Cover image for Perfectionist politics : abolitionism and the religious tensions of American democracy
Perfectionist politics : abolitionism and the religious tensions of American democracy
Strong, Douglas M., 1956-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Syracuse, N.Y. : Syracuse University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xiii, 263 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm.
Corporate Subject:
Format :


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E449 .S917 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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This text tells the story of the American reform movement known as ecclesiastical abolitionism. Reconciling church and state through the ethical experience of evangelical perfectionism, these radical Protestants formed a network of abolition churches and campaigned for the Liberty party.

Author Notes

Douglas M. Strong is professor of the history of Christianity at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

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.ÄRandall M. Miller, St. Joseph's Univ., Philadelphia (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Although the list of monographs on antebellum reform, particularly abolition, is lengthy, Strong's book is a welcome addition to those studies. It focuses largely on the relationships among religion, theology and church policies, and political abolitionist movements in the early 19th century. The study is particularly valuable in tracing the religious foundations of the Liberty Party, as well as its unraveling in the late 1840s. Strong emphasizes what he calls ecclesiastical abolitionism, and he demonstrates how those evangelical abolitionists came to reject the Liberty Party because they believed that political tactics were not a substitute for religious conviction. Central to the story is William Goodell, who argued that perfectionism, sanctification, and abolition were intimately connected. The proposals advanced by Goodell and others to restructure the culture of American religion found particularly wide acceptance in upper New York state, and Strong focuses his study on that area. This is a useful book that will enlighten students of antebellum reform at the upper-division undergraduate level and above. J. Andrew; Franklin and Marshall College

Table of Contents

Illustrationsp. ix
Tables and Mapsp. xi
Acknowledgmentsp. xiii
Introductionp. 1
1. A Middle Course: The Mediating Role of Evangelical Perfectionismp. 12
2. Spiritual Democracy: The Development of Antislavery Church Reformp. 44
3. Liberty Party Theology: Perfectionist Undergirding for Political Activityp. 66
4. The Abolition Church: Expanding the Ecclesiastical Abolitionist Networkp. 91
5. A Political Millennium: The Imminent Inauguration of God's Governmentp. 116
6. The Burned-Out District: The Fragmenting of Ecclesiastical Abolitionismp. 137
Epilogue: An Enduring Legacyp. 161
A. Identifying Ecclesiastical Abolitionism in the Towns of Upper New Yorkp. 173
B. Occurrence of Antislavery Church Reform in Towns with 1844 Liberty Vote Totals over Thirtyp. 181
Notesp. 187
Bibliographyp. 235
Indexp. 257