1815 to 1860 was a crucial time for American commerce and urbanization that not only had strong economic influences, but also altered social and political perspectives. This time period, known as the Market Revolution, stemmed largely from the advancement in technology which led to transportation improvements and the building of railroads. Banks also contributed to the growing economy by increasing economic input and providing loans to merchants, manufacturers, and farmers. The rapid expansion of commerce and transportation had profound effects on American individuals socio-economic goals; a sense of self-confidence and domestic ideology surfaced, perpetuating westward expansion. Along with the spread of urbanization came the circulation of literary publications that fostered the spread of popular opinions; this eventually became an essential component to the many reform movements ultimately caused by the Market Revolution. All of these factors contributed to the republican ideal of individual freedom. Although the Market Revolution promoted economic and social growth through the development of technology and industry, it also led to actions threatening to republican liberties like equality and the inherent rights of man. Concerns of tyranny and disregard to the American Constitution caused many to focus on preserving the American republic through reform movements.
The main driving factor of the reform movements that took place following the Market Revolution was the obscurity of republican values. Despite the positive influences the Market Revolution had on quality of life and transportation, many Americans feared the corruption of their individual liberties. They had proper reason to believe that this would be an occurrence caused by the unbalanced power that was established during the Market Revolution. One example of this unbalance was the increasing power of banks, more specifically addressed by Andrew Jackson when he vetoed the Second Bank of the United States. He asserts that the monopolized bank system undermines the rights of ordinary people because it establishes significant distinctions between classes where the upper class holds the power and dominates over the lower class. In a way, he attempts to reform the government-established powers instilled by the Second Bank of the United States by voicing how it is an abuse of power and limits economic opportunity for ordinary people. In addition to the unbalanced power created by the banks, a prominent deterrent from republican autonomy was the inequality that this instability of power caused for individual Americans. The rapid expansion of agriculture and population corresponded to the growth of slavery, which is the most pronounced example of the inequality America experienced during and after the Market Revolution. Slavery was seen by many as a direct violation of the Constitution and the inherent rights of man, which defy republican values. In the Republican National Platform, Abraham Lincoln brings to light that the inequality of slavery threatens national sovereignty, “That the maintenance of the principles promulgated in the Declaration of Independence and embodied in the Federal Constitution, … is essential to the preservation of our Republican institutions; and that the Federal Constitution, the Rights of States, and the Union of the States, must and shall be preserved.” A nationalistic togetherness, while still maintaining individual freedom, is eminent in establishing and fulfilling republic ideology. Slavery was a direct violation of man’s inalienable rights, and therefore many abolitionist movements took place in order to reform the corrupt nation.
Acts of slavery and other injustices initiated by the Market Revolution that defied republican values were identified as needing reform, in William H. Seward’s speech in 1855 he said, “We must restore the demoralized virtue of the nation. We must restore the principle of equality among the members of the State --the principle of the sacredness of the absolute and inherent rights of man.” The emerging Democratic party was host to many of the promoters of personal reform and social problems, while the Whig party advocated the reform of moralism and state-sponsored entrepreneurship. One of the initial influences of the reform movements was the moral mending that was deemed necessary by Protestants in order to overcome the sins occurring in society, and enact a sense of righteousness. These ideas of self-virtue and societal justice were reflected in the Second Great Awakening and the Temperance movement in the early 1800’s. The Second Great Awakening was a religious revival that had a strong influence on women, giving them a voice in society and the ability to make an impact for the salvation of American values. The Temperance movement had a similar purpose, to promote self-perfection and eliminate the many sins that became prominent in society during the Market Revolution. The movement focused on alcohol abuse and sexual sin, and although it bolstered self improvement for many individuals, a main impact of both the Temperance movement and the Second Great Awakening was the eminent duty of women to speak out against controversial happenings. Both of these movements had strong positive effects on the preservation of the republic because they fostered public regard to individual goodness, which in turn led to other reform movements and the ability for both women and men to speak out against injustices.
Both women’s rights and slaves rights were distinguished issues that violated the equality of the republic, and therefore certain groups sought reform these corrupt aspects of American society. In the 1830’s, the abolitionist movement was initiated in an attempt to dissolve the sin of slavery. Although abolition became the source of immense controversy and even violence, the movement against slavery allowed slaves like Robert Glenn and Frederick Douglass to share their stories in an attempt to bring to light the corruption taking place in America. These movements did in fact help persuade many groups of people, mostly Democrats, of the Constitutional and moral violations that slavery inhibits. However, westward expansion and distinct divisions between the nation made it difficult to prevent the spread of slavery. Despite the fact that abolitionist movements did not have immediate effects on the eradication of slavery, it did open doors for public opinion and womens rights. In 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott spoke out at the Seneca Falls Convention against the unequal status of women and how it reflects tyranny rather than the individual liberties of a republic. They emphasize the main point of both slavery and women’s rights reformations, “The world has never yet seen a truly great and virtuous nation, because in the degradation of woman the very fountains of life are poisoned at their source.” These movements did impact the protection of republicanism through the expression of activists who exposed the exploitation and inequality occurring due to slavery and unbalanced privileges of women. The Market Revolution had a domino effect on the fabric of the republic. It propelled economic growth and industrial expansion which then perpetuated unbalanced power within the government. This obscured the political values of individuals and brought about such a dramatic shift in thinking regarding opportunity and personal liberties that many people were concerned about the loss of republicanism. Members of the public like the Grimke sisters, as well as members of the government like Andrew Jackson, identified the injustices of inequality that were caused by the Market Revolution and felt as though reform was necessary to preserve the republic. The reform movements that took place, such as the Second Great Awakening and the abolitionist movement, exposed the pollution of republican ideals like individual freedom and egalitarianism. Although these messages were controversial between the sectional division of the North and South, reform movements still established a voice for the republic and eventually managed to preserve the prominent aspects of the republic.
[ 1 ]. Andrew Jackson, “Veto Message,” in John Majewski, History of American Peoples, 1840-1920: A Primary Source Reader (Dubuque: Kendall/Hunt 2006), 5. [ 2 ]. Abraham Lincoln, “Republicans Adopt a Strong Anti-Slavery Platform,” in Majewski, 50. [ 3 ]. William H. Seward, “The Dangers of Extending Slavey, and the Contest and the Crisis,” in Majewski, 41. [ 4 ]. Roark, Johnson, Cohen, Stage, Hartmann, The American Promise: A History of the United States, 330. [ 5 ]. Roark, Johnson, Cohen, Stage, Hartmann, The American Promise: A History of the United States, 322. [ 6 ]. Roark, Johnson, Cohen, Stage, Hartmann, The American Promise: A History of the United States, 323. [ 7 ]. Roark, Johnson, Cohen, Stage, Hartmann, The American Promise: A History of the United States, 324. [ 8 ]. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, “The Seneca Falls Convention Advocates Complete Equality” in Majewski, 24.