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and Social Reform
Roots of Reform
From 1801 for years a blessed
revival of religion spread through almost the entire inhabited
parts of the West....The Presbyterians and Methodists in a great
measure united in this work, met together, prayed together,
and preached together....
They would erect their camps
with logs or frame them, and cover them with clapboards or shingles.
They would also erect a shed, sufficiently large to protect
five thousand people from wind and rain, and cover it with boards
or shingles; build a large stand, seat the shed, and here they
would collect together from forty to fifty miles around, sometimes
further than that. Ten, twenty, and sometimes thirty ministers
of different denominations would come together and preach night
and day, four or five days together....
A new exercise broke out among
us, called the jerks, which was overwhelming in its effects
upon the bodies and minds of the people. No matter whether they
were saints or sinners, they would be taken under a warm song
or sermon, and seized with a convulsive jerking all over, which
they could not by any possibility avoid, and the more they resisted
the more they jerked....I have seen more than five hundred persons
jerking at one time in my large congregations....The first jerk
or so, you would see their fine bonnets, caps, and combs fly;
and so sudden would be the jerking of the head that their long
loose hair would crack almost as loud as a wagoner's whip.
1. Why did
the early 19th century witness the first secular efforts in
history to improve society through social reform?
2. What were
the sources of the reform impulse?
the basic characteristics of revivalistic religion?
4. Why do
you think church membership increased rapidly during the early
The elementary schools throughout
the state are irresponsible institutions, established by individuals,
from mere motives of private speculation or gain, who are sometimes
destitute of character, and frequently of the requisite attainments
and abilities. From the circumstance of the schools being the
absolute property of individuals, no supervision or effectual
control can be exercised over them; hence, ignorance, inattention,
and even immorality, prevail to a lamentable extent among their
Working Man's Advocate, 1830
The scheme of Universal Equal
Education at the expense, is virtually "Agrarianism."
It would be a compulsory application of the means of the richer,
for the direct use of the poorer classes; and so far an arbitrary
division of property among them....One of the chief excitements
to industry...is the hope of earning the means of educating
their children respectably ...that incentive would be removed,
and the scheme of state and equal education be a premium for
comparative idleness, to be taken out of the pockets of the
laborious and conscientious.
Philadelphia National Gazette, 1830
I believe in the existence of
a great, immortal, immutable principle of natural law...which
proves the absolute right to an education of every human being
that comes into the world; and which, of course, proves the
correlative duty of every government to see that the means of
that education are provided for all....
Massachusetts is parental in
her government. More and more, as year after year rolls by,
she seeks to substitute prevention for remedy, and rewards for
penalties. She strives to make industry the antidote to poverty,
and to counterwork the progress of vice and crime by the diffusion
of knowledge and the culture of virtuous principles.
Horace Mann, 1846
I proceed, gentlemen, briefly
to call your attention to the present state of insane persons
confined within this Commonwealth, in cages, closets, cellars,
stalls, pens! Chained, naked, beaten with rods, and lashed into
I have seen many who, part of
the year, are chained or caged. The use of cages all but universal....I
encountered during the last three months many poor creatures
wandering reckless and unprotected through the country.
Dorothea Dix, 1843
The history of mankind is a
history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of
man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment
of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be
submitted to a candid world.
He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right
to the elective franchise.
He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of
which she had no voice....
He has made her, if married, in the eyes of the law civilly
He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages
He has monopolized nearly all the profitable employment, and
from those she is permitted to follow, she receives but a scanty
He closes against her all the avenues to wealth and distinction,
which he considers most honorable to himself....
He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education--all
colleges being closed against her....
He has created a false public sentiment, by giving to the world
a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral
delinquencies which exclude women from society, are not only
tolerated but deemed of little account in man....
He has endeavored, in every way that he could, to destroy her
confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and
to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.
"Declaration of Sentiments
and Resolutions" of the 1848 Seneca Falls, New York,
Women's Rights Convention
Intemperance is the sin of our
land, and, with out boundless prosperity, is coming in upon
us like a flood; and if anything shall defeat the hopes of the
world, which hang upon our experiment of civil liberty, it is
that river of fire, which is rolling through the land, destroying
the vital air, and extending around an atmosphere of death.
Lyman Beecher, 1826
We hold these truths to be self-evident;
that all men are created temperate; that they are endowed by
their Creator with certain natural and innocent desires; that
among these are the appetite for cold water and the pursuit
of happiness! that to secure the gratification of these propensities
fountains and streams are gushing....
Manifesto of the Washington Total Abstinence Societies,
[How] will reformation and temperance
be secured...? Never except through the instrumentality of the
law. If it were possible to reason the drunkard into sobriety,
it would not be possible to make the rumseller forego his filthy
gains....The only logic he will comprehend, is some such ordinance...coming
to him in the shape and with the voice of law--you shall not
American Temperance Magazine, 1852
We register our testimony, not
only against all wars, whether offensive or defensive, but all
preparations for war; against every naval ship, every arsenal,
every fortification; against the militia system and a standing
army; against all military chieftains and soldiers; against
all monuments commemorative of victory over a fallen foe, all
trophies won in battle, all celebrations in honor of military
or naval exploits; against all appropriations for the defense
of a nation by force and arms...every edict of government requiring
of its subjects military service.
Declaration of Sentiments,
Boston Peace Convention, 1838
Under our system of isolated
and separate households, with separate interests and separate
pursuits, instead of association and combination among families,
there is the most deplorable waste, which is one of the primary
sources of the general poverty that exists; and discord, antagonism,
selfishness, and an anti-social spirit are engendered. Woman
is subjected to unremitting and slavish domestic duties...a
dead rebuke to all pretensions to Democracy....A new social
order [should] be established, based upon "Associated households"....
1. What arguments
were advanced in favor of public schools? How did opponents
of public schools respond?
the plight of the mentally ill in early l9th century America?
3. What disabilities
to early l9th century American women live under according to
pre-Civil War women's rights advocates?
4. Why did
pre-Civil War temperance reformers consider drinking a cardinal
the aims of other pre-Civil War reformers.
Assenting to the "self-evident
truth" maintained in the American Declaration of Independence,
"that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator
with certain inalienable rights"...I shall strenuously
contend for the immediate enfranchisement of our slave population....
I am aware, that many object
to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity?
I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice....Tell
a man whose house is on fire, to give a moderate alarm; tell
him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher;
tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire
into which it has fallen;--but urge me not to use moderation
in a cause like the present. I am in earnest--I will not equivocate--I
will not excuse--I will not retreat a single inch--And I Will
William Lloyd Garrison
That every American citizen,
who detains a human being in involuntary bondage as his property
is, according to Scripture, a man-stealer:
That the slaves ought instantly
to be set free, and brought under the protection of the law....
That all those laws which are
now in force, admitting the right of slavery, are therefore,
before God, utterly null and void; being an audacious usurpation
of the Divine prerogative, a daring infringement on the law
of nature, a base overthrow of the very foundations of the social
compact, a complete extinction of all the relations, endearments
and obligations of mankind, and a presumptuous transgression
of all the holy commandments; and that therefore they ought
instantly to be abrogated.
American Anti-Slavery Society's
Declaration of Sentiments
It is not by argument that the
abolitionists have produced the present unhappy excitement.
Argument has not been the characteristic of their publications.
Denunciations of slaveholding as man-stealing, robbery, piracy,
and worse than murder; subsequent vituperation of slaveholders
as knowingly guilty of the worst of crimes; passionate appeals
to the feelings of the inhabitants of the northern States; gross
exaggeration of the moral and physical condition of the slaves,
have formed the staple of their addresses to the public....There
is in this conduct such a strange want of adaptation of the
means to the end which they profess to have in view, as to stagger
the faith of most persons in the sincerity of their professions,
who do not consider the extreme to which even good men may be
carried, when they allow one subject to take exclusive possession
of their minds.
1. Why was
it not until the late eighteenth century that large numbers
of individuals considered slavery to be morally wrong?
2. Why did
abolitionists consider slavery to be wrong?
3. Are agitation
and denunciation an effective way of opposing a social evil
or do such methods simply breed resistance?