Saturday, June 27, 2009

Uncle Ben's Book Blog: 1844: Vol. 1, Religious Movements

This work, which is the first of a three-volume set, was written by Jerome L. Clark in 1968. He was at that time Professor of History at Southern Missionary College, a Seventh-Day Adventist school, now renamed Southern Adventist University. Clark held the Ph.D. in History from the University of Southern California. Volume two of the set deals with areas dealing with man's physical or mental development. Volume three deals with philosophical and cultural movements.

The title 1844 comes from the fact that most of the movements dealt with had some particularly significant event transpire in 1844. Thus, the first chapter, deals with the Millerite movement, which predicted Christ's Second Coming in 1844. The non-appearance of Christ in that year became known in Millerite circles as The Great Disappointment. It was out of the remnants of the Millerite movement that Ellen G. White and Seventh-Day Adventism sprang, probably explaining Clark's interest. The second chapter deals with the rise of Mormonism. 1844 was significant for Mormons because that was the year that Joseph Smith was murdered. The Third chapter deals with the Stone-Campbell movement. The relation to 1844 here is less definite, but some of the Stone-Campbell people were involved in the Millerite movement, and hence affected by the Great Disappointment. Chapter four deals with the rise of anti-Catholicism in the wake of increased immigration from Catholic countries. The 1844 connection here was the extensive anti-Catholic rioting that took place in Philadelphia in the summer of that year. The events were so extreme that the anti-Catholic cause was embarrassed and discredited. Chapter five deals with higher criticism and the Bible. The connection to 1844 is somewhat tenuous, but Julius Wellhausen, who penned the most enduring form of the Documentary Hypothesis, was born in that year. In addition, 1844 was the year that Tischendorf discovered the Codex Sinaiticus at the St. Catherine's Monastery. The final chapter is titled "Mental Phenomena and Psychic Cults." Covered in this chapter are the Shakers, Swendenborgianism, Mesmerism, and phrenology, among others. Again, the connection to 1844 is tenuous, but certainly all these movements were active at the time.

The book is breezily written, much like the modern works of history written by journalists. I have in mind here the works of David McCullough (John Adams and 1776) as well as other writers. It reads easily, almost like a novel, and I would call it semi-scholarly in tone. Clark had clearly done his research, but in many cases what he writes is condensed from secondary sources.

What it shows is that America was a great boiling stew of ideas and movements in the decades leading up to the War Between the States, a fascinating period of American history.


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