The Awakening Of 1858 In America by J. Edwin Orr

America Prior to the Revival

In the twelve years before the Third Great Awakening (also known as: The Revival/Awakening of 1857-1858; The Prayer Revival; and The Businessmen’s Revival), the religious life in America was on a decline. It was a time of prosperity, and people were seeking riches rather than God. The churches were losing people, and worldliness was creeping in. (Orr 7)

A number of Christians who had become concerned over the materialism that pervaded the land, and the fact that the young were growing up without God, began to pray that God would break the love of money over people’s lives and send another revival to the nation. “Concerts of Prayer” began to spring up throughout the United States of America and Canada. (8 and 12)

This materialism was broken in many lives by the Bank Panic of October 1857.

Due to the long, hard winter of 1856-1857, transportation and trade transactions were delayed. The spring brought some relief, but by the end of summer, businesses had begun to collapse. Before September, the Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company of Cincinnati, with a branch in New York City, failed, causing “a shock to public confidence.” (13)

Some banks refused to redeem their promissory notes, while others suspended operations altogether, including eighteen of New York City’s leading banks. (14)

“On the 14th of October, 1857, the extensive banking system of the United States collapsed, a far-reaching disaster bringing ruin to hundreds of thousands of people in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and the industrial centers of the nation.” (14)

The Panic caused rich men to go broke literally overnight. Suicide and murder increased, as well as “the number of unfortunate women who roamed the streets in the cities.” (14)

Yet experts later agreed that the panic by the banks was unjustified. The Secretary of the U.S. Treasury said that New York’s banks “had never been sounder” and even at the worst time had plenty of funds to meet the strain. (14-15)

Some felt that the Bank Panic was Divine judgment against a nation that had made mammon their god. Samuel I. Prime, chief editor of the daily New York Observer, felt “as long as men transact business on unsound principles, they will be punished. The law of trade, as well as of God, necessitate the penalty.” (18)

J. Edwin Orr, however, states that the Revival was not caused by the Panic. The prayer meeting which became the focal point of the Revival began three weeks prior to the Panic. Within two months, the crisis was over, and it took another two months before the Revival “officially” began. (21-21)

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