Abolition

The abolition movement was a very important factor in the leading up to the civil war. Obviously, it was the main cause for the thoughts of secession by the south who felt like their lifestyle was being threatened. It is important to see the why the those in favor of abolition took that point of view. While some did it because they saw how wrong slavery was, others did for intrinsic reasons, fearing that this mistreatment of other human beings would make them appear unfavorably in the eyes of God. I think that the latter reason for calling for abolition is missing the point, although it still does get the job done. Since slavery was an accepted part of American society, most people didn’t have a problem with it until they saw it escalate to the severity and brutality of plantation enslavement. I think the second group were not opposed to the idea of owning people, but once they saw the mistreatment of enslaved people, particularly on plantations, they began to worry about how their society appeared to God. In the end though, all abolitionists had the same well-intentioned goal in mind.

The Second Great Awakening is linked to the abolitionist movements as SYSTRAUSS points out in their post. They make a good point in that maybe the abolitionists who used evangelist words did not exactly have the interest of the slaves in mind when they were speaking. This comes back to the point of how the majority of abolitionists had their own relationships with God in mind rather than the lives of the slaves. I would argue that this makes them appear worse to their God because they are valuing this relationship more than another human being’s life. I am not actually that religious so I cannot speak to this point with that much accuracy, that is just how I presume it would be. This group of evangelists abolitionists who fight against slavery may not be doing it for exactly the right reason, but they should still be recognized as being far ahead and far more honorable than a large population of the country.

She’s A Witch…. Maybe.

The idea of witches is a relatively familiar topic in our society. From Harry Potter to Halloween the idea of witches in commonplace in novels and particularly around October. However, looking at real, actual, tangible history, witchcraft still rears its ugly head. The Salem witch trials are a common studied event in American History classes. It seems odd to me that these events would even happen and that they would continue to make their way into history books all the way up to present day. Let’s examine these two phenomena:

First off, why would these events even happen in the first place? Like many of my classmates, I believe that there was distinct relationship between the rise of evangelical beliefs and practices and the rise of witchcraft. However, Sherwood asked an interesting question of correlation or causation. While I agree that some sort of causal relationship was present, the “Mean Girls theory” is something I think should be considered. From what we know of that time, living in New England in the 17th Century was not very exciting. It is not farfetched to assume that some women got bored and created a conspiracy that spread like wildfire. The once it went too far the girls realized that could not take it back. If your life had been dull and dreary who wouldn’t have jumped on the witchcraft bandwagon, or broomstick if you will.

Furthermore, the idea of witchcraft is fun, exciting, and captivating. That is why it makes it into the history books. However, there is definitely history to it. Religion in the colonies was at a crossroads when the witch bug hit. A revival of religion was necessary to keep religion buzzing and alive. Nothing proved a fire and brimstone preacher’s point more than the devil alive through sin in a witch in the community. The witches served as a solid real life testament to the devil’s work in the world. For the people of Salem and elsewhere, this made religion all the more personal and real.

There in lies, for me, the answer to Sherwood’s original question. There was most definitely a connection between the religious goings on of the time. However, It could be a product of a few girls’ imaginations or even possibly a scheme brought about by the church. There are numerous possibilities, and I would suggest that it was more likely causation than correlation. Yet, in this case, hindsight is not twenty-twenty but rather shaded by speculation, or possibly witchcraft.

Evangelism vs. Rationalism

The nature of religion in New England was extremely harsh since the settling of the Puritans. It was only a matter of time before the people adopted changes in their idea of the nature of God to give themselves some peace of mind. New England was described as “conspicuously devout and religiously homogeneous” (Taylor 340) and their rigid societal expectations regarding religion could have made it seem from the outside that people were compliant and content, but there was certainly a great deal of fear and upset within individuals who craved a more loving relationship with their God. However, as Anburton mentions, leaders of the churches wanted to perpetuate this fear because they “could easily take advantage of this fear in their sermon. They could use it to not only add members to their church, but to strengthen the congregation’s devotion.” ( Anburton http://sites.davidson.edu/his141/shocking-similarities-and-awakening/).

How long could they go about believing that their God is something to be feared rather than loved?  It was an unsustainable model. It’s no surprise that the decline of full membership of evangelical establishments was attributed to the growth of rationalism in other sects(Taylor 343-344). Rationalists looked to a more natural explanation of the universe, thus making God seem “less terrifying (Taylor 344). I appreciate how Taylor makes the appeal of rationalism quite understandable, which makes it easy to account for such a shift in thought.

The surge of rationalism created an entirely different perspective regarding how tragedy occur without having to attribute it to either a harsh and unforgiving Calvinist God or, in earlier times, witchcraft. It makes perfect sense that eventually the focus shifted from believing actions were controlled by the devil or arbitrarily decided by a punishing God to a more laissez-faire type mindset that the natural world was created by God, and that mishaps were not “direct interventions of divine anger” (Taylor 344).

Witchcraft and the Religious Divide

In his latest post, Sherwood explores the possibility of a relationship between evangicalism and the witch trials of colonial New England. I agree with his conclusion that the relationship is most likely one of contribution on the part of evangicalism. The nature of the sermons at this time pertified churchgoers by evoking a sense of inpending doom and of the closeness of the devil (think of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”) which would have made the presence of witches in their communities seem more plausible. In combination with the uncertainty and turmoil of the region at this time which we discussed in class, the religious fervour could have easily led a New England colonist to see an illness or the death of an important farm animal as a result of witchcraft than of simple misfortune.

I also think that it is important to look at the effects that the outbreak of witch trials had on the development of the Great Awakening which occured several years later. In chapter 15 of American Colonies, Taylor describes the divide between evangelicals and rationalists which accompanied the proliferation of religious dominations at this time. He writes that reationalists “…rejected the supernatural mysteries and overt emotionalism of evangelical worship” (Taylor 344). Rather than seeing God’s wrath or the Devil’s work in any misfortune, the rationalists looked to science and reason. As the antithesis to evangelical thought, rationalists didn’t believe that God interfered in the world. Therefore, I contend that the witch paranoia of the late 1600s was at least partially responsible for the divide that began to form during the Great Awakening. After the flurry of convictions and executions, government officials were likely embarrassed and wanted to distance themselves from the influence of such intensely emotional religion. As a result they, and others who disapproved of the witch hunting, could have gravitated toward rationalism. In addition, the witch hunting could have been used as support against evangicalism, furthering the opposition to its spread and helping to develop the more moderate and conservative sect of the movement. The relationship between the witch trials and evangicalism is a complex one in which both the witch paranoia and evangicalism influenced the other. It is important not to overlook one’s influence on the other and I would be interested to hear what other people think about this relationship.

Religion Against Society: The Relationship Between the Witch Trials and the Great Awakening

Religion in the early colonial era took on many forms. Although different, the beliefs caused a surge of membership and support from the colonists. New institutions were built and people showed up by the thousands to be mesmerized by the speeches of various preachers. Unfortunately, only a few decades before this time, witch trials in northern communities erupted. The correlation between these two has been in debate in previous blog posts.

In Amgaither’s post, she explains that she does not believe that these two events have a cause and effect relationship. Instead, she writes that both were caused by the small town structure and powerful religious prowess in the areas. I agree and disagree with her post. I do believe that the factors stated above did have monumental effects on the emotional proliferation as well as the intemperate actions of the colonists during the witch trials and the Great Awakening. But I also think there was also cause effect driving the scenarios.

During the witch trials of the late 1600s, hysteria broke out as people wrongly accused others of being controlled by the devil. Innocent people were put to death without the rightful use of jurisdiction and the accusers clung to their religious beliefs to determine the victims’ fates. This phenomenon is extremely similar to the beliefs of followers of the evangelical revivals years later. Taylor explains that they believed “that no worldly authority could legitimately obstruct religious choice” (354). Much like the accusers of the witch trials, evangelical converts believed that they should always obey their religious values before that of society. This connection is far too substantial to not be a direct cause of the all-righteous view of religion.

Moving to another issue, I find it interesting that beliefs during this period of religious escalation caused extreme paranoia and conviction. In the witch trials, people were convinced every variation of behavior was controlled by the devil. During the Awakenings, people chose their religious faction and disagreed with choices and the societal standards of others in society. Although these people found god to reach an ethical understanding of life, their actions caused a mass amount of turmoil in the early stages of the colonies. I would like to hear other people’s opinions on either of these two issues I have discussed.

 

The Great Awakening: Evangelical Revivalism

Chris Masone
History 141

In his recent blog post, Sherwood says “In the colonies, the advent of evangelical Christendom can be plausibly linked to heightened paranoia regarding witches on the grounds of their common “experimental” nature.” He argues there is a correlation between evangelical religious revival and the increasing number of witchcraft accusations specifically in fairly isolated New England colonies in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Although I will put this argument in a slightly different context, I absolutely agree with him.

Taylor describes in Chapter 15, that it was difficult for New England colonies to find priests in the 1700’s because the only way to become ordained was to sail to England and seek out a bishop. Costly and time-consuming, I assume that many priests either lacked the funding or didn’t want to risk the long journey. The lack of priests may have contributed to the decline in full church membership of colonists and also to the rise of rationalism and evangelicalism that Sherwood mentions.

With the Great Awakening, energetic ministers wanted to revive full memberships in their congregations by preaching emotional, soul-searching sermons. Their shock-and-awe mentality, mainly describing both the greatness of heaven and the perpetual agony of hell, targeted the colonists’ emotions and virtually forced them to abandon rational thought. This zealous phase was short-lived as Davis describes on page 346, with the waves of suicides of those colonists who were stuck in limbo between salvation in “new birth” and misery in unknowing their ultimate fates.

Davis juxtaposes perhaps the most shocking suicide of Joseph Hawley, uncle to the evangelical preacher Reverend Jonathan Edwards, with the fervent Anglican minister George Whitefield. Unfortunately, besides his own word Davis cites no evidence that Joseph Hawley committed suicide out of despair in his search for salvation, this evidence would have truly illustrated the damaging effects of evangelical hysterics on the colonists.

Davis seems to argue that George Whitefield was single-mindedly focused on his career and perhaps too fixated on his reputation rather than the message. Having befriended many influential figures such as Ben Franklin who helped spread his message through newspapers, Whitefield toured controversially across the east coast and seemed to have kindled evangelical revivalism very quickly, possibly with little regard to the consequences of widespread emotional preaching. Davis concludes that this revival “accelerated a religious dialectic that pulled seekers and their congregations between the spiritual hunger to transcend world and the social longing for respect in it.” (Davis 362)

I think that the emotional hysterics and zealousness of the Great Awakening and the controversy that surrounded it proves Sherwood’s point. The shocking amount of suicides during this time of Whitefield’s controversy and spiritual panic illustrates a direct causation of emotional instability (as seen in the witchcraft accusations that Sherwood argues) as a result from the rise of evangelical Christendom in the New English colonies.

Taylor, Chapter 15 / Norton, “Witchcraft”: A Supernatural Inclination

Sherwood Callaway
HIS 141, Blog Post 4

In the colonies, the advent of evangelical Christendom can be plausibly linked to heightened paranoia regarding witches on the grounds of their common “experimental” nature.

Taylor juxtaposes evangelicalism with its conservative counterpart, rationalism. He describes the former as “cultivating a spontaneous, direct, and individual religious experience” (343). Plainly, evangelicalism embraced superstition to an almost unprecedented level, arguably rivaling the mystic spirituality of Medieval Christendom. Furthermore, evangelical Christians were extremely emotionally invested in their worship. Rationalism, on the other hand, “held that God created the natural universe and thereafter never interfered with its laws” (344). Rationalists “found guidance” in understanding the methods of science and order (344). They condemned evangelicals as “enthusiastic,” or fanatical—and not entirely without fair reason.

I have little evidence to support the following claim, but I found the prospect much too intriguing to ignore: Could the “experimental” nature of evangelicalism have contributed to the rationalization of witchcraft in colonial New England? I believe so.

Consider a few hard facts:

1) Evangelicalism emerged most prominently in the Congregational communities of New England. For example, the evangelical George Whitefield had little success in the southern colonies, “because most Anglicans distrusted his emotional preaching and ecumenical support… [and the south] also lacked the dense settlement and many printing presses” (348). In New England, however, these essential elements were present, and he achieved much larger audiences.

 
2) Norton writes in her essay Witchcraft in the Anglo-American Colonies that “the vast majority of known witchcraft cases arose in Massachusetts or Connecticut or developed among Puritan New Englanders.” Furthermore, to extend my tentative comparison of evangelicalism and medieval Christendom, she explains: “only New Englanders established the sorts of small, relatively self-contained communities that in Europe tended to generate witchcraft charges.” Norton suggests that these communities facilitated interaction between neighbors, which facilitated conflict between neighbors, which—when coupled with the unpredictable hardships of colonial life, and a pre-enlightenment worldview—likely escalated into accusations. Quite frankly, the farming societies in the Chesapeake and the Carolinas were not as conducive.

 
So it is clear that New England was more evangelical, and also more prone to witchcraft charges. But the question remains: was this relationship a correlation or causation? A partial causation, I would bet—contribution is probably a better word.
I’m interested to hear the perspectives of my fellow students on the issue.