Reform Movements in the United States

As Americans entered an era of transition and instability, they sought to expand democratic ideals in the society. In response to sudden changes occurring and traditional values being challenged, various reform movements during 1825-1850 began to focus on democratic ideals. The rise of religious revivals, movements for equal rights and protecting liberties of different social groups, want to advance society technologically, and desire to bring order and control helped reform the society to live up to the nation’s founding ideals.

Teaching them (I don’t get who “them” is) the habits of thrift, orderliness, temperance and industry was a way to not only better their lives but a way to instill certain democratic values and advance the perfection of society as a whole. The rise of popular religion and a series of religious revivals reinforced American democracy and liberty. The Second Great Awakening was a huge religious reform movement that sought to re-captivate religious interest in America.

One of its new breakthroughs is its representation of democratic ideas, or: “a reworking of traditional religious institutions to better match the average American’s sensibilities and frontier lifestyles (Second Great Awakening). ” In this attempt to capture interest, this new theology differed from the previous Calvinist viewpoint that people’s predestined path to heaven or hell could only be altered by God’s choosing, in that the new theology emphasized individual free will, and equality in God’s eyes- a characteristic of democracy.

These new theologies emphasized: “human choice. Reform of the individual human heart and also broader social institutions was indeed possible (Second Great Awakening). ” Church ministers were elected and churches believed in a “priesthood of all believers. ” Such religious reforms sought to expand democratic ideals into the churches. The theology of the Second Great Awakening can be divided into many different subdivisions which all spread out and became part of many reform movements to come.

Before examining such future movements, it must be noted that The Progress of the Age was also a reform movement that spread democratic ideals of around the same time frame as the Second Great Awakening. The Progress of the Age empowers all the new American technologies and social reforms in its time (around 1825-1846). New technological reforms included adapting the time conserving sewing machine, and harnessing the potential of the locomotive. Religion, politics, the economy, and virtually everything else in America was being influenced by echnological reforms, turning life in American as something Senator Webster describes: “The world has seen nothing like [it] before (A Discourse, Delivered at Plymouth 61). ” The significance of all these technological advances lies in the inevitable social advances they initiated. The Progress of the Age focused on improving everyday life with the adaption of machine labor, allowing for: a large range of agricultural goods for the common man, increasingly cheaper goods, less expensive books/newspapers, and faster travel.

As these technological revolutions led to revolutions in habits, opinions, and moral values, people began to realize: “If machinery could be brought to such a state of perfection, why not society (Maier 369)? ” With all the social ideas related to technological progress, none were associated with the Progression of the Age, as the expansions of democratic ideals were. With the new leaps in technological advances, people built the impression that: “No reform is now deemed impossible, no enterprise for human betterment impracticable (Maier 369). Of all the social ideas, the democratic ideas of striving for social equality, and benefitting the common good fit the technological age of progress best. Along with technological advancements, American literature was advancing too. New values such as favoring nature over “America’s turn towards industrial capitalism and worst of all, the crass, money-grubbing materialism that seemed to grip more and more of their countrymen (Maier 371),” as described in novels of James Fenimore Cooper, and Washington Irving were exposed to their readers.

The Transcendentalist movement, founded by Ralph Waldo Emerson was populated by his essay Nature, as well as other works such as Henry David Thoreau’s Nature. The increasing quality and affordability of such books as well as newspapers, with new perspectives and philosophies printed by new machines, allowed the common people access to new knowledge. Society was now exposed to knowledge such as: philosophy, current events, and political information which brought up the level of education of the common man.

Not only were books made cheaper and more available, an abundance of higher quality goods and services such as better foods, clothes, and a better transportation system now became available to the society. As Horace Greenley of the New York Tribune accounts: “We have universalized all the beautiful and glorious results of industry and skill… We have made them a common possession of the people…. We have democratized the means and appliances of a higher life (Art and Industry 58). Greenley is saying that the Progress of the Age has brought high quality goods previously only for aristocrats down to the common people, raising the living standard of the common people: a true democratic value. Out of all these technological breakthroughs, the railroad became the symbol of the Progress of the Age and the expansion of democratic ideals. Even artists of the Hudson River School such as Thomas Cole recognized the locomotive in their paintings. In River in the Catskills, Thomas Cole blends the locomotive with nature, suggesting a natural harmony between them as Americans civilized the new lands.

The locomotive became a symbol of the drive of civilization, spreading it and America’s democracy to new, unseen horizons. These unseen horizons were discovered through the reforms in the Antebellum Era, whose roots were mainly evangelical – religion tied into the belief that equality and salvation should be offered to everyone. This brought back tensions between the North and South when slavery became an issue with those ideals, which made the acted reforms not just a movement towards equality, but towards democracy as well.

One of the most important reform movements in American history was the creation of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833. The Declaration of Sentiments was established and those who wished to join the society had to sign the document which pledged to “secure to the colored population…all the rights and privileges that belong to them as men and as Americans. ” This reform was different than most, because the people involved decided to use the old tactic of “moral suasion” instead of violence. These society members campaigned across the U. S. especially aiming to influence the South. They published abolitionist newspapers and other literature to raise awareness, attempted to make antislavery societies in every state and every town, and eventually brought so many petitions to Congress that although the “Gag Resolution” tabled them, the awareness it raised about slavery occurred everywhere. Not only was this the effect of the society, but it also showed Americans that all people could make a difference if joined together, not just the government, which expanded ideas of democracy.

William Lloyd Garrison, among other strong abolitionists, acted as a leader in the fight for all-around equality in the United States. He dedicated his life to slavery abolition, publishing the newspaper, The Liberator and writing in it, “On this subject, I do not wish to think, to speak, or write, with moderation…I am in earnest – I will not equivocate – I will not excuse – I will not retreat a single inch – and I will be heard. ” Not only did his words anger people enough to cause the bloody slave revolt in Virginia led by Nat Turner, but it also made abolitionists of others as well.

His words inspired Frederick Douglass to publish his newspaper, North Star, at Rochester. They inspired Theodore Dwight Weld to declare an end to slavery and leave the Lane Seminary and their white society with 75 others by his side, naming themselves the “Lane Rebels. ” He spent the rest of his life being a devoted member of the Ohio Antislavery Society and giving speeches throughout Ohio and Pennsylvania, encouraging the establishment of other antislavery societies. Abolitionists for women’s rights like Henry B.

Stanton who was also a “Lane Rebel”, and his wife, Elizabeth Cady Stanton were also strong leaders, as well as the Grimke sisters in taking on the roles normally given to men. These powerful reformers were able to influence the population to join them in reforms, creating the sense that they could all make a difference together, and reform the republic government to a democratic one instead. With the idea of equality comes the idea of democracy, so when reform movements for slavery abolition and women’s rights began, so did the widespread belief of a new democratic government.