Winter 2011, 42:1, pages 44 - 64
George Whitefield and the Great Awakening: Implications of the Itinerancy Debate in Colonial America
Abstract: Following George Whitefield's 1739 New England tour, debate erupted among colonial clergy over the perceived threats and benefits of his itinerant preaching, continuing well into his 1744 return. This exchange is indicative of broader concerns among protestant clergy over waning influence in colonial America as well as a shift in colonists’ expectations about the form and function of public oratory. Questions of what constitutes good preaching, who is fit to preach, and suitable audiences demonstrate that itinerancy served as a powerful point of contention among ministers struggling to maintain power in the new nation. Focusing on Reverend Whitefield's efforts, this essay explores the competing conceptions and examines trends in form, function, and audiences for religious rhetoric that inform both our understanding of popular expectations of civic leaders’ discourse and emerging positions on the proper enactment of the rhetorical leadership within the new nation.