The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 79, July 1975 - April, 1976

Book Reviews

And They All Sang Hallelujah: Plain-Folk Camp-Meeting Religion, 18oo-
1845. By Dickson D. Bruce, Jr. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee
Press, 1974. Pp. xi+ 155. Illustrations, index, bibliography. $7.50.)
Hallelujah! Someone finally has broken new ground in the scholarly
study of American revivalism. Dickson Bruce's provocative little book, the
winner of the Southern Anthropological Society's first James Mooney
Award, not only suggests ways in which the historian can use the songs
and rituals of the frontier camp meetings to illuminate important areas of
southern evangelical religion, but, additionally, attempts to construct a
complete social anthropology of the antebellum South.
Unfortunately, the book attempts too much. In his beginning and con-
cluding chapters Bruce describes a "plain-folk" culture of the Old South
and outlines the relation of that culture to "camp-meeting" religion between
I8oo and 1845. The "plain-folk" he describes, not surprisingly, as those
small farmers who struggled for existence on the margins of the southern
economy. Oppressed and resentful, they condemned the conspicuous con-
sumption and dissolute morals of the "planter-speculator" elite, and, like
their "betters," they feared the black population that was the firm founda-
tion of southern society. But, asserts Bruce, the plain-folk never challenged
the essential precepts of that racist and aggressively capitalistic society.
Instead, they hoped one day to enter and exploit the system themselves.
Bruce argues that the camp-meeting religion of the Baptists and Methodists
attracted those among the "plain-folk" who thirsted after inner peace and
social respectability in a violent world and that the camp meetings disap-
peared after 1845, when large numbers of seekers had attained those goals.
After that date, the sects of lately alienated communicants became com-
fortable denominations dedicated to the support of the South and its
peculiar institution. It is an intriguing, venerable argument that here, as
elsewhere, is more asserted than convincingly demonstrated.
It is also largely irrelevant to what is really superb in Bruce's monograph.
In two ground-breaking chapters sandwiched between his unsuccessful social
analysis, Bruce discusses the camp meetings as ritual and the camp meeting
choruses as significant distillations of a peculiarly southern evangelicalism,
one highly moralistic and "other-worldly." Provocative suggestions are
everywhere: the chaotic revival services, far from being spontaneous,
reflected a surprisingly detailed "morphology of conversion" that also was
the inevitable subject of the lively camp meeting songs; the services gave to
children, women, and even blacks-southerners seldom heard-the oppor-
tunity to fill the important functions of "convert-exhorter," "good singer,"

351

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 79, July 1975 - April, 1976. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101203/. Accessed August 1, 2014.