Reform Movements

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The Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776, marking the birth of United States. This day also marked the recognition of humans rights and for the times Americans fought so hard for their rights in the Revolutionary War. From then on, democratic America was ruled by the people and as time passed, democratic ideals grew and expanded. Nationalistic Americans worked hard to promote the idea of democracy and human rights. Reform movements had a major impact in expanding democratic ideals. It promoted democracy effectively throughout the nation. Between the years 1825-1850, reform movements sought to expand and emphasize democratic ideals in order to maintain a more equal society for all.

The Second Great Awakening, led by Charles G. Finney, played an important role in the reform movements that expanded the idea of democracy. The period of religious revivalism was based on the idea of showing faith to God through good deeds in the society and moral rightness. The churches of the Second Great Awakening stressed the capability of people to make the world a better place. Charles Finney urged his listeners to take their salvation in their own hands and that salvation was available to anyone. Preaching styles of evangelists also changed- from preaching the greatness of God to connecting emotionally with the common people. This period of revivalism and philosophical motivation for reform started a chain of reform movements, such as utopian communities, moral reforms, education, temperance, abolition, and women’s rights, encouraging democratic ideals. (Doc B)

In the years 1840-1850, numerous Utopian communities were created in order to test reform theories. Utopian communities emphasized industrialization, mutual support, cooperation, and spiritual improvement. In these social groups, sexuality was not an important matter; both men and women are equal among these societies. For example, the Rappites denounced sex, the Shakers had separate communities for men and women where both sexes had the same amount of property, and the Oneida community practiced complex marriage, where everyone was married to one another. This shows the emphasis on equality of property and sex, supporting democratic ideals. (Doc F)

Moral reforms were also made during this time period. During the colonial times, criminals, lunatics, indigent people, and mentally ill were thought of as evil, corrupted, and wicked, and were ostracized from the community. They were sometimes locked in prisons and poor houses, chained and whipped, with people who were not mentally ill. Reform movements for the handicapped involve the discovery of asylums such as, almshouses, orphanages, prisons, and lunatic asylums. Dorothea Dix was one of the most influential leaders of the asylum movement. She devoted her life to improve the conditions the mentally ill were administered to. She traveled to every state in the nation, personally observing the poorhouses and asylums. In 1843, Dorothea Dix wrote a petition to the Massachusetts legislature, informing them about the inhumane treatment and conditions of the asylum. Her hard work paid off when the conditions of the feebleminded were improved. Criminals were taught to read and write, and received guidance. Furthermore, the asylums helped the mentally ill recover from their sickness. Dix’s efforts took part in expanding the idea of human rights and expanded democratic ideals that everyone deserve to have equal and fair treatment, even those who are mentally ill and criminals. (Doc A)

Before 1837, the attendance rates of schools were very low. Children between the ages of 5-10 years old attended school for a couple of months and when they were decent in reading and writing, they dropped out. Horace Mann, the Father of Education, began the Common School movement in the 1830s. The belief that the government had responsibility to educate people began the creation of free, tax-supported, public schools. More people began...
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