(AP) Antebellum Culture and Reform p.314-336 


              Fredrick Douglas                      William Lloyd Garrison                        Susan B. Anthony

AP Chapter 12 Study Guide

By the 1820s America was caught up in the spirit of a new age, and Americans, who had never been shy in proclaiming their nation's promise and potential, concluded that the time for action had come.  Excited by the nation's technological advances and territorial expansion, many set as their goal the creation of a society worthy to be part of it all.  What resulted was an outpouring of reform movements, the like of which had not been seen before.  Unrestrained by entrenched conservative institutions and attitudes, these reformers attacked society's ills wherever they found them, producing in the process a list of evils so long that many were convinced that a complete reorganization of society was necessary.  Most, however, were content to concentrate on their own particular cause; thus, at least at first, the movements were many and varied.  But in time, most reformers seemed to focus on one evil that stood out above the rest. The "peculiar institution," slavery, denied all the Enlightenment ideals for which they stood?equality, opportunity, and, above all, freedom. With world opinion on their side, Slavery became the supreme cause.   

Brinkley, Alan (2007). American history: A survey. New York, New York: McGraw Hill. 

 The Benevolent Empire; Religion and Reform, 1825-1846

1790-1800 Beginning of the Second Great Awakening.

1818 Disestablishment of Connecticut's state church.

1823 James Fenimore Cooper publishes his first "Leatherstocking" novel.

1824 Robert Owen brings perfectionism to America from Scotland.

1825-37 Charles Grandison Finney leads his evangelical crusade.

1826 American Temperance Society founded.

1830 National Negro Convention Movement established. Joseph Smith publishes The Book of Mormon.

1831 William Lloyd Garrison begins publishing The Liberator.

1833 Disestablishment of Massachusetts's state church. Parliament outlaws slavery in the British West Indies. Antislavery debates at Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati. American Anti-Slavery Society founded.

1836 House of Representative enacts its "gag rule" forbidding discussion of slavery. Ralph Waldo Emerson publishes his essay "Nature."

1837 Elijah Lovejoy murdered by an anti-abolitionist mob in Illinois.

1840 American Anti-Slavery Society divides.  American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society founded. Liberty Party nominates James G. Birney for president.

1841-58 Fourierist phalanxes spread across America.

1844 Mormon leader Joseph Smith is murdered by a mob in Illinois.

1845 Irish potato famine begins.

1846 Nathaniel Hawthorne publishes his short story "The Celestial Railroad."

1847 John Humphrey Noyes founds the Oneida community in New York.

1848 Frederick Douglass begins publishing North Star.

1851 Herman Melville publishes Moby Dick.

1853 New York's Crystal Palace exhibition.

1854 Henry David Thoreau publishes Walden.

A cultural outpouring characterizes antebellum America. Building upon patriotism and nationalism of the early republic, romanticism awakened visions of unlimited human potential on the grand American landscape. In both literature and visual arts optimism was the theme.

Americans began to view the environment differently at this time. Rather than viewing it as an obstacle to be overcome, tamed, or destroyed, intellectuals found power, wonder, and grandeur in nature. Transcendentalists believed nature to be the medium through which one could find one's inner self and truth.

Reform: Social changes brought about by industrialization were unsettling to many Americans and optimistic movements to improve society and perfect individuals arose. Fueled by simultaneous but contradictory impulses seeking to liberate people from social tyranny and to impose order on an increasingly chaotic social system, grassroots movements arose. Major movements addressed temperance, health, education, rehabilitation, Native Americans, feminism, and abolition.

Religion: The Second Great Awakening was another protestant revival with strong evangelical underpinnings. It absorbed optimistic impulses and preached that every individual was capable of achieving salvation, and that individual efforts at redemption could pave the way. This evangelical strain entered the American mainstream, and was a powerful incentive for American reform.

George, J. & Brown, J. (2007). AP achiever: Advanced placement american history exam preparation guide.  McGraw Hill.

Digital History

Religion in the Early Republic

Two currents in religious thought--religious liberalism and evangelical revivalism--had enormous impact on the early republic. Religious liberalism was an emerging form of humanitarianism that rejected the harsh Calvinist doctrines of original sin and predestination. Its preachers stressed the basic goodness of human nature and each individual's capacity to follow the example of Christ. At the same time, enthusiastic religious revivals swept the nation in the early 19th century. The revivals inspired a widespread sense that the nation was standing close to the millennium, a thousand years of peace and brotherhood when sin, war, and tyranny would vanish from the earth. In addition, the growth of other religions--African American Christianity, Catholicism, Judaism, the Mormon Church--reshaped America's religious landscape.

Pre-Civil War Reform

During the first half of the 19th century, reformers launched unprecedented campaigns to reduce drinking, establish prisons, create public schools, educate the deaf and the blind, abolish slavery, and extend equal rights to women. Increasing poverty, lawlessness, violence, and vice encouraged efforts to reform American society. So, too, did the ideals enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, the philosophy of the Enlightenment, and liberal and evangelical religion. Reform evolved through three phases. The first phase sought to persuade Americans to lead more Godly daily lives. Moral reformers battled profanity and Sabbath breaking, attacked prostitution, distributed religious tracts, and attempted to curb the use of hard liquor. Social reformers sought to solve the problems of crime and illiteracy by creating prisons, public schools, and asylums for the deaf, the blind, and the mentally ill. Radical reformers sought to abolish slavery and eliminate racial and gender discrimination and create ideal communities as models for a better world.

Biography of America 

The Reform Impulse  (series 8)

The Industrial Revolution has its dark side, and the tumultuous events of the period touch off intense and often thrilling reform movements. Professor Masur presents the ideas and characters behind the Great Awakening, the abolitionist movement, the women's movement, and a powerful wave of religious fervor. 

Lecture Outlines

Antebellum Reform


The First Age of Reform