Matthew Simpson : a critical biography concerning Methodism's rise into the national spotlight.


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Matthew Simpson (1811-1884), a bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church, is most often remembered for his preaching career and relationship to President Abraham Lincoln. Simpson’s life closely follows the trajectory of Methodism in the second half of the nineteenth century: he supported the rise of higher education, was active in publishing, participated in the women’s movement and as a bishop during the Civil War gave speeches strongly supporting the Union. During this period of the 1800s Methodism moved quickly from the margins into the mainstream of American religious life, becoming a type of national church. The process of this seminal development and the role leading bishops had in that process are therefore pertinent questions. The purpose of this dissertation is to provide a critical biography assessing Simpson’s impact on Methodism’s rising prominence. This study asserts that Simpson propelled Methodism further into the mainstream and helped situate it as a national church, specifically through his pro-Union rhetoric. Additionally, since the 1960s scholars following Robert Bellah, have explored the integration of patriotism and Protestant Christianity, referring to this phenomenon as American civil religion. This dissertation utilizes civil religion as a lens in understanding Simpson’s close connection between church and nation.



Matthew Simpson. Methodism. Methodist Episcopal Church. Nineteenth century. Civil War. Religion and politics.