Abolitionist Fanatics Under Construction
One can see in Reverend Finney’s work the seeds of what would become a twisted social reform movement called abolitionism. Like other New England reformers who thought of themselves as God’s instruments on earth, Finney seemed to overlook the origins of the African slaves in the American South, and how they arrived here on New England slavers. His time might have been better spent finding a peaceful solution to the conundrum of slavery.
Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Wilmington, North Carolina
Abolitionist Fanatics Under Construction:
“During the excitement over the affairs of war-torn Europe there was a temporary subsidence of religious enthusiasm, but with the return of peace of peace in 1815 came a renewal of interest in camp meetings, and the resulting revivals had an effect upon the Eastern States, too. Western New York was visited by so many waves of religious emotion that it acquired the name of a “burnt” district where it was difficult to create any excitement.
But it was in Western New York that Charles Grandison Finney in the mid-1820’s began the evangelical work that was to continue throughout his life. His published memoirs are one long chronicle of revival meetings conducted in most of the Eastern cities and throughout the upper middle West—a chronicle of the successes of the eloquent preacher whose hypnotic eye and terroristic imagery swept hundreds of converts into the fold in an upsurge of religious excitement that came to be known as the Great Revival.
Although he was not a camp-meeting evangelist, Finney used many of the tactics of the western itinerant preacher. He preached not only salvation but reform, and many who came under his influence turned to the abolition and temperance societies and made of them crusades as vigorous as Finney’s own. Indeed, the Great Revival was the fountain of energy from which came much of the impetus for the various reform movements. The whole-souled young reformers of this period disregarded the doctrinal disputes of earlier days and threw their energies into social reform.”
(Freedom’s Ferment, Alice Felt Tyler, University of Minnesota Press, page 41)