American Reform

7 July 2016

American Reform movements between 1820 and 1860 reflected both optimistic and pessimistic views of human and society. Assess the validity of this statement in reference to reform movements in THREE of the following: education, temperance, women’s rights, utopian experiments, penal institutions. (1988) The United States has seen change come and go over time. From the Great Awakening in the 1730s to the Technological revolution of the 20th century, America has constantly seen itself change. However, no period had the type of social reform as the mid-1800s.

An “Age of Reform” as it is called, brought about the most drastic movements and reforms. Every type of social issue was discussed and made an issue during this time. Slavery, religion, women’s rights, alcohol use, utopianism, education and prison conditions were all topics of debate during this era of reformation. These matters all had something in common. They all dealt with the pessimistic and optimistic views of human nature. Slavery, for example, was an issue that dealt with the cynical views in the south.

Slavery as we would see it today would seem cruel and unjust, however, back then it was looked at as a serious issue that would eventually be one of the underlying causes of the Civil War. Although the time may lead one to think that most of the reforms were based on pessimistic views of human nature, most were based on views of optimism. Take the issue of education, for example. The public school movement was designed to better educate our nation’s youth. Horace Mann, the main advocator of this movement, created a public school system in Massachusetts.

This system became the model for the rest of the United States. This is a positive aspect of human nature based on the fact that society wanted to improve itself. Another reform movement during this time was the establishment of utopian communities. Beginning with the New Harmony settlement of Indiana in 1825 and eventually ending with the Shakers and Oneida Community, these establishments were designed to create the perfect society, and thus bettering oneself. Penal Institutions were also under modification during this time.

In the past, prisons were designed with the purposes of detainment and punishment. Penitentiaries were created to give prisoners the opportunity to reform themselves. They focused not as much on punishment but more on rehabilitation. This shows a sanguine attitude by the American people because they want everyone to become better people. The most important optimistic wave of feelings came from the women’s rights movement. The Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 was the first ever women’s rights convention.

At this gathering, views on woman suffrage and other feministic rights were discussed. Feminist movement supporters were also on hand. Advocators such as Lucreatia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Amelia Bloomer all promoted woman suffrage. They all followed the policy of “all men and women are created equal. ” This display of support for women was the biggest wave of optimism that our country has ever seen. Although it is a man’s human nature to look to woman as inferior, it is society’s nature to look at men and woman as equals.

This is no doubt an optimistic view of human psychology. The one other pessimistic based reform, besides slavery, was the temperance movement of the 1850s. Supported by mostly the feminine population of America, advocators strived to end the drinking, selling and buying of alcohol in the Untied States. Although it may seem like a reform the general population, the reform led to a wave of violence. Carrie Nation, the “woman with a hatchet,” often destroyed bars and liquor selling establishments because she despised those who did not support her cause.

The movement progressed from an idea, to a law of a state (Maine Law 1851), to eventually a U. S. constitutional amendment. It brought violence among people and led to increase in theft and smuggling because people needed their “booze. ” With crime and violence escalating, Congress had no choice but to repeal the amendment. What started out as an optimistic idea eventually brought out the negative and evil sides of not only opposition to the movement, but also the advocators of the reform themselves, i. e. , Carrie Nation.

“America reform movements between 1820 and 1860 reflected both optimistic and pessimistic views of human nature and society. ” This statement alone sums up this particular era of reconstruction and reform. The two biggest issues of the time were one of pessimistic and optimistic views. Slavery (pessimistic) and woman’s rights (optimistic) dominated the debate forum of this time. While woman’s rights did not lead to a war between a nation, it was just as important as the abolishment of slavery in the history of our country. Both were significant events that eventually changed our societal ideals in our nation.

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