Thanks for visiting my blog, you can join me by subscribing

Thursday, May 9, 2013

McGuffey and the Christian age of America

There are reasons that we find the McGuffey readers so refreshingly moral. They were written in an age of incredible spiritual awakening in America. Here is an excerpt from the site Religion and the Founding of the American Republic:

The religion of the new American republic was evangelicalism, which, between 1800 and the Civil War, was the "grand absorbing theme" of American religious life. During some years in the first half of the nineteenth century, revivals (through which evangelicalism found expression) occurred so often that religious publications that specialized in tracking them lost count. In 1827, for example, one journal exulted that "revivals, we rejoice to say, are becoming too numerous in our country to admit of being generally mentioned in our Record." During the years between the inaugurations of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, historians see "evangelicalism emerging as a kind of national church or national religion." The leaders and ordinary members of the "evangelical empire" of the nineteenth century were American patriots who subscribed to the views of the Founders that religion was a "necessary spring" for republican government; they believed, as a preacher in 1826 asserted, that there was "an association between Religion and Patriotism." Converting their fellow citizens to Christianity was, for them, an act that simultaneously saved souls and saved the republic. The American Home Missionary Society assured its supporters in 1826 that "we are doing the work of patriotism no less than Christianity." With the disappearance of efforts by government to create morality in the body politic (symbolized by the termination in 1833 of Massachusetts' tax support for churches) evangelical, benevolent societies assumed that role, bringing about what today might be called the privatization of the responsibility for forming a virtuous citizenry.

When researching the McGuffey's on line, I came across a lot of negative opinions, accusing them of being "bigoted" and misogynistic. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, the morality of all of the different versions points towards kindness and fairness, without exception for gender, race, or creed. All of these virtues were being sought after in the climate of revivals during the 19th century. These books were not written to impress university elitists and educational demagogues; they were meant to appeal to pastors and parents who wanted to pass their faith on to the next generation. Unlike education today, curriculum decisions were left at the local, even the home, level. I wonder how curricula would be chosen today if the same were true!


Post a Comment