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Blood from the Sky

Miracles and Politics in the Early American Republic
Adam Jortner

BUY Cloth · 264 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813939582 · $45.00 · Feb 2017
BUY Ebook · 264 pp. · ISBN 9780813939599 · $45.00 · Feb 2017

In the decades following the Revolution, the supernatural exploded across the American landscape—fabulous reports of healings, exorcisms, magic, and angels crossed the nation. Under First Amendment protections, new sects based on such miracles proliferated. At the same time, Enlightenment philosophers and American founders explicitly denied the possibility of supernatural events, dismissing them as deliberate falsehoods—and, therefore, efforts to suborn the state. Many feared that belief in the supernatural itself was a danger to democracy. In this way, miracles became a political problem and prompted violent responses in the religious communities of Prophetstown, Turtle Creek, and Nauvoo.

In Blood from the Sky, Adam Jortner argues that the astonishing breadth and extent of American miracles and supernaturalism following independence derived from Enlightenment ideas about proof and sensory evidence, offering a chance at certain belief in an uncertain religious climate. Jortner breaks new ground in explaining the rise of radical religion in antebellum America, revisiting questions of disenchantment, modernity, and religious belief in a history of astounding events that—as early Americans would have said—needed to be seen to be believed.


Outstanding. Blood from the Sky, Adam Jortner’s new book on miracles in the early republic, is a rare event itself: an important study about a neglected topic that remains compulsively readable from beginning to end. Jortner marshals considerable evidence that the Age of Reason was not as reasonable as we’d like to believe. Required reading for anyone who wants to understand Jeffersonian America—or our republic today.

Donna Thorland, author of The Turncoat

Adam Jortner’s Blood from the Sky opens up a nineteenth-century world of visionaries and miracle workers hard to imagine today. He brings them back to life and forcefully demonstrates the danger they were thought to pose to the republic.

Richard Lyman Bushman, Columbia University, author of Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling

Historian Jortner (Auburn Univ.) provides a gripping account of the supernatural in America between 1775 and 1838. Relying on a great range of public and private sources that extend across various communities within the US, he offers readers more than a collection of fascinating stories of bloody rain, spectral ships, and resurrections. Through these wonder tales, Jortner convincingly argues that transcommunal supernaturalism was 'a driving idea in American religion and politics.'... By vividly illustrating the breadth and significance of the miraculous for Americans, Jortner makes a welcome and valuable contribution to the history of the country’s formative period.


In Blood from the Sky, Adam Jortner presents a valuable exploration of the supernatural during the United States’opening decades. In the words of its author, the volume concerns 'miracles, wonders, and other supernatural events in the early republic: what people believed, how they discussed, debated, and shared those beliefs, and most importantly, what they did about them as a result.' More precisely, the book examines how belief (and disbelief) in the occult intersected with epistemology, religion, and politics.

American Historical Review

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