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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersThe Triumph of Nationalism/The House Dividing, 1815-1850
The Triumph of Nationalism/The House Dividing
Topic: Culture of the Common ManTopic: Cult of DomesticityTopic: ReligionTopic: ExpansionTopic: America in 1850
Topic: Religion
Overview of Triumph of Nationalism
Resource Menu: Religion
Text 1. Bryant/Freneau
Text 2. John Mayfield
» Reading Guide
•  Link

Text 3. Alexis de Tocqueville
Text 4. Frederick Douglass
Text 5. George Fitzhugh
Text 6. Charles Colcock Jones
Text 7. Henry David Thoreau
Text 8. Mormons

RESOURCE MENU » Reading Guide Link

Reading Guide
2.  John Mayfield, excerpt from "Toward the Millennium," ch. 8 in The New Nation: 1800-1845, 1982 (rev. ed.)

While the political separation of church and state was a growing reality in the new nation, the separation did not extend to the mindset with which Euro-Americans dove into nation-building. Their definitions of democracy, progress, and civic virtue were inextricably linked with a religious worldview. As historian Mayfield sums up for us, Americans' evangelical fervor was the "religious equivalent of nationalism," and they propelled it with the "can do" attitude (already associated with Americans) to form revival circuits, reform movements, benevolent societies, perfectionist communities, and even new religions. As Mayfield reviews each of these, he underscores how each was definably "American" (unlike the European transplants of colonial times) and how each manifested the same energy and pragmatism apparent in the frenetic trailblazing and townbuilding of the time. (In this sense, this text can also be helpful in the "Common Man" and "Expansion" sections.) Could be used with students. 12 1/4 pages.

Discussion questions
  ·  How does Mayfield explain the "parallel between individual religion and democratic politics"? In his view, was this a natural blending of the two or a forced fit?
  ·  Mayfield states that Americans—reformers and ordinary citizens alike—sought a method for "uplifting the individual while integrating him with the community." What was the role of religion in addressing this goal?
  ·  How does Mayfield explain the concurrent drives for institution-building and individualism at this time—in both religious and secular endeavors? Could religion unite them?
  ·  How did religious leaders of the period explain moral improvement as a necessity for successful nation-building? Did moral improvement require the denunciation of individualism?
  ·  What characteristics are shared by the religious groups in Mayfield's overview (i.e., evangelicals, reformers, utopians, Mormons)? What are the distinctive features of each group? How would Mayfield explain the distinctive features to be as "American" as the shared features?
  ·  Pulling it together, how was American religious activity of the time the "religious equivalent of nationalism"?

Reading highlights
  ·  In occasional comments, Mayfield contrasts American religious institutions with their European forebears. These contrasts remind us of what Americans wanted to avoid in their secular as well as their religious institutions.

» Link

Topic Framing Questions
  •  How did American Christianity reflect the nation's ideals of democracy, individualism, and progress?
  •  As the nation became more sectionalized, what role did religion play in defining individual and group identity?
  •  How did religion inform the debate over slavery?
  •  How did religious groups outside the mainstream of American Protestantism reflect American culture, even in the act of rejecting it?

Toolbox: The Triumph of Nationalism / The House Dividing
Common Man | Cult of Domesticity | Religion | Expansion | America in 1850

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