12 Mid-19th Century Reform Movements


Dr. Jim Ross-Nazzal and His History Students

Nathaniel Currier, “The Drunkard’s Progress.” 1846



In the middle of the nineteenth century, the United States was not unlike a teenager; struggling to develop its own self-identity. Or, Americans were not happy or content with what they had unleashed and so Americans sought to further define what it meant to be an American. Or, Americans sought to always better themselves and their society. of course the big question about reform is how much of this stuff is about change for the betterment of society and how much of this stuff is about controlling society -a society that is increasingly made up of immigrants?

Massive reform movements swept the country -some having a lasting effect, while most were just temporary in consequence. Most of these reform movements were limited (or wildly popular) in the North and these reform movements affected women much more in the North than southern women. These reform movements took a back seat to volunteerism during the War.


“Lowell Girls”

Can the Republic Survive Industrialization?

Agriculture was slow, seasonal, and task oriented. Even artisans worked when demand necessitated work, not in accordance with a clock. Some households worked for artisans producing parts of the whole and households were paid by each piece they produced not by the hours they worked. In the early 1800s, men such as Samuel Slater and Francis Cabot Lowell created spaces where workers would perform piece work under direct supervision. They hired primarily children and young women because they could be paid less than older men. Factory owners became wealthy and that resulted in the rise of a new socio-economic order that we recognize today. White collar workers such as accountants and managers were in demand as well as bank employees.

The Lowell Mill, and the Factory System, was so incredibly divergent from anything seen in the United States at that time:

“Francis Cabot Lowell was hardly alone in his efforts to build a cotton textile industry in America. His system, however, differed markedly from Philadelphia homespun or the craft-factory model used in Rhode Island. Lowell’s industrial order ‘came to dominate the cotton industry [and] marked a radical departure from all that had gone before. In his 1864 book, Samuel Batchedler contrasts Francis Cabot Lowell’s system with Samuel Slater’s Rhode Island system. Slater ran small spinning mills, using copies of the English machinery, while Lowell developed new machines for his large factory and did spinning and weaving under power all under one roof. Slater used the labor of local families while Lowell employed healthy young women, housed and fed at the company’s expense and paid wages in cash. Slater adhered to the old craft system while Lowell built labor-saving machines that required only a few weeks of training to master the repetitive tasks. Slater built small mills with a small number of spindles, while the mill at Waltham contained thousands of spindles and several looms watched over by hundreds of workers. The conservative Slater clung to his tried-and-true methods of production while Lowell leaped ahead with his modern factory using the machines of mass production. At Lowell’s mill raw cotton came in at one end and finished cloth left at the other.”[2]

But Republicanism was still at the heart of what people felt about this nation so they feared losing Republicanism as a result of a shifting economy and the rise of a new social order. They would place the factories outside of cities and would supervise employees very carefully to stave off corruption, vice an degradation. From that we see the development of the Boston Factory System: factories would be placed away from urban centers, workers would live as well as work in the factories, and people would be paid based on age, gender, and race. For example, at Slater’s Mill, older white men received the equivalent of $5 a week, $3 for older women, $2 for boys, and less than $2 for girls. Nonwhite workers and foreign-born workers received even less. But before the Irish showed up in massive numbers, American factories hired women:

“The Lowell System required hiring of young (usually single) women between the ages of 15 and 35. Single women were chosen because they could be paid less than men, thus increasing corporate profits, and because they could be more easily controlled then men. These mill girls, as they were called, were required to live in company-owned dormitories adjacent to the mill and were expected to adhere to the rather strict moral code of conduct espoused by Lowell. They were supervised by older women, called matrons, and were expected to work diligently and attend church and educational classes. The young women would work a grueling 80-hour work week. Lowell believed his system alleviated the deplorable working conditions he witnessed in England and helped him to keep a tight rein on his employees. By doing so, he cultivated employee loyalty, kept wages low, and assured his stockholders accelerating profits. Although Lowell’s labor arrangement was highly discriminatory and paternalistic compared to modern standards, it was seen as revolutionary in its day. A large number of young mill girls went on to become librarians, teachers, social workers, etc., thanks in large part to the education they received while working at the mill; thus, the system did produce benefits for the workers and the larger society.”[3] In contrast, Sam Slater hired even younger girls, around seven, according to The Encyclopedia of the War of 1812, “who were exploited and often abused…Slater kept tight reins on his labor pool as well, but the young girls were harder to train and control than adult women.”[4]

Thomas Jefferson (and others) feared an entrenched proletariat, so the new industrialists went with temporary workers -girls and young women. This would preserve women’s traditional roles such as spinning and weaving but as they would eventually get married the workforce would be constantly turning over. But that meant that the mills would become substitute parents.

So was the motive really to save the Republic? No. There was an economic aspect as well: workers lived in dormitories and had to pay for things from their pillows to coals to keep them warm during the long winters.

Many contemporaries applauded this system as being able to have both a robust manufacturing system as well as preserving republican virtue. But much of the Boston Factory System was about social control. Skilled and unskilled workers had separate dormitories, bells called people to work and to breaks, counting houses closely watched over mills/factories. Women, after their shifts, were taught skills that would, hopefully, transform them into ladies. “It was a most authentic republican community” argued one factory worker. Charles Dickens, who denounced English manufacturing in his novels, supported the Boston Factory System. Buildings he noted were “fresh and charming”, girls were well dressed and clean, and women were taught manners and deportment. Alexander DeTouqueville on Manchester England, pondered the paradox of industry: factories were bad for the individual but good for the community. “From the filthy sewer, pure gold flows,” he wrote.

Around the dorms were planted grass, shrubs, and other greenery because it was “rural, pastoral and pleasant. But time sped up. There was a bell that called the workers to meal time. The bell called them to work and to sleep. And their days were long. One account from the Lowell mill had women working from 5am to 7pm with 30 minutes for breakfast and 30 minutes for dinner. Even very young girls worked 14 hours a day.

Early on, they were eager to work to earn money for the family, make a dowry, or to send a sibling to school. Workers pursued intellectual interests such as publishing their own periodicals. “It was a most authentic Republican community,” one author declared.

Over time wages remained stagnant as the workers’ cost of living increased so they demanded better wages. The first “strike” (what they called a turn out) was in 1834 at the Lowell Mill due to a 15% reduction in wages. Two years later boarding house rents were increased and another turn out ensued. These were all unsuccessful. None of the early strikes alleviated the women’s deteriorating conditions. American workers were quickly replaced by foreign born workers (primarily the Irish in the 1840s) and the social status fell while American views on factories changed. “They’re taking our jobs” was the sentiment of the time.


Religious Reform (The Second Great Awakening and Its Effects)

A wave of religious enthusiasm spread across the country, emanating from upstate New York, in the early part of the nineteenth century. New religions came into being, innovative ways of organizing society were attempted, and new ideas on gender relations and government-governed relationships were developed. This religious fervor had some common characteristics. First, religious leaders such as Joseph Smith and William Miller preached the perfectibility of individuals and the perfectibility of society. New religions came about such as the Mormons and older religions became much more popular such as the Baptists and the Unitarians. Many believed the end of the world would happen in their lifetime and thus they needed to prepare, such as William Miller (a onetime phrenologist) who believed he could determine the exact day of the second coming of Jesus. According to him it was to be October 22nd, 1843. Although Miller was (spoiler alert) incorrect, his ideas on religions did result in the development of a new Protestant sect: the Seventh Day Adventists. They believed that people could usher in the Second Coming through proper religious activities and women such as Ellen G. White played a role in establishing this new Christian sect and Clorinda Minor attempted to create a colony in Jerusalem in preparation for the Second Coming of Jesus.[5] Religious leaders preached that salvation was more of a choice than because of good works. Women, more so than the First Great Awakening, participated as evangelicals, as the emotionalism of the Second Great Awakening, was tied to the belief that women were more emotional (and religious) than men. The massive conversion of Africans (slave and free) to Christianity took place during the Second Great Awakening. One example of a female, free African preacher was Jarena Lee.

Lee later wrote about how the spirit moved her to preach and her early experiences as an itinerant preacher:

“I now began to think seriously of breaking up housekeeping, and forsaking all to preach the everlasting Gospel. I felt a strong desire to return to the place of my nativity, at Cape May, after an absence of about fourteen years. To this place, where the heaviest cross was to be met with, the Lord sent me, as Saul of Tarsus was sent to Jerusalem, to preach the same gospel which he had neglected and despised before his conversion. I went by water, and on my passage was much distressed by sea sickness, so much so that I expected to have died, but such was not the will of the Lord respecting me. After I had disembarked, I proceeded on as opportunities offered toward where my mother lived. When within ten miles of that place, I appointed an evening meeting. There were a goodly number came out to hear. The Lord was pleased to give me light and liberty among the people. After meeting, there came an elderly lady to me and said, she believed the Lord had rent me among them: she then appointed me another meeting there two weeks from that night. The next day I hastened forward to the place of my mother. who was happy to see me, and the happiness was mutual between us. With her I left my poor sickly boy while I departed to do my Master’ s will. In this neighborhood I had an uncle, who was a Methodist and who gladly threw open his door for meetings to be held there. At the first meeting which I held at my uncle’s house, there was, with others who had come from curiosity to hear the woman preacher, an old man, who was a Deist, and who said he did not believe the coloured people had any souls — he was sure they had none. He took a seat very near where I was standing, and boldly tried to look me out of countenance. But as I labored on in the best manner I was able, looking to God all the while, though it seemed to me I had but little liberty, yet there went an arrow from the bent bow of the gospel, and fastened in his till then obdurate heart. After I had done speaking, he went out, and called the people around him, said that my preaching might seem a small thing, yet be believed I had the worth of souls at heart. This language was different from what it was a little time before, as he now seemed to admit that coloured people had souls, as it was to these I was chiefly speaking; and unless they had souls, whose good I had in view, his remark must have been without meaning. He now came into the house, and in the most friendly manner shook hands with me, saying, he hoped God had spared him to some good purpose. This man was a great slave holder, and had been very cruel ; thinking, nothing of knocking down a slave with a fence stake, or whatever might come to hand. From this time it was said of him that he became greatly altered in his ways for the better. At that time he was about seventy years old, his head as white as snow; but whether be became a converted man or not, I never heard.”[6]



Margaret Fuller


Some sought refuge in nature. One such group was the Transcendentalists, popularized by such American writers such as William David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emily Dickinson and Margaret Fuller. They believed that traditional American ideas on politics and religion were corrupt so they performed a tactical retreat from American society by moving to the western areas of Massachusetts. Walden Pond is the classic example of a Transcendentalist community. There they promoted self-reliance and self-discipline. They supported the belief that people are best suited to make their own decisions about how they will organize their lives, not established religious or secular leaders. They were not atheists, but rather believed that God wanted a personal relationship with individuals but that modernity (urbanization, industrialization, and commercialization) prevented that relationship from happening.

“Ralph Waldo Emerson, a former minister, was the central figure in a movement called transcendentalism. Emerson believed that every human being had unlimited potential. But to realize their godlike nature, people had to ‘transcend’ or go beyond, purely logical thinking. They could find the answers to life’s mysteries only by learning to trust their emotions and intuition. Transcendentalists added to the spirit of reform by urging people to question society’s rules and institutions. Do not conform to others’ expectations, they said. If you want to find God–and your own true self–look to nature and the ‘God within.'”[7]


George Ripley
Sophia Ripley


“The individuals most closely associated with this new way of thinking were connected loosely through a group known as The Transcendental Club which met in the Boston home of George and Sophia Ripley. Their chief publication was a periodical called “The Dial,” edited by Margaret Fuller, a political radical and feminist whose book “Women of the Nineteenth Century” was among the most famous of its time. The club had many extraordinary thinkers, but accorded the leadership position to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Margaret Fuller played a large part in both the women’s and Transcendentalist movements. She helped plan the community at Brook Farm [led by George and Sophia Ripley], as well as editing The Dial, and writing the feminist treatise, Woman in the Nineteenth Century. Emerson was a Harvard-educated essayist and lecturer and is recognized as our first truly “American” thinker. In his most famous essay, “The American Scholar” he urged Americans to stop looking to Europe for inspiration and imitation and be themselves. He believed that people were naturally good and that everyone’s potential was limitless. He inspired his colleagues to look into themselves, into nature, into art, and through work for answers to life’s most perplexing questions. His intellectual contributions to the philosophy of transcendentalism inspired a uniquely American idealism and spirit of reform.”[8]


Utopian Societies

People attempted to flee the perceived excesses of American society -particularly industrialization. They were not anti-capitalists, they just believed in a more equitable distribution of wealth. Why should a factory owner become wealthy due to his workers when many believed that factory owners needed to pay their workers better, to better share in the economic success of those factories. Utopian societies were also rather Jeffersonian in the sense that they forwarded a return to nature or at least an emphasis on living within the frontier. They believed in local government and in a settler mentality of a more intimate community of like-minded people over urbanization. There were other issues in contemporary American society that concerned those who established and were drawn to Utopian communities.


Eliza Roxcy Snow

Snow was Joseph Smith’s first, and legal, wife. Then married Brigham Young upon Smith’s death.




Mormon Temple at Nauvoo, Illinois

Joseph Smith created Mormonism after a series of alleged discussions with an angel. He created a cooperative, closed, theocracy as himself as the religious leader (he called himself a prophet) and the secular leader. Mormons practiced polygamy, which in part will get his group pushed farther and farther West. He started his theocracy in New York but the community fled to Ohio, then Missouri, and finally in Illinois he tried to establish a community that would help usher in the Second Coming of Jesus. When Smith was killed, his lieutenant Brigham Young married all of Smith’s wives, declared himself another prophet and took over as their religious and secular leader, then led his group to what is today Salt Lake City Utah. When Utah sough admittance into the US as a state, Congress initially refused due to Mormons practice of polygamy. So, church leaders denounced the practice, removed it from their list of beliefs, and Utah then became a state.

One of most important events of early Mormon history is what unfolded at Nauvoo, Illinois. What follows is one explanation of those events and is taken from the blog of Dr. Roger Launius:[10]

The non-Mormons of Hancock County, Illinois, in the early 1840s probably disliked the Mormons from the first, in the same way that most Americans have generally disliked what they have viewed as religious fanaticism, but they were initially disposed toward toleration because they sympathized with its members as refugees from oppression in Missouri. That view, however, soon began to change. Some of the Mormons, embittered against “Gentiles” (non-Mormons) because of their recent experience and impoverished because of their forced abandonment of homes in Missouri, stole food, livestock, and other things from farms in the Nauvoo area. And non-Mormons soon learned that trips to Nauvoo in search of stolen goods, or to seek payment for items sold to the Mormons, were fruitless—and even frightening.

The highly unified, separatist community did not cooperate with outsiders, and some of the Saints resorted to intimidation. For example the “whistling and whittling brigade” of young ruffians made unwelcome visitors fear for their lives as they encircled them during their visits to the Mormon stronghold. Nauvoo quickly developed a reputation among western Illinois residents as a place where lawbreakers friendly to the church were shielded from arrest.

The amount of Mormon theft is impossible to determine, since some stealing by others was undoubtedly blamed on the Saints, nor can Joseph Smith’s involvement be established with any certainty, despite what some memoirs fron older residents imply. Certain Mormon raiders may have felt they had Smith’s approval when in fact they did not. In any case, the evidence of Mormon theft is substantial, and that activity caused some non-Mormons in townships near Nauvoo to oppose the Saints.

But of far greater importance to the development of non-Mormon animosity and to the eventual eruption of mobocratic violence was the perceived threat to democratic government posed by Smith and his theocratic community. That view was expressed as far away as Macomb, Quincy, Alton, and other Illinois communities, but it was centered in Hancock County, where the Mormons dominated local politics by 1842.

Warsaw, a town of about 500 people in the early 1840s, spearheaded the opposition to Smith and political Mormonism. Founded in 1834 as a place for shipping and commerce, Warsaw was something of a microcosm of pluralistic America, an open, ambitious, progressive community where residents did not hold the religious preconceptions that made Nauvoo’s theocracy possible. Instead, local residents firmly subscribed to republicanism, the ill-defined civil religion of the Jacksonian era. Common democratic ideals lashed the people together, and the rituals of self-government affirmed the community’s ideological bond.

To the people of Warsaw, the nation had transcendent value, and republicanism was the operative faith of their town. So, it is not surprising that residents there objected to Smith’s theocratic domination of government at Nauvoo, his encouragement of bloc voting for candidates he supported, his use of the Nauvoo Charter to avoid prosecution, and, eventually, his violation of the civil rights of his critics.

That Joseph Smith also headed a huge militia, the Nauvoo Legion, made the threat of despotism seem all the more real. When a united political effort, the Anti-Mormon Party of 1841-1842, failed to curb Smith’s secular power, non-Mormons became increasingly frustrated, and there was talk of mobocratic measures to stop the threat of political Mormonism.

At the same time, after two arrest attempts by Missouri officials, the Mormon prophet became increasingly fearful of the authorities in that state, whom he regarded as thoroughly evil. He drew his supporters more closely around him by depicting the Saints as innocent chosen people and himself as their champion fighting the enemies of God. Critics and opponents in Illinois were associated with those enemies, and thus fear and intolerance increased among the Mormons and governmental authority at Nauvoo became centered in Smith. Apparently unaware of the contradiction between real democratic government and his theocratic control of Nauvoo, the prophet placed the church on a collision course with the non-Mormons in Hancock County—and, ultimately, with America.

No question, the conflict between the Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo and the residents surrounding Nauvoo, Illinois, in the 1840s is one of the most important aspects of early Mormon history. Controversies between the Mormon and non-Mormon population began almost immediately when the Latter -day Saints arrived in Illinois in 1839 and grew in intensity and violence by the middle-1840s. The assassination of Joseph Smith Jr. in 1844 and a Mormon war that only ended with the members’ removal from Illinois 1846 are only the two most visible aspects of this struggle.

By taking violent action the citizens of Hancock County reasserted fundamental direction over local government whether for good or ill. Political scientist Jurgen Habermas has suggested that when the “instrumental rationality” of the bureaucratic state intrudes too precipitously into the “lifeworld” of its citizenry, they rise up in some form to correct its course or to cast it off altogether. The “lifeworld” is evident in the ways in which language creates the contexts of interpretations of everyday circumstances, decisions, and actions. He argued that the “lifeworld” is “represented by a culturally transmitted and linguistically organized stock of interpretive patterns.” . . . Conflict of some kind seems inevitable in this context, and when Smith condemned his Mormon critics as enemies of the people and suppressed their civil rights through institutionalized violence, the non-Mormons—politically frustrated and fearing despotism—resorted to mobocratic measures. Other causes, such as lawlessness by some Mormons aimed at the Gentiles economic and social strife, contributed to the outbreak of violence, but in my view this ideological struggle was central.[11]


Expulsion of Mormons from Nauvoo, Illinois





“The Amana origins trace back to early seventeenth century Germany within pietist circles in Wurtemberg and Hessen.  Among the peasants and lower middle class emerged the “Community of True Inspiration” – a group of sectarians who believed that God could inspire people to speak.  This sectarian community still believed in prophecies and the prophets or ‘werkzeuge’ (literally meaning instruments) would speak directly to God in leading their communities.  During the early 1700’s the sect was led by two Werkzeuge named Eberhard Ludwig Gruber, a Lutheran minister, and Johann Frederick Rock, a harness maker and son of a Lutheran minister.  Prompted by prophecies, the sect decided to search for a place of settlement in the United States.  The first US settlement was set up in upstate New York in 1844.  But eventually, neighboring communities such as Buffalo began to expand near the New York settlement so the leaders looked to move west to re-establish isolation which led to the establishment of the Amana Colonies in Iowa.”[12]

Calling themselves the “Community of True Inspiration,” German immigrants established a community in upstate New York they named Amana (named after a local First People). They embraced Pietism who believed that the Bible was the blueprint for society. They had 21 Rules to include:

  1. Obey, without reasoning, God, and through God your superiors.
  2. Count every word, thought, and work as done in the immediate presence of God, in sleeping and waking, eating, drinking, etc., and give Him at once an account of it, to see if all id done in His fear and love.
  3. Never think or speak of God without the deepest reverence, fear, and love, and therefore deal reverently with all spiritual things.[13]

There ideas on happiness can be derived from some of their 21 Rules:

  1. Study quiet, or serenity, within and without.
  2. Abandon self, with all its desires, knowledge and power.
  3. Be honest, sincere, and avoid all deceit and even secretiveness.
  4. Do not disturb your serenity or peace of mind – hence neither desire nor grieve.
  5. Live in love and pity toward your neighbor, and indulge neither anger nor impatience in your spirit.
  6. Have nothing to do with unholy and particularly with needless business affairs.
  7. Have no intercourse with worldly-minded men; never seek their society; speak little with them, and never without need; and then without fear and trembling.
  8. Therefore, what you have to do with such men do in haste; do not waste time in public  places and worldly society, that you be not tempted and led away.
  9. Dinners, weddings, feasts, avoid entirely; at the best there is sin.[14]

They repudiated all established churches and many established American institutions such as private property. The Amana community practices public ownership of all land and resources, to include its factory. Members of the original community near Buffalo New York moved to Iowa to build a new Utopian society. “Before dawn, a bell rang in the village tower called residents to work, and a simple church located in the center of town was available for daily worship. Children attended school six days a week, year round, until the age of 14. Then, boys worked on the farm or in craft shops, and girls worked in the garden or in one of the over 50 communal kitchens. Select boys were sent to college for training to be teachers, doctors, and dentists.”[15]

The Amana community made and sold kitchen utensils such as pots and pans. They were not anti-industry. They were anti-capitalists.




John Humphrey Noyes, a theologian who was converted by Charles Finney, gave up his study of law and began preaching an unorthodox doctrine. He was expelled from mainstream churches. He supported perfectionism, intellectual pursuits over myth and magic, and that the mere conversion to Christianity was enough to secure your place in Heaven. He argued that traditional American society was made up of what he called systems: politics, religion, even marriage and that those systems prevented perfectionism. So, he started a community called Oneida (after a local First People) where he supported vegetarianism, communal ownership of property and complex marriage. He believed that traditional marriage resulted in women being at the mercy of men’s lust so in his Utopian society every woman was married to every man but sex was voluntary between any couple and he discouraged permanent unions. He also preached that men should restrain their lustful urges.

“Women over the age of 40 were to act as sexual ‘mentors’ to adolescent boys, as these relationships had minimal chance of conceiving. Furthermore, these women became religious role models for the young men. Likewise, older men often introduced young women to sex. Noyes often used his own judgment in determining the partnerships that would form, and would often encourage relationships between the non-devout and the devout in the community, in the hopes that the attitudes and behaviors of the devout would influence the non-devout.”[16]

“Every member of the community was subject to criticism by committee or the community as a whole, during a general meeting. The goal was to eliminate undesirable character traits. Various contemporary sources contend that Noyes himself was the subject of criticism, although less often and of probably less severe criticism than the rest of the community. Charles Nordhoff witnessed the following criticism of member “Charles:”

 Charles sat speechless, looking before him; but as the accusations multiplied, his face grew paler, and drops of perspiration began to stand on his forehead. The remarks I have reported took up about half an hour; and now, each one in the circle having spoken, Mr. Noyes summed up. He said that Charles had some serious faults; that he had watched him with some care; and that he thought the young man was earnestly trying to cure himself. He spoke in general praise of his ability, his good character, and of certain temptations he had resisted in the course of his life. He thought he saw signs that Charles was making a real and earnest attempt to conquer his faults; and as one evidence of this he remarked that Charles had lately come to him to consult him upon a difficult case in which he had had a severe struggle, but had in the end succeeded in doing right. “In the course of what we call stirpiculture,” said Noyes, “Charles, as you know, is in the situation of one who is by and by to become a father. Under these circumstances, he has fallen under the too common temptation of selfish love, and a desire to wait upon and cultivate an exclusive intimacy with the woman who was to bear a child through him. This is an insidious temptation, very apt to attack people under such circumstances; but it must nevertheless be struggled against.” Charles, he went on to say, had come to him for advice in this case, and he (Noyes) had at first refused to tell him any thing, but had asked him what he thought he ought to do; that after some conversation, Charles had determined, and he agreed with him, that he ought to isolate himself entirely from the woman, and let another man take his place at her side; and this Charles had accordingly done, with a most praiseworthy spirit of self-sacrifice. Charles had indeed still further taken up his cross, as he had noticed with pleasure, by going to sleep with the smaller children, to take charge of them during the night. Taking all this in view, he thought Charles was in a fair way to become a better man, and had manifested a sincere desire to improve, and to rid himself of all selfish faults.[17]


“The community believed that Jesus had already returned in AD 70, making it possible for them to bring about Jesus’s millennial kingdom themselves, and be free of sin and perfect in this world, not just Heaven (a belief called Perfectionism). The Oneida Community practiced communalism (in the sense of communal property and possessions), complex marriage, male continence, mutual criticism and ascending fellowship. There were smaller Noyesian communities in Wallingford, Connecticut; Newark, New Jersey; Putney and Cambridge, Vermont. The community’s original 87 members grew to 306 by 1878. The branches were closed in 1854 except for the Wallingford branch, which operated until devastated by a tornado in 1878.”[18]

To make money, the Oneida community made and sold flatware: forks, spoons, and knives. Eventually, he gave up on his systems theory, ended complex marriage, communal property was divided up and he sold stock in the community’s factory. They were not anti-industry. They were anti-capitalists.

The irony of the anti-capitalists, Amana and Oneida, is that although their Utopian communities failed, their factories succeeded and today Amana and Oneida are two American corporations of kitchen stuff: from major appliances to cutlery.



The Shakers were unique in the sense that they were led by a woman named Mother Anne Lee Stanley. “In 1772, Lee received another vision from God. As described by Lee, ‘I knew that I had a vision of America, I saw a large tree, every leaf of which shown with such brightness as made it appear like a burning torch representing the Church of Christ which will yet be established in this land.’ Thus, in 1774, Ann Lee and nine of her followers traveled to America, settling in Western New York State. There, at Niskeyuna, the first American Shaker community was formed.”[19]

The name, Shaker, came from the physical manifestations in their religious rituals. She came from a poor family in England. Four of her children died and her conversion experience in the First Great Awakening was painful and long, lasted nine years. And although she died in 1784, her ideas continued. By 1800 there were about 12 Shaker communities in the US and during the Second Great Awakening, Shakers sent out their own evangelical preachers to build up the community’s population. Mother Anne Lee forwarded the idea that God was both male and female and was a millennialist who believed the end of the world was quickly coming. While Jesus was the male manifestation of God, she said she was the female manifestation of God. She preached equality between the sexes and demanded chastity, thus there was no way to make new Shakers, hence the evangelical nature of the religion during the Second Great Awakening. “The community meeting-house was the center of Shaker worship services on Sunday. Spontaneous dancing was part of Shaker worship until the early 1800s, when it was replaced by choreographed dancing. Spontaneous dancing returned around the 1840s, but by the end of the 19th century dancing ceased during worship. Services consisted of singing hymns, testimonials, a short homily, and silence.”[20]

“Ann Lee’s visions informed four basic tenets: communal living, celibacy, regular confession of sins, and separation from the outside world. To rigorously follow these tenets meant that they could achieve perfection. Moreover, following these rules meant assurances of spiritual and physical equality; non-Christians and all races were welcome if they agreed to these four principles. The Shakers also believed in gender equality, even though their spheres of activity and responsibility were kept separate.”[21]

To make money for the community, the Shakers built furniture. Shaker furniture was rather austere, minimalist, based on function not form, with an emphasis on incredible craftsmanship.



Lyman Beecher, 1775-1863


Some white, middle to upper class American-born white women saw immigrant culture as radically different, inferior (and threatening) to American culture and some went so far as to brand alcohol consumption as immoral. “These people feared that God would no longer bless the United States and that these ungodly and unscrupulous people posed a threat to America’s political system. To survive, the American republic, these people believed, needed virtuous citizens. Because of these concerns, many people became involved in reform movements during the early 1800s. One of the more prominent was the temperance movement. Temperance advocates encouraged their fellow Americans to reduce the amount of alcohol that they consumed. Ideally, Americans would forsake alcohol entirely, but most temperance advocates remained willing to settle for reduced consumption. The largest organization established to advocate temperance was the American Temperance Society. By the mid-1830s, more than 200,000 people belonged to this organization. The American Temperance Society published tracts and hired speakers to depict the negative effects of alcohol upon people.”[22]

The women who led this movement saw the over consumption of alcohol as being a social, moral, and religious problem. While most sought to control the production and consumption of alcohol, a few, such as the well-known preacher Lyman Beecher (father to Elizabeth Beecher Stowe who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin) wanted to completely do away with alcohol. These reformers define temperance as prosperity plus godliness plus political freedom while intemperance as poverty, damnation, and tyranny. In the 1840s states allowed counties and even cities to decide for themselves the question of temperance, thus this country was a patch work of varied consumption laws. While some town tried to merely limit when alcohol could be served in public, other towns prohibited the complete consumption of alcohol. Maine was an anomaly. In 1851 the state legislature prohibited the consumption of alcohol state wide -known as going “dry”. Four years later the state repealed their prohibition on the consumption of alcohol.

“Temperance reform proved effective. After peaking in 1830 (at roughly five gallons per capita annually), alcohol consumption sharply declined by the 1840s (to under two.) The movement enjoyed some legal successes. By the mid-1850s, laws prohibiting its manufacture and sale other than for medicinal purposes had passed in New England, Ohio and Northwest territory, New York, and Pennsylvania—legislation that foreshadowed national prohibition in the early twentieth century. Of course, not all who supported temperance reform advocated total abstention, and not all who supported voluntary abstinence supported the legislation of morality. And there were opponents of the organized movement who supported self-regulated temperate consumption. In addition, advocates of abstention did not necessarily adhere to what they preached, even on such public occasions as temperance conventions. It was not a black-and-white issue. As Christopher Columbus Baldwin, a young lawyer and later librarian of the American Antiquarian Society, explained in a diary entry, when the State Temperance Convention met in Worcester in 1833 some of the nearly five hundred delegates showed clear signs that they had not converted to the doctrine of abstinence that they professed. While he expressed pleasure at efforts to reform the besotting practices of drunkenness, he personally believed in moderation. Expressing the sentiments of many, he further observed:”

I am not a member of a temperance society, contenting myself with the practice of virtue without extra preaching it to others. It is one of the faults of the day to occupy so much of our time in recommending the practice of virtue that we have no time left us to perform it. So true it is that when mankind undertake a reformation they are always running into extremes.[23]


Physical Health (Diet)

Sylvester Graham (1794-1851) was the seventeenth child in his family. He became a Presbyterian minister and promoted a healthy eating regiment consisting of not eating meat, not drinking liquor, not smoking, exercising, and opposed sexual excess, to include masturbation. He believed that healthy living was the key to healthy morals (no smoking, drinking or masturbation). He also believed in such “scientific” practices as phrenology (determining one’s health and future by felling the bumps on one’s head) and spiritualism (the practice of being able to summon and talk to the dead). He tried to develop what he believed to be the perfect food. This food was vegetarian, had to be easily transported, and did not need refrigeration and when eaten would cut down on one’s interest in the consumption of alcohol, smoking, and sex.

“The reverend’s sentiments may sound like the ravings of a mentally disturbed baker, but in 1837, A Treatise on Bread and Bread-Making was a runaway hit. Graham was a star preacher within the temperance movement, and championed a strict, meat-free diet modeled after the Bible’s original vegetarians: Adam and Eve. Graham’s diet called for consuming only plants, water (no alcohol), and other “pure” items one might find in the Garden of Eden. Chief among Graham’s concerns was whole-grain bread, made from home-ground wheat, which he viewed as the cornerstone of modern, impure lifestyles. A Treatise on Bread and Bread-Making inspired the production of so-called graham flour, graham bread and, most famously, graham crackers.”[24]

“Graham’s followers established boardinghouses in various cities across the country where Grahamites could stay and take their meals while traveling. They opened provisions stores to supply pure, healthy foodstuffs. They published a magazine, the Graham Journal of Health and Longevity, and numerous books; established physiological societies in cities like Boston and New York and on college campuses like Oberlin, Wesleyan, and Williams; and held a number of health conventions. By the Civil War, Graham’s tenets and theories had influenced even more-widespread health crusades, such as the water-cure movement, which used various water treatments to cure disease and maintain health, and phrenology, the pseudoscientific movement that attributed character traits and conduct to the physical shape and size of the skull. New religious movements like Christian Science and Seventh-day Adventism incorporated Grahamite principles. And following the Civil War, entrepreneurs like the cereal mavens the Kellogg brothers integrated the Grahamites’ concerns into the marketing of their commercial products. The diet reform movement influenced many Americans who did not consider themselves Grahamites. Nineteenth-century manuscript and published cookbooks included recipes for Graham bread, Protestant ministers offered sermons on the connection between diet and morality, and advice books urged healthy living based on Grahamite principles. In short, the ideas and values of the diet reform movement as initiated by Graham became part of mainstream American culture in the nineteenth century and beyond.”[25]


Urban Reform and the Working Men’s Party

Some reformers focused their time and energy on alleviating poverty in the growing urban centers of the United States. They dealt with issues of labor, prisons, and the mentally ill. But not because they wanted to truly help these people (usually immigrants) transition to a better life, but because these reformers blamed poverty, illness, illegal activities as examples of moral corruptness. In other words, people who were poor were poor because of choice not circumstance and poverty was immoral. Other groups of urban reformers did indeed try to alleviate the conditions in urban centers that resulted in poverty and illness, such as was the Working Men’s Party. This political party sought to get reformers elected to local positions such as town council members. This political party supported the ten-hour work day, abolish debtors’ prisons, and supported free, public schools. For example, these reformers believed that prisons should be a place to reform criminals into productive members of society, not a place to punish people. Thus, developed the first “reform schools.”

The following is from a Michigan State University history department’s digital history project.[26]

“The origin of the Working Men’s Party (Philadelphia) can be found in the Mechanic’s Union of Trade Associations, which was America’s “first union of all organized workmen in any city.” At its peak in 1828, The Mechanic’s Union was comprised of 15 trade societies. These societies organized due to their common goal of achieving a ten-hour workday without having their wages reduced. Organizations within the Union, such as the carpenter’s society, found it prudent to have political representation, therefore “political clubs” were established to endorse candidates for office, and to educate the workers on political issues.

“Man is by nature an active being. He is made to labor.” – Edward Everett

According to Edward Everett of the Working Men’s Party in Massachusetts, Men are constantly in a state of “want,” therefore he will work to maintain what he has or work harder to obtain what he desires. This philosophy somewhat mirrored that of the General Trades’ Union, which emerged after the collapse of the Working Men’s Party: Being in a constant state of wanting is selfish. However, unlike Trade Unionists, American labor parties focused more on their position in politics rather than their economic position.

In a contradictory statement, Everett claims that it was not the goal of the party to win positions in government:

“The next question, that presents itself, is, what is the general object of a working men’s party?” “To this I suppose I may safely answer, that it is not to carry this or that political election; not to elevate this or that candidate for office, but to promote the prosperity and welfare of working men.”

Everett’s quote also reveals the disconnect and contention between Working Men’s Parties from different states. In 1829, Thomas Skidmore, founder of the New York City Working Men’s Party, published his treatise The Rights of Man to Property. This document further illustrated the desires of the working man, but also exemplified the different ideologies within the same movement. In regards to land, Skidmore argued: “It should be recollected, that equal property being given to every human being as he arrives at the age of maturity, would necessarily cause equal education, instruction, or knowledge, or nearly so…” Skidmore professed that this redistribution, along with an elimination of wills, would make men more equal. He goes on to write, “Men starting equal in property and knowledge, could never have been cheated or forced into any such enormous injustice…”[27]

This reform impulse began to wane in the early 1850s as reformers’ attentions turned to more pressing, national issues such as the question of slavery.


Antioch College, 1860

Education Reform

Horace Mann is most associated with education reform. He was born in 1796 in Massachusetts. He became a Unitarian, who focused his energies on doing something to better humanity. He graduated from Brown university and as a young man he championed hospital reform but became the first Secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Education in 1837 where he promoted public (free) schools, teacher training colleges, and public libraries. All of which would be supported through state taxes. He believed that students could best learn from teachers who were classically education on how to teach so in 1839 he established Massachusetts first teacher colleges, called the Normal School for Teachers.

“Mann knew that the quality of rural schools had to be raised, and that teaching was the key to that improvement. He also recognized that the corps of teachers for the new Common Schools were most likely to be women, and he argued forcefully (if, by contemporary standards, sometimes insultingly) for the recruitment of women into the ranks of teachers, often through the Normal Schools. These developments were all part of Mann’s driving determination to create a system of effective, secular, universal education in the United States.”[28]

Libraries existed, but people had to pay fees to join or use libraries so he started a series of traditional public libraries initially to support the local public schools. The people of Massachusetts responded to his call for new taxes and soon the salary of teachers was doubled, schools were operated by paid committees of residents, and textbooks were freely given to students.

“His influence soon spread beyond Massachusetts as more states took up the idea of universal schooling. Mann’s commitment to the Common School sprang from his belief that political stability and social harmony depended on education: a basic level of literacy and the inculcation of common public ideals. He declared, ‘Without undervaluing any other human agency, it may be safely affirmed that the Common School…may become the most effective and benignant of all forces of civilization.’ Mann believed that public schooling was central to good citizenship, democratic participation and societal well-being. He observed, ‘A republican form of government, without intelligence in the people, must be, on a vast scale, what a mad-house, without superintendent or keepers, would be on a small one.’[29]

He ended his career as the first president of Antioch College. Antioch was this nation’s first public, nonsectarian, coeducational institution. Antioch was started by a Utopian community based on the ideas of Robert Owen.



Moral Reform – Dorothea Dix

Dorothea Dix


Jails used to be a place where sadistic guards abused prisoners, until they were released back into the community. In the early 19th century there was a movement away from punishment and towards reforming prisoners through training and education, especially on ethical behavior. These were the first “reform schools” that so many young boys were sent after the Civil War until World War II.

There was also an impulse to better treat mentally ill people. The creation of the first state asylums came into being, then reforms began to call for more humane treatment such as helping the mentally ill be training those who could learn to re-enter society. Eccentric behavior was seen at that time as mental illness thus so many people were institutionalized for having extreme personalities. “During the 19th century, mental health disorders were not recognized as treatable conditions. They were perceived as a sign of madness, warranting imprisonment in merciless conditions.”[30]

One of those reformers was Dorothea Dix. Born in 1802, at an early age she called for the creation of state hospitals to better treat the mentally ill than they would receive at home. Usually those with mental illness were shunned by the family, sometimes chained to beds. She traveled throughout the country investigating the treatment of mentally ill people then lobbied state legislatures to finance state run mental hospitals. “‘I proceed, Gentlemen, briefly to call your attention to the present state of Insane Persons confined within this Commonwealth, in cages, stalls, pens! Chained, naked, beaten with rods, and lashed into obedience,’ wrote Dix in a Memorial to the Legislature of Massachusetts in 1843.”[31] This began in 1841 when she became a volunteer Sunday school teacher for female inmates in a jail in East Cambridge, Massachusetts and got her firsthand look at how people were treated who were suffering from mental illness. “They were chained to beds, starved, and abused – punished as if they were criminals.”[32]

“After touring prisons, workhouses, almshouses, and private homes to gather evidence of appalling abuses, she made her case for state-supported care. Ultimately, she not only helped establish five hospitals in America, but also went to Europe where she successfully pleaded for human rights to Queen Victoria and the Pope.”[33]

During the Civil War, she became the superintendent of the Union Army nursing corp. “At the start of the Civil War in 1861 Dix was inspired to aid the war effort. On April 19, when a Massachusetts regiment en route to Washington was attacked by a secessionist mob in Baltimore, Maryland, Dix immediately took action. She took a train to Baltimore intending to help care for the wounded, but found improvised hospitals already providing aid. She then continued on to DC where, on the same day as the attack in Baltimore, she offered her services as a nurse at the War Department. Though she had no formal medical training or experience, Dix was made Superintendent of the United States Army Nurses on June 10. She quickly and adeptly acquired medical supplies and selected and trained nurses to administer to DC hospitals. Dix was a strict captain, requiring that all of her nurses be over thirty, plain looking, and wear dull uniforms. She earned a reputation for being firm and inflexible, but ran an efficient and effective corps of nurses.”[34] Her work to professionalize the nursing resulted in an increase in the survival rate of wounded soldiers.

One of her nurses, Cara Barton, established the American Red Cross after the War. Another well-known and respected nurse was Mary Ann Bickerdyke who helped create Army hospitals and was the head of the nursing corps under General Ulysses S. Grant. She was later attached to William Tecumseh Sherman and was a trusted adviser who ignored military protocol in pursuit of bringing better care to the sick and wounded Union soldiers. When an officer complained to General Sherman about Bickerdyke’s nontraditional approach, Sherman allegedly proclaimed that there was nothing he could do about her because “she outranks me.”



Sara and Angelina Grimke


In 1829, David Walker, an ex-slave, published a treatise called An Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World, in which he wrote:

“Americans, Oh Americans, I warn you to repent and reform, or you are ruined! …they want us for their slaves, and think nothing of murdering us. . . therefore, if there is an attempt made by us, kill or be killed. . . and believe this, that it is no more harm for you to kill a man who is trying to kill you, than it is for you to take a drink of water when thirsty.” Walker will be killed.

The following year Nat Turner led a short-lived rebellion in Virginia, compelling the Virginia legislative branch to dig in their heels passing a series of laws making slavery even more brutal and nasty, such as prohibiting manumission. Turner and his seventy-something followers killed around 65 white people. And while the revolt was put down, some 200 slaves were killed during the rebellion and in retribution after Turner was captured. Southern leaders, such as Senator (and one-time vice president) John C. Calhoun began referring to slavery as “a positive good.” Calhoun argued that slaves were better treated than industrial workers in the North. In 1837, before the Senate, Calhoun talked about how the abolition and the Union could not exist in the same universe: “As the friend of the Union, I openly proclaim it, and the sooner it is known the better. The former may now be controlled, but in a short time it will be beyond the power of man to arrest the course of events.”

And three years later, in 1833, England abolished slavery. Each year thereafter England hosted an anti-slavery convention.

In 1840 several Americans traveled to England to attend the annual convention, to include Lucretia Mott, Henry and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Grimke sisters. The women were initially prohibited from entering the hall, being that the activities within were deemed inappropriate for the weaker sex. After some persuasion, the American ladies would be admitted after a partition was built so that the men on the floor would not be able to see the women.  On the way back to the United States the group talked about ways they could help. One idea was that of the free store.

A free store was a store that sold goods made by people who freely worked, those not in bondage. The free store idea failed. People want cheap stuff. Nevertheless . . .

“The abolition of slavery represents one of the greatest moral achievements in history. As late as 1750, slavery was legal from Canada to the tip of Argentina. Each of the 13 American colonies permitted slavery, and before the Revolution, only one colony–Georgia–had sought to prohibit the institution. The governments of Britain, France, Denmark, Holland, Portugal, and Spain all openly participated in the slave trade, and no church had discouraged its members from owning or trading in slaves. Yet within half a century, protests against slavery had become widespread. By 1804, every state north of Maryland and Delaware had either freed its slaves or adopted gradual emancipation schemes. In 1807, both the United States and Britain outlawed the Atlantic slave trade. When Congress prohibited the trans-Atlantic slave trade, there were grounds for believing that slavery was a declining institution. In 1784, the Continental Congress fell one vote short of passing a bill that would have excluded slavery forever from the trans-Appalachian West. In 1787, Congress did bar slavery from the Old Northwest, the region north of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi. During the 1780s and 1790s, the number of slaves freed by their masters rose dramatically in the Upper South.”[35]

“At the present rate of progress, one religious leader predicted in 1791, within fifty years it will ‘be as shameful for a man to hold a Negro slave, as to be guilty of common robbery or theft.’ But when William Lloyd Garrison called for an immediate end to slavery in 1831, the grounds for optimism had evaporated. Despite the end of the Atlantic slave trade, the slave population in the United States had grown to 1.5 million in 1820 and over two million a decade later. The cotton kingdom had expanded into Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, and Missouri. In the North, free blacks faced increasingly harsh discrimination.”[36]

In the 1830s some viewed slavery as a sin and like all sins needed to be eliminated. There had been a history of dealing with slavery since before the establishment of the US Constitution. The highlight of the Articles of Confederation was the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. The Northwest Ordinance outlawed slavery in what was considered the northwest part of the United States -today consisting of states such as Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois. Slavery generally ended slowly in the North beginning in 1777 when Vermont abolished it. Manumission was one way that norther states ended slavery: people would set free their slaves in their will. Other states passed laws ending slavery once slaves reached a certain age or who were under a certain age. The US Constitution almost sidestepped slavery, never using the words “slave” or “slavery” but the document did note that people in “perpetual bondage” who escaped to free states or territories were not free, that runaway slaves could be returned to their owners, and that slaves counted as 3/5ths of a human being for population purposes in consideration of the number of members each state could send to the House of Representatives. Finally, the Constitution noted that the US would stop importing slaves by 1808.

Some reformers supported colonization. Freemen (slaves who were set free or Africans born into freedom) would be sent to Africa to land purchased by reformers. In 1817 the American Colonization Society secured land in west coast equatorial Africa, named it Liberia with its capital of Monrovia (after the sitting president at that time -James Monroe). A few later, the ACS began sending ex-slaves “back” to Africa. The ACS, like many northerners, believed that whites and blacks could not (or should not) live together, thus holding a rather pessimistic view of race relations. There would be two “back to Africa” movements, this time led by African Americans, in the twentieth century, by the way. By 1831, the ACS had only been able to repatriate about 1400 ex slaves in part because the ASC did not have enough ships to transport the ex-slaves, they did not enough money to buy the slaves their freedom and pay to have them shipped to Africa, and, primarily, because most slaves by the 1820s were not from Africa and thus they had no intention of going to a land they did not know. One supported or colonization was a young Abraham Lincoln who gave money to the American Colonization Society.

Slavery slumbered along until 1819 when Missouri applied for statehood. Missouri sought to enter the United States as a slave state, but the state was situated north of the Mason-Dixon line. The Mason Dixon line was an area surveyed by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon to settle disputes among states’ borders such as Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, to name a few. As time went on, states and territories north of that survey line ended slavery while states or territories south of the line supported slavery. James Tallmadge of New York proposed an amendment calling for the gradual emancipation of Missouri’s slaves: no more slaves could enter the state and all children of slaves would be freed.[37]

The proposal did not pass Congress. Henry Clay’s compromise called for the admittance of Missouri as a slave state, admit Maine as a free state (to keep the balance of slave and free states in the US Senate), and prohibited slavery north of the 36 30 parallel (the southern border of Missouri) through the remainder of the Louisiana territory. The compromise set the balance between slave and free states of representation in the US Senate. If there was an equal number Senators from free and slave states, then the issue of slavery could not be settled, thus Congress would not need to even discuss slavery. Slavery would be that proverbial can kicked down the road. However, the Missouri Compromise sped up the slavery issue. Southerners feared that anti-slave would swell in numbers, they feared more numerous slave rebellions, they feared being isolated from the North, and they wanted to maintain the status quo -that slavery meant the economic survival of the South.

In 1831, a Boston abolitionist named William Lloyd Garrison began publishing a newspaper called The Liberator. Through this newspaper he called for the immediate and total emancipation of all slaves, arguing that gradual emancipation was not working. His publication was unpopular in the South and agitated some northerners, such as those who operated and worked in textile mills, which were dependent on slave produced cotton. Four years later, slavery was a moral issue for abolitionists. And abolitionists gathered petitions demanding the elimination of slavery. But anti-abolitionism was popular as well, especially in Congress. Southern members of Congress (including John C. Calhoun) made the Gag Rule: Congress will ignore any request on slavery and will not even use the word “slavery” in their debates. John Quincy Adams vividly denounced the Gag Rule as an attack on the First Amendment. And by 1844 the Gag Rule was struck down. Northerners, including members of Congress, felt it was easier to prevent slavery from developing in the territories then to stop it where it was entrenched, which in part gave rise to the Free Soil movement. They formed a short lived political party. Martin Van Buren garnered 10% of the popular vote in the 1848 presidential election but four years later, the Free Soil candidate (J.P. Hale) won only 5%. Nevertheless, the fight shifted to the territories.

Even some plantation mistresses spoke out against slavery. Well, spoke out in their diaries, such as Mary Boykin Chesnut:

“God forgive us, but ours is a monstrous system and wrong. . . Like the patriarchs of old, our men live all in one house with their wives and concubines, and the mulattoes one sees in every family resemble the white children.”

“I hate slavery.”


“One of the early leaders of the Abolitionist movement was Theodore Weld, who helped organize the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833, and whose 1839 work, Slavery As It Is, inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe to write Uncle Tom`s Cabin. Although some in the Abolitionist Movement, especially Garrison, felt that women should play a prominent role, that position was resented by many. When in 1840, Garrison and his followers elected a woman to the American Anti-Slavery Society`s business committee, a split in the organizations resulted. The departing members explained themselves:

We, the Undersigned, members and delegates of the American Anti-Slavery Society, as a duty and, therefore, a right, hereby protest against the principle assumed by a majority of persons representing said Society at its present meeting, that women have the right of originating, debating, and voting on questions which come before said Society, and are eligible to its various offices.

ust as Southerners eventually concluded that their institution of slavery could not be protected under the Constitution while the number of free states grew, abolitionists argued that since slavery could not be abolished under the existing Constitution, it was the obligation of the north to secede! In 1843, the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society endorsed disunion by a vote of 59 to 21. They argued that no principled abolitionist could either vote or hold office under the Constitution as it then existed. In 1845, the group published a pamphlet to that effect with an introduction by Wendell Phillips.”[38]

Events and personalities such as the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the creation of the Republic party, John Brown, the caning of Sumner, and Dred Scott (to name a few) did not advance the rolls among aboltionists as much as those caused increasing concern in the North about the inherent violence in slavery affecting the Union. Abolitionists won’t win the day until the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment and then slavery will come to an end, at least on paper.



From the Seneca Falls Courier

The Woman’s Movement

In 1840, American reformers sailed to England to attend the annual anti-slavery conference in London. The American delegation included many women such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. The women were denied participation so on the trip home they decided on forming their own association. They started by running “free stores.” Their associates, William Lloyd Garrison and Angelina and Sarah Grimke became open critics of abolition. Garrison started a newspaper called The Liberator and the Grimke sisters (whose parents owned slaves) spoke before the US Congress. Women, especially northern women, gained experiences establishing benevolent societies (especially helping the poor) where they learned how to organize, raise money, and administrate. Mott and Stanton met at that London conference in 1840. Over tea one day Stanton told Mott that they must “do something, anything” to draw attention to all the ills plaguing American society from ending slavery to fighting for women’s equal rights. So, in 1848 they placed an ad in the Seneca Falls Courier announcing a two-day meeting of reformers. Stanton was someone of a woman ahead of her time. When she married Harry Stanton, an abolitionist, she refused to say the word “obey” in her vows.

The conference proposed the Declaration of Sentiments in which they changed Thomas Jefferson’s list of grievances against King George III found in the Declaration of Independence to a list of grievances against men. Elizabeth Cady Stanton proposed the most radical “sentiment”: woman’s suffrage. Her own husband initially balked at the idea. The only man who rose in support of Stanton’s proposal was Frederick Douglass. Even some women, such as Lucretia Mott, rejected universal suffrage. This is an excerpt from Stanton’s speech at Seneca Falls, her very first public speech:

“The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world . . . wherever we turn, the history of woman is sad and dark, without any alleviating circumstances, nothing from which we can draw consolation.” She came out with both guns blasting.

(By the way, Susan B. Anthony was not at the Seneca Falls conference. Stanton and Anthony would not meet and begin their lifelong friendship and working relationship until the 1850s.)

Stanton believed that all of America’s ills could be fixed if women had the right to vote. As women believed in the same things (so was the belief at that time) they would vote as a block to end gambling, drunkenness, extend public education, and eradicate all sorts of vice and corruption. Women could alter the path of American society through the ballot box. Supporters of woman’s suffrage worked to achieve their goal through two paths eventually. One group sought a Constitutional amendment while the other group worked at the state level to get state (and territorial) legislators to pass laws giving women the right to vote. Most suffrage supporters placed their cause on the back burner during the Civil War to work for the Union war efforts. Wyoming became the first territory to grant women the right to vote, which was in 1869. The first eight territories and states that granted universal suffrage were all located in the West.


The first half of the 19th century witnessed the rise of tremendous efforts to reshape and reform American society. Some historians argue that the reform impulse was to bring relief to the poor, uneducated, and unequal members of American society, while others argue that the reformers were more interested in social control, especially in light of the massive waves of immigrants. As a German visitor named Francis Grund noted, “Americans love their country not as it is but as it will be.” The nagging issue of slavery would split the reformers and most reforms and reformers temporarily put their organizations and efforts on hold during the Civil War.

These events will shape the path towards the Civil War. First, northern women create a network of volunteers and administrators and when called upon by President Lincoln, hundreds of thousands of reformers heeded the call. There was no such network in the South. Northerners are somewhat used to new, challenging, and somewhat controversial ideas and are thus more likely to support the ebb and flow of battle field conditions as well as President Lincoln’s policies that changed as a reflection of changes on the battlefield. Third, long before Lincoln adds freeing the slaves as one of his war aims, northerners had been working to do so thus there will be a push to support Lincoln’s candidacy in 1860, which will directly lead to southern states attempting to leave the Union. Finally, the railroad. The North had tens of thousands of miles of railroads and they were all connected. A young man who enlisted in the Army in Minnesota could ride a train to the battlefields in Virginia is 48 hours and could bring supplies from factories to the battlefield much more quickly and efficiently. Southerners viewed railroads more along the lines of civic pride thus they were not connected which will make travel of people and supplies so much slower.

As with the other chapters, I have no doubt that this chapter contains inaccuracies. Please point them out to me so that I may make make this chapter better. I am looking for contributors so if you are interested in adding anything at all, please contact me at james.rossnazzal@hccs.edu

  1. Unless otherwise noted, I got the following information from notes I have taken from books, lectures, presentations, and conferences so I do not have any actual citations. Mea culpa.
  2. https://historyofmassachusetts.org/lowell-mills-factory-system/
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Minor did not help establish nor was not a member of the Seventh Day Adventists although some of her preaching did suggest support for the new religious sect.
  6. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part3/3h1638t.html
  7. http://reformmovements1800s.weebly.com/transcendentalists.html
  8. http://www.ushistory.org/us/26f.asp
  9. An 1854 report from The National Magazine on the rise and history of the Mormons can be found here http://www.digitalhistoryproject.com/2012/06/mormons-nauvoo-and-desert.html
  10. Dr. Launius is the one-time Historian for NASA. His interests, besides space history, includes history of the American West and Mormon history. https://launiusr.wordpress.com/curriculum-vitae/
  11. https://launiusr.wordpress.com/2017/03/31/what-were-the-origins-of-mormonnon-mormon-conflict-in-1840s-nauvoo/
  12. http://utopianworlds.pbworks.com/w/page/7536347/Amana%20Colonies%20Description
  13. ibid.
  14. ibid.
  15. https://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/religious/the-amana-colonies-a-utopian-community/
  16. https://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/religious/the-oneida-community-1848-1880-a-utopian-community/
  17. Ibid.
  18. ibid.
  19. https://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/religious/the-shakers-a-utopian-community-founded-in-u-s-1776/
  20. https://www.nps.gov/articles/history-of-the-shakers.htm
  21. https://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/religious/the-shakers-a-utopian-community-founded-in-u-s-1776/
  22. https://ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Temperance_Movement
  23. http://www.teachushistory.org/Temperance/forteachers.htm
  24. https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/graham-crackers
  25. http://ap.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/first-age-reform/essays/sylvester-graham-and-antebellum-diet-reform
  26. http://projects.leadr.msu.edu/uniontodisunion/exhibits/show/labor-struggles-of-the-industr/the-working-man-s-party--1829-
  27. This is the end of the digital history project cited previously.
  28. https://www.pbs.org/onlyateacher/horace.html
  29. Ibid
  30. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/317321.php#1
  31. Ibid.
  32. Ibid.
  33. http://www.ushistory.org/us/26d.asp
  34. https://siarchives.si.edu/blog/dorothea-dix-mental-health-reformer-and-civil-war-nurse
  35. http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook_print.cfm?smtid=2&psid=4568
  36. https://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/eras/southern-scenes-in-1846/
  37. See https://courses.lumenlearning.com/ushistory1os/chapter/the-missouri-crisis/
  38. https://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h477.html


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Our Story: An Ancillary to US History by Dr. Jim Ross-Nazzal and His History Students is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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