|CHAPTER 16: CHANGES IN AMERICAN LIFE (1820-1860)
I. THE IMPACT OF IMMIGRATION
A. The Push-Pull of Immigration.........
1. Millions of immigrants came to America in the 1800s. The main immigrant groups in the mid- 1800s were Scandinavians (Denmark, Sweden, Norway), British, and Irish.
2. Most who came here traveled on the lowest decks of the ships in steerage, in very poor conditions, because it was all they could afford.
3. Immigration to the U.S. happened for many reasons. Sometimes people left to escape difficulties
in their country of origin, and sometimes they left to seek possibilities in the U.S. Often, it was a
mixture of both.
a. People left Europe because population growth had led to over-crowding, and employment
shortages. Often poor harvests led to famines (widespread food shortages resulting in starvation). Also governments often persecuted groups for their religious or ethnic backgrounds. Most saw the U.S. as a place of opportunities in terms of available land, jobs, and freedoms.
B. A Difficult Decision.......
1. Scandinavians: In a novel called The Emigrants, Vilhelm Moberg describes the allure of the American northwest for Swedes in 1850. Even though the threat of diseases contracted during the ocean voyage over was terrifying, and the challenge of learning a new culture and language was formidable, the severe food shortages at home still out weighed the risks in making the change. Many Scandinavian immigrants came to Minnesota in particular, because it was so much like home.
C. The Irish Flee Hunger:
1. The Irish were tightly ruled by Britain in the 1800s. They had very few opportunities:
They couldn’t vote, go to school, hold government offices, buy or inherit land, or practice their
religion (Catholicism). The 1841 census said ½ live in one-room mud cabins, without any furniture (including beds and chairs).
2. Nonetheless, the Irish had developed strong bonds among themselves in their efforts to resist the British and help each other. The worshiped in secret, and relied on potatoes as a staple food. The Irish had such great success growing potatoes once they were introduced into their diet (potatoes came to Europe from Peru in the 1600's) that their population had grown rapidly for the next 200 years.
3. In 1845, a Potato blight destroyed potato crops in Ireland, and millions began to die in the Great Potato Famine. The Irish, who had already been emigrating to the U.S. in smaller
numbers, began to flee the famine. By 1854, well over a million had come to the U.S.
D. “Irish Power”..........
1. Irish immigrants settled in large port cities (Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, etc.)
and by 1850, such cities were 1/4 Irish.
2. By 1900, there were more Irish in America than there were in Ireland.
3. Mostly poor, uneducated, and unskilled (due to British oppression in Ireland), the immigrant
Irish worked mostly as manual laborers. Women cooked, washed, and sewed for pay; men did
construction work on the railroads, canals, and roads. “Water power, steam power, and Irish power run the United States”, said an 1850 newspaper, “the last works hardest of all.”
4. The Irish commitment to sticking together and helping each other led to the creation of aid
societies set up to help new arrivals.
5. With regard to politics, many joined the Democratic party (viewed as the party of the common
person), and Irish political leaders tried to help the new immigrants find jobs and homes.
6. The Church (Catholic-almost all were Catholic) ran schools and was the major organizing force
in most neighborhoods.
E. Anti-Immigrant Feelings.......
Irish immigrants encountered a lot of prejudice.
Protestants feared Irish would obey the Pope above loyalty to American political ideals.
Native born Americans (whose recent descendants were immigrants themselves) now
feared that the Irish immigrants who were becoming public office holders would take over
the cities, and so they wanted to restrict the influence of all foreign-born people.
c. The people holding these views were called “nativists” (they were against non-natives)
and they often refused to hire immigrants (“No Irish Need Apply”signs hung in their shop
windows). In New York and Boston the Nativists formed a secret society dedicated to blocking Catholics and immigrants from running for office. Whenever asked about their
group, they replied, “I know nothing”.
In 1850, the nativists formed the Order of the Star-Spangled Banner
, which, in a
few years, developed into the powerful Know-Nothing Party. The Know-Nothing Party’s
specific aim was to limit the power of the immigrant Irish. They also worked to cut
immigration allowances (reduce the number allowed into the country), and to extend to 21
years the period one had to wait to become an American citizen. The Know-Nothing Party lasted just under ten years.
E. The Germans......
1. The Germans were the largest immigrant group in the 1800s. In order to pay for their trip here,
they often chose to bind themselves to Americans in exchange for getting their passage paid for.
These Germans were called “free-willers”. Some were purchased by African Americans as well,
but, in New Orleans it was made against the law to “own” whites.
Most of the Germans who came had skills as farmers or artisans, so they settled both in cities
and on farms.
Large numbers went to Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Missouri, where they built new industries
with names like Steinway, Bausch & Lomb, and Heinz.
They also brought their culture with them, aspects of which were incorporated into American
culture: Christmas trees; marching bands; musical societies; gymnasiums; kindergartens; the hamburger; and the frankfurter; to name a few.
Included in this group of immigrants were also German Jews. Many of them moved west, becoming peddlers and shopkeepers on the frontier. Others started businesses that became large
industries, such as Levi Strauss in San Francisco, who made denim work pants.
II. A SPIRIT OF REFORM
A. A New Awakening........
There was a revival of religious faith starting in the early 1800's called the “Second Great
. Led largely by evangelical Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians. By 1850, 1 in 3 Americans were regular church-goers - a huge increase since 1800.
Unlike the traditional Calvinist teachings of the Protestant faith, according to which
predestination determined whether or not one would have salvation, and nothing a person did could change that.....the new message of the evangelical Protestant preachers was that everyone could be saved, IF, Americans would first reform (by creating a heaven on earth).
Just as the political parties of the late 1820's onward appealed more and more to the
popular enthusiasms of the masses (with rallies, and parades, etc.) So the religion of the day emphasized emotion over reason. Preaching was theater, in which dramatic scenes of damnation and salvation were acted out, complete with audience participation.
Women were greatly drawn to this movement - the converts were women 2:1 over men.
The women gained much more active roles in churches during this period, setting up Sunday schools, and supporting missionary societies. This opportunity to engage in social activism soon led to women being leaders in efforts to reform other parts of society as well.
The Second Great Awakening also empowered blacks because it preached salvation for all, and blacks preachers were actually encouraged (not, however, in white
B. A Better Work Place......
In the work world the development of the factory system changed people’s possibilities for
bettering themselves at work. In the past, a young person starting out might apprentice themselves
to a craftsman, in hopes of learning the trade, and one day becoming a master artisan in business
for themselves. However, in factories, workers for the most part, remained unskilled. To make it
worse, factories were usually noisy, boring, and hazardous places to work.
2. By the 1830s, workers had begun to organize. The women in the mills in Lowell, Massachusetts started a group called the “Factory Girls Association”.
3. In 1836, when the mill owners raised the rents in their boarding houses, about 1,500 of the workers went on strike, demanding better conditions. Sarah Bagley, a Lowell worker, became a leader of the movement to get the work-day reduced to ten hours. Others sought higher wages with more strikes.
4. Then male workers set up the Workingman’s Party, to win labor reforms, but the Panic of 1837 led to a depression that caused the strike to fall apart. Nevertheless, before that happened the beginnings of the labor movement managed to accomplish at least a few of its goals, so that some
health and safety laws to protect workers were passed. In 1840, President Van Buren put in place
a 10-hour work-day for all public workers. By the 1850s most private employers were doing the
C. Changes in Education......
In the early 1800s few American children were able to get a good education. In the 1830s
Americans began to seek change.
Massachusetts set up the first state board of education
, headed by Horace Mann
. Mann called
free public education “the great equalizer”, meaning that it put anyone with an education--even
a very poor person, on a more level playing field with people of privilege.
3. By 1850 many northern states had elementary schools paid for by public taxes.
4. Boston established the first public high school in 1821, with other northern cities soon doing the
Some states even founded universities, and gave them public funds. Other new colleges were
founded by churches, especially in the states created from the northwest territory (Northwestern,
Antioch, Oberlin, and Notre Dame). Private colleges began to offer more subjects, such as law,
medicine, and business.
Females could not
attend public high schools and most colleges, but some private schools
accepted them. Wesleyan College, the first women’s college, opened in 1836, in Georgia. A year
later, Mt. Holyoke opened for women in Massachusetts. Ohio’s Oberlin College was the first to
go co-ed. For most women, higher education was not a possibility at all.
D. African American Education......
African Americans paid taxes to support public schools in northern cities just like everyone else, but their children were not allowed to attend these schools. Some elementary schools for
African American children were opened in northern cities (also Washington D.C.), but there were
very few of them.
2. Slave states, of course, had no schools for the children of slaves. Teaching a slave to read had
been illegal since the Nat Turner Rebellion in 1831.
Very few colleges would accept black students at all. One of the first black students who did
manage to get admitted and graduate was John Russwurm, at Bowdoin College in Maine (1826).
Russwurm was a founder of the first African American newspaper in the U.S.
4. The class of 1885 at Oberlin included one African American woman.
E. Newspapers and Magazines.........
1. Public schools meant more people who could read. At the same time new technology meant
more choices in reading materials. In the 1830s a steam driven printing press, and cheaper newsprint
enabled the cost of making newspapers to go down, and the price went down too. “Penny papers”
made news available to the average Americans.
By 1833 there were three times as many newspapers in the U.S. as there were in England.
There were also hundreds of different magazines that began to be published at this time. One of
these was Godey’s Lady’s Book, edited by Sarah Hale, it advised women on how to dress and
behave, and described the different roles and responsibilities between men and women: women had responsibility for the home, men, for being the family’s provider, and handling the realm of politics.
F. Caring for the Needy........
1. As was mentioned, social activism generally grew out of church involvements, often initiated by women. One notable activist was Dorothea Dix, a wealthy Bostonian, who started a campaign to get states to improve their care of the mentally ill. She had discovered that a group of mentally ill women were being kept in an unheated portion of the prison where she was teaching Sunday school,
and when she began to explore further, found that conditions for the mentally ill were terrible
2. Dix was so successful that 32 new hospitals were built. She also accomplished a great deal of
prison reform, including establishing special separate jails for children, as well as better conditions
for adult prisoners. New prisons were established with the goal of rehabilitation rather than mere
Other reformers worked to improve conditions for disabled people. Samuel G. Howe
Perkins School for the Blind
, in Boston, where blind students were taught skills so that they could
earn a living and live independently.
In 1817, Thomas Gallaudet
started the first American school for deaf children.
G. The Temperance Movement.........
In the early 1800s, heavy drinking was common and widely accepted. Children could buy alcohol
just like adults. Many reformers began to blame alcohol for making the situation of poor people
even worse. They called for temperance (the giving up of drinking alcoholic beverages).
2. The temperance movement was very well organized, sending speakers around to the country
to talk about the evils of alcohol. They gathered signed pledges from people promising not to
drink anymore (by 1843 500,000 had been signed).
3. Temperance societies got some states to pass laws banning the sale of liquor (Maine 1846,
twelve others soon followed).
Many people were opposed to the laws and most of them were soon repealed.
H. The Shakers.............
Most reform efforts were aimed at improving
the existing society. However, some believed
it necessary to start over completely from scratch, and build a brand new society. These people
tried to establish ideal communities called utopias.
2. Usually there were religious principles and motivations behind the attempts to establish utopian
communities. One such example were the Shakers started by a woman named Ann Lee.
Lee came the U.S. in 1774 from England preaching that all people were equal, and should
share in all aspects of life.
3. Shaker communities were strictly regulated. Men and women lived separately. The work was hard, the life simple by design, because they believed in living simply.
4. Shaker communities produced very graceful hand-made furniture, with a very simple design, which is still emulated today. Their worship service were filled with shaking dancing and singing (hence “shakers”). Shaker communities existed in New York, New England, and on the frontier. Since the Shakers had no children, the only way they could grow was with new converts. In the mid 1840s they reached their peak of about 6,000 members. They no longer exist today.
III. THE CALL FOR EQUALITY
A. Expanding Democracy.........
1. Alexis de Tocqueville
, a French author, paid a year-long visit to America in 1831, and afterwards
wrote a book called Democracy in America, in which he discussed the advantages of being born
into a democracy.
a. At that time most white men could vote (whether property owners or not), and
voters had more control over government.
Whereas in the past state governors had been chosen by the state legislature, laws were
passed in the 1830s and ‘40s to let voters elect their governors directly.
Also, up until the 1830s, closed political caucuses (made up of select party members from each political party) had the responsibility for choosing the party’s presidential and vice presidential candidates. In 1831 and 1832, the major parties had national conventions
to choose candidates. Party members in each state elected delegates to represent them at
the convention. The delegates then chose their party’s candidates for the Presidency and
Vice Presidency. This gave the average voter more say in the party’s nominations.
B. Calls for Ending Slavery........
African Americans were not included in political life. Most were still slaves in the South.
In the North, however, many were taking the position that slavery was wrong, and in direct violation
of the founding principles of this country.
2. Reformers who wanted to do away with slavery were called abolitionists. One of the most
well known abolitionists was William Lloyd Garrison, a newspaper man, and New England sea captain’s son. Garrison started a newspaper called The Liberator, in 1831, specifically so that he could urge the public that slavery should be abolished. Garrison’s paper maintained this call for freedom for slaves for 30 years.
3. Frederick Douglas
, a African American born into slavery in Maryland, who escaped to Massachusetts as a young, and attended an anti-slavery meeting there at which he described what
freedom meant to him. The audience was so impressed with Douglass that he was hired to lecture
about his experience as a slave. Douglass’s mother had been a slave, his father was white. As a
slave on a Baltimore plantation, he learned to read and write. He eventually escaped, and went to
Europe to earn money to purchase his freedom. Douglass was a very powerful speaker. In
1847 he started a newspaper called the North Star. Douglass denounced not only slavery, but the injustices that were perpetrated against free blacks. Later, Douglass became the U.S. representative to Haiti.
4. Sojourner Truth
was one of the first African American women to speak out against slavery.
(Her name was originally Isabella Baumfree, born a slave in New York, she gained her freedom
when New York abolished slavery in 1827.) Sojourner Truth changed her name so that it would
describe her life’s work: to travel (or sojourn) and tell the truth about the evils of slavery.
She spoke throughout the North, crusading for justice.
5. African American churches
, which got their start in the North, also worked on behalf of the
abolitionist movement, and many leaders in the fight against slavery, got their start and were part
of these churches.
6. Although the anti-slavery movement was strongest in the North, the South also had some
abolitionists. Among these were Sarah and Angelina Grimke, sisters raised on a South Carolina
plantation, they saw how much slavery went against the teachings of Christianity. They eventually, moved north, became Quakers, and joined the American Anti-Slavery Society. Through their efforts, they helped persuade thousands to join the abolitionist cause.
C. The Underground Railroad......
1. By 1840 more than 2,000 local anti-slavery societies stretched across the North, with members
both black and white. Many of these people participated in helping slaves escape along the
, a series of escape routes running from the South to the North. Led by
people who guided them to freedom (“conductors”), the runaway slaves traveled at night. During
the day they were taken to pre-planned hiding places (“stations”)
which were often in people’s
homes. Oberlin College in Ohio was such a successful “station” that the Ohio state legislature
tried four times to shut the college down. Follow the Drinking Gourd was a song (the drinking
gourd was the Little Dipper), and the words of the song gave slaves a guide in escaping making
suggestions about following riverbanks as a sort of road to keep from getting lost. As many as
50,000 people may have used the underground railroad to gain their freedom.
2. Harriet Tubman
, one of the most famous conductors on the underground railroad, was an escaped slave herself. At age 13, while trying to prevent a fellow slave’s punishment, her skull was fractured, when her supervisor hit her with a 2lb. weight. She had fainting spells for the rest of her life as a result of the neurological damage. She returned to the South at great personal risk after escaping, at least 19 times in order to free others. She personally helped more than 300 slaves gain their freedom. In 1857, she helped rescue her own elderly parents from slavery. Rewards for her capture were continually posted, sometimes totaling $40,000. Later she served the North in the Civil War as both a spy and as a nurse.
D. The Call for Women’s Rights........
In the 1840s leaders of the anti-slavery movement gathered in London
, England. Notables in the
group included Lucretia Mott, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, along with several other women
who had been active in the effort to end slavery. When the women tried to speak in the meeting,
they were silenced by the men, and told that public speaking was not a woman’s place. The women
were then made to sit behind a heavy curtain.
2. Most women had few legal or political rights in the 1800s. They couldn’t vote, sit on juries, or
hold public office. Most laws treated them like children--especially if married, in which case, their
husbands controlled any wages they might earn, or property their wives might inherit. Husbands
could punish their wives with out repercussions, provided she was not seriously hurt. Single women
had somewhat greater freedom, in that they could manage their own property, and control their own
However, now, reformers who had called for equality for African Americans now called for women’s equality too. In 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized a meeting at
Seneca Falls, New York
, where about 100 men and women gathered to discuss women’s rights.
Stanton delivered her speech “Declaration of Sentiments”. It was modeled upon the Declaration of
Independence, and declared that men and women were created equal. The convention delegates
voted to approve the declaration. They subsequently demanded equality for women at work, school, church, and under the law. They also demanded women’s “suffrage” (the right to vote).
Sojourner Truth also spoke out on behalf of women too, challenging the common argument that
women were weak and helpless by nature, she said, “I have [plowed] and planted and gathered into
barns....And ain’t I a woman?”
5. Another to join the growing women’s movement was Susan B. Anthony, a Quaker who had
been active in both the anti-slavery and temperance movements. Anthony was a skilled organizer
who built the women’s movement into a national organization. Being a single woman herself,
Anthony was especially insistent that women get equal treatment in the workplace. To be free she said, “a woman must have a purse of her own.” She worked to get married women the right to
own their own property and wages. New York passed the first such law in 1860, and other states
soon followed. The right to vote, however was more difficult. When Anthony tried to vote in
the election of 1872, she was arrested and fined.
IV. A NEW AMERICAN CULTURE
A. Early American Literature.........
1. Early American writers and artists copied European styles because that was all they knew of how
to produce great works. They regarded the U.S. as “backwards”. The wave of nationalism after
the war of 1812, and the spirit of democratic reform throughout the mid 1850's gave American
writers and artists new pride in their country.
With their new found pride, American
history, and scenery became the subject of their work.
3. Washington Irving
wrote about the Dutch heritage of New York state. He first got popular in
1809 with a spoof of New York history and politics called A History of New York ...by Diedrich
. 11 Years later, the Rip Van Winkle story appeared in a collection of short stories.
4. James Fenimore Cooper
also contributed to creating a unique American
literature between 1823-1843, he wrote the Leatherstocking Tales
, five novels about a wilderness scout, Natty Bumppo, including: Last of the Mohicans; The Pathfinder;
and The Deerslayer.
Here Cooper portrayed the American Indians with dignity, and showed how white settlers misused the wilderness.
5. Edgar Allen Poe
, wrote mysteries
, short stories and poems, and his horror stories such as The Tell-tale Heart, and the Cask of Amontillado
, still terrify readers. He also wrote a famous series about a French private detective, that gave rise to the modern detective story genre.
B. New England Authors............
By the 1840s scholars were beginning to create works that reflected a unique American philosophy and style. Ralph Waldo Emerson
was one such scholar. Emerson taught that people
should know and truly understand themselves. In coming to such a thorough understanding, one
would develop a set of “inner rules”, to guide their lives. In a speech in 1837, he urged that
Americans free themselves from their European roots and establish their own way of thinking.
He advocated learning about life from nature, and not just from books.
2. Many writers and thinkers were drawn to New England by Emerson, and it became a center for
American literature. Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote novels about spiritual conflict (Scarlet Letter, set
in Puritan Massachusetts, explored the suffering caused by sin.)
3. New England poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow treated issues in American history. From MA poet John Greenleaf Whittier wrote celebrations of country life, and attacks on slavery.
C. Politics and Literature......
1. Henry David Thoreau was one of the most original American thinkers. Thoreau was a student
of Emerson. In 1845, he moved into a simple cabin on Walden Pond in Concord, MA, and lived
alone there for two years writing about life and the nature around him, publishing Walden, in 1854. Thoreau also wrote a very famous essay called “Civil Disobedience”, that said people should not obey laws they think are unjust. Rather than protest with violence, they should peacefully refuse to obey. Thoreau himself refused to pay taxes to support the Mexican War. This “passive resistance” landed him in jail, but the practice also was important to future leaders like Mohandas Gandhi, in India; and Martin Luther King, Jr.
2. Margaret Fuller was another New England writer whose work touched on politics. She wrote
about women’s rights, and edited a magazine called The Dial. She published a bestseller: Woman
in the Nineteenth Century.
D. New York Writers.......
1. Herman Melville
, 1851) explored good and evil in the human spirit, and Walt Whitman
(Leaves of Grass ) poetry expressing faith in democracy
, the goodness of nature, and the
young American nation. Both were highly original writers from New York.
E. The Visual Arts.......
In the mid 1800's artists began to paint landscapes reflecting the artists pride in America’s natural
beauty. Thomas Cole became the leader of a group known as the Hudson River School, who painted landscapes featuring America’s beauty. George Caleb Bingham painted life on the frontier in the Mississippi Valley. James Audubon began to detail the birds and animals of America. He came here at 18 from France, traveling all over to sketch and paint wildlife as it appeared in nature.