With a big pile of sources, and a clearer idea of what’s tying together my proposal, it’s shaping into something. Still, nothing I’d hand it, but getting there.

Okay, so the sun has come and gone, but I’m guessing I should still post this. Sorry for the bad title, I’m sure I’ll think of something catchier before handing it in. I’ve also ditched the Restorationists entirely (and not included the Campbellites or other related movements) because their leaders are either not very interesting characters, or because  their movements are founded upon the sort of theological hairsplitting that only a religion major could care about. Finney, Smith, and Miller are all big enough individuals to share space evenly, and no one else can really join these powerhouses and really fit well.

Patrick Kelly

Professor Osborne

History 304

27 November 2007

Antebellum American Christian Religious Leaders Proposal Draft


While most history books talk about the antebellum period in primarily political terms, the religious circumstances of the nation during this period are at least as significant. Religious leaders encouraged abolition and temperance, two substantial and lasting movements, and helped establish the place of Christianity and the founding fathers in this nation. This book will focus on some of the early leaders in American Christian movements, specifically upon William Miller, Joseph Smith, and Charles G. Finney. Each of these men had an enormous impact upon the American Christian landscape, and all were contemporary with one another; however, each man saw the crises and solutions for Christians quite differently.


All of these men are described and analyzed as part of the religious climate in which they lived, preached, and wrote, but none are compared with each other. There are plenty of books on Joseph Smith and the Advent crisis, but no one has ever thought to compare Joseph Smith to the man who started the crisis, William Miller. Likewise, no one has grouped Charles Finney with men who started alternative denominations, despite his preaching (as well as others) leading to the religious climate in which these denominations were started. Some scholars and works have linked Finney and Smith (by claiming Finney as an influence upon Smith), but no one discusses the common bond which links Finney, Smith and Miller: all were born again into religion. Their common status as converts and leaders (as well as many minor ties between them, such as freemasonry and their New England heritage) makes them worthy of studying together as such.


Charles G. Finney was one of the most successful preachers of the Second Great Awakening. Using well worn as well as innovative preaching methods, he held massive, popular revivals throughout the United States, bringing people to services who had never been to them before. He did not, as many others did, have his own peculiar form of Christianity, and those who attended his revivals converted to various forms of Christianity, and this upsurge of willing converts led to an increase in denominations, as well as a rise in popularity of relatively new denominations such as the Methodists. This large population of the newly religiously interested also made it possible for movements which would otherwise not find enough converts to gain momentum to arise: the Adventists and the Mormons among others.

William Miller, a fellow preacher in this era, also gained many followers in this era. Like Finney, he did not present a complete theology or new denomination, simply certainty that his calculation for the end of days (which was due in 1843), was correct. As the date approached, more and more people started to believe that this would the second coming, and perhaps a hundred thousand people were eagerly awaiting Jesus’ return to earth on October 22 that year. As is apparent, the world failed to end, but Miller persisted in his belief that the end was nigh for the rest of his life. Like Finney, he turned away from faith, and on his return, he found something he could share with his fellow believers. Also like Finney, he did not try to shake up existing Christian denominations, merely to help make Christianity more imminent. Out of his disappointed believers would eventually grow the Jehovah’s witnesses and the Adventists, and it was in this climate of religious excitement that Joseph Smith rose to prominence.

Joseph Smith grew up in this Second Great Awakening\Millennialist environment, but unlike the other two mentioned, he started his own branch of Christianity. He purported himself to be a prophet, and he discovered and translating several books that had been up to that point missing from the Bible, detailing Christ’s visit to America, among other things. He also advocated temperance and the liberation of slaves through the sale of public lands (as compensation to their owners), two fairly liberal ideas at the time. Smith drew inspiration from Finney in his preaching methods and personal conversion, and probably saw him preach at least once in his lifetime. While in many ways a radical departure from the other two men, with his status a prophet and his radical changes to Christianity, he really has quite a bit in common with both men in terms of religious understanding and intent. Like Finney, he sought to restore Christianity to what it was meant to be, and like Miller, he sought to better inform his fellow Christians.


Get Smith’s works from BYU, which has them on CD as well as in their archives, get all the books by Finney and Miller of their own writings, and check Adventist sources for archival material on Miller.


Not done yet…

So, I’ve started looking for biographies of my chosen figures. Fortunately, I can’t find any collective biographies that include the four of them, or many that even include two, but the downside is that our library doesn’t have many books on anybody, as in any except on Joseph Smith.

Joseph Smith-wise, we’ve got 2 books by the same dude, Richard Lyman Bushman, so I’ll look into those. As far as the other books go, they range from the almost contemporary with him to very broad ones on LDS History, so not tons to work with at Dickinson. Piles of literature evident elsewhere, but lots of it heavily biased.
Charles Gradison Finney, despite being an important part of an important movement, doesn’t have many books about him, as indicated by some of the titles that come up when searching for him, like “Invisible Giants Who Shaped the Nation,” as well as the massive pile of PhD theses, all indicative of his recognized “obscure significance”. On the upside, he has an autobiography and memoirs and extensive writings of his own, as well as a couple big biographers, like Keith Hardman and Charles E. Hambrick-Stowe. Absolutely no books at Dickinson, though, so I’ll try to determine which are actually worth PALCI’ing.

William Miller has two books at Dickinson College, both of which display some major bias in the titling “The Miller heresy, Millennialism, and American culture” and “The midnight cry, a defense of William Miller and the Millerites” by Ruth Alden Doan and Francis David Nichol respectively. So, I’ll probably have to PALCI some books on him, too.

Alexander Campbell  is apparently not as noteworthy as I thought, fortunately, we’ve got an encyclopedia of the Holiness Movement, as well as a Guide to the Study of said movement, so I’ll look into those and see if I can’t find someone a little more noteworthy.

So, currently, I know the lay of the land on the four guys, but they all seem to fall into different categories and movements, and no one seems to have thought to group them before. The extreme lack of overlap might be a problem, but, on the other hand, the tie (concern for faith in America, and the ways people approached Christianity in the antebellum US) seems good enough.

I might have to replace Campbell (perhaps with Barton Stone, a co-founder of the same movement), I refuse to replace Finney (it’ll just take some work to get rolling with him) and Joseph Smith and William Miller, due to the movements they started are heavily–but controversially–written about (there’s little middle-ground scholarship on the guys).

Next Page »