Complaint about how camp meetings waste time
This article, published under the caption "Moral and Religious" in the New Hampshire Sentinel, was written by a man under the name 'Baxter,' in 1831. In this article he used a combination of real names and names pulled out of John Bunyan's work Pilgrim's Progress, which was the second most well-known religious work after the Bible. Two of the people he mentioned were Charles Grandison Finney (1792-1875), the most famous revival preacher and a supporter of the camp-meeting movement, and Lyman Beecher (1775-1863). Beecher was an influential clergyman and the father of Harriet Beecher Stowe (the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin) and the very popular minister Henry Ward Beecher. Lyman Beecher was at first an opponent of the revivalists and shared the author's concerns.
In the article itself, the argument about wasting time is a smokescreen that allows the author to reach into the heart of his complaint. This revolved around the idea of excitement. Like many critics, he claimed that these religious revivals were not works of the Spirit, but of mass hysteria, where the ministers preyed on their attendees' nervous systems and consciences to get a favorable emotional response out of them.
Transcription of Primary Source
Messrs Printers, MORAL & RELIGIOUS.
For the N.H. Sentinel
I have thought much upon the subject of duty, as respects weekly meetings—and more especially since I have read numerous accounts of what are called four days’ meetings. I wish to conform as much as possible to the opinions of good men around me, but have been somewhat perplexed to know what to do. The direction not to be conformed to this world, has led me to inquire whether frequent weekly meetings, and the setting apart FOUR DAYS in succession, were the commands of God, or the inventions of men. While ruminating upon the subject, as I was pitching off the last load of hay for the season, neighbor Meanwell called at the barn and told me Mr ---- was going to preach on Wednesday evening, that there would be a lecture on Friday afternoon, and that on Tuesday a four days’ meeting would commence, when all the neighboring ministers would be present—no doubt many would come in from other towns, and he hoped I would not fail to attend, with my family. I thanked him for his information, and entered into conversation on various subjects, until my load of hay was safely deposited, when we sat down on the sill, and talked over the subject.
Neighbor Meanwell, said I, it is true, I am about done haying; but you know we farmers cannot afford to hire much help, if we expect to make both ends of the year meet, to say nothing about saving something for sickness and unforeseen expenses, and I find that I must neglect much that ought to be done, to let the farm and household affairs take care of themselves four days in succession. Who hath required this at our hands? My neighbor looked at me with astonishment, apparently, and quoted some texts of scripture which he thought would justly sacrifices of this nature—he said we were commanded not to desert the house of prayer, and our excellent minister, who had some misgivings at first, on account of its resemblances to camp meetings, is now convinced that it will tend much to strengthen our society, and confound the “gain-sayers.” The ministers all agreed to try it, at their last association, and have appointed preparatory meetings in every town. I replied, that I admired his zeal, and felt the obligation, by my example, to attend upon a preached word. But, neighbor, are we not in some danger of doing too much? Our Father in Heaven rested on the 7th day, and the Sabbath is of divine origin, founded in the wants of man. “Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work.” The command is as absolute to be diligent during the six days, as to set apart one day in seven for rest, contemplation on the works of God, and worship. My neighbor here interrupted me by the remark, that we were sinful by nature—that we were surrounded by temptations—that we were commanded to watch and pray, &c. and said there would be most POWERFUL preaching, as Mr ----- and Mr ----- would attend. I told him that he ought to know that I wished well to the cause of Zion, and would by precept and example, lend my influence—but I could not distrust the wisdom of my Maker. If the instructions of the Sabbath are of no avail after we leave the house of God—if our good impressions of duty and dependence are in such danger from our NATURES, of being worn off as soon as we commence our six days’ labor, as to require the suspension of that labor so as to have two or three, or as you would have it five Sundays, occasionally, in a week, it does appear to me God would have ordered it in his communications to his children. I have often attended Lectures on week days, when the association meet, or when strangers are providentially here, when I could do so without neglecting a positive duty. Latterly, you know, we have had notices of the Sabbath pretty constantly of several weekly meetings, and now we are called on to devote FOUR whole days. I could go, and return home at night, but many others must be quartered on the inhabitants in the village, or pitch their tents. I hope every thing will be conducted in order, and that ministers will aim to make understanding Christians—but I know, and you know, that “excitement” is fashionable, and I have observed that extraordinary meetings have a tendency to render dull and insipid the stated labors of our minister. I have remarked, too, that these seasons of extraordinary excitement, have often terminated in coldness and indifference; and I assure you my feelings were hurt the other day, to hear Mr Busy Body say he did not believe our excellent neighbor, Mr Think-well, had an ounce of religion, merely because he did not attend the extras only one in a while.
There are some minds that will not be affected, apparently, but by the strongest motive—that of fear; but this class, (which might be benefitted) will not be likely to attend. I hope it will not be necessary for Dr Beecher to call another Lebanon Convention of ministers. I have my fears, though, for they tell me Mr Littlejohn is full equal to Mr Finney and Dr Beman it now in high favor. My neighbor acknowledged there might be some force in my arguments; but he said the meeting was appointed, and he felt pledged to notify and attend himself, and so he bid me a good afternoon.
Now, Messrs Printers, I have stated my impressions, and I do feel it a paramount duty to regard a late exhortation, which was, to “remain peaceful and quite, and MIND MY OWN BUSINESS.”
Exact Title: "Moral and Religious"
Periodical: New Hampshire Sentinel
Probable Date: August 26, 1831
Description: Issue 35
Place of Publication:
Catalog Number: American Antiquarian Society News