The United States of America was founded on the principles of democracy. These principles included liberty, freedom, prosperity, the pursuit of happiness, and equality. In 1825, politics became more centered on the common man. A leader of the “common man” was Andrew Jackson, a democratic-republican1. His presidency sparked the era of the “ordinary” people from 1825 to 1850, known as the Jacksonian era. During this era, reformers sought to augment the democratic ideals. This statement is valid because women and slave reforms sought equality, religious reformers sought democratic ideals in their churches (though some merely desired to break away from Deism), and many reformers sought the pursuit of happiness.
The democratic principles of equality were particularly expanded through reforms for women and slaves. Women’s rights supporters vehemently demanded “the right to be free as a man is free”(Doc I). Many gathered at Seneca Falls in 18482, where influential leaders, like Elizabeth Stanton and Susan B. Anthony2, spoke on the need for equality for all and produced a Declaration of Sentiments2 which demanded women’s democratic rights. Two years later, the first National Women’s Rights Convention3 was held and gathered the support of 1,000 participants. Margaret Fuller, Grace Greenwood, Lucretia Mott and Lucy Stone2 all made steps toward equality for women. New ideals for women began to arise like the cult of domesticity, which focused on piety, purity, submissiveness and domesticity4, changing the view of women to the keeper of the household. Like women’s rights activists, abolition reformers sought to expand the democratic ideal of equality. These activists were greatly influenced by the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 in Britain5. William Lloyd Garrison took his cue from the British and in 1833 created an American Anti-Slavery Society6. Prominent leaders of this society were Arthur Tappan, Fredrick Douglas and William Brown6. Literature played a large role persuading people of the need of equality by using propaganda to influence. Examples of this are the newspaper, The Liberator, which began in 18317. In addition, Elijah Lovejoy gave his life for printing anti-slavery articles in 18377 and Doc C appealed for anti-slavery by promoting equality. Through ardent endeavors, women rights activists and anti-slavery supporters expected their democratic right of equality.
In the 1800s, the Second Great Awakening caused more religious reform than the first8, and it emoted from democratic ideals and encouraged humanitarian reforms, though some reform focused on reviving the churches against the rationalistic ideas. During the late 1700s, Deism and Unitarianism were taking hold of the country9, these science based religions sparked religious reforms from other factions. The main reason for change though was to expand democratic ideas. The reformers tore down churches and created new sects to be more democratic, like the Baptist and Methodists churches, equally allowing a majority of the people to partake in worship, including slaves, women became influential members, and the congregations often had more control of their church.8. Influential evangelists like Peter Cartwright whose prime was in 1824 and Charles Grandison Finney who was a popular speaker from 1830-3510, promoted reform in camp meetings of at most 25,000 people8. These camp meetings encouraged “conviction, repentance and reformation” (Doc B). Religious leaders instructed their congregations to encourage the growth of democratic principles in their lives, especially equality and the pursuit of happiness. This led to many humanitarian reforms, such as prison reform, temperance, women’s rights and the abolishment of slavery8. The reformers who merely wanted to remove the church from the influence of rational thinking, did not attempt to expand democratic ideals. Others, like Samuel Morse and nativists also did not seek to augment democratic ideas and wished to unconstitutionally deny emigrants “the right of suffrage” (Doc D). The religious reformers augmented democracy through democratic churches and the encouragement of humanitarian reforms.
Democratic reformers’ purpose was the pursuit of happiness, a democratic ideal, through movements for education, temperance, communes, and better conditions for the mentally ill. As the working man got more say in 1825 through 18508, the amount of free public education grew due to focus on equal opportunity and future happiness for their children. Noah Webster created an American dictionary in 182811 to encourage one language for the nation, and William H. McGuffey created readers (Doc E) in 183012 which helped to standardize teaching, allowing children to achieve prosperity and have a chance of happiness. The reform of deranged children also was spurred from the need for happiness, the reformation of juvenile delinquents “rendered them valuable members of society”(Doc. A) and allowed society to be content due to the new law-abiding citizens. The temperance movement also was for happiness, coming to full scale in 182613. It raised awareness of the harms of alcohol, especially through propaganda (Doc H), this allowed for fewer alcoholics in society, promoting joy. Contentment was sought in the formation of communes, by making the jobs equal, men and women equal and controlling the environment. New Harmony in 182514, Brook Farm in 1841(Doc F), and Oneida in 184815, were all formed with the pursuit of happiness in mind. Dorothea Dix wanted happiness for those who were mentally ill, because their treatment was inhumane. In 18438, she pleaded to the Massachusetts legislature on their behalf and won some reforms to aid to their pleasure. Some, like Brownson (Doc G), did not believe in the pursuit of happiness or other democratic ideals, instead they critiqued reformers for trying to change the nation. The American people of the Jacksonian era strove mostly to enhance democratic idea of the pursuit of happiness through reforms.
As the new country of America matured in the 1800s, the desire to enhance democratic principles, particularly equality and the pursuit of happiness, encouraged many reforms. Women and slave reforms spurned from equality, religious reforms were democratically inclined and many reforms sought the pursuit of happiness during the Jacksonian era. Through 1825-1850, movements for reforms were heard throughout the states as the American people attempted to perfect their democracy.
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