Chapter 12:

Antebellum Culture and Reform


1)The Romantic Impulse

a)Nationalism and Romanticism in American Painting

i)Eurs felt that they alone at center of artistic world, but paintings w/in US popular b/c felt they had artistic traditions of their own: wonder of nation’s landscape, shoe power of nature thru wild outdoor scenes- “awe & wonder”

ii)First great school of American painters from Hudson River School in NY: Frederic Church, Thomas Cole, Thomas Doughty, Asher Durand. Hoped to express “wild nature” that existed in America but not Eur

b)Literature and the Quest for Liberation

i)Early 19th century American literature unpopular, British novelist Sir Walter Scott was. But even during 1820s great American novelist James Fenimore Cooper- evocation of wilderness, adventure, westward expansion- his “Leatherstocking Tales were The Last of the Mohicans & The Deerslayer

ii)Cooper’s novels showed effort to produce truly American literature, ideal of independent individual with natural inner goodness, fear of disorder

iii)Later American romantic works included: poet Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (1855)- celebration of democracy, individual liberty. Other works more bleak- Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (1851) of individual will but tragedy of pride and revenge, writer Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” (1845) established him as literary figure- humans exploring deeper world of spirit and emotions

c)Literature in the Antebellum South

i)Southern writers wanted to create American literary culture as well, but often produced historical romances for eulogies of plantation system of Upper South. Most famous William Gilmore Simms- believed duty of intellectual to defend southern lifestyle + slavery, sectional

ii)Augustus Longstreet, Joseph Baldwin, Johnson Hooper focused not on “cavaliers” but on ordinary ppl and poor whites

d)The Transcendentalists

i)New England writers who focused on distinction btwn “reason” and inner capacity to grasp beauty and emotional expression vs “understanding” and repression of instinct and imposed learning- goal to cultivate “reason”

ii)Centered in Concord, MA. Leader Ralph Waldo Emerson- essays “Nature” (1836) argued self-fulfillment thru communion w/ nature, “Self-Reliance” (1841) called for individual fully explore inner capacity, unity w/ universe

iii)Emerson a nationalist, lecture “The American Scholar” (1837), argued beauty from instant vs learning, therefore Americans can still have artistic greatness

iv)Henry David Thoreau- ppl should seek self-realization by not conforming to society’s expectations & responding to own instincts. His Walden (1845) of him living simply in the woods, essay “Resistance to Civil Government” (1849)- govt that required violation of personal mortality not legitimate

e)The Defense of Nature

i)Some uneasy w/ rapid economic development, feared impact on natural world. Nature not just for economic activity (farmers, miners) or for study by scientists- but vehicle for human inspiration, realize truth within the soul

f)Visions of Utopia

i)Transcendentalism spawned communal living experiments

ii)Brook Farm established by George Ripley 1841 in MA, create community that would permit full opportunity for self-realization, equal labor, share leisure

iii)Conflict btwn individual freedom & communal society led to dissenters: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance (1852) submission equals oppression, The Scarlet Letter (1850)- price ind. pay for not being in society

iv)French philosopher Charles Fourier’s idea of socialist communities led Robert Owen 1825 to create experiment New Harmony in Ind, economic failure

g)Redefining Gender Roles

i)Transcendentalism + utopian communities led to some sense of feminism

ii)Margaret Fuller’s Women of the Nineteenth Century (1844)- feminist ideas

iii)Johm Humphrey’s Oneida Community “Perfectionists” rejected traditional ideas of family and marriage, communal raising of children. An Lee’s Shaker Society committed to celibacy, equality of sexes, God neither male or female

h)The Mormons

i)Mormons effort to create new and more ordered society thru Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Began upstate NY by Joseph Smith w/ his 1830 Book of Mormon. Began looking for sanctuary for follower “New Jerusalem”

ii)Ideas of polygamy and secrecy led surrounding communities to fear them. Mob killed Smith, his protégé Brigham Young led exodus to new community in present Salt Lake City, Utah. Family structure very impt

iii)Belief in human perfectibility, but not individual liberty. Organized, centrally directed society- refuge from disorder and insecurity of secular world

iv)Members mostly ppl dislodged by economic growth & social progress of era

2)Remaking Society

a)Revivalism, Mortality, and Order

i)Reform b/c rejection of Calvinist doctrines + preached divinity of individual (Unitarians, Universalism), and b/c of Protestant revivalism

ii)New Light revivalists believed every individual capable of salvation. Charles Finney impt leader- predestination and human helplessness obsolete

iii)Revivals in “burned-over district” in upstate NY (economic change b/c where Erie Canal had been built). Successful among those who felt threatened by change (including the prosperous worried about social changes), and women

b)The Temperance Crusade

i)Alcohol seen as responsible for crime, disorder, poverty. Large problem in West where farmers made extra grain into whiskey, in East as leisure activity

ii)Earlier temperance movement revived by new reformers- 1826 American Society for the Promotion of Temperance, 1840 Western Temperance Society.

iii)Growth led to factions: which alcohol to ban, method (law v. conscience)

iv)Trying to impose discipline on society- Protestants vs Catholic immigrants for which drinking social ritual, disturbing to old residents of communities

c)Health Fads and Phrenology

i)Interest in individual + social perfection led to new health theories, also threat to public health by cholera epidemics 1830s/40s led to city health boards

ii)B/c boards found few solutions Americans turned toward nonscientific theories to improve health: “water cure (hydrotherapy)”, Sylvester Graha’s new diet theories, German “phrenology” 1830s thru efforts of Fowler brothers- shape and regions of skull impt indicator of character + intelligence

d)Medical Science

i)Science of medicine lagged behind other tech. + scientific advances b/c lack of regulation led many poorly educated ppl to be physicians, absence of basic knowledge of disease- vaccination, anesthesia result of luck vs study

ii)W/o appetence of scientific methods + experimentation little learned about treating + transmission of disease

e)Reforming Education

i)Reform toward universal public education-by 1830 no state had system (some limited state versions [MA, ect.])- reflection of new belief on innate capacity of every person, society’s obligation to tap that, expose kids to social values

ii)Greatest reformer Horace Mann- educated electorate essential to work free political system. Academic year lengthened, better teacher salaries + training

iii)By 1850s tax-supported elementary schools in all states. Quality of education varied widely- Horace Mann’s MA professional + trained, elsewhere some barely literate, limited funding. West dispersed pop=less opportunity, South blacks barred from formal education, only 1/3 children nationwide in school

iv)School reform achievements: US literacy rate highest in world, new emphasis led to new institutions to help handicapped- greater Benevolent

v)School efforts to impose set of social values on children seen as impt in industrial nation- thrift, order, discipline, punctuality, respect for authority


i)“Asylums” for criminals + mentally ill. Antiquated jails replaced w/ new penitentiaries and mental institutions, jailing debtors + paupers decreased

ii)Reform & rehabilitate inmates- rigid discipline to curb criminal “laxness”, solitary confinement to contemplate crimes. Overcrowding became problem

iii)Idea properly structured institution to prevent moral failure + rescue ppl from failure led to orphanages, almshouses for poor, homes for “friendless” women

g)The Indian Reservation

i)Main US Indian policy had been relocation to make way for expanding white civilization. Reform led to idea of reservation- enclosed area for Indians to live in isolation from white society. Served economic interest of whites, but also attempt to teach ways of civilization in protected setting

h)The Rise of Feminism

i)Women 1830s/40s had to deal w/ traditional limitations + new role in family to focus energy on home and children, leave income-earning to husbands

ii)Resentment over limitations. Leaders of women’s movement (Grimke sisters, Stowe sisters, Lucrecia Matt, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Dorothy Dix) began to draw cnxn btwn their abolitionist ideas and plight of women

iii)1848 organized convention at Seneca Falls, NY to discuss women’s rights- led to “Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions” stating all men + women equal, call for women’s suffrage. Many women in feminist movement Quaker

iv)Progress limited in antebellum yrs- only few became physicians, ministers

v)Women benefited from association w/ other reform movements (very impt abolition), but led some to consider their demands secondary to slave rights

3)The Crusade Against Slavery

a)Early Opposition to Slavery

i)Early 19th century opposition by genteel lot. 1817 American Colonization Society- Virginians who wanted manumission & transportation out of country but also maintain property rights by compensating slaveholder—1830 Liberia

ii)Failed b/c not enough private + state funding, too many slaves to be possible, opposition from 3rd/4th generation Africans far removed from society + lands

iii)By 1830 movement losing strength- colonization not viable, cotton boom in Deep South + planter commitment to “peculiar institution” led to dead end

b)Garrison and Abolitionism

i)William Lloyd Garrison employed by antislavery newspaper (Genius of Universal Emancipation), but impatient w/ moderate tone + reform proposals

ii)1831 founded his own Liberator, should look from black perspective, shouldn’t talk in terms of damage to white society. Reject “gradualism”, extend African Americans full rights of American citizens

iii)Gained Northern following, founded New England Antislavery Society 1832, year later American Antislavery Society- membership grew rapidly

iv)Growth b/c like other reform movements committed to unleashing individual human spirit, eliminate artificial social barriers

c)Black Abolitionists

i)Abolitionism appealed to Northern free blacks who were poor, had little access to education, suffered mob violence, only menial occupations

ii)P of their freedom, realized own position in society tied to existence of slavery. David Walker came to be a leader w/ violent rhetoric, most blacks less violent speech- Sojourner Truth became antislavery spokesman

iii)Greatest abolitionist Frederick Douglass- escaped slavery, lectured in NE. His newspaper North Star, autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845). Demanded freedom, but also social + economic equality


i)White southerners opposed abolition, but also many in the North. Seen as threat to social system, feared war btwn sections & influx of blacks to North

ii)Escalating violence against abolitionists 1830s- abolitionist headquarters “Temple of Liberty” in Philadelphia burned by mob, Garrison seized

iii)Yet movement grew despite, suggesting members strong-willed + passionate, great courage and moral strength. Majority sentiment ambivalent to slavery

e)Abolitionism Divided

i)By 1830s abolitionists faced serious internal strains + divisions. Prompted b/c anti-abolitionist violence made some favor moderation, radicalism of William Garrison and his attacks on slavery, opposition to slavery, call for full equality for women, extreme pacifism, call for northern disunion from South. Moderates called for “moral suasion” of slaveholders, later political action

ii)1839 Amistad- slaves seized ship tried to return to Africa. US navy captured ship. Supreme Court 1841 declared the Africans free 1

iii)842 Prigg v. Pennsylvania ruled states need not enforce 1793 law requiring return of fugitive slaves, “personal liberty laws” in northern states forbade officials to assist in capture + return of runaways

iv)Nat’t govt pressured to abolish slavery in areas of federal govt jurisdiction, prohibit interstate slave trade. No political party ever founded, but “free-soil” movement to keep slave out of territories became popular

v)Some abolitionists violent, American Slavery as It Is: Testimony of A Thousand Witnesses (1839) distorted images of slavery

vi)Most powerful abolitionist propaganda Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1851)- combined sentimental novel w/ political ideas of abolitionist. Story of good, kindly blacks victimized by cruel system movement. Brought message to new audience, but also inflamed sectional tensions to new level