Date of Award
Master of Arts in History
The American Home Missionary Society represented an evangelical Protestant, interdenominational, voluntary effort to plant churches and related cultural institutions in developing communities on the American frontier. Growing out of the missionary, revivalistic, and social reform concerns of participants in the Second Great Awakening, the Society sought to perpetuate social reform, inculcate individual "virtue," fill the perceived void left by legal disestablishment, and, preeminently, gain converts to evangelical Christianity.
In the first decade of its institutional life the American Home Missionary Society focused its attention on the frontier communities of the Old Northwest and the Mississippi Valley. During the 1820’s and 1830’s, the recently admitted states of Illinois and Indiana occupied a potentially crucial position in the commercial and social development of the United States, and the American Home Missionary Society appeared to have the resources and internal unity to carry out its self-appointed mission in those states. However, denominational in-fighting and concurrent financial hardship in the aftermath of the Panic of 1837 undermined the strength of the Society. As constituent denominations asserted their independence, the founding principles of the Society were compromised and the character of the Society was altered.
Using the papers of the Society and concentrating on the activities of its missionaries in Illinois and Indiana, I have attempted to trace the growth, maturation, and decay of the founding principles of the Society in the two frontier states. Since the work of the Society issued from a theologically and institutionally creative response to a re-defined relationship bet ween church and state, I have discussed the shaping forces of the American Home Missionary Society before examining the missionaries' distinctive perception of frontier society and implementation of their task. Finally, I have endeavored to follow the effects of economic depression and doctrinal dissension on the work of the Society in Illinois and Indiana.
Although the papers of the American Home Missionary concerns, the correspondence provides insight into the development of certain aspects of American Protestantism and society in the first third of the nineteenth century. The introduction of voluntary association in churches and societies of social reform, the extent of interdenominational co-operation, the uses of revivalism, and the application of popular doctrine that linked the nation to a coming millennium form recurring themes in the papers. Although the correspondents ignore many important issues of their day, their papers display a significant effort to weave the religious beliefs and values of eastern evangelical Protestants into the social fabric of the west.
Peterson, Arnold W., "The Plastic Hand of Patriotic and Christian Benevolence: The Work of the American Home Missionary Society in Illinois and Indiana, 1826-1837" (1986). Open Access Master's Theses. Paper 1767.