Reforms in the 19th Century
- spring of 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustav Beaumont arrived in New York after a passage of 38 days
- The French bureaucrats had come to inspect the penitentiary system of America
- the country was suffering from growth pains
- the population of the major cities along the eastern seaboard had tripled and quadrupled within decades
- Immigration helped fuel much of this growth. The proportion of immigrants in the population rose nearly six-fold by 1860. These new immigrants came mainly from Ireland and the German states where the potato blight had destroyed the food supply and economic changes created a surplus population.
- These immigrants were poor and the vast majority of them were Catholic. As a result, the cities often erupted in ethnic and racial violence.
The Beginning of the 19th Century:
- By the 1840s, the explosion in turnpike, canal, and railroad construction reduced travel times and made millions of acres of land available to migrants.
- To be sure, Americans were on the move, but not everyone agreed on the direction of the nation and the role that the government should play in its development.
- Two main political parties emerged and they came into conflict with one another, adding to the general sense of chaos in American society.
- The Democrats were led by Andrew Jackson of Tennessee. He was the first President outside of Massachusetts or Virginia, the first outside of the original 13 states.
- The Democrats held an agricultural vision of a land-holding republic of independent farmers. The need was for territorial expansion to sustain such a vision.
- John L. O’Sullivan, gave the name “Manifest Destiny” to the westward movement.
- The hunger for land became so ravenous that state governments compelled the removal of the southeastern Indian tribes–the Creek, the Chickasaw, the Choctaw, and the Cherokee–from their long-established homelands in Georgia and Alabama. On the Trail of Tears west, thousands of Indians would die of cold, hunger, and disease. Even the Supreme Court, which ruled in their favor, couldn’t save them.
- Vice President, John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, advanced the doctrine of nullification, that the states possess the power to nullify any Act of Congress it believed to be unconstitutional.
- Jackson refused to back down and threatened to hang the South Carolina nullifiers. But he also quietly negotiated a reduction in fees on imports so as to appease the South Carolinians.
- the Whigs, their opponents, promoted industrial development and believed in using federal authority to advance national growth.
- Henry Clay, a Kentucky slaveholder, and Daniel Webster, a Massachusetts lawyer, were among the Whigs who led the opposition to Jackson
- There were trade groups and literary gatherings, political meetings and religious societies.
- There were an endless number of moral reform and benevolent associations–the American Bible Society, the American Tract Society, the American Female Moral Reform Society–all of which extended the missionary impulse to the domestic front. Other causes as well won their adherence: the American Temperance Society, the American Peace Society, the Society for the Prevention of Pauperism.
- Penitentiaries, the institutions that de Tocqueville and Beaumont had come to visit in the first place, were created in this period.
- Inmates were placed in solitary confinement and forced to work in silence. Here was a shift in penal regimes from the public, external, physical world of punishments that characterized the 18th Century to private, internal, and psychological modes of discipline.
- The institution embodied the belief that the environment shaped behavior and that Americans need not suffer from the disordering effects of a society on the move.
- Drinking was a critical part of American culture. And the consumption of whisky, rum, and hard cider exceeded six gallons per person per year. But the new workplace demanded sobriety, and alcohol was condemned as an evil that destroyed morals and wrecked homes. The American Temperance Society had more than 200,000 members by the 1830s, and alcohol consumption fell dramatically.
- Reformers such as Horace Mann, a legislator from Massachusetts who oversaw the first Board of Education in the nation, were instrumental in reorganizing the nature of education in society.
- Children began to be grouped by age, and curricula were developed. Bells now rang to indicate when class should begin and when it should end. And states passed compulsory attendance laws requiring children to go to school.
- Laborers, for example, united together and formed working men’s associations. They promoted the abolition of imprisonment of debtors. They asked for the equal distribution of property. And they wanted the tax laws rewritten.
- Women, too, began to organize and agitate for equal rights. Here they sought to break free from the domestic ideal that held the home as a hallowed place, and dictated the role of mothers and daughters as the keepers of virtue and morality.
- A women’s rights convention, held at Seneca Falls in July 1848, was organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. They issued a declaration of sentiments
- Women begin to fight for changes in laws regarding property, marriage. They want educational and professional opportunities, and they especially want the right to vote.
- Sarah and Angelina Grimpké, sisters from a South Carolina slaveholding family, announced that men and women were created equal. Whatever is right for a man to do is right for a woman. They spoke out publicly, and they demanded that sinners reform themselves.
2nd Great Awakening:
- De Tocqueville and Beaumont appeared on the scene at the height of the second Great Awakening, the most extended religious revival in American history.
- The leading evangelist of the age was Charles Grandison Finney, born in western New York
- Here was the concept of individual free will, of free moral agency, one of the most important concepts of the age. Finney’s liberal theology repudiated the Calvinists’ ideas of innate depravity, predestination, and everlasting punishment, the ideas that had shaped the Puritan experience in America. Man was free to choose his eternal fate. Behavior in the temporal world predicted fate in the eternal.
- The evangelical message fit with the individualistic ethos of the age, and so too did the techniques used to promote conversion, known as the New Measures. Ministers emphasized emotion over reason.
- They conducted camp meetings that often lasted several days. And they used the technique known as the “anxious bench,” a seat in the front of the congregation for those most likely to succumb to the prayers of the minister.
- The Second Great Awakening had a special impact on women, who comprised the vast majority of converts. But women used their position granted by evangelicalism as a platform from which to emerge from the home and challenge the moral evils of society.
- If some sought salvation in creating cooperative communities, others sought a deeper embrace of individualism. Many feared for the fate of the nation, but none more so than Ralph Waldo Emerson. He had started as a Unitarian minister, but like so many others, he too rejected organized religion
- Americans, he thought, must turn away from external triumphs, financial rewards, professional success as a measure of achievement. They needed to embrace nature and solitude.
- On January 1, 1831, William Lloyd Garrison, a 26-year-old editor from Newburyport, Massachusetts, published the first issue of The Liberator. It was a newspaper that changed forever the terms of the anti-slavery debate.
- Prior to then, Americans who were opposed to slavery believed in gradualism. They believed in passing laws that would eliminate slavery at some future date, or in purchasing the slaves and relocating them to Africa. The American Colonization Society, formed in 1817 for precisely this purpose, was supported by leading statesmen from James Monroe and Henry Clay to John Marshall and Abraham Lincoln.
- Garrison devoted his life to opposing slavery and the use of any gradual means to effect its abolition.
- Garrison declared war upon the institution. Garrison’s call for the immediate and unconditional abolition of slavery drew upon the evangelical injunction to renounce sin immediately. Slaveholders had choice, and slaveholding was a sin. Slaveholders must emancipate their slaves, not later, not tomorrow, but now, immediately. And to promote the cause of immediate and unconditional abolition, Garrison helped form the American Anti-Slavery Society.
- By 1836, there were more than five hundred abolitionist organizations in the North. He also labored for the equal rights of free blacks and women as well. His oratory was as inflammatory as any minister’s. Some Northern merchants, nervous that abolition would hurt their commercial interests, often rioted and threatened the abolitionist’s life.
- By the 1840s Garrison declared that the North should refuse to remain in a Union with the slaveholding South. “No Union with slaveholders,” became the motto of the American Antislavery Society. He came to see the Constitution of the United States as a pro-slavery document, calling it a covenant with death and an agreement with Hell. At a July 4th celebration, he put a match to the document.