Teaching Students About the Leaders of the Second Great Awakening


The Second Great Awakening was a religious revival movement that took place in the United States during the early 19th century. It was characterized by an increase in religious fervor, which led to the formation of new denominations and the growth of existing ones. Among the most prominent leaders of this movement were Charles Grandison Finney, Lyman Beecher, and Joseph Smith. Teaching students about these influential figures is vital to understanding this pivotal period in American history.

Charles Grandison Finney

Charles Grandison Finney (1792-1875) was a key figure in the Second Great Awakening, well-known for his extensive revival efforts across America. Born in Connecticut and originally trained as a lawyer, he experienced a dramatic spiritual conversion that led him to pursue ministry work.

Finney’s innovative techniques in conducting revivals earned him the nickname “Father of Modern Revivalism.” His most famous methods included passionate preaching, using personal anecdotes, and conducting emotional altar calls where individuals would come forward to publicly accept Christ.

Teachers can approach Finney’s life and work by using primary sources such as his memoirs, as well as secondary accounts detailing his influence on American religious history. Students can discuss how his techniques differed from those used during the First Great Awakening and analyze their lasting impact on contemporary evangelism.

Lyman Beecher

Lyman Beecher (1775-1863) was another crucial leader of the Second Great Awakening. A distinguished Presbyterian minister, he fervently preached not only for spiritual renewal but also for social change and moral reform – addressing issues like temperance, education, and abolitionism.

Teaching students about Beecher requires delving into his numerous writings and sermons. This will enable an understanding of how he intersected faith with political activism. Educators can also address his legacy through discussions of missionary work – including his daughter, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” which contributed significantly to the abolitionist cause.

Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith (1805-1844), founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly referred to as the Mormon Church, was another prominent leader of this period. Claiming to have been visited by God and Jesus Christ in 1820, he said he was guided to translate ancient records revealing previously unknown Christian teachings.

To help students comprehend Smith’s role, educators should provide a balanced view by examining his controversial life, including his claims of divine revelation, the emergence of Mormon doctrine, and his eventual martyrdom at the hands of an angry mob. The impact of the early Mormon Church on American religious history should also be assessed, along with how it continues to shape the lives of millions today.


Teaching students about these Second Great Awakening leaders allows them to engage in an essential moment in American history. By understanding Charles Grandison Finney’s revivalism techniques, Lyman Beecher’s faith-based activism, and Joseph Smith’s teachings in the founding of the Mormon Church, students will gain a richer appreciation of the cultural and religious transformations that took place during this time.

Choose your Reaction!