Mr. Madison’s War

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UNITARIANS- Unitarians broke away from the established New England Congregationalists in the late 18th Century and during the Second Great Awakening.  Unitarians were intellectual New Englanders. William Ellery Channing was the most famous Unitarian minister.  His acquaintances included Dorothea Dix, Horace Mann, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.  Unitarians, like Finney, saw the “Creator” as a more friendly, kind being.  Unitarians stressed that humans were naturally “good” and should always work to improve society.
William Ellery Channing once explained that the Christian religion's purpose was to work for "the perfection of human nature, the elevation of man into nobler beings."

  • METHODISTS- 70,000 members in 1800, 1,000,000 in 1844.  Methodists became the largest Protestant denomination in America during the Second Great Awakening.  Methodists increased their membership along the frontier. Frontier converts were recruited by "circuit preachers."  Peter Cartwright was the most famous Methodist circuit preacher.  Methodists thrived in the Age of Jackson.  Methodists were in many ways the "common man's" Protestant group.  They tended to preach in what was considered a more "down to Earth style."  Methodists preachers and church goers tended to be different from the more established, conservative Protestant groups like the Congregationalists and Presbyterians. Methodists, however, like the Congregationalists, eventually began founding their own colleges (Congregationalist Puritans established Harvard in 1636).  Randolph Macon is a well-known college founded by Methodists in 1830.  Southern and North Methodist groups split into two separate churches in 1845 because of their two different views regarding slavery.

  • MORMONS- Joseph Smith grew up in the "Burned Over District" of upstate New York. Smith completed his translation of the Book of Mormon in 1827.  The Book of Mormon provided what Smith described as an additional revelation to the Bible by describing an ancient North American civilization which had witnessed miracles performed by Jesus. Smith founded the Mormon Church in Kirtland, Ohio in 1830.  Many American's felt threatened by the Book of Mormon; that is many Americans feared that the Book of Mormon was more of a “challenge” to the Bible than a “companion” to the Bible.  Mormon's also worked closely together.  Their emphasis on community ties appeared to threaten some Americans' sense of individualism.  The practice of polygyny (no longer sanctioned by the Mormon Church today) by some Mormons intensified the ill feelings of many Americans.  Joseph Smith was arrested for "treason" and jailed in Carthage, Illinois in 1844.  He and his brother were dragged from prison and murdered by an angry mob there the same year.  Brigham Young led several thousand Mormons on a thousand mile trek to what was then northern Mexico.  Young and his followers settled along the Great Salt Lake in the present-day state of Utah.  Today, Utah is known as the "beehive" state.  The Mormon's, with their intense focus on communal responsibility made the desert prosper.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints grew from 6,000 members in 1840 to 200,000 in 1870.

  • BAPTISTS- Wake Forest College was founded by Baptists in 1838.  Southern Baptists split from their northern churches over the slavery issue in 1844.  Baptists tended to draw from the rural and frontier areas like the Methodists.  African Americans (slaves mostly) were more actively recruited or allowed to attend church after the Methodists and Baptists split from their northern counterparts.  The number of African American Southern Baptists doubled between 1845 and 1860.

    1. The General Nature of the Reform Movement: By our present standards, the reformers of the first half of the 19th Century seem more like conservatives than radicals.

      1. What the reformers did not advocate: There was no significant sentiment in the early 19th Century American reform movement against the institution of private property (communism was never the mainstream Antebellum reformer’s goal). Reformers also were not socialists; they did not advocate heavy government regulation of business. They also did not support labor organizations, strikes, or boycotts. They did not even attack child labor.

      2. What they did advocate: Economically, the early 19th Century American reformers were advocates of laissez-faire policy (excepting the obvious intrusion on slaver owner “property rights.”). They believed that labor creates wealth, and that labor has a right to the fruits of its toil; but they felt that reforms in economic affairs must arise from the development of a more sensitive social conscience by the businessman and factory owner himself. In their view, the factory-owner was a valuable member of society because he created jobs and the honest, industrious, thrifty worker was bound to get ahead in the world (compare this idea to Social Darwinism & Horatio Alger themes in the late 19th Century). The antebellum reformer’s goal was to extend the influence of the cardinal virtues of honesty, industry, and thrift. They hoped to persuade successful capitalists not to exploit workers. They aimed at the moral improvement of the individual and at the equalization of opportunity.

      3. More About Optimism & Pessimism: The typical antebellum American was characteristically optimistic about life’s promise. There was much to be optimistic about: the nation’s borders were expanding, the economy was growing and modernizing, people enjoyed more religious and political freedoms in America than in any other nation. The public’s rising faith in the “common man” and growing feeling of patriotic nationalism were additional examples of the optimistic trend. Transcendentalists like Emerson and Thoreau optimistically attempted to move beyond the regular human existence and achieve a higher level of consciousness by becoming self-reliant, communing with nature, and being guided by the “truth within” all men. But the average American was also in touch with the darker side of life. Thoreau’s experiment at Walden Pond was in itself a rejection of the rapid industrialization and increasingly materialistic, modern “progress” of American society. Utopian reformers similarly “dropped out” of mainstream American society. Hawthorne, Poe, and Melville’s works also directly examined flaws in basic human nature. The recognition of so many “evils” triggering the reform movement’s attempt to purify society also demonstrates that the average American distrusted the human nature; that is the antebellum reform movement was itself organized by people who saw evil in many areas of society.

      4. Economic Factors & Reform: The early transitional period from an agricultural economy to and industrial economy was socially disruptive.  Family patterns and social norms were altered.  The increasingly industrial economy was subject to increasingly severe fluctuations in the business cycle.  The panic of 1837, for example, was much worse than the panic of 1819. Both panics also disrupted the agricultural economy. Northern farmers became increasingly concerned about having to compete with Southern farms that benefited with free slave labor.  Industrialization also resulted in the growth of cities.  Urban problems were exaggerated as cities ballooned in size.  The influx of German and Irish immigrants in the 1840s also alarmed many native born American citizens.  Economic forces were also rapidly reshaping society.  People reacted by questioning, criticizing, and reforming existing social and political institutions.

      5. Geographic Factors & Reform: The "reform spirit" was concentrated but not entirely limited to the middle economic classes of the Northeast.  The industrial revolution produced the most significant change in the Northeast.  Also, southerners were resistant to change.  The “conservative nature” of the south was in part due to the underlying slavery issue.  Southerners understood that all social changes could, in theory, eventually lead to the greatest reform of all- ABOLITION.

    2. Some Specific Reform Movements:

      1. Temperance: Americans consumed an incredible amount of alcohol in the early 19th Century. Some estimates rate consumption as a pint of liquor a day. Temperance reformers were convinced that social evils (crime, insanity, poverty, etc.) were triggered by alcohol consumption.  Temperance reformers worked for prohibition. Many native born temperance reformers were also “alarmed” at the cultural drinking practices of German and Irish immigrants. Temperance was initially encouraged by religious leaders like Lyman Beecher and Father Theobald Mathew.  Two-thirds of the converts in the 2nd Great Awakening were women who often worked for ministers to convince their husbands to stop drinking.  Women demanded that husbands become "Teetotalers" (stop drinking “Totally”) and temperance societies began forming.  The American Temperance Society formed in 1826.  Speakers toured to meet with local temperance groups to “educate the public about the evils of alcohol.”  Writers eventually published fictional accounts of lives ruined by "demon rum."  TS Arthur's Ten Nights in a Barroom and What I Saw (1854) described how one tavern could corrupt an entire community (the book was the equivalent to HB Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin). Neal Dow, the "father of prohibition" wrote the first state law (in Maine) to ban the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquor in 1851. 12 states adopted similar "Maine Laws" by 1857.  Most of the "dry" states were in the North. Americans consumed, on average, 50% less alcohol in 1850 than in 1820.  The struggle for national, federal prohibition continued until the 18th Amendment was ratified during World War One in 1918.  The "noble experiment" was repealed by the 21st Amendment in 1933. Note the role of the state and federal government during the prohibition debate.  Government power increases significantly.  The social reform evolves into a major political movement. To what extent was choosing to drink or to join the "teetotal" movement protected by the First Amendment?  First states limit personal choice, then the federal government mandates abstinence through a constitutional amendment. One could debate extensively the “pros & cons” of each side.

      2. Treatment of Criminals: Reformers advocated the abolition of flogging and of public executions, which they argued were morally degrading. They fought to improve prison conditions, because they felt that the true object of imprisonment was reform, not the punishment, of the criminal. They campaigned against imprisonment for debt which was finally abolished in the United States by the middle of the 19th Century.

      3. Treatment of the Insane: Some reformers, led by Dorothea Dix, fought for improvement in the generally deplorable conditions existing for the criminally insane who were also often housed in prisons built for criminals.

      4. Public Education: The Puritans established the first grade schools in American history to instruct children how to read the bible (recall the Old Deluder Act at Massachusetts Bay Colony, 1657).  Massachusetts Education Leaders Horace Mann and others worked to create free, tax- supported schools during the Age of Jackson. The notion of creating a strong public education system was a mammoth dream considering the fact that few free, tax-supported public schools existed anywhere in the US. Furthermore, those that existed rarely followed a real curriculum, hired qualified teachers, or established school year calendars lengthy enough to really get anything done. Public support for public schools in the Antebellum period was also extremely weak. Wealthy taxpayers initially did not see the need to spend public tax revenue on educating the masses. A great number of people were also offended by the notion of compulsory education laws that were recommended (and later enacted around the turn of the century- 1900). Irish immigrants did not want their children to be forced to read school textbooks that often presented Protestant and anti-Catholic themes. Average Americans also questioned the extent to which government should be allowed to tell parents how to properly raise their kids. The move for universal educational opportunity has often been linked to the rise of Universal White Manhood Suffrage (this political feature of Democracy was adopted during the Age of Jackson allowed many in the "common class" to vote for the first time). A democracy is only as wise as its people.  Horace Mann wrote, "If we do not prepare students to become good citizens... if we do not enrich their minds with knowledge, then our republic must go down to destruction, as others have gone before it." Other historians point toward Economic reasons for the development of public schools. Working class Protestant "mechanics" favored tax supported schools for their children to attend to “better themselves” and eventually move up the social scale.  Factory owners, initially hostile to paying taxes, eventually supported schools which would train workers the behaviors necessary for the industrial workplace: come to work/school on time, obey the teacher's/employer's rules. Other liberal reformers saw schools as a place where the recent Irish & German immigrants could be “socialized” to assimilate or adopt American culture. One native born American commented, "We must decompose and cleanse the impurities which rush into our midst."  Public education was viewed as "one infallible filter- the SCHOOL." The first free, tax supported high school in the United States was the English High School of Boston, Massachusetts (1821).  Pennsylvania passed its Free School Act in 1834.  Horace Mann (the first Secretary of Massachusetts, 1837-48) introduced the following reforms: a) increasing training for teachers b) lengthening the school year from 3 months to 7-9 months c) standardizing curriculum content and textbooks  d) separating students to teach groups by grade levels.  William H. McGuffey from Ohio pioneered reading instruction.  122 million McGuffey's Readers were sold between 1830 and 1880.  Noah Webster's Blue Backed Speller was another standard text.  Man's reform were adopted in one way or another by every state before 1860.  Reforms, however, were especially slow to mature in the agricultural, rural south.  Only 15% of southern children attend public schools in 1860.

      5. Utopian Movements: Several groups attempted to establish utopian cooperative communities. The object of these communities was to free the individual from evil social pressures, so that he might develop more fully his creative nature. As while you read the descriptions below ask yourself what attracted people to each community and why did each community eventually fail?

          • Oneida Community (near Buffalo, New York): Founded by John Himphrey Noyes around 1848. The uniting feature of the community was the concept of “perfectionism.” Noyes and the Perfectionists were influenced by the religious belief that sin originates from individual choice and is therefore avoidable (one could live “perfectly”). The communal arrangement was extreme. Monogamy was rejected for being “selfish.” Community elders arranged couples for the purpose of procreation. The personal feuds associated with the community’s endorsement of “complex marriage” (marriage without monogamy) ultimately led its downfall around 1875. The community was, however, more prosperous than other utopian experiements. The members of the commune adapted to the industrial forces of the day worked to produce marketable animal traps, embroidered gentlemen’s slippers, mop handles, and silverware.

          • Brook Farm: A transcendentalist community (established in 1849) committed to “basic living.” Transcendentalists generally wanted to “live with nature” simply and rejected the growing cities, industrialization, and modernization (much in the same way that Lost Generation writiers and Beats in the 1920s and 1950s rejected the demands of materialism and consumerism). Emerson visited but did not stay here. Nathaniel Hawthorne did live there for a while. The community also adopted the high fiber and largely vegetarian diet recommended by Dr. Sylvester Graham (an antebellum health food advocate whose crackers are still enjoyed today). The community dissolved after a fire, infighting amongst its members, and ultimately proving to be being economically not viable.

          • New Harmony (Indiana): Founded by Robert Owen in 1825. Intellectuals and naturalists were also attracted to this community and its focus on education, research and learning. Gerald Troost, an immigrant from Holland developed an impressive mineral collection while living there. Noted geologist William Maclure was a founding member and community leader who recruited people like Troost. Thomas Say also worked to produce the well regarded 3rd Volume of American Entomology while living in New Harmony. This community was, however, filled with idealists and never really had an adequate “business plan” to stay afloat financially. It disbanded in 1827, only two years after its founding.

      1. Women’s Rights. In the early 19th Century, married women could not enter into contracts without their husband’s consent, women lost all title to property or future earnings upon marriage, children were legally controlled by the father, and women were often with recourse against kidnapping or even imprisonment by husbands and other male relatives. Listed below are notable women who started in one reform or another but eventually gravitated toward focusing on women’s rights:

          • Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) She was higfly educated and graduated from Emma Willard’s Troy (Troy, NY) Female Seminary (seminary was established in 1821). She insisted that her marriage ceremony omit the word “obey.” Her honeymoon trip was to attend, with her abolitionist husband, the World Anti Slavery Conference in 1840. She was angered by the male members of the group who refused to allow her and other women to participate with in the conference (the women were not allowed to speak publicly and were required to sit behind curtains while male delegates discussed matters). She worked closely with Lucretia Mott to organize the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention. She also drafted the Declaration of Sentiments endorsed by the Seneca Falls Convention. The document called for women’s rights to own property, more liberal divorce laws, education, and generally be treated equally by courts. The document’s most controversial clause was approved after heated debat: female suffrage. Stanton met former Temperance activist Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. Anthony had experienced similar sexism and discrimination during her work for temperance. At one meeting, Anthony was told to remain silent and reminded, “The sisters were not invited to this temperance convention to speak!” The two women formed a lifelong partnership devoted to obtaining the right to vote. Stanton & Anthony later formed the National Women’s Suffrage Association to fight for this cause around the turn of the Century (1900).

          • Lucretia Mott (1793-1880) She was the daughter of a sea captain and grew up on Nantucket Island of the shore of Massachusetts. She was raised in the Quaker faith that was unique among American religions in encouraging abolition and equality for women. She moved to Philadelphia after being married in 1811. She became very outspoken at Quaker meetings (religious services). She adopted and expressed the belief that slavery was sinful and must be abolished during the 1830s. She worked with Lucretia Mott to organize the Seneca Falls Convention (1848) after also being denied the right to participate in the 1840 World Antislavery Conference Held in London.

          • Radical Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison fully supported the right of women to speak publicly or otherwise completely participate in the abolitionist movement. He encouraged Sarah and Angelina Grimke to speak publicly at functions organized by the American Antislavery Society. Garrison’s support for full female participation in the American Anti-Slavery Society, however, led to the group’s rupture and division by 1850 (Garrison’s anti-slavery society also divided over the issue of whether or not to use the political process to end slavery).

          • The Grimke Sisters made great abolitionist speakers because they had witnessed slavery first hand by growing up as daughters of a prominent South Carolina judege and plantation owner before moving North after marriage. They were the first females speakers on the abolitionist speaking circuit. Angelina (1805-1879) was also the first female to speak to a legislative body in American history. She spoke about slavery and women’s rights to the Massachusetts General Assembly in 1838. The sister were pioneers who really began to agitate for women’s rights in the 1830s, years before Seneca Falls. Sarah (1792-1873) was better known for her feminist writings than speaking. She was one of the first female to comment about the similarities between slavery and subjected womanhood in her pamphlet Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and Condition of Women (1837). Angelina also corresponded heavily with Catherine Beecher, the sister of Harriet Beecher Stowe and a strong anti-feminist opposed to Women’s Rights. The letters between Catherine Beecher and Angelina Grimke are treasured historical artifacts providing contemporary historians with an important view into the mindset of women favoring and opposed to the antebellum women’s rights movement.

          • Angelina eventually married prominent abolitionist Theodore Weld. Weld, encouraged his wife to speak publicly against slavery and this sort of support from a husband was highly unusual. Weld’s more traditional beliefs, however, were never far behind. Weld, like the majority of abolitionists worried that women would put women’s rights before the cause of ending slavery. “Is it not forgetting the great and dreadful wrong of the slave, “ he once asked Angelina, “in a selfish crusade against some paltry grievances of our own?” “The time to assert a right,” Angelina responded, “is the time when that right is denied. We must establish this right for if we do not, it will be impossible for us to go on with the work of emancipation.”

          • Escaped slave Elizabell Baumfree (Sojourner Truth) also spoke passionately for Women’s Rights and abolitionism. He famous Ain’t I A Women speech described how she had been required to perform heavy physical labor for her former owner. The message was powerful. She provided simultaneous witness to the evil of slavery while attacking chauvinism and testifying to the physical abilities of women.


    1. Of all the reform movements that flourished between 1830 and 1860, the one with the greatest appeal was the crusade against slavery. Antislavery reformers looked upon slavery as the greatest social evil of the age, a moral cesspool that pulled both slave and slaveowner down to degradation. They regarded it, furthermore, as a blatant denial of human rights and of the economic principle that the workers was entitled to the fruits of his labor. Like the defenders of slavery, they called on history, economics, and the Bible, but only to find arguments against slavery. They pointed out the abuse of slaves by their owners and to the inevitable disruption of families (slave families were torn apart by auctions and trade; white families were also disrupted by unscrupulous behavior of slave masters toward female slaves) as some of the moral and social evils involved in the South’s “peculiar institution.” The antislavery crusaders have been criticized for ignoring the evil of child labor and the economic exploitation of the worker in the New England factories. It is true that they did ignore these evils; but it is also true that slavery was a great social evil they attacked.

    2. The objective of the antislavery movement was the complete abolition of the institution of slavery. They regarded it as incapable of reform.

    3. Slavery Politics & the Constitution: Since the Constitution specifically acknowledged slavery and protected it against federal action, we may well ask how this issue could get into national politics. What could political action accomplish against slavery? How did the slavery issue eventually disrupt the Democratic Party, disintegrate the Whigs, and give rise to the new Republican Party that elected Abraham Lincoln in 1860?
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