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Digital History ID 252



In 1833, Massachusetts became the last state to end state support for churches. Nine years earlier, the state had adopted a measure allowing officially-recognized religious societies, not only the official Congregationalists, to assess taxes on all church members.

Religious revivals, in part, were a reaction to the disestablishment of churches. Deprived of tax revenue, Protestant ministers held revivals to ensure that America would remain a God-fearing nation. The popularity of revivals also reflected many Americans' hunger for an emotional religion that downplayed creeds and emphasized conversion. Revivals met a growing need for a sense of community and communal purpose. At a time of increasing mobility and mounting commercialism, revivals offered an antidote to secularism, materialism, and individualism.

To some extent, revivals transcended class lines, but they had particular appeal to distinct social groups. In the South, revivals attracted the dispossessed, slaves as well as yeoman whites. In the North, it was the aspiring and upwardly mobile groups, especially in thriving market towns and new western cities. Middle-class women, in particular, joined the revivals in large numbers.

The revivals left an indelible imprint on antebellum American culture. The rituals of evangelical religion--the camp meeting, the dramatic conversion experience, and mass baptisms along rivers and creeks--were the truly distinctive American experience before the Civil War. When Lincoln, in the Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural, spoke about a bloody sacrifice, rebirth, collective punishment, and national mission, his words carried haunting echoes of revivalist sermons.


Laws of Massachusetts, "An Act respecting Public Worship and Religious Freedom"

...Any person may separate from one Parish or Religious Society and join another, either of the same or of a different denomination, by filing with the Clerk of the Society...a certificate of the fact....

No citizen of this Commonwealth, being a member of any Religious Society in the Commonwealth, shall be assessed or liable to pay any tax for the support of Public Worship, or other Parochial charges, to any Parish, Precinct, or Religious Society whatever, other than to that of which he is a member.

Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: Columbian Centinel, April 28, 1824

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