"Revivalism and Social Reform" first appeared in print in 1957 and was then out of print for many years. It is good to see it back. Smith, who also wrote extensively on the Holiness Movement of the nineteenth century, dug deeply into an enormous mass of antebellum religious periodicals, tracts and books, much of it ephemeral in nature and often ignored by religious historians of the first half of the twentieth century. The more common approach of historians of that era was to focus on denominational history and "serious" theology. Smith's research, though, exhumed the long-ignored religious enthusiasms of the decades just prior to the Civil War, usually expressed in literature "for he who runs" rather than in weighty tomes. His task was to connect this often-ignored material to American politics and popular culture.
Smith wanted us to understand how Protestant evangelical Christianity of the late antebellum period impacted society. His conclusion was that, on the whole, this religiosity was fairly radical in nature: it sought, at the least, to ameliorate festering evils. At its fullest extent it sought nothing less than to begin the millennium in the United States through total social transformation. This crusading Christianity had, by our own standards, its quirks -- such as eliminating the Sunday mail. But, it also tackled such evils as intemperance, urban poverty and, most especially, slavery. (This book should, in fact, be read along with another classic, Gilbert Barnes, "The Anti-Slavery Impulse.") The favored method of evangelical attack was, more often than not, the revivals -- largely urban in nature and, often, national in scope.