The Antebellum Era: Major Social Reform Movements Essay

The Antebellum Era: Major Social Reform Movements Essay

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The antebellum period was full of social reform movements based on the urge to eradicate evil and improve human conditions in society. Despite the attempt to deal with a wide variety of reforms to provide positive changes to society these reform movements were met with varying degrees of success. This essay will focus on five of the major social reform movements of that era discussing their accomplishments, failures and impacts on America as a whole. They are the reforms of abolition, women’s suffrage, temperance, institutional and educational reforms. The reform movements of the 1830’s and 1840’s were largely due to humanitarian reasons because of a period of Enlightenment in the previous century which emphasized rational over irrational thought linking ideas about a responsibility to God and society to always improve.
Christian morality, new ideas about liberty and human rights, economic changes, and as a result of the American and French Revolutions, abolitionism contributed to efforts among whites and blacks to end human bondage. The American Revolution fought for independence from Britain in the name of liberty and universal natural rights contradicted the continuation of slavery. William Lloyd Garrison was a white New Englander who published a weekly abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator, in 1831. He was convinced slavery was a sin and brought together Quaker abolitionists, evangelical abolitionists and New England associates to form the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS) in 1833. Its’ goal was immediate, uncompensated emancipation and equal rights for blacks.
Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth and the Grimke sisters were also notable leaders in the abolitionist movement; though abolitionists were never more ...


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...tally insane in jails and almshouses in Massachusetts. In 1843 she presents her findings to the Massachusetts Legislature and by 1860 twenty states would follow her advice for building new insane asylums and prisons. The institutional reform movement was successful in that twelve new prisons were built and punishments were less harsh than they had previously been but they were unsuccessful in improving the treatment of criminal and the mentally insane. Institutions turned into places of brutality and neglect. Penitentiaries made their prisoners perform labor, solitary confinement, and they were severely punished if they disobeyed. Institutional reforms improved the lot of the mentally ill only slightly which meant graduating from being chained in basements, beaten, starved and naked to being locked in a mental institution at the mercy of experimenting doctors.

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