, and the Western Reserve, where immense congrega- 
tions assembled for sacramental communion, social fellowship, 
and curiosity. At the critical moment when immigration into 
the Middle West was beginning to assume large proportions, 
this revival served as a timely deterrent to the laxity of morals 
naturally associated with the shifting of population from one 
area to another, while it also quickened a sense of responsibility 
of the old and strong communities to the new and weak. Like 
its precursor the Great Awakening, this revival died away 
slowly. After five years of vigorous manifestation as the 
century closed, it gradually spent itself in the course of the 
next decade. 

The War of 181 2, accompanied by the spiritual and moral 
deterioration usually attending militaristic strain, interrupted 
the progress of widespread revival, until with the opening of 
the third decade of the nineteenth century local quickenings 
again began to break out in several sections of New York State, 
and probably over a wider area. With the organization of 
the American and Baptist Home Mission societies, and the 
consequent sending forth of a large corps of missionaries into 
the newly settled districts, revivals became general throughout 



340 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

the trans-Allegheny region, continuing with unabated force 
right through to the depression of 1837, when their momentum 
was slightly moderated. It is noteworthy that in the con- 
temporary literature of the first forty years of this century no 
subject so engrossed the interest of the Christion public as 
did these revivals. During this period great issues emerged, 
such as America's responsibility to foreign missions, the most 
effective means of organizing for work on the home field, the 
adjustment of Methodist polity to the demands of American 
democracy, and the attitude of the churches to negro enslave- 
ment. And yet, judged from contemporary records, the 
dominating, unifying influence of the period was the fluctua- 
tion of revival quickening throughout the widening territories 
of settlement. 

Following this long period of revivals, a season of contro- 
versy elapsed. The Presbyterians had their theological 
troubles, and the Methodists and Baptists were inflamed over 
the slavery issue. Evangelism necessarily was thrown into 
the background. Yet for only a surprisingly brief period. 
The Finney campaign, notable for the wide distribution of 
its influences from coast to coast, as if by providential inter- 
vention united the religious forces of the North for the trying 
days of the Civil War. Reconstruction had not progressed far 
until Dwight L. Moody emerged in the memorable campaigns 
of the early seventies. Moody in turn has been succeeded by 
Torrey, Chapman, and less distinguished lights. In spite of 
the growing emphasis upon the socialized expression of Chris- 
tianity, to be realized in part through the principles of religious 
education, the annual season of protracted meetings, special 
services, and such like has retained its place among the red- 
letter periods of many a church calendar. Each autumn 
witnesses the going forth of hundreds of professional evangel- 
ists to reclaim moral derelicts and to secure the definite 
commitment to Christian discipleship of young folk who have 
been under the less emotional ministry of the regular pastors. 



REVIVALISM AS A PHASE OF FRONTIER LIFE 341 

In hundreds of our churches revivalism survives as the normal 
outreaching of the Christian group for the non-Christian. 
Among these there is no more expectation of securing conver- 
sions at other than revival seasons than there is among far- 
mers of harvesting their crops in the winter months. Long 
accustomed to this revivalistic program, and themselves 
victims of a revivalistic psychology, it is not surprising that 
many of the most faithful members of these churches unceas- 
ingly keep vigil for times of refreshing while plaintively hark- 
ing back to "old-time religion." 

But it is next to be observed that revivalism has proved 
to be as distinctive of American Protestantism as it has been 
characteristic. "The idea of revivals," says one, "is the 
gift of American to foreign Calvinism." 1 In the lengthy 
career of European Christianity, nothing appears corre- 
sponding to the revivalistic emphasis of America. During 
the early centuries of Christian history, accessions to the 
church were made through a catechumenate conducted with 
considerable thoroughness. In protecting itself against the 
infiltration of paganism, the calmly reasoned individual 
appeal seems to have been the prevailing instrument of Chris- 
tian propaganda. Later, of course, when Christianity became 
so closely identified with the state, and so thoroughly sacer- 
dotalized, there was no urge whatever to an evangelical appeal. 
The requirements of citizenship and the dread of otherworldly 
punishment constrained all to submit to the sacraments and 
other priestly impositions. Why should priests plead the 
claims of Christ when the populace could be scared into a 
reasonable conformity to the moral standards of Christianity 
by the threat of withholding the sacraments ? With a ma- 
terialistic, otherworldly conception of Christianity, what more 
was needed than participation in the sacraments? And so 
everyone was gathered into the church and there were no lost 
sheep to reclaim, since all were in the fold. To evangelism, 

1 Allen, Jonathan Edwards, p. 136. 



342 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

therefore, the medieval clergy had no motif whatever. 
To preaching indeed of any character the incentive was not 
powerful. Priests naturally became little more than altar 
officials. The wonder is that preaching survived as much as 
it did; the greater marvel that occasionally a really powerful 
messenger of repentance and righteousness appeared. 

Monasticism, to be sure, has been characterized by some 
writers as a type of revivalism. And on the surface there is 
an admitted resemblance between the periodic rise of orders 
and the successive waves of revival quickening. Close 
observation, however, discovers that the similarity does 
not penetrate beneath the surface. Monasticism was never 
motivated by a yearning of the "saved" for the "unsaved." 
Monks did not question the magic efficacy of the priest and his 
sacraments. The noblest in their ranks sought in the retreat 
of the cloister the better way toward saintliness. Except in so 
far as monasticism produced some of the great medieval mis- 
sionaries who carried the Christian evangel to outlying bar- 
barians, it was a movement within the church to realize higher 
standards of spiritual-mindedness rather than to reach out to 
the unevangelized. Its concern was to provide a retreat for 
saints much more than a refuge for prodigals. 

With their clearer appreciation of the spiritual character 
of religion and their deep aversion to sacerdotalism, the Wal- 
denses and Anabaptists might have been expected to anticipate 
in some respects the methods of modern evangelism. But 
such was not the case. The unsleeping vigilance of the 
persecuting church compelled these groups to conduct their 
propaganda under cleverly devised disguise, and to increase 
their following through the contacts of individual with 
individual. A similar policy of repression accounts in large 
measure for the lack of organized evangelical effort among the 
English Dissenters of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. 
It was reserved for the following century, more tolerant because 
more commercial in its spirit, under the finely balanced leader- 



REVIVALISM AS A PHASE OF FRONTIER LIFE 343 

ship of the Wesleys and Whitefield, to give to Britain an evan- 
gelical quickening that stirred its life religiously and socially 
to the profoundest depths. Unlike the contemporary move- 
ment in New England, by which in some degree it was impelled 
and shaped, the evangelical revival of Britain tarried long but 
never returned. For Britain the nineteenth century has not 
proved to be an era of revivals. Neither the Established nor 
the Free churches have produced successors to the Wesleys 
and Whitefield. The Free churches, the natural stronghold 
of evangelical ideals and methods, have shown no disposition 
to identify their aggressive campaign among the masses with 
periodic revivalism. The professional evangelist has found 
in Britain no opportunity corresponding to that of America. 
"Gypsy" Smith almost alone has been able to continue an 
effective evangelistic ministry among the British people. It 
is true that Moody conducted successful campaigns and that 
the reception accorded to Torrey and Chapman was cordial. 
Yet one conversant with the religious activities of the British 
churches knows full well that the splendid work of "Gypsy" 
Smith and less widely known British "missioners," with the 
occasional visits of American evangelists, has been at most 
only an incident in their program of evangelism. There has 
been no tendency to look to evangelists as the main instrument 
in establishing contact between the church and the masses. 
Although many churches have their "missions," these are not to 
be hastily interpreted as the counterpart of American special 
revival meetings. In their conduct and objective these are 
widely removed from each other. 

As for Continental Christianity during post-Reformation 
times, revivalism has played a r61e even less conspicuous than 
in Britain. French Protestantism, originally cast in the mold 
of Humanism, subjected to the long ordeal of fighting on 
battlefields to purchase privileges of which on galling illegal 
grounds it was later deprived, and at last sharing in the general 
misfortune that befell religion after the Revolution, has 



344 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

possessed neither the disposition nor the incentive to resort to 
revivalism. French prophets early in the eighteenth century 
rehabilitated a type of enthusiasm, but in the course of fifty 
years its spell had entirely disappeared. Lutheranism early 
in its career fell back into dogmatic inertia. Pietism by and 
by interposed its protest but, though highly evangelical in its 
missionary interest, has been averse to mechanically imposed 
awakenings. Moravianism has followed the same course. 
Waldensianism, gallantly surviving the persecution of centuries, 
has shown some disposition in Italy to resort to revivalistic 
methods. So also have the Baptists in carrying their message to 
Central Europe. In Scandinavia slight awakenings have ap- 
peared, and a few evangelists have emerged into prominence. 
But the Continent as a whole was visited by no general awaken- 
ing corresponding to the evangelical revival in B ritain. At most 
its quickenings have been confined to small areas and have 
failed to operate upon society as a whole. Hence there has 
developed in Continental churches no disposition to resort to 
seasonal programs, nor anything approximating the revival- 
istic attitude of mind. 

As characteristic and distinctive of American religious life, 
revivalism must be traceable to certain features peculiar to 
the environment in which the American church has been called 
upon to function. In endeavoring to ascertain just what these 
features were, one is immediately disposed to look into the 
history of the Northampton church, the historic fountainhead 
of periodic awakenings. Elsewhere in New England there 
seem to have been movements marked by special religious 
fervor, as in East Windsor under the ministry of Jonathan 
Edwards' father. But in Northampton, during the long 
pastorate of Stoddard, seasons of refreshing were a recurrent 
feature. Edwards cites five as having occurred between 1689 
and 1 718, with a sixth shortly after his accession to the full 
pastorate. A reading of the Surprising Narrative gives the 
impression that in respect of periodic ingathering the history 



REVIVALISM AS A PHASE OF FRONTIER LIFE 345 

of the Northampton church was unique. Two factors may 
serve as a possible explanation. The first was the personality 
of Stoddard, of whom Edwards speaks as "a very great man of 
strong powers of mind, of great grace and a great authority, 
of a masterly countenance, speech, and behavior, " looked up 
to by many "almost as a sort of deity," and regarded by the 
Indians of the neighborhood as the "Englishman's God." If 
the exceptional qualities of Edwards' mother may be taken 
as any index of her father's endowments, Stoddard was a man 
of commanding personality, the content and delivery of whose 
sermons goes far in accounting for the extraordinary features 
in the history of his congregation. In the second place the 
ministry of this remarkable father in Israel was in a community 
where to profound religious imagination and deep emotion pre- 
vailing among New England Puritans of the seventeenth century 
there was added a tinge of melancholy due to the hardships 
and anxieties of living in a comparatively remote pioneer settle- 
ment under the constant fear of attack from the Indians. 
Among folk so constituted and environed, vivid emotional 
preaching may well have been productive of results quite out 
of the ordinary. 1 

Be the explanation what it may, in entering upon his 
ministry at Northampton, Edwards found himself in a revival- 
istic atmosphere. Grandfather Stoddard, then in ripe old 
age, was probably much given to talking to his promising 
grandson about the days of refreshing in years gone by, and 
Edwards recalls the comfort that a small ingathering gave 
this pastor emeritus as he was standing on the borders of the 
grave. Many of the congregation, moreover, must have 
retained vivid memories of the stirring times of former bless- 
ing. The fact that the newly installed minister soon married 
a woman who to unusual endowments of grace, culture, and 

1 On these characteristics of New England life see Davenport, Primitive Traits in 
Religious Revivals, chap, viii, and Hayes, "Study of the Edwardean Revivals," Ameri- 
can Journal of Psychology, Vol. XIII. 



346 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

personality added a mystical tendency toward transports "into 
a kind of heavenly Elysium" should not escape attention, nor 
that his conversance with history had brought to his attention a 
Scotch revival a century before in which highly emotional 
phenomena had appeared. That his powerful intellect had 
forged out an irresistible logic of Calvinistic sovereignty, 
election, and reprobation, and that his imagination proved so 
capable of depicting the bliss of the redeemed and the horrors 
of the damned, is the crowning consideration. In any church, 
indeed, no matter what its history or the composition of its 
membership, Edwards, in the exuberance of his freshly elabo- 
rated Calvinistic message, would have created a profound 
impression. To characterize the awakening that convulsed 
the Northampton and surrounding churches during the winter 
1734-35 as the Edwardean revival is certainly no misnomer. 
No other single factor is so largely explanatory of the distinct- 
ive characteristics of the movement as the personality and 
Calvinistic message of Edwards. But this does not imply 
that other factors may be entirely eliminated. However 
powerful Edwards' preaching, it was addressed to people who 
for almost a century had been in periodic dread of exhausted 
food supplies or Indian attack. Though fearless through their 
constant contact with frontier dangers, they were the victims 
of a latent fear that, played upon by descriptions of hell and 
divine wrath, made them peculiarly susceptible to prostrations 
and hysterical extravagances. 1 

The Great Awakening of the following decade was the 
natural overflow of the Edwardean revival. The Narrative 
of the Surprising Work of Grace, falling under the observation 
of many in Boston and elsewhere, aroused the religious mind 
to a high state of expectancy, while the preaching of Pomeroy, 
Tucker, the Tennent brothers, and others seems to have been 
almost as lurid as that of Edwards. Whitefield alone, among 
the preachers of this movement, dwelt more fully upon the 

1 For the relation of fearlessness and fear, see Davenport, op. cit., p. 100. 



REVIVALISM AS A PHASE OF FRONTIER LIFE 347 

kindlier aspects of the gospel's message. In contrast, how- 
ever, with the Edwardean revival, it was carried over a wider 
area, including not only older centers, such as Boston and 
Philadelphia where long settlement had produced a tranquil- 
lity of mind, but into backward districts where solicitude 
even more pronounced than in the longer established village 
of Northampton made the inhabitants more susceptible to 
emotional appeals. 

In several particulars the revival of the Revolutionary 
era differed from the Edwardean and the Great Awakening. 
There was a notable absence of outstanding leaders, such as 
Edwards, Whitefield, and the Tennent brothers. Without 
the stimulus of special meetings congregations suddenly awak- 
ened to a deepened sense of spiritual values. Pastorless 
churches not infrequently shared in this spiritual quickening. 
The preaching does not seem to have been as strongly emo- 
tional and imaginative as in the earlier revivals. The large 
accessions to Baptist and Presbyterian membership were due 
to the prestige and popularity derived from their staunch 
advocacy of republican ideals and their vigorous resistance 
in New England and Virginia to everything that savored of 
state-church favoritism. Their demand that all churches 
should enjoy equal rights, gallantly maintained as it was to the 
point of distraint of property and imprisonment, enriched 
the spiritual tone of the membership of these two bodies. To 
the Methodists, however, the Revolution proved an embarrass- 
ment rather than an opportunity. Their large numerical 
gains of the early seventies shriveled almost to the vanishing- 
point in the tense years during which suspicion and prejudice 
visited their preachers with such popular disfavor as to make 
their preaching almost ineffective and to necessitate in some 
cases their retreat to places of hiding. But with the close 
of the war the pent-up enthusiasm of these apostles of Wesley, 
who felt the urgency and honor of planting Methodism in 
this new hemisphere, broke through all bounds, reaping an 



348 THE JOURNAL OP RELIGION 

especially rich harvest in Virginia, where Anglicanism had 
become inert and indifferent to the needs of the people. 

The opening of the national period is almost coincident 
with the outbreak of the Second Awakening, which in impor- 
tant respects was sharply differentiated from the revivals of 
the colonial period. Settlement by this time had begun to 
extend beyond the mountains, and each year was witnessing 
the bending back toward the west of the frontier line. With 
a real apostolic urge the Methodist circuit riders had felt 
the challenge to follow the trail of the backwoodsman with 
the gospel, and Baptist and Presbyterian missionaries had 
been aroused by the same imperative. Frontiersmen with 
limited, or no resources were unable to proceed immediately to 
erect a meetinghouse or even a school. In those strenuous 
days the erection indeed of a log cottage was no mean achieve- 
ment. It was to this at length that the adventurous preacher 
came. Wearied, wet, and harried with trail anxieties, he was 
glad to receive its hospitality, and to bring his message of 
religious inspiration to parents and children who read and 
prayed with him around the fireplace, lingering long into the 
night as they listened so eagerly to the traveler's story of 
doings "back home." By and by neighbors were invited to 
meet the preacher, whose time was thus economized by an 
exhortation given to all people assembled together rather 
than by visitation in each separate cottage. The next stage 
was when a date was fixed for the minister to conduct a reli- 
gious service for all the members of a community. Appoint- 
ments were thus made for meetings sometimes months in the 
future. After the fashion of a modern Chautauqua lecturer, 
the circuit rider often found himself booked up for a year 
ahead. Asbury's Journal abounds in references to appoint- 
ments dated thus far in advance. Unless the preacher of some 
other denomination happened along in the interim, months 
and perhaps a year might elapse between appointments. 
More adequate provision for worship was inevitable to meet 



REVIVALISM AS A PHASE OF FRONTIER LIFE 349 

the needs of folks whose settlement on the frontier, far from 
lessening, often intensified their thirst for religious fellowship. 
Hence the camp meeting. Just when and where it originated 
remains obscure. Since preachers traveled over such wide 
areas, it was felt that time could be economized by their 
conducting at convenient points a series of meetings rather 
than by filling a succession of single appointments. People 
widely scattered, who might find it impossible to be present 
for a single meeting, could attend some of a series of protracted 
services. Folks indifferent to a small religious service in some 
neighbor's cottage might be attracted by the more imposing 
protracted meeting, which drew the countryside somewhat 
after the fashion of the later country fair. Additional impres- 
siveness was imparted through the observance of the sacrament 
of the Lord's Supper. The fact that the exhortations were 
made by several rather than by one preacher gave variety to 
the exercises. The scene was decidedly animated when 
several preachers might be heard within sound of each 
other's voices, especially in the evening session when the 
flare of torches dispelled the heavy shadows of pendant 
branches. 

From its earliest appearance the camp meeting drew 
immense crowds. One is disposed at first to regard the 
estimate of audiences as vastly exaggerated, but the consentient 
testimony of contemporary writers, of whom some must 
be classed as keenly critical, seems to leave no doubt that 
thousands of people often resorted to these camp grounds. 
From a radius of scores of miles settlers flocked to the festive 
event of the year. For long months many of them had not 
so much as seen the face of a preacher, and a tedious wagon 
trek over uncomfortable roads was a small price for the spirit- 
ual tonic of four whole days of preaching, praying, and singing. 
Others less religiously disposed found in the social fellow- 
ship of the camp assembly a welcome break from the depress- 
ing monotony of the isolated settler's cabin. Some, of course, 



350 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

were drawn by vulgar curiosity, where all sorts of improprieties 
were reported as of common occurrence. It is not surprising 
that emotional disorders were prevalent. Many folks were 
in a state of high spiritual expectancy when they reached the 
camp ground. For weeks and months they had been looking 
forward to this great annual event, and as a consequence their 
nerves were keyed to the limit. Moreover, frontier life offered 
an extremely limited range of interests. With few social con- 
tacts and extremely limited facilities for coming in touch with 
the thinking and happenings of the world at large, the settler's 
mind was liable to be completely dominated by whatever 
ideas he chanced to meet. The routine of a life consumed in 
chopping trees, breaking land, and doing chores, made the 
settler an easy mark for whatever new interest crossed the 
threshold of his thinking. And on the camp ground, no matter 
by what motive he had been drawn, the listener was brought 
face to face with a compelling interest — that of personal 
religion. However unversed in the technique of psychology, 
the camp preachers were sound psychologists. One subject 
and one only was kept before the vast assembly. The preacher 
was hortatory and rarely expository. Much of the time he 
thundered forth the terrors of hell. And fear lurked in the 
background for people who were in ceaseless conflict with 
the wily savage — much more so than in the Northampton 
audiences of Edwards' day. Hence the prostrations, jerks, 
and barkings even of crestfallen critics who came to make a 
laughingstock of the occasion. 

However defective the camp meeting may appear to the 
scientific religious thinking of the twentieth century, it prob- 
ably offered the most practical solution of the urgent religious 
needs of the undeveloped frontier. It fitted readily into the 
itinerant system of Methodism. It protected earnest but 
untrained preachers, drafted by the urgency of the times, from 
the strain of constant ministry to a single congregation. A 
mere handful of preachers were able to distribute their services 



REVIVALISM AS A PHASE OF FRONTIER LIFE 351 

over a vast area that otherwise would have had no spiritual 
ministration whatever. 

In the half-century or more during which frontier communi- 
ties, springing up first in the Ohio and later in the Mississippi 
Valley, kept calling for pastoral reinforcements out of all 
proportion to the resources of the long-established churches 
of the East, the camp meeting had ample time to establish 
itself as an instrument for keeping alive the religious interests 
of newly occupied areas. Nor did it survive only while new 
areas were passing through the first stages of social develop- 
ment. Endeared in the memories of people to whom in the 
days of their first struggles it had brought such religious and 
social comfort, the camp meeting continued long after the 
community had reached such a stage of development as 
justified and demanded a more intensive, cultural type of 
religious ministry. Its sentimental hold was too strong to 
give way before cultural advance. A greater misfortune 
lay in the fact that an institution springing from the necessi- 
ties of border settlements was soon imported into the highly 
socialized regions of the East. Surprising to relate, the camp 
meeting was cordially welcomed in New England. To 
Methodism this innovation was due. Finding the camp 
meeting so effective in the West, it concluded that the same 
institution might be equally successful in planting the banners 
of Methodism even in the northern strongholds of Congrega- 
tionalism. Other denominations, hesitant at first, soon fell 
into line. And so it came to pass that a seasonal view of visita- 
tion began to prevail not only in the pioneer districts, where 
an inadequate force of preachers had to content itself by 
giving to each district only occasional attention, but also in 
the older established churches that enjoyed the full-time 
services of their ministers. Without pausing to inquire into 
the distinctive environment in which the camp meeting had 
arisen and functioned so normally, churches in every section 
of the country seemed to discern in this institution the means 



352 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

of propaganda suited to their several constituencies. In this 
way the habit of special meetings was incurred, and the 
spontaneous awakenings of the colonial period found their 
counterpart in the strained, conventional, periodic revivals 
of the first half of the nineteenth century. As long as the 
evangelically minded throughout the East were disposed to 
enthusiastically indorse the camp meeting in original or 
modified form as the novel means of arousing the convention- 
ally disposed, local revivals were bound to be a prominent 
feature of the times. A like prominence was certain to 
characterize revivalism, while frontier settlement, proceed- 
ing rapidly and in large proportions, impelled circuit riders 
and other missionaries to use the camp meeting as the most 
effective means of rapidly establishing church influence in new 
areas and of capturing ground for their rival denominational 
interests. The first four decades of the nineteenth century 
was an era of almost continual turmoil of local revivals, because 
it was dominated by the institution of the camp meeting. 

But a distinct change appears about the middle of the 
century. Local revivals no longer abound as in the preced- 
ing fifty years. The Finney campaign stirred the larger 
centers, but much more after the fashion of the colonial 
awakenings, and the Moody campaign was largely confined 
to the cities. It is true, of course, that since Moody's day 
thousands of churches still persist in the seasonal special 
efforts; nevertheless, the aggregate revivalistic effort of the 
last fifty years does not begin to compare proportionally with 
that of the earlier half of the century. Its persistence, more- 
over, is especially in areas whose emergence from frontier 
conditions is comparatively recent. Urban communities have 
been showing increasing disposition to resort to methods more 
educational in character. The explanation of this change is 
not far to seek. Ministerial forces have become more adequate 
to the demands of religious leadership. The cultural crav- 
ings of the ministry have made itineracy increasingly distaste- 
ful. More elaborate academic training has given preachers 



REVIVALISM AS A PHASE OF FRONTIER LIFE 353 

an inclination and aptitude for the reasoned discourse rather 
than the emotional appeal. The wider range of human 
interests and the contacts among folks, even the most isolated, 
with community and national currents of thinking, have given 
a weirdness and unreality to appeals that once were compel- 
ling. The latent fear of the frontiersman so easily played 
upon by the "hell-fire damnation" preacher has given way 
before the complacency of the comfortable materialist. 

Frontier revivalism has therefore been gradually passing. 
It is true that much of it yet remains. In some districts it 
is still solidly intrenched, and its dislodgment gives no promise 
of early realization. Not unnaturally it vigorously contests 
its ground. Legitimately it points to its splendid service in 
the past. Its advocates may be pardoned for endeavoring 
to establish its permanent indispensability from its readily 
conceded value in the days that lie behind. Prophets of 
this character have repeatedly arisen during the history of the 
church. But nothing is more axiomatic with the church 
historian than that the successful use of an instrument in one 
set of circumstances is no protection against its obsolescence 
under different conditions. It therefore seems necessary for 
one acquainted with the course of the church through twenty 
centuries to conclude that present-day American revivalism is 
a tenacious carry-over from a phase of social development 
now almost past. 

This does not mean, of course, that America may witness 
no further spiritual awakenings. Far from it. It has been 
shown that the quickenings of the colonial period were pro- 
duced in only a small measure by frontier conditions. They 
were rather spontaneous developments of evangelical Christi- 
anity, in one case stamping down the inertia of materialism 
induced by the strain of immigration, and in the other quick- 
ened by a stalwart opposition to the perpetuation in America 
of a state-endowed church. Be it noted that an awakening 
is the weapon that evangelicism always retains for dealing 



354 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

with critical, abnormal moral and social conditions that 
threaten its existence. It is the meed, moreover, for faith 
and steadfastness and heroism in days of obscured vision 
and complacency. There is therefore the ever-present pos- 
sibility of spontaneous seasons of refreshing long after civili- 
zation, having sloughed off its frontier primitivity, has 
relegated to limbo its dependence upon conventional re- 
vivalism and the professional evangelist.