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Reform movements
Overall main idea: Between 1815 and 1845, American social reform by Northerners grew larger and more radical, involving schools, social deviance, communism, abolitionism, women’s rights and politics.
Institutions and Social Improvement

Main idea: Americans inspired by the Great Awakening and the Enlightenment attempted to reform society through public schooling, penitentiaries, asylums, almshouses, and utopian communities.

School Reform

Main idea: During the 1820s, New England led the way in establishing tax-supported public education for all in the United States.

Pre-1820s America schooling: basic skills of three R’s - reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmatic for mostly rural population in one-room schoolhouse setting, private tutors and academies for wealthy, charity schools for cities’ poor

Push for public schooling comes from increasing inequality between those who are educated and successful and those who are ignorant and unsuccessful, especially as a result of industrialization; growing numbers of immigrants; and extension of democracy to almost all white males

1837 – Mass. establishes first states board of education, headed by Horace Mann; Mann and board take centralized control of Massachusetts schools, imposing common standards of attendance, discipline, textbooks, teachers, and competitive age-segregated students

Mann hoped that poverty and revolution would be relieved as all would have access to self-liberating education and successful behaviors

Resistance from Democrats (over the centralized authority), those who used child labor, farmers (over centralized authority and higher taxes necessary), Catholic Church (over Protestant influence in public schools)

Curriculum included strong moral lessons along with typical academics

Women led the way as teachers, though paid little

1850 – over 50% of Americans were in schools (highest percentage in the world)

Prisons, Workhouses, and Asylums

Main idea: Attempts at reforming social deviants in penitentiaries, workhouses, and asylums were largely unsuccessful during the early 1800s.

Previously, attempts at reforming social deviance (crime, poor, mental disabilities, etc.) were private and voluntary; during this reform period, they were more public and governmental

Penitentiaries attempt to reform or rehabilitate criminals rather than simply punish or isolate them

Similar idea applied to workhouses and mental institutions – the poor and mentally disabled needed to be reformed and instilled with the right values so they could become successful members of society

Dorothea Dix – pioneer in reforming mental hospitals and care for mentally disabled

In the end, prisons, workhouses, and asylums did more to segregate, isolate, and classify deviants rather than truly reform them; very little progress was made in true limiting of crime, poverty, and other social problems
Utopian Alternatives

Main idea: Instead of reforming society, some Americans attempted to create utopian communities isolated from the negative consequences of industrialization, but few succeeded.

Shakers – emotional Christian off-shoot of Quakers, believing in finding God within themselves; communist ownership of property; gender-segregated and sexually celibate; women found equal amount of power with men in Shaker communities; dwindled as few joined after 1850s

Oneida Community – utopian Christian community in New York founded by John Noyes; communist ownership of property; plural marriage; Noyes was charged with adultery and fled to Canada in 1879; Oneida Company (silverware) continues today

New Harmony – secular utopian community in Indiana in 1825; socialist; fails within two years

Brook Farm – 1841 in Massachusetts, secular transcendentalist utopian community; Nathanial Hawthorne was a member

Ralph Waldo Emerson – writer and philosopher of transcendentalism – believed in idealistic spiritual state that is instinctive and from intuition, not logical or part of learning or religion necessarily; other transcendentalists are Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller

Thoreau lives in a cabin in the woods for 16 months at Walden Pond, Massachusetts – writes about his experiences in Walden

Transcendentalism and utopian communities inspired ideas and great literature, but few of the communities themselves lasted long
Abolitionism and Women’s Rights

Main idea: Abolitionism emerged along with other reform movements but split in 1840 over issues of women’s rights.

Rejecting Colonization

Main idea: An early antislavery idea of freeing slaves and sending them to Africa was unsuccessful and mostly rejected by free African-Americans and other abolitionists.

1817 – American Colonization Society – included Henry Clay, James Madison, and James Monroe, from Upper South; idea was to gradually free slaves and then send them to Liberia, Africa; little success

Free blacks founded abolitionist societies in the north; published first black newspaper in 1827

David Walker writes Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World in 1827, arguing that blacks have just as much right, if not more, to be Americans

Increased black militancy in abolitionism and rebellion (Nat Turner in 1831) led to stronger calls for outright abolition by whites


Main idea: In the 1830s, antislavery organizations increasingly campaigned for abolitionism and equal rights, meeting resistance and division.

William Lloyd Garrison – Massachusetts printer and editor of The Liberator newspaper; “I am in earnest – I will not equivocate – I will not excuse – I will not retreat a single inch – AND I WILL BE HEARD.” Urged for immediate abolition and racial equality

Garrison helps found the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833; Tappans provide money

Theodore Dwight Weld is an evangelical minister who preaches abolitionism in the West along with his wife Angelina Grimke

Abolitionists use extensive campaign techniques of reform movements

Many Americans are hostile to the abolitionists’ message, destroying property, breaking up rallies, and harassing supporters; in the South, antislavery messages are burned and censored, attempt to capture abolitionists for rewards, and make slave codes stricter; gag rule in Congress

In 1838, Garrison helps found the New England Non-Resistant Society and supports equal rights for women and anarchism as the government was committed to slavery; American Anti-Slavery Society splits in 1840 over women’s rights

The Women’s Rights Movement

Main idea: The Women’s Rights Movement grew out of the abolitionist movement but remained small and achieved little success.

Women had no suffrage, lost property and control of money after marriage, and were barred from most jobs and advanced education

When Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were excluded from the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, they began the feminist movement

1848 – Seneca Falls Convention, New York – first national convention devoted to women’s rights issues the Declaration of Sentiments, based on the Declaration of Independence, calling for the vote and female equality

Few successes of women’s rights movement are economic – 1860, 14 states had given women greater control over property and wages; still, overall a small movement compared to the rest of reform

Political Antislavery

Main idea: Slavery and abolitionism became more important political issues in the 1840s.

John Quincy Adams, former president turned Congressman, worked in Congress to get around the gag rule

Political antislavery sometimes attempts to involve white northerners by appealing to their civil liberties and a fear of the southern Slave Power, rather than moral concerns of black slavery

Garrison is against political involvement; in 1840, anti-Garrison abolitionists form the abolitionist Liberty Party, which elects some congressmen in the 1840s

Frederick Douglass is the champion of black abolitionists; spokesman, writer, editor, and political lobbyist for abolitionism

Fear of “Slave Power” – conspiracy of southern planters and northern “lackeys” to spread slavery, increase power, and limit freedom for all – for example, gag rule and Tyler’s annexation of Texas; Slave Power is blamed for economic depression of 1839-1843
Overall main idea: Between 1815 and 1845, American social reform by Northerners grew larger and more radical, involving schools, social deviance, communism, abolitionism, women’s rights and politics.

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