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Department 1

Civil War Era Studies

Department 2



An impression has very generally prevailed," wrote James Harris Fairchild toward the end of his twenty-three-year presidency of Oberlin College, "that the theological views unleashed at Oberlin College by the late Rev. Charles Grandison Finney & his Associates involves a considerable departure from the accepted orthodox faith." It was an impression that Fairchild believed to be inaccurate, and he would probably be horrified to discover a century later that the prevailing impression the "Oberlin Theology" has made on historians of the nineteenth-century United States continues to be one in which Oberlin stands for almost all the progressive and enthusiastic unorthodoxies of the Age of Jackson, from Sylvester Graham's crackers to moral perfectionism. But Fairchild, who was one of Finney's earliest students in the original Oberlin Collegiate Institute and who succeeded Finney as professor of moral philosophy and theology in 1858 and then as president of Oberlin College in 1866, was certain that he discerned a far different genealogy for Oberlin, one which ran back not to the age of Jackson but to the age of ]onathan Edwards. "The ethical Philosophy inculcated by Mr. Finney & his associates of later times is that of the elder Edwards," Fairchild repeatedly insisted, and the Oberlin Theology, far from being "original," was nothing less than "the theory ... presented by various authors, especially by President Edwards ... and by his pupil and friend Samuel Hopkins." [excerpt]

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