A SHOPKEEPER'S MILLENNIUM: Society and Revivals in Rochester, New York 1815-1837 by Paul E. Johnson
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A SHOPKEEPER'S MILLENNIUM: Society and Revivals in Rochester, New York 1815-1837

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Illuminating micro-history. Johnson, who teaches at Yale, studies the social origins of revivalism by concentrating on Charles Grandison Finney's tumultous evangelization of Rochester in 1830-31. The received wisdom on revivals, following Tocqueville, views them as a response to the rootlessness and restlessness of Jacksonian America, a remedy for the ills of individualism. But Johnson shows that the greatest impact of Finney's preaching was on the most stable members of the community: businessmen, professionals, and master workmen. (Many of the ordinary wage-earners who ""got religion"" around that time started going to church because their employers ordered them to.) Although Rochester was the fastest growing city in the country, the archetypal boom-town, the bulk of Finney's converts were not lonely individualists, but the bourgeois clans who controlled the city. These people had already begun to separate themselves from the working class by moving workmen out of their houses--thus ending the old patriarchal relationship between master and man--and moving their houses to exclusive residential districts. Now they adopted a form of Christianity that condemned--and took effective action against--alcohol, theaters, and other pleasures of the workingman. Most conveniently of all, this system freed them from responsibility for the condition of workers by teaching that virtue and order (and hence prosperity) depended on the moral choice of individuals. And so, whatever Finney's intentions, evangelicalism in Rochester served to legitimize the middle class and smooth the way for entrepreneurs who needed sober, disciplined wage-earners. Exhaustively researched, cogently argued, fluently written, this is an exceptional debut for a promising young scholar.

Pub Date: Jan. 22nd, 1978
Publisher: Hill & Wang/Farrar, Straus & Giroux