Moralists and Modernizers

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Moralists and Modernizers 
Social reformers never want for work. The need to reform various aspects of human society is as old as human society. Indeed, in many cultures, the two preeminent myths are some variety of The Creation and The Fall. This is no doubt to explain two of the most pervasive facts of human life--the mysterious fact that we are here and the confounding fact that we are very flawed creatures indeed. The impulse to reform, then, along with the need, is ancient, and the idea of beginning the story of reform anywhere short of the beginning of a society must be somewhat arbitrary. Steven Mintz in his book, Moralists and Modernizers, begins the story of American social reform in the period prior to the Civil War. Mintz insists that in the antebellum period is to be found the beginnings of many modern secular reform movements, even some which appear in their most successful forms during the Progressive Era and New Deal. Mintz describes this period as the "first age of reform" and claims the antebellum period as the time of "the first secular efforts in history to remake society through reform."  For Mintz, the reformers of the period come in three broad types: Moral, Social and Radical. Moral reformers were generally those motivated by religious values. They tended to concentrate on issues involving moral conduct, such as temperance and sexual vice. Bible societies, missionary organizations, Sunday schools, campaigns against prostitution, all fit in this category. Social reformers tended to be somewhat more secular in their motivations and in the institutions they sought to create. Modern prisons, insane asylums, camps for slum children, and a particular focus on the problems of poverty, characterize these reformers. Radical reformers wanted fundamental structural change in America society. All of the various utopian movements of the period, and especially much of the agitation for the abolition of slavery, can be grouped in this category. Part of...
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