Second Great Awakening A revival of religious feeling and belief in the 1820s and 1830s. The First Great Awakening swept through the American colonies in the 1700s.
This optimistic message attracted enthusiastic followers throughout the West and North. It gave men and women alike a reason to work for the improvement of society. Charles Finney’s preaching, for example, inspired many people to actively oppose slavery.
Optimistic Ideas Other optimistic ideas also inspired Americans during this time. In New England, 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.”
Emerson’s friend Henry David Thoreau captured this new individualism in a famous essay. “If a man does not keep pace with his companions,” wrote Thoreau, “perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears.”
Thoreau practiced what he preached. In 1845, he went into the woods near Concord, Massachusetts, to live alone and as close to nature as possible. Thoreau spent more than two years in solitude, recording his thoughts in a 6,000-page journal. Once he was jailed overnight for refusing to pay taxes to support the Mexican-American War.
Model Communities While Thoreau tried to find the ideal life in solitude, other transcendentalists tried to create perfect communities. In 1841, George Ripley started a community called Brook Farm near Boston. Residents at Brook Farm tried to live in “brotherly cooperation” instead of competing with each other, as people in the larger society did. They shared the labor of supporting themselves by farming, teaching, and making clothes.
Brook Farm was only one of hundreds of model communities started by reformers in the first half of the 19th century. Most of these experiments lasted only a few years. But they were a powerful expression of the belief that people of good will could create an ideal society.
In the book Walden, transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau wrote of building a cabin in the woods. There he meditated on the meaning of his life, society, nature, and the human spirit.
transcendentalism a philosophy which taught that people should “transcend” (go beyond) logical thinking to reach true understanding with the help of emotion and intuition
18.3 Reforming the Treatment of Prisoners and the Mentally Ill
One day in 1841, a Boston woman named Dorothea Dix agreed to teach Sunday school at a jail. What she witnessed that day changed her life forever.
Dix was horrified to see that many inmates were bound in chains and locked in cages. Children accused of minor thefts were jailed with adult criminals. Were conditions this bad everywhere?
To find out, Dix visited hundreds of jails and prisons throughout Massachusetts. She also visited debtors’ prisons, or jails for people who owed money. Most of the thousands of Americans in debtors’ prisons owed less than 20 dollars. While they were locked up, they could not earn money to repay their debts. As a result, they remained imprisoned for years.
The Plight of the Mentally Ill What shocked Dix most of all was the way mentally ill people were treated. Most people who were judged “insane” were locked away in dirty, crowded prison cells. If they misbehaved, they were whipped.
Dix and other reformers believed that the mentally ill needed treatment and care, not punishment. Massachusetts had one private asylum, or hospital for the mentally ill. But only the wealthy could afford to send a family member there. Even so, the asylum was filled to overflowing. The state needed more mental hospitals.
Campaigning for Better Conditions For two years, Dix quietly gathered firsthand information about the horrors she had seen. Then she prepared a detailed report for the Massachusetts state legislature. “I come as the advocate of helpless, forgotten, insane, and idiotic men and women,” she said. “I proceed, gentlemen, briefly to call your attention to the present state of insane persons, confined…in cages, closets, cellars, stalls, pens! Chained, naked, beaten with rods, and lashed into obedience!” Shocked by Dix’s report, the law-makers voted to create public asylums for the mentally ill.
Inspired by her success, Dix visited prisons in other states as well. After she prepared reports demanding justice for the mentally ill, those states also created special mental hospitals.
Dix continued campaigning for reform for the rest of her life. By the time she died in 1887, state governments no longer put debtors in prison. Most had created special justice systems for children in trouble. And many had outlawed cruel punishments, such as branding people with hot irons. Dix had shown that with enough courage and dedication, reformers—including women—could lead society to make significant changes.
Horrified by what she saw during a visit to a local jail, Dorothea Dix worked tirelessly to improve conditions for prisoners and the mentally ill.
18.4 Improving Education
A second reform movement that won support in the 1800s was the effort to make education available to more children. The man who led this movement was Horace Mann, “the father of American public schools.”
The Need for Public Schools As a boy in Massachusetts in the early 1800s, Horace Mann attended school only ten weeks a year. The rest of the time, he had to work on the family farm.
Mann was lucky to have even this limited chance to attend school. In Massachusetts, Puritans had established town schools. Few other areas had public schools—schools paid for by taxes. Wealthy parents sent their children to private school or hired tutors at home. On the frontier, 60 children might attend a part-time, one-room school. Their teachers had limited education and received little pay. Most children simply did not go to school at all.
In the cities, some poor children stole, destroyed property, and set fires. Reformers believed that education would help these children escape poverty and become good citizens. Influenced by its big cities, New York set up public elementary schools in every town as early as the 1820s.
Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, Horace Mann became the state’s supervisor of education. In towns and villages, he spoke out on the need for public schools. “Our means of education,” he stated, “are the grand machinery by which the ‘raw material’ of human nature can be worked up into inventors and discoverers, into skilled artisans and scientific farmers.”
Citizens in Massachusetts responded to Mann’s message. They voted to pay taxes to build better schools, to pay teachers higher salaries, and to establish special training schools for teachers.
An Unfinished Reform By 1850, many states in the North and West used Mann’s ideas. Soon most white children, especially boys, attended free public schools.
But America still did not offer education to everyone. Most high schools and colleges did not admit girls. States as far north as Illinois passed laws to keep African
Prior to the reforms in public education led by Horace Mann, most children did not attend school. Those that did usually had to suffer overcrowded classrooms, like the one shown below, and poorly trained teachers.
public schools schools that are paid for by taxes and managed by local government for the benefit of the general public
Americans out of public schools. When towns did allow African Americans to attend school, most made them go to separate schools that received less money. In the South, few girls and no African Americans could attend public schools.
Education for girls and women did make some progress. In 1837, Ohio’s Oberlin College became the first college to admit women as well as men. When states started the first public universities in the 1860s, most accepted female students.
African Americans, however, had few options. When Prudence Crandall admitted an African American girl to her girls’ school in Connecticut, white parents took their children out of the school. Crandall responded by having all African American students. Enraged, white people threw stones at the school and had Crandall jailed. After two years, she was forced to close her school.
Horace Mann realized that much more needed to be done to increase educational opportunity for women and African Americans. He became the first president of a new college for men and women, Antioch College in Ohio. There, he urged his students to become involved in improving society. “Be ashamed to die,” he told them, “until you have won some victory for humanity.”
18.5 Fighting Slavery
In 1835, a poster appeared on walls throughout Washington, D.C. The poster showed two drawings. One drawing, labeled “The Land of the Free,” showed the founding fathers reading the Declaration of Independence. The other, labeled “The Home of the Oppressed,” showed slaves trudging past the Capitol building, the home of Congress. The poster posed a challenging question: How could America, the “land of the free,” still allow slavery? By the 1830s, growing numbers of people were asking this question. They were called abolitionists.
The Struggle Begins Some Americans had opposed slavery even in Revolutionary War times. Quakers stopped owning slaves in 1776. By 1792, every state as far south as Virginia had anti-slavery societies.
Once the slave trade ended in 1808, northern shipping communities had no more interest in slaves. Still, northern factory owners liked the cheap cotton that the South provided. Although slavery ended in the North by the early 1800s, many northerners still accepted southern slavery.
Unlike their neighbors, abolitionists wanted to end slavery. But they did not always agree about how to do it. Radicals tried to inspire slaves to rise up in revolt.
Sojourner Truth, a former slave, gave speeches throughout the North against slavery and, later, in favor of women’s rights.
abolitionists people who favored abolition, the ending of slavery
Others wanted to find a peaceful way to end slavery immediately. Moderates wanted to give slaveholders time to develop farming methods that didn’t rely on slave labor.
From the early days, both blacks and whites worked in the abolition movement, sometimes together, sometimes separately. Black activists often maintained their independence. One African American journalist wrote, “As long as we let them think and act for us…they will outwardly treat us as men, while in their hearts they still hold us as slaves.”
In 1831, a deeply religious white man, William Lloyd Garrison, started a fiery abolitionist newspaper, the Liberator. Braving the disapproval of many northerners, Garrison demanded the immediate freeing of all slaves. “I will be as harsh as truth,” he wrote. “I will not retreat a single inch—and I will be heard.” Angry pro-slavery groups destroyed Garrison’s printing press and burned his house.
Frederick Douglass Speaks Out One day, Garrison heard an escaped slave, Frederick Douglass, speaking to a meeting of abolitionists. Over six feet tall, Douglass spoke with a voice like thunder. When he described the cruel treatment of slave children, people cried. When he made fun of ministers who told slaves to love slavery, people laughed. When he finished, Garrison jumped up and cried, “Shall such a man be held a slave in a Christian land?” The crowd called out, “No! No! No!”
Frederick Douglass quickly became a leader in the abolitionist movement. His autobiography (the story of his life) became an instant best-seller. A brilliant, independent thinker, Douglass eventually started his own newspaper, North Star. Its motto read, “Right is of no sex—Truth is of no color—God is the father of us all, and we are all Brethren.”
Women Get Involved Many women were inspired by the religious reform movement to become involved in the fight against slavery. Like other abolitionists, they sometimes faced violence. When a young woman named Angelina Grimke spoke against slavery, an anti-abolition mob threw stones. When she kept speaking, they burned the building.
Angelina and her sister Sarah had been raised in a South Carolina slaveholding family. After traveling North and becoming Quakers, they saw slavery in a new way. The two sisters began speaking out about the poverty and pain of slavery. At first they spoke only to other women, but soon they were speaking to large groups of men and women throughout the North. The Grimkes led the way for other women to speak in public.
Some abolitionists, like Sojourner Truth, were former slaves. Truth had always been strongly spiritual and had preached throughout the North at religious meetings and on street corners. But when she met Douglass and Garrison, their enthusiasm inspired her to speak out about slavery. An outstanding speaker, Truth argued that God would end slavery peacefully.
Abolitionists were a minority, even in the North. But their efforts, and the violence directed against them, helped change northerners’ attitudes toward slavery. In addition, the anti-slavery fight helped pave the way for the next great reform movement, the struggle for women’s rights.
Wilson Chinn, a branded slave from Louisiana, poses with the irons used to chain him.
Theodore Weld, who once studied for the ministry, preached the sinfulness of slavery. As an organizer for the American Anti-Slavery Society, he wrote influential pamphlets and trained speakers who helped spread the abolitionist “gospel.” In 1838, Weld married another anti-slavery activist, Angelina Grimke.
18.6 Equal Rights for Women
Women abolitionists were in a strange position. They were trying to convince lawmakers to make slavery illegal, yet they themselves could not vote or hold office. They worked to raise money for the movement, yet their own money and property were controlled by their fathers and husbands. They spoke out against slave beatings, yet their husbands could discipline them whenever they wanted.
Even wealthy women like the Grimke sisters started to see that women and slaves had much in common. “What then can woman do for the slave,” asked Angelina, “when she herself is under the feet of man and shamed into silence?”
The Struggle Begins The organized movement for women’s rights was sparked by the friendship between Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The two women met in 1840 at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London. When they arrived, they were outraged to discover that women were not allowed to speak at the meeting. The men who ran the convention even made women sit in the balcony, behind a curtain!
The men’s decision may have backfired, because it was in the balcony that Mott and Stanton met. At first glance, the two women seemed quite different. Mott was 47 years old, the mother of four children, and an active reformer. Inspired by the Grimke sisters and her own Quaker faith, she had preached against slavery in both white and black churches. She had also helped Prudence Crandall try to find students for her school for black girls.
In this painting, women are represented in traditional ways—shy, in the background, or serving men. During the Era of Reform, many women began to work to change and expand the way women were viewed.
Stanton was 25 years old and newly married. She had never spoken in public. As a young girl, she had overheard women beg her father, a judge, to protect them from husbands who had beaten them. He had to tell them that there was no law against it. Later, she attended Troy Female Seminary, the nation’s first high school for girls. She knew from her studies in history that America did not treat women fairly. When she met Lucretia Mott in London, she readily agreed that something had to be done about the injustices suffered by women.
Unequal Treatment of Women Even a fine education like Stanton’s did not assure women equal treatment. When Lucy Stone graduated from Oberlin College, the faculty invited her to write a speech. But a man would have to give the speech, since the school would not allow women to speak in public! Stone refused. After graduation, she spoke out for women’s rights. Because women could not vote, she refused to pay property taxes. “Woman suffer taxation,” she said, “and yet have no representation.”
Stone’s sister-in-law, Elizabeth Blackwell, wanted to be a doctor. She knew mathematics, science, and history. She had even been tutored by a helpful doctor. Yet she was rejected by 29 medical schools before one finally accepted her. She graduated at the top of her class, becoming the country’s first female doctor. Still, no hospitals or doctors would agree to work with her.
To overcome such barriers, women would have to work together. By the time Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott left London, they had decided “to hold a convention…and form a society to advocate the rights of women.”
18.7 The Seneca Falls Convention and the Declaration of Sentiments
Eight years passed before Stanton and Mott met again. Over afternoon tea at the home of Mott’s sister, they decided to send a notice to the local newspaper announcing a women’s convention in Seneca Falls, New York. The organized movement for women’s rights was about to begin.
The Declaration of Sentiments On July 19, 1848, almost 300 people, including 40 men, arrived for the Seneca Falls Convention. Many were abolitionists, Quakers, or other reformers. Some were local housewives, farmers, and factory workers.
The convention organizers modeled their proposal for women’s rights, the Declaration of Sentiments, on the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” the document began, “that all men and women are created equal.”
Just as the Declaration of Independence listed King George’s acts of tyranny over the colonists, the new declaration listed acts of tyranny by men over women. Man did not let woman vote. He did not give her property rights, even to her own wages. He did not allow her to practice professions like medicine and law.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton was one of the organizers of the Seneca Falls Convention. The image below shows her reading the Declaration of Sentiments to the participants at the convention.
Declaration of Sentiments A formal statement of injustices suffered by women, written by the organizers of the Seneca Falls Convention. Sentiments means “beliefs” or “convictions.”
Stanton’s presentation of the declaration at the convention was her first speech. A few other women also summoned the courage to speak. One of them, Charlotte Woodward, was a 19-year-old factory worker. “Every fiber of my being,” she said, “rebelled [against] all the hours that I sat and sewed gloves for a miserable pittance which, after it was earned, could never be mine.”
Debate About the Right to Vote The convention passed resolutions in favor of correcting these injustices. Then Stanton proposed that women demand the right to vote. For many, this step was too big. Even Mott cried, “Thou will make us ridiculous! We must go slowly.”
At this point, Stanton received powerful support from another participant at the convention, Frederick Douglass. Everyone who believed that black men should have the right to vote, Douglass argued, must also favor giving black women the right to vote. And that meant all women should have this precious right. Inspired by Douglass’s speech, the convention voted narrowly to approve this last resolution.
The Legacy of Seneca Falls The Seneca Falls Convention helped to create an organized campaign for women’s rights. Sojourner Truth, who would later mesmerize an audience by asking defiantly, “Ain’t I a woman?” became an active campaigner in the movement.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton didn’t like speaking at conventions, but she could write moving speeches. Fortunately, she made friends with Susan B. Anthony, a refomer with a flair for public speaking.
While Stanton stayed in Seneca Falls to raise her children, Anthony traveled from town to town, speaking for women’s rights. Of their lifelong teamwork, Stanton said, “I forged the thunderbolts, she fired them.”
Slowly, reformers for women’s rights made progress. New York gave women control over their property and wages. Massachusetts and Indiana passed more liberal divorce laws. Elizabeth Blackwell started her own hospital, including a medical school to train other female doctors.
Other reforms would take decades to become reality. Of all the women who signed the declaration at Seneca Falls, just one would live to vote for president legally—Charlotte Woodward.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (above) and Elizabeth Blackwell (below) were two leaders in the early struggle for women’s rights.
18.8 Chapter Summary
In this chapter, you read about the reform movements that swept through the United States between about 1820 and 1850. You used an illustration of a protest march to learn about these reforms.
Many reformers were inspired by the Second Great Awakening, which taught Christians to perform good works in order to be saved. Others were inspired by transcendentalist writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.
Dorothea Dix pioneered the reform of prisons and the treatment of the mentally ill. The movement to make education freely available to all was led by Horace Mann.
Inspired in part by religious revivalism, abolitionists braved violent opposition as they worked to end slavery. Women and former slaves played a key role in this movement.
The abolitionist campaign helped spark the struggle for women’s rights. The organized movement for women’s rights began with the Seneca Falls Convention and its Declaration of Sentiments.
These reform movements had their greatest effect in the North. In the next chapter, you will learn about the growing differences between the North and the South.
In 1998, Hilary Rodham Clinton spoke at the 150th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention. In her speech, she said, “Much of who women are…today can be traced to the courage, vision, and dedication of the pioneers who came together at Seneca Falls. Now it is our responsibility to finish the work they began.”
The Worlds of North and South
In what ways was life different for people living in these two sections of the country?
Eli Whitney, a young man from Massachusetts, listened politely to the Georgia planters’ complaints. Tobacco prices were low, and rice and indigo prices weren’t much better. Cotton grew well, but cleaning the seeds out of cotton fibers was a big problem. A slave picking out seeds by hand could clean only a few pounds a day. At that rate, even using cheap slave labor, there was no profit in raising cotton. Unless something changed, the future of farming in the South looked bleak.
As the planters talked, a solution to their problem began to take shape in Whitney’s head. While growing up in Massachusetts, Whitney had revealed a gift for invention. As a boy, he had found a way to manufacture nails more quickly than by hand. From nails, he had gone on to hat pins and men’s canes. After graduating from college in 1792, Whitney went to Georgia to work as a tutor. Instead of tutoring, however, he became intrigued by the problem of cotton cleaning and, he wrote, “struck out a plan of a machine in my mind.”
The result, as you will read, was a simple but brilliant invention that changed life in both the North and the South—but in very different ways. This probably did not surprise Whitney. As a northerner living in the South, he had already noticed many differences between the two sections of the country.
Northerners and southerners shared the same language and worshipped in the same kinds of churches. They shared a fierce pride in their country and a faith in democracy. Yet their outlooks and attitudes about many things were quite different. The two sections also differed in other ways, including their economies, transportation systems, and societies. Between 1800 and 1850, these differences led to sharply conflicting views on many national issues—so much so that, at times, northerners and southerners seemed to be living in two separate worlds.
Graphic Organizer: Spoke Diagram
You will use spoke diagrams to learn about the worlds of the North and the South.
19.2 Geography of the North
From the rocky shores of Maine to the gently rolling plains of Iowa, the North included a variety of climates and natural features. Northerners adapted to these geographical differences by creating different industries and ways of making a living.
Climate All the northern states experienced four very distinct seasons, from frozen winters to hot, humid summers. But the most northerly states, such as Maine and Minnesota, had colder winters and shorter summer growing seasons than states farther south, such as Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Natural Features Different areas of the North had distinctive natural features. The jagged New England coast, for example, had hundreds of bays and inlets that were perfect for use as harbors. Shipbuilding, fishing, and commerce flourished in this area, while towns such as Boston became busy seaports.
Inland from the sea lay a narrow, flat plain with a thin covering of rocky soil. Farming was never easy here. Instead, many people turned to trade and crafts. Others moved west in search of better farmland.
New England’s hills rose sharply above V-shaped valleys carved by steep streams. The hillsides offered barely enough land for a small farm, but they were covered with thick forests of spruce and fir. New Englanders found that they could make money by harvesting timber. The wood was used for shipbuilding and in trade with other countries.
Farther south in New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, broad rivers like the Hudson and the Delaware had deposited rich soil over wide plains. People living in these areas supported themselves by farming.
Across the Appalachians lay the Central Plains, a large, forested region drained by the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. The Central Plains boast some of the best agricultural soil on Earth. From Ohio to Illinois, settlers cleared the forests to make way for farms.
Industrious northerners were thus changing the landscape. One result was deforestation, or the destruction of forests. By 1850, Americans had cleared about 177,000 square miles of dense forest. And with the growth of industry, the demand for coal and other minerals led to a big increase in mining after about 1820, especially in Pennsylvania.
This photograph shows a section of New England coastline. What geographic features can you identify?