Reform Movements


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Reform movements including religion, temperance, abolition, and women's rights sought to expand democratic ideals in the years 1825 to 1850. However, certain movements, such as nativism and utopias, failed to show the American emphasis on a democratic society. The reform movements were spurred by the Second Great Awakening, which began in New England in the late 1790's, and would eventually spread throughout the country. The Second Great Awakening differed from the First in that people were now believed to be able to choose whether or not to believe in God, as opposed to previous ideals based on Calvinism and predestination.

According to Charles G. Finney, the role of the church is to reform society (Doc. B). In 1834, he said, "When the churches are...awakened and reformed, the reformation and salvation of sinners will follow." Finney had been influenced by Second Great Awakening ideals. He goes on to say that "drunkards, harlots, and infidels" would also be converted do to reform by the church. In this sense, the Second Great Awakening helped expand democratic ideals by bettering the moral standards of the common man. In 1835, Another example of democratic growth can be shown by Document C, where Patrick Reason created an engraving depicting a black female slave in chains and shackles. Above her is the quote, ‘Am I not a woman and a sister?' This reflects how the abolition and women's movements often tied into one another since both of these movements helped expand democratic ideals in that they desired increased rights, such as suffrage for minorities. For example, The Grimke sisters, Angelina and Sarah were southern abolitionists who also played a role in the Women's Movement.

Susan B. Anthony who was a Quaker, was therefore opposed to the immorality slavery but also played a role in the movement calling for equality and rights of women. Anthony was inspired by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who was also active in both movements, but very famous for her aggressive action in the Women's Movement, which can be shown by Document I. Elizabeth Cady Stanton played a very important role in The Seneca Falls Convention of 1848. This convention also sought to expand democratic ideals, and more radically than perhaps any other event of any movement. They produced a declaration which stated that all men and women are created equal, and should therefore be treated equal. Stanton believed that women should be equally "represented in the government" and demanded for the right to vote.

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This can be confirmed by an excerpt (Doc I) from the Seneca Falls Declaration on August 2, 1848, where Stanton states that the women are "assembled to protest against a form of government, existing without the consent of the governed--to declare our right to be free as man is free." Education reform was also an important movement of this period. Universal manhood suffrage created the need for education reform. The common man began to demand education for his children, as represented in Document E.

This movement sought to expand democratic ideals in that more educated people meant more people would be able to be productive members of society, meaning they could vote. An important supporter of the education reform movement was Horace Mann. Mann accepted the position of First Secretary of the State Board of Education in Massachusetts. He was known for his founding of the "Normal School for Teachers," free libraries, and also helping to provide funds for the public education system by proving its importance to the nation. Alcohol abuse was also becoming widespread throughout the early 1800's. Alcohol abuse led to decreased efficiency of labor, which was a problem for businessmen and consumers alike. Therefore this spurred the Temperance Movement. An 1846 cartoon entitled "The Drunkards Progress. From The First Glass To The Grave" (Doc H) shows what a detrimental effect alcohol had on the life of the common laborer. The Temperance Movement sought to expand democratic ideals in that it protected the common man from himself. It improved the common man's productivity as well as his well-being by discouraging him from the evils of alcohol. Another important reformation was the "Reformation of Juvenile Delinquents." As shown in Document A, the people of America did not believe that it was appropriate that young criminals were being placed in regular prisons as punishment. The citizens did not want the youth, although already troubled, to be exposed to "the ways of the wicked" so the House of Refuge was formed. This was an establishment that was a part of the penitentiary system, specializing in only the punishment of youth. Dorothea Dix was an important person to this reform. Dix traveled all over the nation touring asylums and prisons. Her journals helped spread the idea that these children should not be placed in prisons. Dorothea Dix also proved that crazy people were actually mentally ill, and did not simply choose to be crazy. Her work led to 15 new hospitals and improved conditions in current hospitals of the time. While she did not seek to expand democratic ideals, she did improve the conditions in asylums, which is an indirect increase in the rights of the mentally ill.

Although most reformations did seek to expand democratic ideals, there were a few that did not. Nativism, for example, was also an important reform movement of this time period. Nativism was the belief that only white American citizens should be allowed suffrage and other rights, excluding new emigrants (Doc D). People believed this because they did not want foreign immigrants competing with them for jobs. The Naturalization Law made it impossible for any foreigner who comes into the country to ever be able to vote. This movement obviously did not seek to expand democratic ideals. Another example of non-democratic ideals is utopias. A utopia is a perfect place, especially in its social, political, and moral aspects. In Document F, the writer describes a perfect nation, where justice is applied, children are secure, industry is successful, and everyone provides physical support for each other. This represents a socialist type of government, not democratic.
In conclusion, during the period from 1825-1850, the majority of the reform movements in the United States sought to expand democratic ideals. However, some did so indirectly and unintentionally, while a few proved to be non-democratic.


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