While many such preachers emphasized sin and its resulting damnation, many others emphasized God's love and his desire to rescue souls from the threat of hell. This type of preaching began among Protestant preachers such as John Wesley, George Whitefield, and Theodore Freylinghhuysen during the mid-eighteenth-century Methodist revivals in England and the First Great Awakening in America. Just as the First Great Awakening shaped the end of the Colonial period of American history, the Second Awakening shaped the Early National period and even the rest of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth.
The Temperance movement really got its start during the Second Great Awakening, and it began as a group concerned with far more than just the prohibition of alcohol. Temperance crusaders were largely women who were newly empowered by the speeches and ideas of the progressive era and Second Great Awakening. These women went into poor areas to provide services and reform, and they also attacked alcohol as a cause of urban blight.
In the North, opposition to abolition crystallized around religious leaders of congregationalist congregations, and many religious individuals assisted in the escape of slaves from the South and in the open resistance of the Fugitive Slave Act. With the conversion of many people to evangelical branches of Christianity, there was a new impetus to deal with the problem of slavery immediately rather than leaving it to economics (it was previously believed that slavery would collapse on its own by becoming economically unsustainable) because Christ was going to come back soon and he would be angry if slavery still existed on Earth.
Several spontaneous, interconnected, and simultaneous reform efforts emerged in the wake of the religious agitation, including the temperance, antipoverty, and women's rights movements. Within the context of religious revival, militant antislavery feelings arose among Northern revivalists and reformers, who saw slavery as a sin against God and an obstacle to creating a perfect social union.
The Second Great Awakening posed fundamental questions about the appropriate role of religion in American politics. Both the Framers and the nineteenth-century evangelicals believed that a sense of public morality was necessary for self-governance. But the Framers and the evangelicals differed sharply in their understanding of the proper relationship between Christianity and public morality.
The Protestant faithful on the frontier relied on "circuit riders," Methodist ministers who traveled by horseback from one frontier community to the next. These Methodist circuit riders gave stinging sermons in the frontier areas in order to attract members of the congregation and convert nonbelievers. Methodists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists--all Protestant faiths--made up the majority of believers in the Great Awakening. Unitarians and Universalists joined the other denominations during the Second Great Awakening in the 1820s, but Methodism particularly embraced the spirit of revival and reform.
While the largest, most intense, and memorable revivals early in the Second Great Awakening took place in the West, the first stirrings were actually on the eastern seaboard. This is understandable given that society was more stable there and churchgoing was still a habit. Revivals in America usually take place not so much among people who hear the gospel for the first time, but among those who have a basic understanding of the faith.
The Second Great Awakening was a religious revival movement during the early 19th century in the United States, which expressed Arminian theology by which every person could be saved through revivals. It enrolled millions of new members, and led to the formation of new denominations. Many converts believed that the Awakening heralded a new millennial age. The Second Great Awakening stimulated the establishment of many reform movements designed to remedy the evils of society before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
Central to the Second Great Awakening was a renewed belief in millennialism--the view that the Second Coming of Christ was near at hand. The spread of democracy and the growth of material and commercial progress reinforced the belief that "history was moving in the right direction." The evangelicals maintained that America had a unique role to play in the spread of Christianity and in the coming of the millennium. The evangelical movement identified the United States as "God's new Israel."
Women having difficulty finding a mate were facing a dual disappointment. Some scholars speculate that women sought out religion as a refuge in this time of ambiguity. Church involvement was an acceptable outlet for women. It was one of the few places outside the home they could turn to for meaningful involvement in their communities. Although the first Great Awakening attracted about the same percentage of male and female converts, the Second Great Awakening had almost twice as many female participants.