Study Questions

Paul E. Johnson
A Shopkeeper's Millennium
Society and Revivals in Rochester, New York, 1815-1837

What question about the Second Great Awakening is Johnson seeking to answer? What is Durkheim's theory and how does Johnson apply it to religion? With these goals and methods in mind, why does he think Rochester is an especially good place to study?
Note: Johnson conflates predestination with God's foreknowledge. He is also mistaken about Calvinists, who most certainly did believe they could shape society (p. 3), as I have explained in lecture.

1. What sort of town was Rochester in 1831? Why had it grown so quickly and what was the basis for its economy? How were family and personal connections important to financial success? How did some poorer individuals manage to climb the social ladder to the top? Describe the character and religious interests of Rochester's more successful classes.

2. What kind of people made up Rochester society? How was work changing? How were households changing? How were neighborhoods changing? How were drinking habits changing? How did changes in work, households, neighborhoods, and drinking challenge the control of employers over their employees?

3. What political factions evolved in early Rochester, and how were they aligned with families, churches, regional origins, and political groups? Who were Masons? What event inspired the Antimasonic Party and what did Antimasons believe? What issues divided Rochester politically?
Note: Clintonians are supporters of DeWitt Clinton's policies. Clinton was governor of New York, an advocate of internal improvements (that is, building infrastructure to stimulate the economy), and the primary builder of the Erie Canal.
Note: Bucktails was the name of the party that opposed Clinton's canal policy. Their leader was Martin Van Buren.
Note: You're probably starting to notice that Johnson doesn't have much sympathy for Rochester's wealthier leaders. Remember, also, that Rochester's "rich" were mostly just prosperous merchants compared to wealthy families in large cities or on Southern plantations.

4. Who were the temperance reformers and how successful were they in reforming society? Who were the Sabbatarian reformers and how successful were they in closing businesses on Sundays? How did politics affect Rochester's major churches? Identify Josiah Bissel.

5. Identify Charles Grandison Finney. What were his "new measures" and how did they secure an individual's salvation? What was women's role? With which people in Rochester did Finney have the greatest success? How did the revival spread, and how did it affect Protestant Christianity? How did it affect the temperance movement?

6. How did Finney's converts seek to spread the revival among other strata of Rochester society? What makes Johnson believe that coercion drove many workers to join a church? What rewards did employers offer? How did the revivals shape local politics? Johnson believes, "The Rochester revival was generated in the problem of social class." Explain how convincing his case is.
Note: Johnson overlooks a few important aspects of society, business, and religion. First, society evolved as Rochester grew and settled down from a rough frontier town to a more mature city. Fewer transient, single young men made up the workforce, which meant a natural decrease in the very group that tended towards rowdy entertainments and drink. Second, in regards to spreading church membership, in those days no one could check a credit report to establish a person's worthiness for credit or business deals. When people wanted to convince someone of their honesty and good reputation, they mentioned their membership in a respectable church. This was common practice in America as late as the early twentieth century. So there were many reasons to join a church other than pressure from employers.

Whose interests did the revivals serve best? What social function did they serve? How did revivalists' origins in New England villages shape their attitudes? How were early capitalism and religion intertwined, in Johnson's view?