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Antebellum Period Essay

During the time period between 1825-1850, known as the Antebellum Period, the series of reform movements that emerged sought to democratic ideals of equality, liberty, the right to vote, and a more centralized government. The Second Great Awakening, one of many religious reforms, expanded equality through the belief that everyone could attain salvation through hard work and faith. The Second Great Awakening was the spark for many of the other reform movements, such as Temperance, Women’s Rights, and Abolition. These movements along with reforms of prisons and mental facilities, and education attempted to craft America into a more utopian society. The Second Great Awakening had started after the Revolutionary War, gained momentum around the turn of the century, and was at its strongest during the Antebellum Period. It was driven by the idea that everyone could be saved through revivals. Revivals were especially prevalent in upstate New York, which was nicknamed the “burned-over district” by Charles Finney, a prominent Presbyterian leader of The Second Great Awakening. Because there were so many revivals there, it seemed like there couldn’t possibly be anyone left to convert.

Social activism became the main method of revival in the North. Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist denominations made huge gains in membership in the South and on the frontier were “camp meeting” revivals took place. As in Document B where Finney said the reforms awakened and converted even the “most abandoned profligates”, the protestant ministers in the South preached to people of all classes and races, including free blacks, slaves, and slaveholders. Free blacks began to start their own churches on the belief that everyone needed to hear messages of salvation and personal freedom. Due to prejudices against them, many free blacks separated from the Methodist church. One such man named Richard Allen founded the African Methodist Episcopal denomination. Blacks had more freedom within the Baptist church, as they could become ministers, and many black Baptist congregations were formed. Also during this time, groups such as the Mormons, Shakers and Baptists developed due to desires to restore primitive forms of Christianity, known as the Restoration Movement.

In the late 1820s, Joseph Smith claimed to receive visions of a new sacred text/supplement to the Bible, the Book of Mormon. He founded a primitivist church called the Church of Christ on the teachings of this book and other revelations. Mormons established their first community in western New York. They then moved to Kirtland, Ohio, where Mormons faced persecution and Joseph Smith was assassinated. The first split in the church came surrounding the question of the next leader, but most Mormons migrated to Utah, spreading their message and gaining followers on the way, under the leadership of Brigham Young. Other popular groups that rose were the Unitarians and Universalists. Unitarianism is named for its understanding of God as one person, unlike the traditional Christian doctrine of Trinitarianism which defines God as three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) coexisting as one in being.

It teaches that Jesus was a prophet and in some sense the “son” of God, but not God himself. Universalists believe that all humans either may or will be saved through Jesus Christ and eventually go to heaven. Teachings of the Second Great Awakening endorsed a strong work ethic, frugality and temperance within the expanding middle class. The Temperance Movement sprung from the social activism of the Second Great Awakening. Alcoholism was a growing problem in the United States: spousal abuse, family neglect and chronic unemployment were on the rise, issues which are shown in The Drunkards Progress (Document H). It was an area that social activists felt needed addressing. Lyman Beecher, a leading Presbyterian minister of the Second Great Awakening, lectured against the use of alcohol and co-founded the American Temperance Society, the first U.S. social movement organization to mobilize massive and national support for a specific reform cause.

Within 12 years, it claimed more than 8000 local groups and 1,500,000 members. Many other Temperance societies popped up, such as the American Temperance Union and the States Delevan Union Temperance Society of Colored People, a temperance society headed by free blacks. The Temperance Movement first saw statewide success in Maine, where a total ban was placed on the manufacturing and sale of liquor. The Maine Law, as it became known as, was the work of Portland mayor Neal Dow, who gained the nicknames the “Father of Prohibition” and the “Napoleon of Temperance”. Dow was very involved in the temperance movement, having traveled much of the northeastern United States and parts of Canada speaking against intemperance. His Maine Law spawned other prohibition laws in the country. The Temperance Movement expanded democratic ideals by asking the government to govern the sale of alcohol, making the government more centralized. The Second Great Awakening’s emphasis on the ability of individuals to amend their lives caused many reform movements aimed at redressing injustice and alleviating suffering in society—a democratizing effect.

Abolitionism was one such movement, and it to was led in part by leaders of the Second Great Awakening. It called the immediate ending of slavery, as opposed to the other anti-slavery positions of the time, Gradualism; which called for an end to slavery over time; and colonization; which relied on the manumission of slaves who would then be taken back to Africa. Lyman Beecher was also an Abolitionist, and more importantly the father of Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The novel was the most influential piece of abolitionist literature and spread the Abolitionist message to millions of Americans. Charles Finney often spoke out against slavery from the pulpit and was involved in the abolitionist movement. Neal Dow was also a known abolitionist, his house was a stop on The Underground Railroad. Just like with the Temperance Movement, many Abolitionist societies formed, the most prominent being the American Anti-Slavery Society (AAS).

The AAS was founded by William Lloyd Garrison, the editor of the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator. Garrison was in support of immediate emancipation of the slaves and their integration into American society. He also believed that slave owners should not be reimbursed for their “lost property”. Wendell Phillips became a frequent speaker at AAS conventions after witnessing the attempted lynching of Garrison by a pro-slavery mob in 1835. He went on to write many pamphlets and essays against slavery. Sisters Angelina and Sarah Grimke became well known anti-slavery speakers and writers. They came from a slave-owning white family in the South and spoke from experience on the evils of slavery. Angelina married fellow abolitionist and mentor Theodore Weld. Weld spoke out against slavery until he lost his voice in 1837. He then focused on writing for the AAS. In 1839, he and the Grimké sisters co-wrote the pivotal book American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses. Many historians regard Weld as the most important figure in the abolitionist movement. Escaped slave Frederick Douglass went around the country speaking at AASS conventions and at other events about the things he personally experienced as a slave.

He published the North Star, an aboltionist newspaper that got its name from the North Star which guided slaves to freedom in the North. Escaped slaves Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth also became speakers and leaders in the Abolitionist Movement. Tubman helped over 300 slaves escape from the South on the Underground Railroad and became friends with Douglass. Truth also became friends with Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison. The abolitionist movement promoted democratic ideals as it tried expand freedom and equality to the slaves. Women were heavily involved with the Temperance and Abolitionist movements, and many of them went on to work with the Women’s Rights Movement. For many women, and as shown in Document C, the two causes were intertwined because they work for their own liberty as well. The role of women in the household had begun to change with the ongoing Industrial Revolution. A group of young single women known as Lowell girls worked in factories. In the middle and upper classes, women became the moral and spiritual leaders of their households, known as the Cult of Domesticity. Along with speaking on temperance and abolition, some women began speaking on women’s rights at conventions.

One such woman was Lucretia Mott. She was focused mostly on women’s rights, publishing her influential Discourse on Woman and founding Swarthmore College. She became a Quaker minister, and was noted for her speaking ability. She advocated the boycotting the products of slave labor. She was an early supporter of William Lloyd Garrison and the American Anti-Slavery Society. She worked with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and the two women organized the first women’s rights convention which was held in Seneca Falls, New York. At the convention, Stanton stated that they were assembled to “declare our right to be free as man is free” (Document I) and presented the Declaration of Sentiments, a document written by Stanton and based on the form of the Declaration of Independence. It declared that men and women were equal and that women had no representation since they couldn’t vote.

Frederick Douglass, who was in attendance at the convention and helped pass the resolutions in the Declaration of Sentiments called the document the “grand basis for attaining the civil, social, political, and religious rights of women”. The Grimke sisters, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth were also suffragists. The Women’s Rights Movement expanded democratic ideals because it pushed for equality and the right to vote for women. Another reform started during this period was an education reform. The education reform was pushed by increasing interest in public education because the growing number of voters and immigrants and a desire to maintain social order.

It was largely the works of Massachusetts School Board Secretary Horace Mann. Most states adopted one version or another of the system he established in Massachusetts, especially the program for “normal schools” to train professional teachers. He pushed for more public support of public schools arguing that universal public education was the best way to turn the nation’s unruly children into disciplined, judicious republican citizens. He has been called the “Father of the Common School Movement” and the “Father of American Public Education”. His schools and other schools around the country used McGuffey Readers; document e is a selection from one; as textbooks. There were different books for each learning level.

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