Mintz, Steven. Moralists and Modernizers: America’s Pre-Civil War Reformers. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995. Ibidem KW: reform; 19c; US; religion; women
Ibidem Annotation: NOTES:
4. Scholarly Background: (ie author’s past books, degrees, book prizes, etc)
Graduate School of Arts & Sciences Teaching Center
Steven Mintz was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford and John and Rebecca Moores Professor of History and Director of the American Cultures Program at the University of Houston before becoming the director of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Teaching Center . An authority on the history of the family and of children, he is the author and editor of 13 books, including Domestic Revolutions: A Social History of American Family Life, Hucks Raft: A History of American Childhood, and Moralists & Modernizers: America s Pre-Civil War Reformers. A pioneer in the application of new technologies to history, he is the creator of the Digital History website (http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu) and past president of H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online. He is also National Co-Chair of the Council on Contemporary Families and president-elect of the Society for the History of Children and Youth. He chairs the Organization of American Historians Teaching Committee, and is a member of the advisory board of Film & History, the History Teacher, and the OAH Magazine of History, and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
1983 - A Prison of Expectations: The Family in Victorian Culture
1989 - Domestic Revolutions: A Social History of Ameican Family Life by Steven Mintz and Susan Kelogg
2000 - The Boisterous Sea of Liberty: A Documentary History of America from Discovery through the Civil War by David Brion Davis and Steven Mintz
2006 - Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhood
2006 - America and Its Peoples: A Mosaic in the Making, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 by James Kirby Martin, Randy J. Roberts, Steven Mintz, and Linda O. McMurry
2009 - Mexican American Voices: A Documentary Reader
2009 - African American Voices: A Documentary Reader
2010 - Hollywood’s America: Twentieth-Century America Through Film by Steven Mintz and Randy J. Roberts
5. Reviews: (bibliographic information for as many reviews as you can find) 6. Sources and Methods: (summary of and commentary on type of primary sources and/or theoryor methods used, and how, strengths/weaknesses of approach)
Sermons, Letters, Editorials, Diaries, Popular Literature, novels, travel accounts
7. Historiography: (what literatures does the book address explicitly and/or implicitly?How well does it do so? What’s good.valuable about the approach, andwhat’s missing?)
Mentions history of pre-civil war reform in first half of 20c sees it as altruistic and positive to relieve human suffering and improve conditions of the unfortunate, whereas scholarship postwar views the reforms as paternalistic and modes of class-based social discipline and control. modern institutions of confinement: prisons, asylums and workhouses.
8. Argument: (what are the main arguments and findings, and how are theysupported? Strengths and weaknesses? Evaluate the book according toits own research project, not what you think the project should havebeen.)
Mintz finds both are correct - altruism and paternalism. He defines antebellum reform in terms of liberalism. a willingness to use the govt. as an instrument of social betterment. “Whether their reform philosophy was rooted in evangelical Protestantism, religious liberalism, American transcendentalism, or some other set of beliefs, the aspirations of most antebellum American reformers ultimately tended to be liberal: to broaden individual rights, foster the fulfillment or the salvation of the individual, and eradicate those institutions and customs that obstructed individual self-determination and improvement.” (Mintz:155)
pre-Civil War reform set in motion reform tradition. Sprang from different motives: social distress and anxiety, altruism, millennialist sense of possibilities. Goals: uplift society and remove sources of inequality such as slavery and women’s disenfranchisement. Mintz finds elements of humanitarian and paternalism (Mintz:ix). Antebellum reformers oeprated from American Revolution tradition of liberalism and universal moral standards. (by Stanley I. Kutler of the University of Wisconsin) (Mintz:x).
Late 18c, early 19c secular efforts to improve society in Britain, Western Europe and US. In US addresses poverty, crime, illiteracy and mental illness inspired by Declaration of Independence, Enlightenment reason, and religious ideals. This book - America’s first age of reform and it’s lasting influence. Addresses fears of social disorder, violence, family fragmentation, and class divisions. Emergence of market economy = rapid urban and industrial growth, unequal distribution of wealth, democracy fears of turning to anarchy (Mintz:xiii).
Chapter 1 -ways fears contributed to rise in reform. Chapter 2 - millennialist sense of possibilities both secular and religious. humanitarian revolt against Calvinism and evangelical revivalism. Chapter 3, 4, 5 - reformers efforts. Chapter 3 - effort to uplift nation’s morals and spread Christian values by distributing Bibles and religious tracts, established Sunday schools and missions enforcing Sabbath, combating prostitution, curbing alcohol. Chapter 4 - Humanitarian - alleviate misery as crime, disease and ignorance by building prisons, public schools, and asylums for deaf, blind, mentally ill. Chapter 5 - radical reform - perfect society by getting rid of slavery, women’s rights, utopian communities as blueprints.
Efforts of reformers to spread middle class reform gospel, free individuals from bondage (slavery and corporal punishment), and create a sober, educated, self-disciplined citizenry (Mintz:xiv).
Adversaries stress the class, gender and racial limitations of reformers’ visions. As new instrument of social control - poorhouses and prisons, reformatories, asylums.
Historiography: first treated as liberal, progresive, Whiggish, heightened sensitivity to human suffering, social outcasts. hospitals and asylums to cure and comfort. Prison - rehabilitation, not punishment. Public schools - combat illiteracy, ignorance. Reformers criticized for naivete and extremism compared to pragmatic, institutional reformers of Progressie era and New Deal era. But the early precursor.
Post WWII historians more skeptical - critical of perfectionism, utopianism and social engineering. Antebellum reformers seen as spychological deviants and fanatics and sought social and economic dislocations and religious upheaval (Mintz:xv). Analytical psychology - abolitionist reformers frustrated and compensating or status anxieties of declining social elite. (Avery Craven and David Donald)
Stanley Elkins - American abolition unique American character - moralistic, rigid, simplistic rather than pragmatic. immediatist rather than gradualistic.
Historians treating reform as instrument of social control and class domination. cultural imperialism through urban missions, Sunday schools,and tract societies. Paternalistic suppression of autonomous working class culture and imposing bourgeoisie values. order by increased power of the state (Mintz:xvi).
Mintz - a combo - humanitarian and paternalistic impulse to shape and regulate character. This book the middle ground. Duality of antebellum reform. Reformers’ background - almost all religious men and women disproportionate to New England. Support from northern working people, Protestant evan gelicals, theological liberals and moralistic Whigs (Mintz:xvii). One characteristic of reform came to define emerging middle class. Overarching argument: a new moral perspective arose in early 19c, sensitive to cruelty, drunkenness and physical disorder - sanction for wide range of reform proposals. Goal: to locate reform impulse in specific, economic context.
A period of growing lassez-faire and changes in attitudes towards labor, individual responsibility and property. Antebellum reform not just progressive or instrument of discipline and control, but at a time society moving towards free market, questions oflimits on qcquisitiveness and exploitation. Antebellum reformers played a key role in “establishing standards of human dignity and decency, imposing limits on exploitation, and creating modern institutions to rescue and rehabilitate the victims of social change.”
1-tension between reforms’ religoius roots and the secular form it took. Sprung from religious ideal and aspirations but adopted secular techniques and pioneered mass communications, propaganda, social work and statistics.
2-Conservative self-image of reformers at oods with radical implications of the reforms created (Mintz:xviii). Originated pious New England upper class and spread to outsider groups. Many women and minorities asserted themselves and challenged traditional roles and contraints.
3-Discrepancy between reformers’ anti-institutional outlook and their creation of enduring social institutions and bureaucracies, strengthening role of State. 1810-1830 primary tool of reform - voluntary society. over time became institutionalized to be successful, needed help of state and local govts. “Public schools, prisons and asylums required govt action. 1840s temperance advocates called for legislation and abolitionists believed abolition could only be achieved through political action.
4-Reformers idealized past but their efforts were to modernize and rationalize society. Believed nations’ problems rooted in breakdown of earilier patterns of life; weaking of family and communities. They were still modernizers. Central irony - they were all at same time religious moralists and social and cultural modernizers - a paradox. Unlike religious traditionalists, who opposed missionary activities, many reformers also exponents of modern values, spiritual egalitarians (Mintz:xix). reformers de-emphasized theology: deed over creeds. sin a concrete social evil, not metaphysical abstraction. Many antebellum Americans ignorant or hostile to European thought and culture. Exceptions - reformers were cosmopolitan and attuned to foreign models and ideas especially England which provoked violent anglophobia from opponents.
Education - Americans viewed education in the traditional way, to transmit social wisdom through rote and reptitious learning and memorizaiton. Reformers sought “schools as a tool for self-discovery, slcial progress,a nd intellectual liberation.
Temperance proponents - promotion of pesonal and social improvement.
Women’s rights - new notions of “separate spheres”, sexuality, single standard of sexuality morality.
Reformers institutions builders - pivotal in overcoming localism and particularism (Mintz:xx)
Reformers grew up in the wake of the Revolution that transformed society, inspired by religious faiths of a vision of more perfect future. felt confidence. Truth in the view that antebellum reformers were morally self-righteous and paternalistic and blind to implications of their reforms for poor and dispossessed (Mintz:xxi). They often acquiesced to inequities of the wage system and increased state’s power to discipline and control poor and diveant (Mintz:xxii.).
Chapter 1 - “The Specter of Social Breakdown”
nightmare early 19c - social breakdown. denouncement of rising lawlessness, poverty, prostitution, irreligion, and violence. All threatened the new nation’s democratic experiment. 1820s, 30s growing lawlessness and violence everywhere (Mintz:3). Also poverty, drunkenness, gambling, and sexual immorality (Mintz:4). Decades before civil war concern over these things (Mintz:5). also responding to anxieties over growth of cities, spread of industry, changes in gender roles and generational relationships, and breakdown ofolder paternalistic social relationships (Mintz:6). Ethnic and social diversity increasing. Foeign immigraiton due to economic problems in Europe. 1850 harvests failed (Mintz:7). gender roles changing. last quarter of 18c and first quarter of 19c young women more and more attended school and worked outside the family. Breakdown of paternalism late 18c, early 19c. decline in apprenticeships, labor strikes, extremes of poverty and wealth, dispersal of families b/c of geographic migration (Mintz:8). Before 1820s anti-elitist impulse swept the country (Mintz:9).
Travel accounts: travelers note the violence in US. The violence confirmed European claim that democracy led inevitably to anarchy and lawlessness. The question of how a free society could maintain stability and moral order dominated American public life 1800-1860. They sought to answer it through religion, education and social reform (Mintz:15).
Chapter 2 - “The promise of the Millennium”
religious and secular both optimistic about new possibilities post Revolution - the beginning of the Millennium - God’s kingdom on Earth. Millennial hopes mixed with fear of irreligion, godlessness, greed, anarchy. Diverse Americans shared millennial optimism of the US (Mintz:16). Before 1770s Millennial through association with passivity, apathy, and pessisim. But success of American Revolution, rapid growth in church membership, quickening of technological and scientific progress = more optimistic view. Devotion to “millennialist ideas inspired early 19c efforts at reform and allowed different kinds of reformers to work together. Roots in American Revolution ideals in Declaration of Independence, natural rights (Mintz:17). Also found in Enlightenment philosophy of 18c - humanism and reshaping environment, reformers could eliminate the causes of human misery. Human action could alter the human condition (Mintz:19). religious influence - leading reformers devoutly religious - nation’s commitment ot Christian principles. Proponents of temperance, abolition, et al. all affronts to Christian morality (Mintz:20).
Religious liberalism and evangelical revivalism stimulated rise in reform activity. Religious liberalism humanitarian form of religion and rejection of harsh Calvinism (original sin and predestination). (See Gary Dorrien - Making of American Liberal Theology) (Mintz:21) Defined institutions of religious liberalism - Unitarianism and Universalism (Mintz:22).
End of 18c and beginning of 19c Enlightenment and rationalism led to fear over irreligion and secularism. Few of the Founders particularly religious. Revolution in France and its destruction of the Church + the Deist societies in US + irreligious tracts by Ethan Allen and Thomas Paine helped create this fear (Mintz:25). By 1830s US appeared most religious in West - de Tocqueville. This based on the religious revival - waves up to Civil War. Dominant form of religious expression and a response to separation of church and state following Revolution (Mintz:26). Women drawn to revivalistic religion. women viewed themselves guardians of morality (Mintz:27). Evangelical revival culture truly distinctive to America. Key Concept - “Perfectionism” - to live without sin. Revivals functioned as social discipline of reform (Mintz:28).
new religious sects and denominations of 19c stimulated enthusiasm for personal piety, education and social reform: Primitivism, Millennialism, and Holiness movements.
Primitivism - born upper south and midwest - surmount divisions. Founded by Elias Smith, former New England Baptist minister, James O’Kelly, former Methodist minister in VA, Barton Stone, former Presbyterian minister in Kentucky, Alexander Campbell, Scottish immigrant. Original patterns of New Testament Christianity (Mintz:34). Reformists: temperance and abolitionism, education, reason leads to salvation. Established colleges.
Millennialism - rooted in books Daniel and Revelations. Second coming of Christ and Christ will return after defeat of irreligion, evil and vice. Communitarian ventures lived as if millennium already arrived - Oneida, New York; Zoar, Ohio; Shakers (Mintz:36). Millerites to Seventh-Day Adventism under Ellen G. White.
Holiness - mainly Methodist in background. Troubled with worldliness. struggled for a truly sinless Christian life. Central figure Phoebe Palmer, daughter of English Methodist immigrants. women had an active role. Men and women equal to preach and infusion in Holy Spirit (Mintz:37).
Mormons - begins in Western NY 1820 subjected to intense prejudice and discrimination (Mintz:38).
First half 19c notions of progress and mission nurtured Second Great Awakening,a nd inspired reform campaigns at social betterment and moral improvement. Established hundreds of voluntary associations (Mintz:47). Hopeful consensus began to fate late 1830s, 40s - intedenominational cooperation declined. Denominations even split. Post civil war greater schisms on the issue of the Bible’s status as divinely inspired text. German scholars’ finding doubtin factual reliability of Bible into US 1850 + Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Early 19c American Protestants assumed science reinforced divine revelation. By late 19c science and religion at odds (Mintz:48).
Chapter 3 - “Making the United States a Christian Republic: The Politics of Virtue”
Committed Protestants joined together to form voluntary societies that disseminated Christian values, improved the character of the nation’s citizens, and restructured the nation’s leisure patterns. Early decades of 19c the evangelical clergy and laity established interdenominational reform associations to combat atheism, deism, profanity, Sabbath breaking, lewdness, intemperance, gambling, and other signs of moral disintegration. These association is response to growth of cities, spread of industry, quickening pace of migration, and widening class divisions (Mintz:50). The vast network of interdenominational voluntary societies has come to be known as the Benevolent Empire or the Evangelical United Front. Initial aim of antebellum reforms was to uplift nation’s morals and spread Christian values. “Of all the manifestations of antebellum reform, none is easier to ridicule than the “misionary” impulse to convert the “pagan” and suppress vice. It is easy to dismiss these efforts to impose middle-class Protestant values upon the poor and the non-Christian as morally arrogant and unduly self-righteous.” Yet evaluating the efforts of the early moral reformers is difficult. These moral reformers were extraordinarily naive, largely blind to the intrusive nature of their reforms. Over time they developed a degree of sensitivity to those they hoped to help. Many foreign religious missionaries became defenders of Indians and other non-white peoples, and many urban missionaries became pioneers in the field of social work (Mintz:51).
Before Civil War the character of moral reform shifted. reform organizations that emerged during mid 1840s and 50s more tough-minded, more realistic, more professional and bureaucratic than the predecessors. emphasized importance of environment in causing social evils and aimed at more scientific approaches to benevolence. Civic cleanliness a solution to problems of epidemic disease. When quarantines did not stop the spread of cholera, the National Quarantine and Sanitary Convention, later the American Public Health Association, tried to get rid of urban filth and impure water supplies by cleaning up slaughterhouses, breweries, stables, dairies,a nd piggeries; and improving drainage, privies, and sewage systems; and demolishing overcrowded, poorly ventilated slum tenements and building better housing for the poor (Mintz:76).
Chapter 4 - “The Science of Doing Good: Creating Crucibles of Moral Character”
Five Points in New York - a dreadful place - most notorious slum of early 19c. epitome of crime, filth, and violence (Mintz:79). “At the very time that evangelical Protestant moral reformers sought to save the nation from anarchy and mobocracy by founding urban and foreign missions andSunday schools and crusading against prostitution, Sabbath breaking, and intemperance, humanitarian reformers in America, England, and Europe started new social institutions to address the mounting problems of crime, delinquency, poverty, ignorance, and physical disability epitomized by Five Points.” workhouses for poor, asylums for insane and physically handicaped, urban hospitals for ill and inform, houses of refuge and reformatories for homeless or delinquent youth, penitentiaries for criminals, and common schools for the young. Institutional approach to social problems represented a radical departure from early responses to deviance and dependence. Colonial Americans had not institutions to take care of these social problems. by mid 19c caretaker institutions preferred. They seem today to be repressive and less enlightened, but were inspired by uttopian faith that it was possible to solve social problems and reshape human character. remedy of all social evils by removing individuals from corrupt outside influences and instilling self-control through moral education, work, rigorous discipline and an orderly environment. European visitors came to see these new plans in early 19c. These institutions had a dual aspect: they provided in theory the deviant and dependent with a familial environment to learn to overcome violent or intemperate habits (Mintz:80). These institutions also served a custodial funciton, removing deviant and dependent from larger society. pre-civil war with overcrowding, lack of state funds and trained personnel, these institutions became human warehouses consisting of lower class immigrants and chronically mentally ill who were subjected to strict surveillance, regimentation, and corporal punishment. These institutions emerged in US and western Europe during late 18c and early 19c - a time when elites on both sides of the Atlantic were embracing doctrine of laissez-faire, minimal govt regulation of economy, and problems of destitution and dependence proliferated. The emergence of these “crucibles of moral character” was a transatlantic phenomenon, but the American institution reform in the antebellum US was distinct. Religiously fired, millennialist optimism infused the rhetoric ofthe founders of these institutions. They spoke in apocalyptic terms and viewed these institutions as models for society and instruments of liberation and emancipation. “The asylum would free the mentally ill and the disabled from confinement in attics, cellars, and jail cells. The common school would erace class lines and promote social mobility. The prison and the reformatory would remove criminals from the temptations of vice.” (Mintz:81) Irony that period of growing laissez-faire also beginning of new public paternalism where public institutions took on moral prerogatives, presumed benevolence nad good will previously invested in kinship and local communities.
By 1850s “a growing number of humanitarian reformers had begun to question the reformative and curative powers of asylums.” Many considered the family the best “reformatory institution.” “Increasingly aware of their institutions’ deficiencies and the limited and damaging effects of incarceration, humanitarian reformers experimented with new methods and novel systems of organization.” Many of the new reform schools of 1850s and 60s organized into small “families” of only 40 children or less. state mental hospitals also adopted the family or cottage system at mid-century. Still large, bureaucratically organized asylums, orphanages, reform schools, and prisons endured. Some survive to this day (Mintz:116).
Chapter 5 - “Breaking the Bonds of Corrupt Custom”
After a quarter century of war, 1815 marked the beginning of a new era of economic growth and pressure for reform - in US first secular societies committed to world peace, condeming war as violation of Christian ethics. Called for arbitration of international disputes. The Peace Movement - ranged from absolute pacifism to acceptance of self-defense. Gradualistic in nature (Mintz:117). During 1830s a radical current of pacifism emerged known as “nonresistance” - condemned all war, renounced capital punishment, prisons and lawsuits on the ground that Christians must forgive. William Lloyd Garrison. in 1838 nonresistants broke from American Peace Society to form New England Non-Resistance Society. 1840s, early 50s international congresses of peace advocates all over Europe. movement waned in 1850s. Turned to acceptance to violence as the only way to end slavery. 1870s and 80s the peace movement reemerged, but dismissed and its proposals were adopted after WWI - international congresses, code of international law, plans for an international court, international arbitrary system, and league of nations.
“Antebellum peace movement illustrates in vivid terms the idealismand radical ferment of the pre-Civil War era - when reformers gave new life to the nation’s moral ideals by pressing for hte abolition of slavery, an end to sexual discrimination, and tcreation of a more just social order.”
Reform faded from public view during Civil War but remained powerful in American life. The successes would provke a conservative reatction in late 19c (Mintz:118). Counterreformers sought to reverse reformers’ accomplishments by restoring capital punishment in many states, weakening married women’s property rights, restricting divorce, and criminalizing abortion.
The Growth of Antislavery sentiment - 1750s churches did not discourage members from owning slaves. by 1800 protests against slavery became widespread. Optimism that slavery was on the way out (Mintz:119). By 1830s and development of the Cotton Kingdom and harsh discrimination in North proved slavery was not on the road to extinction.
The Colonization Movement - widespread belief that blacks and whites could not coexist equally in US was major impediment to emancipation. emancipation required separation of the races. First proposal to send African Americans to Africa proposed as early as 1714. post rev - proposals multiplied. colonization society helped establish Liberia in 1820 for this purpose. Most African Americans rejected the notion. They felt pride in their patriotism in fighting wars and their ancestors cultivation of the wilds of America (Mintz:121). By 1820s realized overseas colonization an impractical solution to slavery. Each year the slave ppulation grew by fifty thousand.
Abolitions attacked slavery for its illegality, immorality and economic backwardness. Slavery also impeded the development of towns, canals, railroads, and schools - slavery not an improver (Mintz:128). Abolitionists did not realize the centrality of slavery as vital and the key to the nation’s system of racial control - slavery guaranteed few African Americans would migrate North. Ignored North’s complicity in slave system - exports of slave-grown cotton paid for commodities and technology to begin Industrialization. Slave agriculture stimiulated northern businesses - textile industries processed South’s cotton. Northern banks, insurance companies and cotton brokerages became substantial based on the lack of these institutions in the South. Abolitionists though slavery economically backward, but in actuality it was profitable. Abolitionists assumed their arguments would persuade everyone that slavery was a moral evil. They encountered harsh public reaction in North and South (Mintz:129).
1865 - Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery - American Anti-Slavery Society disbanded under William Lloyd Garrison. Societies mission had been accomplished. Others felt that full emancipation required education, economic independence, suffrage and full civil rights. The organization persisted until 1870 when Fifteenth Amendment extended the vote to black men. Issue of aid to the freedmen split the ranks of abolitionists. Controversy of extending political rights to black men brought bitter division to the women’s movement (Mintz:152). Women who worked so hard to abolition and political rights for black men felt betrayed and defeated when women were ignored in enfranchisement. (Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Abby Kelley, Julia Ward Howe, Lucretia Mott, and Lucy Stone)
Civil War left legacies to reformers - most important was growing commitment to use state power to enforce reform goals. Postwar reform in general more secular and less sentimental emphasizing professionalism and scientific analysis of social issues, and sought support of the state. Retrenchment during 1870s and 80s and counterreformers reversed many of the accomplishments of prewar reformers. antebellum reformers’ dreams livedon - survived as inspiration for postbellum proponents of labor unions, settlement houses, penal reform and societies to protect children and women from domestic violence (Mintz:153).
Epilogue: Antebellum Reform and the American Liberal Tradition
He defines antebellum reform in terms of liberalism. a willingness to use the govt. as an instrument of social betterment. “Whether their reform philosophy was rooted in evangelical Protestantism, religious liberalism, American transcendentalism, or some other set of beliefs, the aspirations of most antebellum American reformers ultimately tended to be liberal: to broaden individual rights, foster the fulfillment or the salvation of the individual, and eradicate those institutions and customs that obstructed individual self-determination and improvement.” Dissimilar from Tory Radical counterparts in England. Thomas Carlyle condemned abuses of capitalism and questioned the value of personal liberty and equality. American reformers maintained a belief in technology and material progress as long as there was balanced by moral improvement, education, religion and humanitarian reform. American reformers responsible for creating modern criminal justice system, public school system, and the mental health system = played a pivotal role in constructing the modern state. They were cosmopolitan, and attuned to European ideas and innovations, unlike most Americans (Mintz:155). They believed social ills could be solved by social engineering, moral uplift, professional expertise, and shaping of moral character - they were often blind to the coercive, paternalistic aspects and the class and ethnic biases of their reform programs (Mintz:156).