"The Bond of Union": Yankee Protestantism, National Ambition, and the Erie Canal, 1817–1851
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SubjectErie Canal (N.Y.)
New York (State)--History--19th century
Protestantism--New York--History--19th century
New York Protestants modified their faith to address the social conditions wrought by the Erie Canal. The Erie Canal was a triumph of early republic engineering, and New Yorkers interpreted the process of organizing, building, and celebrating its construction with nationalistic fervor. In their minds, the accomplishment vindicated the early republic. The religious convictions of New Yorkers had an additional impact. Because New Yorkers inherited their theological categories from New England, they interpreted the experience through the lens of providence. For them, the canal confirmed both the legitimacy of the young nation and New Yorkers’ unique place in history. So, when the moral degradation wrought as the western frontier rapidly urbanized, New Yorkers organized dense networks of reform societies to address the perceived moral decline. Network analysis demonstrated that these societies were not bourgeois efforts, even though they were a “united front.” Instead, the ordinary New Yorkers who had contributed to bond markets to construct the canal also contributed to reform societies. This effort reflexively changed New York Protestantism by reinforcing voluntarism and generating the marketization of Yankee evangelicalism.