Unit 4: Reform Movements

General Timeline
General Maps

Map # 1: Reform Movements in the US

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Course Content

Reform Movements:


Individualist Reform Movements

Origins of Individualism

  • Market Revolution caused great social changes

    • People had to work in factories & had less freedom of their own​

    • People were living in dirty & crowded places

    • People had little leisure time to think about themselves

  • The idea of individualism emerged to combat the social changes brought by market revolution

    • Believed people are totally free & not dependent on others

    • Believed anyone can achieve success in life

    • Believed everyone has some full potential they can achieve if society doesn't confine them

      • This influenced 2nd Great Awakening, Transcendentalism, etc.


Reforms in Art & Visions of Nature

  • Americans wanted their own distinct culture

  • Americans sought to depict the nature & the sublime in their artwork

    • The Hudson River School taught people to paint depictions of the sublime in nature

      • Believed the natural world of America was full of the sublime and great promises​

  • These artists sought to protect nature from economic damage

    • Believed it was a source of inspiration

    • Failed to protect nature from settlement as they had no scientific proof to their claims


Reforms in Literature

  • Most literature talked about individualist ideas

    • Talked about freedom, nature, sublime, etc.

  • James Fenimore Cooper wrote about the American wilderness

    • Evoked emotion and ideas of individualism

  • Walt Whitman also wrote stories about individualism & the liberation of the mind

  • Herman Melville wrote about individual strength

  • Edgar Allan Poe wrote stories about sad themes

    • Evoked deeper emotions of pain

  • Southern authors wrote about depictions of plantation life

    • William Gilmore Simms (South Carolina) wrote many pro-slavery works

    • Mark Twain wrote realistic stories about plantation life

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  • A group of individualists that believed people can achieve their full potential

    • Believed their understanding was confined by society's norms and they can somehow surpass society's norms to achieve their true potential

  • Ralph Waldo Emerson was the first major transcendentalist

    • In his works, "Nature" and "Self Reliance," he believed people should harmonize themselves with nature to achieve their true potential

  • Henry David Thoreau believed people should do things according to their own instincts instead of following society's expectations

    • Wrote Walden (1854) while in isolation & wrote about his freedom there

    • Briefly went to jail for refusing to pay taxes as he hated that the tax money would fund unnecessary things



  • Some individualists believed in a perfect society, where everyone has freedom

  • George Ripley created Brook Farm, a Utopian community in MA in 1841

    • Labor & leisure time was distributed equally

      • Everyone had to do manual labor

    • This failed as people hated doing labor, and a fire destroyed the central building in 1847

      • Everyone left & the community dissolved

  • Robert Owen created a utopian community called New Harmony in Indiana in 1825

    • All residents lived equally

    • Economic failure → community dissolved


Attempted Reforms in Gender Relations

  • Some individualists sought to promote equality between men & women

  • Margaret Fuller was a journalist who advocated for women's rights

  • John Humphrey Noyes created Oneida community in upstate NY

    • Rejected traditional roles of gender & marriage​ → all residents were "married" to each other

    • Children were raised communally by all adults

  • Mother Ann Lee founded the Shakerism movement in 1770s

    • Believed in celibacy, no Shaker could give birth

    • Believed in sexual equality

  • Amana Colonies were established by German immigrants to Iowa in 1843

    • Believed in pious, simple lives with sexual equality​


The Creation of the Mormon Church

  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) began in upstate NY

    • Started by Joseph Smith

    • Published Book of Mormon (1830), believed an ancient prophet wrote it

    • Believed there was a civilization in America, populated by descendants of ancient Israel

    • Believed people need to do good works and achieve the grace of god to achieve salvation

      • Differs from other Christians, who believe salvation can be achieved by god alone

  • Sought to establish their own community of "New Jerusalem"

    • They were kicked out of most of their communities for their faith

    • Settled in Nauvoo, IL, but they were kicked out and Smith was arrested & killed

    • Mormons then settled in Salt Lake City (UT), which still exists today

  • Mormons believed in human perfectibility

    • Believed anyone could become a saint

    • Emphasized basic social unit of the family

      • Believed in a rigid social hierarchy, distant from that of the modernized world

    • Overall believed in having a religious order to provide security for those who were displaced in modern society

What is the general goal of the Mormon Church?

Mormons believed in providing security and order for people who were negatively affected in the rapidly modernizing & industrializing society. It emphasizes the family unit and believes that anyone can become a saint and that people must do good works and get the grace of god to achieve salvation. Mormons considered themselves part of Christianity, but other Christians often disregarded the Mormons. 

Societal Reform Movements

Second Great Awakening

  • Church leaders hated low church attendance & wanted to slow the spread of rationalism

    • New denominations like Methodism & Baptism became super popular

      • John Wesley founded Methodism in England

      • Presbyterians were also influential

    • Charles Grandison Finney was one of the main leaders of the movement

      • Held some of his own revival meetings​

    • At Cane Ridge in KY in 1801, thousands of evangelicals met to discuss how to revive the church

  • Promoted idea that god was active in the world & anyone can achieve salvation

    • Salvation can be achieved through good works

    • Rejected Calvinist idea of predestination, believed anyone can achieve salvation 

  • Appealed to many women as the market revolution gave more subordination to women

    • Working in factories & not spinning thread at home deprived many women

    • Women found spiritual revival the 2nd Great Awakening to escape the hardships at home

  • Blacks also found revival in the movement

    • Some sought liberty for slaves

    • Gabriel Prosser planned a slave revolt in VA, but whites put it down

  • Natives also felt the revival & sought to rise up against whites to defend their land

    • The Indian Prophet Neolin encouraged natives to reject Christian ideas and revive tribal traditions

    • An Indian called Handsome Lake called to revive traditional Iroquois customs


Reforms against Alcoholism

  • Many believed alcohol to be a big problem

    • Women believed men's purchase of alcohol strained the family's money

    • As farmers in the west grew more grain, which was distilled into Whiskey, alcohol became popular​

      • Drinking became a common leisure activity

  • American Society for the Promotion of Temperance (1826) sought to preach anti-alcoholism​

  • 6 former alcoholics created Washington Temperance Society in 1840

    • Became really popular among alcoholics who wanted to give up alcohol

  • People were divided on how much to limit alcohol

    • Some believed only beer & whiskey should be limited

    • Others believed wine should also be limited

    • Some believed states should restrict alcohol purchase; others believed it was personal choice

      • Maine restricted alcohol purchase in 1851

  • Protestants opposed alcohol, but Catholics believed it was an important pastime for them


Reforms in Medicine

  • Medical knowledge was limited at the time

    • Very little knowledge about germs or spread of bacteria

    • People used ancient folk stories or random ideas from scholars to treat diseases

  • Cholera spread through contaminated food/water

    • Had severe epidemics in major midwest cities​

    • No one could do anything about it since they didn't know about germ spread

  • People made up random medical theories

    • "Water cure" involved putting people underwater until they lose their conscious and are thus free of the "madness" that caused the disease

    • Sylvester Graham promoted eating only veggies (no meat) and bread from a special flour

      • Graham cracker is named after him as it uses that flour

    • Phrenology was the idea of using the shapes of people's skulls to decipher their talents & opportunities, etc.

  • Advances in medicine were very slow

    • Most experiments required actual humans instead of inanimate objects

    • Dentist William Morton used an ether to calm his patients during teeth extraction

      • Became a very famous treatment

    • Some inexperienced people joined the medical field

    • People often didn't accept medical advances as they weren't sure which were actually good

    • Oliver Wendell Holmes discovered the idea of contagion (the spread of diseases between people)


Reforms in Education

  • In the 1830s, people started campaigning for a public education system

    • Believed education allowed people to achieve their full potential​

  • Horace Mann reformed the Massachusetts education system

    • The First secretary of MA Board of Education (1837)

    • Increased teachers' salaries, lengthened school year, reformed the curriculum

  • Other states in the Northeast followed Mann's model & built their own public school systems

  • Bronson Alcott created schools with radical transcendentalist methods

    • Did not punish the children, allowed the children to learn themselves (it "awakens" their soul)​

    • Very controversial, schools were forced to close

  • Perkins School for the Blind was opened in MA

    • Believed handicapped people can discover their inner strength & wisdom

  • There were still many disparities in the system

    • Many children (especially blacks) didn't attend school

    • Some teachers were inexperienced & barely literate

  • Some people sought to "civilize" the natives by bringing them to these schools


Reforms for the Mentally ill

  • Previously, everyone who committed a crime would be put in jail

    • Mentally ill weren't getting proper treatment & would be punished for their behavior

  • Dorothea Dix observed these prisons & hated the horrible treatment of the mentally ill

    • Began a national movement to get better treatment for mentally ill in prisons

  • Eventually, states created penitentiaries for the mentally ill

    • These are quiet and open, allowing for people to reflect on their wrongdoings w/ little punishment

  • From this movement, almshouses & workhouses were built for poor people

    • Allowed them to work & gain a higher position in society


Early Feminist Movement

  • Women became exposed to the ideas of individualism as they played an important role in other movements

    • Thus, women started to advocate for equality between men & women

  • Lucretia Mott & Elizabeth Cady Stanton organized a women's convention at Seneca Falls, NY (1848)

    • Mott & Stanton were rejected from attending an all male anti-slavery conference in London in 1840

      • This is why they hosted this convention

    • Drafted "Declaration of Sentiments," modeled on the Declaration of Independence

      • Believed "all men and women were created equal"

  • Elizabeth Blackwell became the first certified female physician

  • Women created their own style of dress in which they could freely move around

    • Known as "bloomer costume" after Amelia Bloomer


Slavery Abolitionist Movement

Initial Idea of Recolonization

  • Actual abolitionist movement gained momentum in 1830s

  • Before 1830s, abolitionists sought to relocate the slaves back to West Africa (known as colonization

    • American Colonization Society (est. 1817) sought to send slaves back to Africa​

      • Wanted a gradual emancipation of slaves and transport of slaves to West Africa

    • Was successful in sending some slaves back → They founded nation of Liberia (in West Africa)

  • Colonization idea failed in long term as there were too many slaves & not enough money

    • Many slaves were born in the US & had no connection with West Africa


Later Abolitionists

  • William Lloyd Garrison was a major white abolitionist in the north

    • Founded his newspaper, The Liberator, in 1831

      • Wrote about abolitionist topics, supported giving gradual equality to blacks

    • Founded American Anti-Slavery Society (est. 1833), which promoted abolition

  • All blacks in the north opposed slavery (obviously); some actively spoke out against it

    • Sojourner Truth, a former slave who escaped, was a famous abolitionist​

    • Harriet Beecher Stowe made Uncle Tom's Cabin (est. 1851), a weekly serial & book depicting slave life​

    • Most blacks lived in worse conditions than whites & supported Garrison's vision for equality

  • Frederick Douglass was one of the greatest black abolitionists

    • Escaped slavery in 1838

    • Gave anti-slavery speeches in US & Britain

    • Founded his newspaper North Star (est. 1837)

      • Promoted anti-slavery causes, wrote autobiographies about hardships of slavery

  • Many abolitionists helped slaves escape to the north via the "underground railroad"

    • A network of passages & safe houses for slaves to escape from the South to the North

  • In Prigg v Pennsylvania (1842), court banned federal officials from returning runaway slaves to the south

    • Previously, Fugitive Slave laws mandated the return of runaway slaves in the north back to the South

    • Abolitionists campaigned for this law's reversal

  • In 1840, abolitionists formed the Liberty Party

    • James G Birney was 1st presidential candidate

    • Didn't want abolition, only wanted slavery out of the new territories in the west

      • Known as "free soil"

      • These people became known as "free soilers"

    • Attracted lots of support among white abolitionists

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Those Who Opposed the Abolitionists

  • Many white northerners & all white southerners opposed abolitionism

    • Believed giving equality to blacks would cause great social changes & problems

    • Northern businessmen believed abolition would threaten their trade w/ the South

  • There were many violent attacks on abolitionists

    • Prudence Crandall admitted a few black girls into her private school in CT

      • Locals protested & got her arrested

    • A mob seized Garrison in Boston in 1835 & had him arrested, but he luckily wasn't killed

  • Many believed abolitionists like Garrison to be too radical

    • Some wanted gradual equality instead of immediate equality for blacks

    • Some hated that a few abolitionists wanted to use violence to campaign against slavery

    • Many hated that Garrison wanted to abolish prisons & asylums as well as slavery

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Important Terms & People