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Evangelicals actively espousing Christianity have altered the United States’ political landscape since they emerged in the 1800s and the 1900s as a sizable segment of the Protestant population. The Civil War and the advance of science stirred both doctrinal and political differences among evangelicals, but they became a US political force in the second half of the 20th century. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Frances Fitzgerald (The Fire in the Lake) reports that efforts to unify evangelical citizens as a voting bloc advanced with the formation of national organizations, including the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition. These groups urged members to vote for the mostly Republican candidates that they supported. The re-election of Ronald Reagan in 1984 was the biggest milestone in the political realignment of the South with the GOP. He and other Republican presidents used a “Southern Strategy” to win evangelical votes. Fitzgerald’s thorough history of evangelicals in America is somewhat inconclusive, but she suggests that they remain an important voting bloc. getAbstract suggests her fine writing and reporting to anyone interested in major American political movements.


The “Great Awakenings”

Evangelicalism originated as a form of Protestant Christianity during the great American religious revivals of the 1700s and 1800s. Evangelical revivals swept the country in surges: the First Great Awakening, which plateaued in the 1740s, and the Second Great Awakening, which started shortly after the War of Independence ended. Revival leaders during this 200-year period were pioneers in “mass evangelicalism.” The First Great Awakening featured widespread disagreement over the authority of different Protestant denominations. Calvinists believed the death of Jesus Christ atoned for mankind’s sins and protected the faithful from damnation. But Puritans believed people benefit from the positive power of God in daily life if they serve His will.

The more forceful Second Great Awakening began in Tennessee and Kentucky at camp meetings and revivals. Calvinist doctrines then included a controversial belief in predestination, but after the start of the 19th century, evangelical revivalists resolved this controversy with the belief that everyone has a free will and can attain salvation in heaven through Christianity. Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians...

About the Author

Frances Fitzgerald is the author of Fire in the Lake, America Revised, Cities on a Hill, Way Out There in the Blue and Vietnam: Spirits of the Earth. She has received the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, among other honors.

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