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How reform movements in the 1800s sought to expand democratic ideals

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America was expanding in the early 1800s, politically, economically, and socially. Many movements occurred during this time, particularly from 1825 to 1850, aimed to better laws, institutions, and society and to spread democracy overall. Although the religious, penal, education, and feminist reform movements in the United States sought to expand democratic ideals, the temperance and abolitionist reform movements ended up limiting democracy.

The religious, penal, education, and feminist reform movements sought to expand democratic ideals, and that is exactly what they did. In the 1820s, Charles G. Finney, a Presbyterian minister, led the Second Great Awakening, or the religious revival. Finney preached that harlots, drunkards, and infidels could be saved through hard work and a steadfast faith in God (Document B). The religious revival was brought on to fight against deism. Finney pushed forth the creation of city churches, where everyone could come together to improve society. The religious reform movement expanded democratic ideals by telling people that they could take control of their own fate and could have the same rights as others if they just worked hard and had a strong faith in god. It pushed the equality of everyone in the country and also gave people the idea of perfecting society by starting other reform movements. Prior to the penal reform movement, the mentally ill and criminals were put together in prisons.

The punishments were cruel and the conditions were unbearable. Dorothea Dix pushed the separation of the ill from the criminal and for the improvement of mental institutions to care for the mentally ill. As a result of the asylum reform movement, the penal reform movement was brought forward. Before, prisoners were just serving time in jail, not gaining anything from the experience. They gained no new skill and were sure to commit crimes again, and eventually land themselves right back into prison. This led to prisons becoming penitentiaries (Document A) and starting programs that would teach prisoners a special skill so they could leave prison with a new path and outlook on life. They also provided moral education through increased religious services. The penal reform movement pushed democracy forward by fighting for equal rights, humane punishments, and for the prevention of any type of unjust treatment in prisons and mental institutions.

The reformation of education was brought on in part by the penal reform movement. The reform was intended to prevent criminal tendencies from ever touching the minds of children. Horace Mann led the movement with his cries of a free public school system that would be funded by the states. Prior to the 1840s, children were not forced to attend schools because of the costs, but Manns efforts trumped this barrier and spread free compulsory education to children across the country. McGuffeys Readers also imposed social values and the Protestant work ethic into children (Document E). Catholics responded with Catholic schools, thus expanding the need of reading, writing, and arithmetic for democracy. The education reform expanded democratic ideals by teaching everyone how to vote. In order for a democracy to be, one needed to know what theyd be voting for. Education filled that need.

The abolitionist movement brought on the feminism movement. Women were a strong force in the abolitionist movement but soon questioned why they werent fighting for their own freedoms instead. They left the abolitionist movement behind and instead tackled their second-class status. This time was known as the Cult of Domesticity, or the time when women were defined as nurturers. Sarah Grimke and Angelina Grimke voiced their opposition to male dominance, thus rallying numerous other women to push the equality of men and women alike. Three of these women, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony, joined together and organized a meeting in Seneca Falls, New York to discuss the role of women in the country.

This was called the Seneca Falls Convention. In this convention, the women, particularly Stanton, wrote the Declaration of Sentiments (alternatively called the Seneca Falls Declaration) which declared that, all men and women are created equal, and that there should be universal suffrage (Document I). The feminist reform movement expanded democratic ideals by fighting for equal rights of women. It fought for them to have the right to vote. Having equal rights and the right to vote was what democracy was based on.

The temperance movement and the abolitionist movement were aimed to nullify the evils of alcohol and abolish slavery, but they ended up restricting democracy in the long run instead. The temperance crusade was populated with efforts from women. Women argued that alcohol consumption placed a heavy burden on them mentally, economically, and physically (Document H). Revival preachers joined together in the 1820s to form the American Temperance Society, which sought to encourage drinkers to limit their intake of alcohol and eventually practice abstinence. Abstinence from alcohol would not only reduce accidents, but also increase overall productivity, which could only lead to a better future. The movement found itself moving into political grounds also, not only moral grounds. In 1851, Maine passed the Maine Law, which completely forbade the production and purchase of alcoholic beverages in that state. Soon after, twelve other states followed suit with similar laws, such as the Blue Laws, that limited the sale of alcohol or completely prohibited it altogether. These laws were greatly conflicting with the ideals of democracy. They restricted the freedom of Americans.

The abolitionist movement came as a result of the Second Great Awakening. Abolitionists believed that slavery was sinful and must be eliminated. A series of abolitionist newspapers were published including the Liberator, by William Lloyd Garrison, and the North Star, by Fredrick Douglass. The newspapers illustrated the cruelties of slavery as well as ideas on how to abolish it. Different types of propaganda were used to question why slaves werent considered people to whites, but whites were considered people to the slaves (Document C). Women also joined the cause, including Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman.

They helped the slaves flee through the Underground Railroad. Abolitionists also created parties and societies. The abolitionists themselves were discriminatory. Some of their parties accepted the membership of women, like the Liberty Party, and some of their societies did not accept female participation, like the Foreign Antislavery Society. When abolitionists turned to violence to solve their problems, things didnt turn out well. In 1831, a slave uprising by Nat Turner, called Nat Turners Rebellion, led to ideas that freeing slaves could cause massive social problems that they could not handle. This prevented the abolishment of slavery. Violence and discrimination against women violated the ideals of democracy, even though they were trying to attain democracy themselves.

By analyzing the efforts the various reform movements took to expand democracy, it can be concluded that the religious, penal, education, and feminist movements were successful in expanding democratic ideals. It can also be concluded that the temperance and abolitionist reform movements were successful in limiting democratic ideals. The temperance and abolitionist reform movements were forced to conflict with democratic ideals to reach their own democratic goals.

Bibliography:American History a Survey by Alan Brinkley

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