Evangelicals and Politics in Antebellum America

Richard Carwardine

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During the critical twenty years before the Civil War, evangelical Protestants greatly influenced the style and substance of American political life. In this book Richard Carwardine reveals how the evangelicals helped to shape political culture, party development, and sectional antagonism in an age of emerging mass democracy.

Using voluminous public and private sources, Carwardine lays out evangelicalism's complex character between 1840 and 1861. He describes how the evangelical clergy played an increasingly public political role as issues with clear religious and moral implications came to dominate political life. Carwardine explains how both northern and southern evangelicals encouraged voting and responsible citizenship, pressured politicians, and ensured that questions of education, Indian removal, war, drink, and slavery were placed firmly on the political agenda. He argues that the frustration of the evangelicals at the failure of Whigs and Democrats to stand up for evangelical values was instrumental in the dissolution of the "second party system," and that the new Republican party was widely viewed by northern evangelicals as "the Christian party in politics." However, both southern and northern evangelicals believed in the morality of their position, and the intensity of their respective beliefs reinforced the drive toward adversarial politics. Carwardine contends that religion furnished the vocabulary, the platform, and the speakers for political debate, functioning as the lightning rod by which politics was shaped and illuminated in antebellum society.

Richard Carwardine is senior lecturer in American history at the University of Sheffield.

"A substantial and important book that examines religion's role in bringing about the Civil War."—Jon Butler, Yale University

"Carwardine presents a very fine . . . overview of the impact of Protestant Evangelism on American political style and substance during the antebellum period. . . . This book will almost certainly be deemed an academically significant contribution and should prove useful to interested scholars."—Library Journal

"[Carwardine] went through a ton of American newspapers, diaries, memoirs and manuscript collections to amass his evidence. He has left a rich trail, for which students of the subject must rise up and call him blessed. . . . The book is a finely honed portrait of Manicheanism in action. It may disturb, it may oddly comfort, but it will certainly enlighten anyone concerned about our current hostilities."—James D. Bratt, Christian Century

"[An] invaluable book. . . . This deeply researched and well written book will undoubtedly become required reading for all who wish to understand what happened in 1861 and why."—James Munson, Contemporary Review

"This book will become the standard against which all future studies linking evangelicalism to the sectional crisis of the 1850s will be measured."—Mark Y. Hanley, Journal of American History

"[An] excellent and clear book about a murky subject."—Michael O'Brien, Times Literary Supplement

"This superbly researched and expertly written book makes a signal contribution to American history as well as to the history of religion. . . . It is hard to imagine a more satisfying treatment of such an important but long-neglected subject."—Mark Noll, Christianity Today

"Carwardine's clear, yet sophisticated, text is accessible to all readers. . . . A treasure trove for all scholars wishing to pursue these matters further. . . . A first-rate work of historical scholarship."—D.K. Adams, History Today

"Carwardine skillfully blends narrative, historiography, and a vast array of primary sources in his sweeping articulation of the evangelical thesis. . . . A major contribution to our understanding of pre-Civil War politics."—Curtis D. Johnson, American Historical Review

"As a brilliant study . . . Evangelicals and Politics in Antebellum America challenges the ethnocultural notion that the religious element in past voting behavior can be accurately assessed through aggregate data. . . . Carwardine has marshaled a case that even the most secular-minded historians will have to study with diligence. Some sixty years ago Gilbert Hobbs Barnes and Dwight L. Dumond first explored the close relationship among antislavery, Evangelicalism, and political sectionalism; Carwardine has now extended their contribution into a much broader and richer stream of ideological concerns. A work of uncommon significance, [this book] compels us to rethink the causes for the Civil War and once again place the moral issue of slavery at the heart of the matter."—Bertram Wyatt-Brown, Journal of Southern History

"An ambitious book, one that both summarizes an enormous amount of historical scholarship and brings new insights as well. . . . As a work of synthesis and original research, this book is a major and welcome contribution to the study of antebellum political culture and politics."—Thomas Templeton Taylor, The Historian

"This solid book has much to offer as it fills a major gap in the history of religion and politics in America."—Robert T. Handy, Church History

"The book is well-researched, [and] the documentation is through. . . . [Carwadine's] basic thesis that evangelicals had 'intangible effects on the . . . public discourse of the American people' is presented well. Carwardine's work fills some of the gaps in the questions that exist about religion and politics, and I commend the book to those who have an interest in answering these questions."—Merrill Hawkins, Jr., Journal of the American Academy of Religion

ISBN: 9780300054132
Publication Date: August 25, 1993
480 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4