During the 1830s the United States experienced a wave of movements for social change over temperance, the abolition of slavery, anti-vice activism, and a host of other moral reforms. Michael Young argues for the first time in Bearing Witness against Sin that together they represented a distinctive new style of mobilization—one that prefigured contemporary forms of social protest by underscoring the role of national religious structures and cultural schemas.
In this book, Young identifies a new strain of protest that challenged antebellum Americans to take personal responsibility for reforming social problems.In this period activists demanded that social problems like drinking and slaveholding be recognized as national sins unsurpassed in their evil and immorality. This newly awakened consciousness undergirded by a confessional style of protest, seized the American imagination and galvanized thousands of people. Such a phenomenon, Young argues, helps explain the lives of charismatic reformers such as William Lloyd Garrison and the Grimké sisters, among others.
Marshalling lively historical materials, including letters and life histories of reformers, Bearing Witness against Sin is a revelatory account of how religion lay at the heart of social reform.