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Reform movements in the United States

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In the time of 1825-1850, United States officials and activists sought to expand the democratic ideals in which the country was founded. Activists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton as well as many other women pushed for the right to vote, stating that both men and women were created equal, and women should be given the right to vote, for it was the democratic action to take. Other activists began to create democratic reforms as well, fighting to reinforce the ideals the nation so actively prides itself in. Many however, did not take part in these reforms, insisting that the old ways were the best ways.

The Second Great Awakening was the push that brought on these reform movements. Beginning in New England, in the late 1790s, and later spreading throughout the country, the Second Great Awakening brought on a new way to look at life. People felt freer to announce their thoughts. They weren’t limited to choices about G-d and strict rules of Calvinism which before ravaged through the country, setting people’s minds in narrow-minded ways. The Second Great Awakening brought on the idea that G-d may or may not exist, and it was up to the people to decide what they wished to believe. More then ever, tolerance spread throughout the nation, and people grew more eager to challenge other established institutions in which they believed their views may be tolerated–and accepted as well.

The Second Great Awakening helped expand democratic ideals as well by creating higher standards for the common man. As written by Charles G. Finney, “When the churches are…awakened and reformed, the reformation and salvation of sinners will follow.” Finney also states that “drunkards, harlots and infidels” could also participate in this higher standard of life for the common man if they were reformed by the church. In Charles G. Finney’s work, the democratic principle that all men are created equal, that the common man is equal to an aristocrat clearly shows throughout his reforms. (Document B)

The 1835 engraving by Patrick Reason depicting a female black slave caged in chains with the quote “Am I not a woman and a sister?” is another work in which democratic principles were using to push for reforms for equality. This work ties in the injustices of both abolition and women’s suffrage, both which were being pushed for reforms in the earlier half of the 19th century. However as democratic these reforms were, it is noteworthy to see that these reforms were not pushed to be made for everyone, for suffrage and abolition for minorities such as Native Americans were not even entered into any of these movements. (Document C)

Although many took part in these overwhelmingly democratic reforms, many did not. The Second Great Awakening reinforced the ideals of tolerance and acceptance for all, while the belief of Nativism held people back from embracing the ideas the Second Great Awakening spread. (Nativism is the belief that only white Anglo-Saxon Protestants should be allowed suffrage, as well as many other rights.) One staunch supporter of Nativism was Samuel Morse. In his Imminent Dangers to the Free Institutions of the United States, written in 1835, he stated “that no foreigner who comes into the country after the law is passed shall ever be allowed the right of suffrage.” In this statement, Samuel Morse is directly opposing the Naturalization Law, which was a democratic reform in order to give more rights to foreigners. Morse, like many others rebutted the democratic reforms in which activists tried so eagerly to set in place. (Document D)

Educational reform movements were also another important democratic reform of this period. Universal male suffrage lead the way for this movement, stating that all men should vote, and therefore should be equal, and should be able to participate in learning and education. Democratic ideals set up the fact that all men should be able to pursue education to be a more productive member of society. In a passage from the McGuffrey Reader, 1836, it supports the ideal that all people deserve to go out and get an education, rich or poor. As part of the education reform movement, another democratic movement created by activists, tax-supported public schools were able to make that ideal a reality. (Document E)

Another democratic movement which began during this time was the Temperance Movement. Throughout the 1800s, alcohol abuse was becoming increasingly widespread, affecting the efficiency of labor. The Temperance Movement was an effort to stop this abuse and to urge all people to give up alcohol. Organization such as The American Temperance Society and activists such as Neal Dow and William Lloyd Garrison also supported temperance. The 1846 cartoon, “The Drunkards Progress/From the First Glass to the Grave” shows what an effect that alcohol had on the lives of the people of the time. This movement supported the democratic principles that every man was equal, fruitful and productive in his own right–as long as the government protecting him from evils. (Document H)

The Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 yearned to intensify democratic ideals the most directly then any other event of this time. Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton both played important roles in the convention. They produced a “Declaration of Sentiments” which stated that “all men and women are created equal.” They also produced a resolution formally demanding women’s suffrage. In an excerpt from the Seneca Falls Declaration (August 2, 1848), Stanton states that the women are “assembled to protest against a form of government, existing without the consent of the governed–to declare our right to be free as man is free.” She goes on to declare that “strange as it may seem, we now demand our right to vote according to the declaration of the government under which we live.” Here she refers to the Declaration of Independence of 1776, which stated that “all men are created equal.” If nothing else, democratic reforms can clearly be shown in the movement led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott.

In the period from 1825-1850, a majority of the reform movements in the United States sought to expand democratic ideals. However, although many triumphed, many had to face obstacles set others back. In conclusion, however many setbacks and “nativists” who tried to hold back these democratic reforms, the movements of 1825-1850 reinforced the democratic ideals which hold our nation today.

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