As Americans entered the Antebellum era shortly after the Era of Good Feeling had ended, Americans sought to expand democratic ideals to result in equality, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. A series of reform movements including religion, abolition, politics, temperance, and women’s rights quickly spread throughout America in 1825-1850 to meet those democratic ideals religiously, socially, and politically that Americans had urged for.
The Second Great Awakening was a major religious reform movement that sought to reacquire American’s religious interest. From Massachusetts to Ohio educated ministers re-motivate religion which resulted in new religious groups as well as the diversity within religions. This religious revival called for people to show their faith to god with good deeds within society as well as acting with moral correctness. Charles G. Finney, a preacher during the Second Great Awakening, strongly believed that even “harlots, and drunkards, and infidels, and all sorts of abandoned characters” could be inspired and awakened to act with the moral correctness that was needed in America (Document B). This religious revival also led to community experiments where the society longed for a utopia which was almost impossible to achieve due to the fact that not everything can be made perfect. The Second Great Awakening quickly diffused through out the country and resulted in various other reforms that included political, social, and educated related movements.
The Second Great Awakening shed a new light upon slavery since it spread the thought of equality. Abolition was really taken seriously and fought for within the era of Antebellum. Many Americans opposed of slavery and ended up revolting against it. Nat Turner lead a rebellion in 1831 with fellow slaves that resulted in the deaths of 55 whites and ended when the whites retaliated by massacring the slaves. When violent, radical, and even peaceful abolition such as Frederick Douglass’ Bouchie were committed, it still did not change the fact that slaves could not vote and only on rare occasions did free blacks get the right to vote. This ended in a failure to expand democratic ideals, but definitely did not put a limit on democracy because American’s still fought for the freedom of slaves and true equality.
Although abolition did not strengthen American’s democratic ideals as much as they had hoped, the temperance movement had. In the beginning of 1825 certain groups formed that believed drinking alcohol caused bad moral behavior in the United States. The “Drunkard Progress, From The First Glass To The Grave” portrait promotes the temperance movement by portraying that consumption of alcohol will only result in men becoming gamblers and cheats, deaths and suicides, leaving mothers throughout society to manage life on their own with their children (Document H). Ending the consumption of booze in America was a democratic decision and an attempt to purify the American society.
Another democratic ideal that was made to make American’s society a better place were both the education reform and the prison/hospital reforms. Horace Mann was responsible for promoting public schooling for all children in Massachusetts as well as the establishment of uniform public school policy for the entire country. This was favored politically because government leaders were beginning to become concerned with the future of the United States due of the population of uneducated people rapidly increasing. As the uneducated population was increasing, the amount of juvenile delinquents was also increasing which resulted in the prison reform. America was the first to establish penitentiaries which used new ideas such as solitary confinement to make serious criminals reflect on their wrong doings and “rescuing them from vice and rendering them valuable members of society”, hoping this would further purify America (Document A). During this time Dorthea Dix sought out the mentally ill patients and issued them into new mental institutions that were passed through the Massachusetts Legislature. Dix also persuaded states in the south to set up hospitals for the mentally ill. These three reform movements coincided with American’s democratic ideals.