In Union Made, Heath W. Carter advances a bold new interpretation of the origins of American Social Christianity. While historians have often attributed the rise of the Social Gospel to middle-class ministers, seminary professors, and social reformers, this book places working people at the very center of the story. The major characters-blacksmiths, glove makers, teamsters, printers, and the like-have been mostly forgotten, but as Carter convincingly argues, their collective contribution to American Social Christianity was less significant than that of Walter Rauschenbusch or Jane Addams. Leading readers into the thick of late-19th-century Chicago's tumultuous history, Carter shows that countless working-class believers participated in the heated debates over the implications of Christianity for industrializing society, often with as much fervor as they did in other contests over wages and the length of the workday. Throughout the Gilded Age the city's trade unionists, socialists, and anarchists advanced theological critiques of laissez faire capitalism and protested scab ministers who cozied up to the business elite. Their criticisms compounded church leaders' anxieties about losing the poor, such that by the turn-of-the-century many leading Christians were arguing that the only way to salvage hopes of a Christian America was for the churches to soften their position on the labor question. As demination after demination did just that, it became apparent that the Social Gospel was, indeed, ascendant-from below.
Heath W. Carter is an assistant professor at Valparaiso University, where he teaches a variety of courses on the history of the modern United States. He is a co-editor of two forthcoming volumes that study religion in American history.