Reforms & Reformers of Antebellum America

    While abolitionism gets the most attention among reforms advocated in the first half of the nineteenth century, in fact a large number of issues became the object of reformist zeal. Spurred by religious fervor in the Second Great Awakening and secular concerns raised by the increase in industrialization and urbanization, reformers attacked societal problems on a number of fronts.

Reform Target

Key Reformers/Organizations

Enslavement of 4,000,000 blacks
William Lloyd Garrison, Theodore Weld, American Anti-Slavery Society
Petitions, newspapers, mail campaigns
Institutional improvement
Treatment of criminals, delinquents, insane
Dorothea Dix, Auburn System
Lobbying of state legislatures, separate asylums for the mentally ill, efforts to rehabilitate, discipline prisoners
Alcoholism (7.1 gallons of pure alcohol consumed per person over 14 per year  in 1830)
Lyman Beecher, American Temperance Society, churches
Sermons, tracts, rallies, abstinence pledges, prohibition laws resulted in consumption dropping to 2 gallons per person by 1845
Women's rights
Legal subordination of women
Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Seneca Falls Convention
Lobbying, petitions, speaking tours
School reform
Low literacy, school attendance rates
Horace Mann, state school boards
Lobbying, rewarding good behavior rather than using corporal punishment, hiring women as teachers. By 1850, 50% of white children were enrolled in schools--highest in the world.
Moral improvement
Breakdown in social order seen with the growth of cities, industrialization, and westward migration
Charles G. Finney, American Bible Society, Sabbatarian movement
Growth in Sunday Schools, literature, speaking tours, laws against work on Sunday, petitions

Based on The American Journey (1998) by David Goldfield, et al.