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HISTORY

Author Looks at U.S. History and Asks: 'What If?'

By Matthew Oates
Guest Writer

Christianity.com - WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (UMNS) - What if the preachers who led America's "Great Awakening" had been cowed by the government that opposed them? What if Rutherford B. Hayes had failed to win the presidency?

These are some of the questions that writer Steve Tally explores in Almost America: From the Colonists to Clinton: A "What If" History of the U.S., published by Quill, a division of HarperCollins Publishers. In 28 chapters, he explores what might have happened if specific events in U.S. history had turned out differently.

Tally is a science writer at Purdue University and is described in his publisher's catalog as a "veteran American pop historian."

A member of West Lafayette St. Andrew United Methodist Church, Tally chose
to begin his book with the Great Awakening because it not only awakened the
colonists to a new view of spirituality but of their government as well. "Those early events had long-range impact."

Preachers of the time, such as George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards,
awakened people and stirred them to seek independence from the British,
according to Tally.

And if it weren't for the quick actions of New Light politicians to become
delegates to the 1776 convention, then Tally's picture of a room of pro-Anglican delegates who remained loyal to the king could have become a
reality. "My view is that we might not have had the Declaration of Independence for a long time or maybe never," the author says.

The Great Awakening was also important because of the religious impact it had on the country. "It clearly helped launch the Baptist and Methodist churches," Tally says. Edwards started the Baptists, while Whitefield was
associted with Methodism's founder, John Wesley.

Whitefield isn't the only Methodist-related personage who finds his way into Tally's book.

When George W. Bush became president, by most counts he was the third Methodist to hold the nation's highest elected office. But he was the second Methodist president to become entangled in the Electoral College.

The first, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, squeaked by Democrat Samuel Tilden in 1876. Tilden won the popular vote in election, yet lost the Electoral College by one vote.

Tally believes that the loss by Tilden -- who held racist views -- was every African-American's gain. "It's conceivable that some of the rights they just won would have been overturned," Tally says. "Hayes was a strong defender of
those rights."

While Tally acknowledges the similarities between Bush and Hayes -- both had to have Florida to win -- one difference stands out: Hayes didn't run for a second term.

Another president with ties to Methodism -- mainly through his United Methodist wife -- is Bill Clinton. In early January, Clinton took the pulpit at Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington to deliver a guest sermon.

But it wasn't Clinton's preaching that earned him a place in Tally's book. It was his scandal-plagued second term, rocked by an affair with an intern, impeachment votes and criticism of fund-raising practices. "That was kind of
fun writing a chapter while the events were happening," Tally recalls.

Tally started with 100 topics or events in American history and ended up writing about 28. "I wanted the 'what ifs' to be plausible," he says.

Each chapter is different; a few chapters end the way events actually did in real life. "Different chapters were fun for different reasons. All of them were hard to write."  

Order Almost America: From the Colonists to Clinton

Related Resources:

The Spirit Behind '76

The Declaration of Independence

The Constitution of the United States of America

Why Washington is 'The Father of Our Country'

David Barton: Our Christian Heritage

George Washington's Prayer Journal

More Church History on Spiritual Life

More from Spiritual Life


Matthew Oates is a correspondent for the Hoosier United Methodist News, the newspaper of the United Methodist Church's Indiana Area. This story originally appeared in that publication.

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