Perfectionist Politics: Abolitionism and the Religious Tensions of American Democracy

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Perfectionist Politics is the story of an important but overlooked antebellum reform movement: ecclesiastical abolitionism. Douglas M. Strong examines radical evangelical Protestants who seceded from pro-slavery denominations and reorganized themselves into independent antislavery congregations. Mirroring political abolitionist activity - particularly in the "burned-over district" of New York State - the ecclesiastical abolitionists formed a network of abolition churches that became the primary focus of Liberty Party electioneering strategy. Ecclesiastical abolitionists justified this clear connection between church and state through their experience of evangelical perfectionism. A vote for the Liberty Party became a mark of one's holiness.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
The American conceit, in Alexis de Tocqueville's words, "to harmonize earth with heaven" in part explains the antebellum rage for perfectionist politics. The struggle among the most radical religions to purge their churches and society of sin, especially slavery, and their uncompromising efforts to force morality into political discourse are nowhere better told than in historian Strong's informed exegesis of perfectionist ideas and personalities and his careful mapping of the schisms and political awakenings across western New York, from which so much antebellum reform and evangelism emerged. Ecclesiastical abolitionism did not end slavery or redeem the religious establishment, but it did point the way to the Holiness movement and Social Gospel of a later day. Strong (They Walked in the Spirit: Personal Faith and Social Action in America, Westminster John Knox, 1997) reminds us that ethical issues were part of American politics long before the Civil Rights crusades and the Moral Majority. Highly recommended for academic libraries.--Randall M. Miller, St. Joseph's Univ., Philadelphia Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Strong (history of Christianity, Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington, DC) tells the little known story of ecclesiastical abolitionism, an important movement during the antebellum period. It involved radical evangelical Protestants who seceded from pro-slavery denominations and reorganized themselves into independent anti-slavery congregations. He also explores how the network of churches in New York State formed a political wing as the Liberty Party and legitimized the connection between church and state. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780815629245
  • Publisher: Syracuse University Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2001
  • Series: Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Table of Contents

Tables and Maps
Introduction 1
1 A Middle Course: The Mediating Role of Evangelical Perfectionism 12
2 Spiritual Democracy: The Development of Antislavery Church Reform 44
3 Liberty Party Theology: Perfectionist Undergirding for Political Activity 66
4 The Abolition Church: Expanding the Ecclesiastical Abolitionist Network 91
5 A Political Millennium: The Imminent Inauguration of God's Government 116
6 The Burned-Out District: The Fragmenting of Ecclesiastical Abolitionism 137
Epilogue: An Enduring Legacy 161
App. A Identifying Ecclesiastical Abolitionism in the Towns of Upper New York 173
App. B Occurrence of Antislavery Church Reform in Towns with 1844 Liberty Vote Totals over Thirty 181
Notes 187
Bibliography 235
Index 257
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