Religion and American Slavery

Lesson III. Religious Influences on Tensions Leading to the Civil War

Step 5. Timeline of Sectional Crisis and American Christianity

Write Your Opinion: Prepare for Class Discussion

Browse the Timeline of the events leading to the Civil War.

  • In your opinion, how did Christian churches splitting over the issue of slavery help lead to war?
Mid 18th Century
Early 1800s
19th Century
1861 - 1865

George Whitefield

Famous Anglican revivalist minister George Whitefield preaches to thousands of enslaved African Americans and criticizes southern slaveholders for mistreating their slaves despite being funded by wealthy planters and having his own slaves

First Great Awakening

In the mid-18th century, a series of religious revivals, or the “First Great Awakening,” begin to change the religious landscape.

Westward Expansion

Early 1800s African Americans comprise about one-fifth of the population of the United States. The vast majority – over ninety percent – live in the South and are enslaved

Indian Removal Act

19th century Revivalists like Presbyterian Charles Grandison Finney speak out against slavery while some, like the Northern Methodists, want racial segregation in congregations

Black Methodist Church

1816 The African Methodist Episcopal Church is organized and its membership grows

Missouri Compromise

Congress passes the Missouri Compromise and the issue of slavery is hotly debated in churches, often along geographic lines that mirror the sectional crisis.

Second Great Awakening

The “Second Great Awakening” is in full swing and ministers and churches fill the country. Presbyterian, Baptist, and Methodist revivalists attract thousands of Americans by preaching the importance of individual salvation over obedience to established churches, which is appealing to women and African Americans.

An Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World

David Walker publishes An Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World, which argues for racial equality and urges African Americans to resist the proslavery logic of Christian slave owners. Walker and other black abolitionists argue that the Gospel supports abolitionism, not slavery as many pro-Christian slavery ministers claim  

White Mobs

White mobs attack abolitionist meetings and Black churches in northern cities.

Presbyterian Splinter

The Presbyterian Church starts to splinter

Elijah Lovejoy

A white Presbyterian minister and abolitionist printer Elijah Lovejoy is murdered by a white mob.

Methodist Episcopal Church

The Methodist Episcopal Church breaks into Northern and Southern factions.

Southern Baptist Convention

The Southern Baptist Convention is formed separate from its northern counterparts.

Slavery as Sin

White ministers in the North continue to preach that slavery is a sin, while southern ministers argue that slavery is ordained by God.

Lesson III. Step 5 of 7


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