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Social Factors that Motivated Reform Movements in the North before the Civil War
Both non-violent and occasionally violent in nature, the Pre-Civil War era is probably marked as one of the most chronically monumental in the history of America. This period occurred between 1815 and 1850 AD and was characterized by numerous civil, social, moral, political, and religious controversies. It is worth noting that many socialists and historical political scientists credit this period as the genesis of American reforms. It is the series of reformations, civil rights activism, demand for better services, equal rights for women, enlightening, and evangelical revivalism that gave rise to activities inspiring change. Socially considered, a number of societal political transformations, religious factors, cultural establishments, and economic developments took center-stage in inspiring reforms directly or indirectly.
In general, most reforms had two fronts of societal approach. In the first, reformers hoped that collective movements would help in relieving the social problems that the society had presented in the era. Typically, a characteristic violent and vehement society had emerged in the preceding period. Perhaps, reformists believed that the changes they advocatedwould help secure them a safer society. There also existed a constantly widening gap in class divisions, societal stratification, and wealth distribution. Thus, there were some few, but extremely rich individuals with a contrasting majority languishing in abject poverty. The implication of this was that opportunities would differ in relation to wealth and financial ability; with the rich accessing better education, healthcare, and other services. Analytically, this social element is common for spurring revolutions across the history of humanity. The probable aim of revolts related to this scenario is the hope to achieve an equal society that distributes resources fairly and offers equal opportunities to its populations. The second front was religious and evangelically oriented.
Considering political establishments and transformations, numerous occurrences increased relative individual freedom and expanded space for political activism that would later result in reform movements. As explained by Blau, it is this range of political activities that were later to be called Jacksonian Democracy (94). Between 1815 and 1840, the laws that required individuals to own certain amounts of property in order to be able to vote or hold various offices got abolished. Again, shouting loudly to garner higher amounts of votes during elections also got discredited. Notably, various institutions previously entrusted with the task of handpicking individuals to hold political and administrative offices had this privilege taken away from them and given to the electorate (Blau 373). The consequence was an increased voter participation in the election with improved enthusiasm towards political activities. Undoubtedly, these and other political changes were partly responsible for motivating reform movements.
Religion, morality, and the general spirit of societal reformation are other social factors motivating movements and activism in the pre-civil war era. Increasingly, absence of the rule of law, violence, continuous transgression, and evildoing became the order of the day. While religious reformers sought to give people an opportunity to serve the supernatural and live Godly lives, moral reformers battled societal evils like drunkenness, prostitution, profanity, and all social ills. On the other and social reformers sought positions that would ensure societal uprightness in terms of education, enlightenment and development. Thus, as explained by Mintz, there was increased establishment of prisons to curb crime, advocacy for the abolishment of slavery, and the fight for equal rights amongst men and women. Not only did reformers advocate for the establishment of good public schools, but also did they fight for Especially Education for the hearing impaired, visually impaired, physically handicapped, and other health impairments previously sidelined in the provision of education (50-79). Hence, the social elements of religion and morality spurred numerous reform movements that aimed at establishing improved living conditions and more moral lifestyles for the citizens.
Characterized by typical inventions, innovations and discoveries, the 19th Century America was probably one of the most emerging economic societies. Just to mention but a few, the reaper, electric light, steam locomotive, miner’s lamp, stethoscope, typewriter, matches, electromagnets, and the stereoscope were all invented during this period (Parish 685). The most instrumental of these discoveries were in transport, communication, and construction industries. Thus, the construction or modern roads, railways, and the invention of steam engines and steamboats facilitated rapid economic growth. Ultimately, cities began to rise along transportation lines. Interaction and enlightenment increased. Most of all, major parts of the population were empowered economically (Parish 215). The fact that manufacturing and improved transportation increased production also acted as a catalyzing factor to of Reform movements in the north before the civil war. Additional reasons why this was achieved included socialization in the process of trade and enlightenment through interaction.
Undeniably, numerous reform movements and civil activities characterized the pre-civil war era. Each of these advocated different elements in the society. Commonly, the social structure of the society presented various factors that made it suitable for reform movements to occur. These included politics, religion, culture, and economic developments.
Blau, Joseph L. Social Theories of Jacksonian Democracy: Representative Writings of the Period 1825-1850. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 2003. Print.
Mintz, Steven. Moralists and Modernizers: America’s Pre-Civil War Reformers. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995. Print.
Parish, Peter J. Reader’s Guide to American History. London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1997. Print.