American Minute with Bill Federer: The 2nd Great Awakening

American Minute with Bill Federer

The largest town in Kentucky had less than 2,000 people, yet 25,000 came to Cane Ridge, Kentucky, AUGUST 7, 1801, from as far away as Ohio, Tennessee, and the Indiana Territory, to hear the preaching of Barton W. Stone and other Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian ministers. The Second Great Awakening had “camp meetings,” similar to Scottish “Holy Fairs,” where teams of open-air preachers rotated in a continuous stream of sermons, as described by Rev. Moses Hodge:

“Nothing that imagination can paint, can make a stronger impression upon the mind, than one of those scenes.  Sinners dropping down on every hand, shrieking, groaning, crying for mercy, convulsed; professors praying, agonizing, fainting, falling down in distress, for sinners or in raptures of joy! . . . As to the work in general there can be no question but it is of God. The subjects of it, for the most part are deeply wounded for their sins, and can give a clear and rational account of their conversion.”

The revival began in the lawless Kentucky frontier in 1797 when James McGready and his small church agreed:

“Therefore, we bind ourselves to observe the third Saturday of each month for one year as a day of fasting and prayer for the conversion of sinners in Logan County and throughout the world. We also engage to spend one half hour every Saturday evening, beginning at the setting of the sun, and one half hour every Sabbath morning at the rising of the sun in pleading with God to revive His work.”

Previously, in June of 1800, 500 members of James McGready’s three congregations gathered at the Red River for a “camp meeting” which lasted several days. On the final day:

“‘A mighty effusion of the Spirit’ came on everyone ‘and the floor was soon covered with the slain; their screams for mercy pierced the heavens.'”

In July of 1800, the congregation planned another camp meeting at the Gaspar River. Surpassing their expectations, 8,000 people arrived, some from over 100 miles away:

“The power of God seemed to shake the whole assembly. Towards the close of the sermon, the cries of the distressed arose almost as loud as his voice. After the congregation was dismissed the solemnity increased, till the greater part of the multitude seemed engaged in the most solemn manner. No person seemed to wish to go home-hunger and sleep seemed to affect nobody-eternal things were the vast concern. Here awakening and converting work was to be found in every part of the multitude; and even some things strangely and wonderfully new to me.”

The FIRST Great Awakening, prior to the Revolution, was led by Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and others, and helped start the University of Pennsylvania (1740), Princeton (1746), Brown (1764), Rutgers (1766), and Dartmouth (1770). The SECOND Great Awakening led to the conversion of a third of Yale’s student body through the efforts of its President Timothy Dwight.

Spreading to other colleges, hundreds of students entered the ministry, pioneering the foreign missions movement. Young men, along with the first women missionaries, were sent as far away as the American West, Burma and Hawaii.
Oberlin College students were evangelized by its President Charles Finney, whose preaching led William Booth to begin the Salvation Army and George Williams to begin the Y.M.C.A

The Second Great Awakening contributed to the founding of the American Bible Society, the Society for the Promotion of Temperance, the Church of Christ, the Disciples of Christ and the Seventh-Day Adventists. Christians began leading efforts to reform prisons, to care for the handicapped and mentally ill, and to abolish slavery. George Addison Baxter, a skeptical professor at Washington Academy in Virginia, published an account of his travels throughout Kentucky, which was printed in the Connecticut Evangelical Magazine, March of 1802:

“The power with which this revival has spread, and its influence in moralizing the people, are difficult for you to conceive, and more so for me to describe . . . I found Kentucky, to appearance, the most moral place I had ever seen. A profane expression was hardly ever heard. A religious awe seemed to pervade the country. Never in my life have I seen more genuine marks of that humility which . . . looks to the Lord Jesus Christ as the only way of acceptance with God. I was indeed highly pleased to find that Christ was all and in all in their religion…and it was truly affecting to hear with what agonizing anxiety awakened sinners inquired for Christ, as the only physician who could give them any help. Those who call these things ‘enthusiasm,’ ought to tell us what they understand by the Spirit of Christianity . . . Upon the whole, sir, I think the revival in Kentucky among the most extraordinary that have ever visited the Church of Christ, and all things considered, peculiarly adapted to the circumstances of that country . . . Something of an extraordinary nature seemed necessary to arrest the attention of a giddy people, who were ready to conclude that Christianity was a fable, and futurity a dream. This revival has done it; it has confounded infidelity, awed vice to silence, and brought numbers beyond calculation under serious impressions.”


The Moral Liberal contributing editor, William J. Federer, is the bestselling author of “Backfired: A Nation Born for Religious Tolerance no Longer Tolerates Religion,” and numerous other books. A frequent radio and television guest, his daily American Minute is broadcast nationally via radio, television, and Internet. Check out all of Bill’s books here.


Still time to order Bill Federer’s latest book: Prayers & Presidents – Inspiring Faith from Leaders of the Past Invite Bill Federer to speak: 1-888-USA-WORD [email protected] www.AmericanMinute.com