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Robert Kennedy's United States History Class


Learning Objective I 


Discuss the development of the democratic revolution in the United States from 1776-1840 by looking at the three trends during that time period of: 


1. Idealism

2. Sectionalism

3. Changing Political Conditions 

The early nineteenth century was a period of immense change in the United States. Economic, political, demographic, and territorial transformations radically altered how Americans thought about themselves, their communities, and the rapidly expanding nation. It was a period of great optimism, with the possibilities of self-governance infusing everything from religion to politics. Yet it was also a period of great discord, as the benefits of industrialization and democratization increasingly accrued along starkly uneven lines of gender, race, and class. Westward expansion distanced urban dwellers from frontier settlers more than ever before, even as the technological innovations of industrialization—like the telegraph and railroads—offered exciting new ways to maintain communication. The spread of democracy opened the franchise to nearly all white men, but urbanization and a dramatic influx of European migration increased social tensions and class divides.


Americans looked on these changes with a mixture of enthusiasm and suspicion, wondering how the moral fabric of the new nation would hold up to emerging social challenges. Increasingly, many turned to two powerful tools to help understand and manage the various transformations: spiritual revivalism and social reform. Reacting to the rationalism of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, the religious revivals of the Second Great Awakening reignited Protestant spirituality during the early nineteenth century. The revivals incorporated worshippers into an expansive religious community that crisscrossed all regions of the United States and armed them with a potent evangelical mission. Many emerged from these religious revivals with a conviction that human society could be changed to look more heavenly. They joined their spiritual networks to rapidly developing social reform networks that sought to alleviate social ills and eradicate moral vice. Tackling numerous issues, including alcoholism, slavery, and the inequality of women, reformers worked tirelessly to remake the world around them. While not all these initiatives were successful, the zeal of reform and the spiritual rejuvenation that inspired it were key facets of antebellum life and society.


The period from 1776 to 1828 is often looked upon by historians as a democratic revolution that was to culminate in Jacksonian Democracy, 1828-1840. 


Politically during the 1820s there was almost universal agreement that the advancement of democratic institutions and idealism of the American Revolution could be used by different socio-economic groups to advance their own special interest. This belief led to wide support for political change within society. 


The following events and movements offer examples of the high degree of IDEALISM during the "Jacksonian" era:



The Second Great Awakening 

In the early nineteenth century, a succession of religious revivals collectively known as the Second Great Awakening (1790s to 1830s) remade the nation’s religious landscape. Revivalist preachers traveled on horseback, sharing the message of spiritual and moral renewal to as many as possible. Residents of urban centers, rural farmlands, and frontier territories alike flocked to religious revivals and camp meetings, where intense physical and emotional enthusiasm accompanied evangelical conversion.


The Second Great Awakening emerged in response to powerful intellectual and social currents. Camp meetings captured the democratizing spirit of the American Revolution, but revivals also provided a unifying moral order and new sense of spiritual community for Americans struggling with the great changes of the day. The market revolution, western expansion, and European immigration all challenged traditional bonds of authority, and evangelicalism promised equal measures of excitement and order. Revivals spread like wildfire throughout the United States, swelling church membership, spawning new Christian denominations, and inspiring social reform.

What Was the Great Awakening and its Influence on the Jacksonian Era Reform Movements?

One of the earliest and largest revivals of the Second Great Awakening occurred in Cane Ridge, Kentucky over a one-week period in August 1801. The Cane Ridge Revival drew thousands of people, and possibly as many as one of every ten residents of Kentucky. Though large crowds had previously gathered annually in rural areas each late summer or fall to receive Communion, this assembly was very different. Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian preachers all delivered passionate sermons, exhorting the crowds to strive for their own salvation. They preached from inside buildings, evangelized outdoors under the open sky, and even used tree stumps as makeshift pulpits, all to reach their enthusiastic audiences in any way possible. Women, too, exhorted, in a striking break with common practice. Attendees, moved by the preachers’ fervor, responded by crying, jumping, speaking in tongues, or even fainting.


Events like the Cane Ridge Revival did spark significant changes in Americans’ religious affiliations. Many revivalists abandoned the comparatively formal style of worship observed in the well-established Congregationalist and Episcopalian churches, and instead embraced more impassioned forms of worship that included the spontaneous jumping, shouting, and gesturing found in new and alternative denominations. The ranks of Christian denominations such as the Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians swelled precipitously alongside new denominations such as the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. The evangelical fire reached such heights, in fact, that one swath of western and central New York state came to be known as the “Burned-Over District.” Charles Grandison Finney, the influential revivalist preacher who first coined the term, explained that the residents of this area had experienced so many revivals by different religious groups that that there were no more souls to awaken to the fire of spiritual conversion.

Charles Finney conducted his own revivals in the mid 1820s and early 1830s


•He rejected the Calvinist doctrine of predestination

–adopted ideas of free will and salvation to all


Really popularized the new form of revival


Coined the Phrase: “Burned-Over District.” ( residents of this area had experienced so many revivals by different religious groups that that there were no more souls to awaken to the fire of spiritual conversion.)

Within the “spiritual marketplace” created by religious disestablishment, Methodism achieved the most remarkable success. Methodism experienced the most significant denominational increase in American history and was by far the most popular American denomination by 1850. The Methodist denomination grew from fewer than one thousand members at the end of the eighteenth century to constitute thirty-four percent of all American church membership by the mid-nineteenth century. After its leaders broke with the Church of England to form a new, American denomination in 1784, the Methodist Episcopal Church (MEC) achieved its growth through innovation. Methodists used itinerant preachers, known as circuit riders. These men (and the occasional woman) won converts by pushing west with the expanding United States over the Alleghenies and into the Ohio River Valley, bringing religion to new settlers hungry to have their spiritual needs attended. Circuit riding took preachers into homes, meetinghouses, and churches, all mapped out at regular intervals that collectively took about two weeks to complete.


Revolutionary ideals also informed a substantial theological critique of orthodox Calvinism that had far-reaching consequences for religious individuals and for society as a whole. Calvinism began to seem too pessimistic for many American Christians. Worshippers increasingly began to take responsibility for their own spiritual fates by embracing theologies that emphasized human action in effecting salvation, and revivalist preachers were quick to recognize the importance of these cultural shifts. Radical revivalist preachers, such as Charles Grandison Finney, put theological issues aside and evangelized by appealing to worshippers’ hearts and emotions. Even more conservative spiritual leaders, such as Lyman Beecher of the Congregational church, appealed to younger generations of Americans by adopting a less orthodox approach to Calvinist doctrine. Though these men did not see eye to eye, they both contributed to the emerging consensus that all souls are equal in salvation and that all people can be saved by surrendering to God. This idea of spiritual egalitarianism was one of the most important transformations to emerge out of the Second Great Awakening.


Spiritual egalitarianism dovetailed neatly with an increasingly democratic United States. In the process of winning independence from Britain, the Revolution weakened the power of long-standing social hierarchies and the codes of conduct that went along with them. From the institutional side, its democratizing ethos opened the door for a more egalitarian approach to spiritual leadership. Whereas preachers of longstanding denominations like the Congregationalists were required to have a divinity degree and at least some theological training in order to become spiritual leaders, many alternative denominations only required a conversion experience and a supernatural “call to preach.” This meant, for example, that a twenty-year-old man could go from working in a mill to being a full-time circuit-riding preacher for the Methodists practically overnight. Indeed, it was their emphasis on spiritual egalitarianism over formal training that enabled Methodists to outpace spiritual competition during this period. Methodists attracted more new preachers to send into the field, and the lack of formal training meant that individual preachers could be paid significantly less than a Congregationalist preacher with a divinity degree.


In addition to the divisions between evangelical and non-evangelical denominations wrought by the Second Great Awakening, the revivals and subsequent evangelical growth also revealed strains within the Methodist and Baptist churches. Each witnessed several schisms during the 1820s and 1830s as reformers advocated for a return to the practices and policies of an earlier generation, which they charges that church leaders had compromised. Many others left mainstream Protestantism altogether, opting instead to form their own churches. Some, like Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone, proposed a return to (or “restoration” of) New Testament Christianity, stripped of centuries of additional teachings and practices. Other restorationists built on the foundation laid by the evangelical churches by using their methods and means to both critique the Protestant mainstream and move beyond the accepted boundaries of contemporary Christian orthodoxy. Self-declared prophets claimed that God had called them to establish new churches and introduce new (or, in their understanding, restore lost) teachings, forms of worship, and even scripture.



Not all American Christians, though, were taken with the revivals. The early nineteenth century also saw the rise of Unitarianism as a group of ministers and their followers came to reject key aspects of “orthodox” Protestant belief including the divinity of Christ. Christians in New England were particularly involved in the debates surrounding Unitarianism as Harvard University became a hotly contested center of cultural authority between Unitarians and Trinitarians. Unitarianism had important effects on the world of reform when a group of Unitarian ministers founded the Transcendental Club in 1836. The club met for four years and included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bronson Alcott, Frederic Henry Hedge, George Ripley, Orestes Brownson, James Freeman Clarke, and Theodore Parker. While initially limited to ministers or former ministers—except for the eccentric Alcott—the club quickly expanded to include numerous literary intellectuals. Among these were the author Henry David Thoreau, the proto-feminist and literary critic Margaret Fuller, and the educational reformer Elizabeth Peabody.

Important Transcendentalists

Transcendentalism had no established creed, but this was intentional. What united the Transcendentalists was their belief in a higher spiritual principle within each person that could be trusted to discover truth, guide moral action, and inspire art. They often referred to this principle as “Soul,” “Spirit,” “Mind,” or “Reason.” Deeply influenced by British Romanticism and German idealism’s celebration of individual artistic inspiration, personal spiritual experience, and aspects of human existence not easily explained by reason or logic, the Transcendentalists established an enduring legacy precisely because they developed distinctly American ideas that emphasized individualism, optimism, oneness with nature, and a modern orientation toward the future rather than the past. These themes resonated in an American nineteenth century where political democracy and readily available land distinguished the United States from Europe.


Ralph Waldo Emerson espoused a religious worldview wherein God, “the eternal ONE,” manifested through the special harmony between the individual soul and nature. In “The American Scholar” (1837) and “Self-Reliance” (1841), Emerson emphasized the utter reliability and sufficiency of the individual soul, and exhorted his audience to overcome “our long apprenticeship to the learning of other lands.” Emerson believed that the time had come for Americans to declare their intellectual independence from Europe. Henry David Thoreau espoused a similar enthusiasm for simple living, communion with nature, and self-sufficiency. Thoreau’s sense of rugged individualism, perhaps the strongest among even the Transcendentalists, also yielded “Resistance to Civil Government” (1849). Several of the Transcendentalists also participated in communal living experiments. For example, in the mid-1840s, George Ripley and other members of the utopian Brook Farm community began to espouse Fourierism, a vision of society based upon cooperative principles, as an alternative to capitalist conditions.


Many of these different types of response to the religious turmoil of the time had a similar endpoint in the embrace of voluntary associations and social reform work. During the antebellum period, many American Christians responded to the moral anxiety of industrialization and urbanization by organizing to address specific social needs. Social problems such as intemperance, vice, and crime assumed a new and distressing scale that older solutions, such as almshouses, were not equipped to handle. Moralists grew concerned about the growing mass of urban residents who did not attend church, and who, thanks to poverty or illiteracy, did not even have access to Scripture. Voluntary benevolent societies exploded in number to tackle these issues. Led by ministers and dominated by middle-class women, voluntary societies printed and distributed Protestant tracts, taught Sunday school, distributed outdoor relief, and evangelized in both frontier towns and urban slums. These associations and their evangelical members also lent moral backing and manpower to large-scale social reform projects, including the temperance movement designed to curb Americans’ consumption of alcohol, the abolitionist campaign to eradicate slavery in the United States, and women’s rights agitation to improve women’s political and economic rights. As such wide-ranging reform projects combined with missionary zeal, evangelical Christians formed a “benevolent empire” that swiftly became a cornerstone of the antebellum period.

Atlantic Origins of Reform


The reform movements that emerged in the United States during the first half of the nineteenth century were not American inventions. Instead, these movements were rooted in a transatlantic world where both sides of the ocean faced similar problems and together collaborated to find similar solutions. Many of the same factors that spurred American reformers to action—such as urbanization, industrialization, and class struggle—equally affected Europe. Reformers on both sides of the Atlantic visited and corresponded with one another, exchanging ideas and building networks that proved crucial to shared causes like abolition and women’s rights.


Deepening ties between reformers across the Atlantic owed not just to the emergence of new ideas, but also to the material connection of the early nineteenth century. Improvements in transportation, including the introduction of the steamboat, canals, and railroads, connected people not just across the United States, but also with other like-minded reformers in Europe. (Ironically, the same technologies also helped ensure that even after the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, the British remained heavily invested in slavery, both directly and indirectly.) Equally important, the reduction of publication costs created by the printing technologies of the 1830s allowed reformers to reach new audiences across the world. Almost immediately after its publication in the United States, for instance, the escaped slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass’s autobiography was republished in Europe and translated into French and Dutch, galvanizing Douglass’s supporters across the Atlantic.


Such exchanges began as part of the larger processes of colonialism and empire-building. Missionary organizations from the colonial era had created many of these transatlantic links that were further developed by the Atlantic travel of major figures such as George Whitefield during the First Great Awakening. By the early national period, these networks had changed as a result of the American Revolution but still revealed spiritual and personal connections between religious individuals and organizations in the United States and Great Britain, in particular. These connections can be seen in multiple areas. Mission work continued to be a joint effort, with American and European missionary societies in close correspondence throughout the early nineteenth century as they coordinated domestic and foreign evangelistic missions. The transportation and print revolutions meant that news of British missionary efforts in India and Tahiti could be quickly printed in American religious periodicals, galvanizing American efforts to evangelize among Native Americans, frontier settlers, immigrant groups, and even overseas.


In addition to missions, anti-slavery work had a decidedly transatlantic cast from its very beginnings. American Quakers began to question slavery as early as the late-17th century, and worked with British reformers in the successful campaign that ended the slave trade, and then slavery itself, in the early nineteenth century. Before, during, and after the Revolution, many Americans continued to admire European thinkers. Influence extended both east and west. By foregrounding questions about rights, the American Revolution helped inspire British abolitionists, who in turn offered support to their American counterparts. American antislavery activists developed close relationships with British abolitionists such as Thomas Clarkson, Daniel O’Connell, and Joseph Sturge. Prominent American abolitionists such as Theodore Dwight Weld, Lucretia Mott, and William Lloyd Garrison were converted to the antislavery idea of immediatism—that is, the demand for emancipation without delay—by British abolitionists Elizabeth Heyrick and Charles Stuart. Although Anglo-American antislavery networks reached back to the late-eighteenth century, they dramatically grew in support and strength over the antebellum period, as evidenced by the General Antislavery Convention of 1840. This antislavery delegation consisted of more than 500 abolitionists, mostly coming from France, England, and the United States. All met together in England, united by their common goal of ending slavery in their time. Although abolitionism was not the largest American reform movement of the antebellum period (that honor belongs to temperance), it did foster greater cooperation among reformers in England and the United States.



The urge to reform was growing among African Americans, too. Slaves in the rural South heard the same sermons and sang the same hymns as did their owners, but they often interpreted the stories they heard, especially those describing the exodus from Egypt, as a promise of freedom. In the North, however, free African Americans were able to form their own churches. These churches often became political, cultural, and social centers for African Americans by providing schools and other services that whites denied

free blacks. 



By the 1820s, abolition—the movement to free African Americans from slavery— had taken hold. More than 100 antislavery societies were advocating that African Americans be resettled in Africa. In 1817, the American Colonization Society had been founded to encourage black emigration. Other abolitionists, however, demanded that African Americans remain in the United States as free citizens.

The most radical white abolitionist was a young editor named William Lloyd Garrison.Active in religious reform movements in Massachusetts, Garrison became the editor of an antislavery paper in 1828. Three years later he established his own paper, The Liberator, to deliver an uncompromising demand: immediate emancipation.


Before Garrison’s call for the immediate emancipation of slaves, support for that position had been limited. In the 1830s, however, that position gained sup- port. Whites who opposed abolition hated Garrison. In 1835 a Boston mob paraded him through town at the end of a rope. Nevertheless, Garrison enjoyed wide- spread black support; three out of four early subscribers to The Liberator were African Americans.




One of those eager readers was Frederick Douglass, who escaped from bondage to become an eloquent and outspoken critic of slavery. Garrison heard him speak and was so impressed that he sponsored Douglass to speak for various anti-slavery organizations. Hoping that abolition could be achieved without violence, Douglass broke with Garrison, who believed that abolition justified whatever means were necessary to achieve it. In 1847, Douglass began his own antislavery newspaper. He named it The North Star, after the star that guided runaway slaves to freedom.

Frederick Douglass

Fourth of July Speech



Harriet Tubman is perhaps the most well-known of all the Underground Railroad's "conductors." During a ten-year span she made 19 trips into the South and escorted over 300 slaves to freedom. And, as she once proudly pointed out to Frederick Douglass, in all of her journeys she "never lost a single passenger."


Tubman was born a slave in Maryland's Dorchester County around 1820. At age five or six, she began to work as a house servant. Seven years later she was sent to work in the fields. While she was still in her early teens, she suffered an injury that would follow her for the rest of her life. Always ready to stand up for someone else, Tubman blocked a doorway to protect another field hand from an angry overseer. The overseer picked up and threw a two-pound weight at the field hand. It fell short, striking Tubman on the head. She never fully recovered from the blow, which subjected her to spells in which she would fall into a deep sleep.

Frederick Douglass - From Slave to Abolitionist

Around 1844 she married a free black named John Tubman and took his last name. (She was born Araminta Ross; she later changed her first name to Harriet, after her mother.) In 1849, in fear that she, along with the other slaves on the plantation, was to be sold, Tubman resolved to run away. She set out one night on foot. With some assistance from a friendly white woman, Tubman was on her way. She followed the North Star by night, making her way to Pennsylvania and soon after to Philadelphia, where she found work and saved her money. The following year she returned to Maryland and escorted her sister and her sister's two children to freedom. She made the dangerous trip back to the South soon after to rescue her brother and two other men. On her third return, she went after her husband, only to find he had taken another wife. Undeterred, she found other slaves seeking freedom and escorted them to the North.


Tubman returned to the South again and again. She devised clever techniques that helped make her "forays" successful, including using the master's horse and buggy for the first leg of the journey; leaving on a Saturday night, since runaway notices couldn't be placed in newspapers until Monday morning; turning about and heading south if she encountered possible slave hunters; and carrying a drug to use on a baby if its crying might put the fugitives in danger. Tubman even carried a gun which she used to threaten the fugitives if they became too tired or decided to turn back, telling them, "You'll be free or die."


By 1856, Tubman's capture would have brought a $40,000 reward from the South. On one occasion, she overheard some men reading her wanted poster, which stated that she was illiterate. She promptly pulled out a book and feigned reading it. The ploy was enough to fool the men.


Tubman had made the perilous trip to slave country 19 times by 1860, including one especially challenging journey in which she rescued her 70-year-old parents. Of the famed heroine, who became known as "Moses," Frederick Douglass said, "Excepting John Brown -- of sacred memory -- I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than [Harriet Tubman]."


And John Brown, who conferred with "General Tubman" about his plans to raid Harpers Ferry, once said that she was "one of the bravest persons on this continent."


Becoming friends with the leading abolitionists of the day, Tubman took part in antislavery meetings. On the way to such a meeting in Boston in 1860, in an incident in Troy, New York, she helped a fugitive slave who had been captured.


During the Civil War Harriet Tubman worked for the Union as a cook, a nurse, and even a spy. After the war she settled in Auburn, New York, where she would spend the rest of her long life. She died in 1913.




In the 18th century, most slaves were male, had recently arrived from the Caribbean or Africa, and spoke one of several languages other than English. By 1830, however, the numbers of male and female slaves had become more equal. The majority had been born in America and spoke

However, two things remained constant in the lives of slaves—hard work and oppression.


The number of slaves owned by individual masters varied widely across the South. Most slaves worked as house servants, farm hands, or in the fields. Some states allowed masters to free their slaves and even allowed slaves to purchase their freedom over time. But these “manumitted” or freed slaves were very few. The vast majority of African Americans in the South were enslaved and endured lives of suffering and constant degradation.



In the early 19th century, women faced limited options. Prevailing customs encouraged women to restrict their activities after marriage to the home and family. As a result, they were denied full participation in the larger community.



Despite such pressures, women actively participated in all the important reform movements of the 19th century. For many, their efforts to improve society had been inspired by the optimistic message of the Second Great Awakening. From abolition to education, women worked for reform despite the cold reception they got from many men.

For Stanton, All Women Were Not Created Equal

Old Safe Reveals Historical Relics Of Women's Suffrage Group

Seneca Falls Convention summary: The Seneca Falls Convention was the first women’s rights convention in the United States. It was organized by a handful of women who were active in the abolition and temperance movements and held July 19–20, 1848, in Seneca Falls, New York. Intended to call attention to unfair treatment of women, the convention was attended by about 300 people, including about 40 men.

An Idea Is Sparked in London


Two of the convention’s organizers, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, met at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840. The other delegates had voted to exclude women before the convention started and required them to sit in a sectioned-off area. At the time, Mott was in her mid-forties and a Quaker minister, feminist, and abolitionist. Stanton, a young bride and active abolitionist, admired Mott and the two became friends. At one point during the convention, they discussed the possibility of a women’s rights convention.

Seneca Falls Convention 

Elizabeth Cady Stanton And Lucretia Mott Meet In Seneca Falls


Eight years later, Stanton was living in Seneca Falls, New York, when Lucretia Mott was visiting her sister, Martha C. Wright, in nearby Waterloo, New York. During a social visit on July 14, Stanton, Mott, Wright, and Mary Ann McClintock and Jane Hunt decided that it was time "to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman" publicly—in just five days time. They publicized the convention mainly by word of mouth, although they did place a small notice in the local paper. They knew it would be a comparatively small convention, but as Mott told Stanton, "It will be a start."


The Seneca Falls Convention Begins


Stanton took the task of writing the document that would be debated and signed by the attendees. She based the Declaration of Sentiments on the Declaration of Independence, listing 18 grievances and 11 resolutions demanding the recognition of women as equal members of society. The ninth resolution, which argued for "elective franchise," proved to be the most radical, even to Mott. Stanton, the daughter of a lawyer and judge, had studied law in her father’s offices and often debated issues with his clerks; she "saw clearly that the power to make the laws was the right through which all other rights could be secured."

The Declaration Of Sentiments Is Debated And Ratified


Over the two days of the convention, presided over by Lucretia’s husband James Mott, the Declaration of Sentiments was read and its resolutions debated. The ninth resolution continued to be the most controversial, particularly because the attendees were predominantly Quaker, and Quaker men often declined to vote. Freed slave and newspaper editor Frederick Douglass argued for approval of the resolution and convinced the audience of its necessity. At the end of the convention, about 100 of the attendees signed the declaration, although some removed their names later due to criticism.


The Aftermath Of The Seneca Falls Convention And Women’s Suffrage


The convention and another meeting a few days later in Rochester drew ridicule and criticism from the press. Although Stanton was dismayed by the coverage, she recognized the value of any attention—"It will start women thinking, and men too; and when men and women think about a new question, the first step in progress is taken."

The Declaration of Sentiments became the blueprint for the women’s rights movement and for the suffrage movement, which soon gained national attention. Stanton, who was 32 at the time of the convention, would spend the rest of her life fighting for the right to vote. When the 19th Amendment giving them that right was ratified in August 1920, only one of the women who had signed the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments was alive—Charlotte Woodard Pierce. Unfortunately on election day in 1920, the 92-year-old Pierce was ill and was unable to vote. At the time of the Seneca Falls Convention she was 19 and a glove maker, sewing pieces at home sent to her by a manufacturer. She had been deeply dissatisfied with the opportunities available to her and became an active member in the suffrage movement.



Improvement in women’s education began to improve women’s lives, most notably in health reform. Elizabeth Blackwell, who in 1849 became the first woman to graduate from medical college, later opened the New York Infirmary for Women and Children. In the 1850s, Catharine Beecher, sister of novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe, and a respected educator in her own right, undertook a national survey of women’s health. To her dismay, Beecher found three sick women for every healthy one. It was no wonder: women rarely bathed or exercised, and the fashionable women’s clothing of the day included corsets so restrictive that breathing sometimes was difficult.


Unfortunately, black women enjoyed even fewer educational opportunities than their white counterparts. In 1831 Prudence Crandall, a white Quaker, opened a school for girls in Canterbury, Connecticut. Two years later she admitted an African-American girl named Sarah Harris. The townspeople protested so vigorously that Crandall decided to enroll only African Americans. This aroused even more opposition, and in 1834 Crandall was forced to close the school and leave town. Only after the Civil War would the severely limited educational opportunities for black women slowly begin to expand.

A former slave named Sojourner Truth did not let that stop her, however. At a women’s rights convention in 1851, Truth, an outspoken abolitionist, refuted the arguments that because she was a woman she was weak, and because she was black, she was not feminine.


Born in New York circa 1797, Sojourner Truth was the self-given name, from 1843 onward, of Isabella Baumfree, an African-American abolitionist and women's rights activist. Truth was born into slavery in Swartekill, New York, but escaped with her infant daughter to freedom in 1826. Her best-known speech on racial inequalities, "Ain't I a Woman?", was delivered extemporaneously in 1851 at the Ohio Women's Rights Convention.

Sojourner Truth

Alfre Woodard reads Sojourner Truth

Born Isabella Baumfree circa 1797, Sojourner Truth was one of as many as 12 children born to James and Elizabeth Baumfree in the town of Swartekill, in Ulster County, New York. Truth's date of birth was not recorded, as was typical of children born into slavery. Historians estimate that she was likely born around 1787. Her father, James Baumfree, was a slave captured in modern-day Ghana; Elizabeth Baumfree, also known as Mau-Mau Bet, was the daughter of slaves from Guinea. The Baumfree family was owned by Colonel Hardenbergh, and lived at the colonel's estate in Esopus, New York, 95 miles north of New York City. The area had once been under Dutch control, and both the Baumfrees and the Hardenbaughs spoke Dutch in their daily lives.

After the colonel's death, ownership of the Baumfrees passed to his son, Charles. The Baumfrees were separated after the death of Charles Hardenbergh in 1806. The 9-year-old Truth, known as "Belle" at the time, was sold at an auction with a flock of sheep for $100. Her new owner was a man named John Neely, whom Truth remembered as harsh and violent. She would be sold twice more over the following two years, finally coming to reside on the property of John Dumont at West Park, New York. It was during these years that Truth learned to speak English for the first time.


Becoming a Wife and Mother


Around 1815, Truth fell in love with a slave named Robert from a neighboring farm. The two had a daughter, Diana. Robert's owner forbade the relationship, since Diana and any subsequent children produced by the union would be the property of John Dumont rather than himself. Robert and Sojourner Truth never saw each other again. In 1817, Dumont compelled Truth to marry an older slave named Thomas. Their marriage produced a son, Peter, and two daughters, Elizabeth and Sophia.


The state of New York, which had begun to negotiate the abolition of slavery in 1799, emancipated all slaves on July 4, 1827. The shift did not come soon enough for Truth. After John Dumont reneged on a promise to emancipate Truth in late 1826, she escaped to freedom with her infant daughter, Sophia. Her other daughter and son stayed behind. Shortly after her escape, Truth learned that her son Peter, then 5 years old, had been illegally sold to a man in Alabama. She took the issue to court and eventually secured Peter's return from the South. The case was one of the first in which a black woman successfully challenged a white man in a United States court.


Sojourner Truth's early years of freedom were marked by several strange hardships. Having converted to Christianity, Truth she moved with her son Peter to New York City in 1829, where she worked as a housekeeper for Christian evangelist Elijah Pierson. She then moved on to the home of Robert Matthews, also known as Matthias Kingdom or Prophet Matthias, for whom she also worked as a domestic. Matthews had a growing reputation as a con man and a cult leader. Shortly after Truth changed households, Elijah Pierson died. Robert Matthews and Truth were immediately accused of poisoning Pierson in order to benefit from his personal fortune. Both were acquitted, and Robert Matthews, who had become a favorite subject of the penny press, moved west.


After her successful rescue of her son, Peter, from slavery in Alabama, the boy stayed with his mother until 1839. At that time, Peter took a job on a whaling ship called the Zone of Nantucket. Truth received three letters from her son between 1840 and 1841. When the ship returned to port in 1842, however, Peter was not on board. Truth never heard from him again.


By the mid 1820s, strong disagreement over key economic issues had polarized the geographical sections (South, North and West). The conflict between the social and economic interest groups within each section and between the section also led to motivation for political change. During this time the northern business class found its interests threatened by opposition from farmers, laborers, and southern planters


Protective Tariff -


The most important national political issue for the North is the high tariff to protect the growing manufacturing industry from British competition. Manufacturers demand this high tax on imports while shipping interests are mildly opposed to it. Since the tariff is the major revenue source for the national government, it would provide funding for other policies beneficial to the northeast such as a national bank and internal improvements. 


Protective Tariff -


The South is opposed to a high protective tariff which adds a large tax to the price of imported goods. Since the South's principal trading partner is Europe, the South imports large amounts of manufactured products and end up paying higher prices as a result of the tariff. Southerners provide two-thirds of the national revenue collected by the tariff. Furthermore, European countries invariably respond by imposing their own tariffs on the cotton that you are selling, thereby causing your profits to fall. The South saw this as getting hit two ways. 


Protective Tariff


The West is in favor of a “reasonable” tariff sincie it would benefit manufacturing cities develop in the Northeast. The Western states were supportive if the funds went to the building of canals and roads to the West

Slavery -


Slavery is a less important issue for Northeasterners at this time but one that is very emotional for many. Some of the most vocal and aggressive Northerners totally reject the institution of slavery as a moral abomination that should be immediately abolished.


Other constituents strongly oppose abolition fearing that the result would be an influx of freed slaves into the Northeast.


The one thing that can be agreed upon is opposition to extending slavery into the territories. For some this is due to moral reasons, for others due to the unfairness of having small farmers competing with slave agriculture and, for Northeastern politicians, due to concern for the national political balance.

Slavery -


The South was diametrically opposed to any bills that would have a negative impact on the institution of slavery.


The Compromise of 1820 was seen as a permanent solution to the threats the North could potentially pose on the institution of slavery.  



Slavery is a volatile issue in the West. The Northwest Ordinance in 1785 forbade slavery while the Southwest was directly in its path. For this reason, the issue of slavery found both support and opposition in the old west. Westerners can bargain with either the Northeast or the Southeast on the issue of slavery to get what they want.

Bank of the United States


The National Bank and Canals improving the transportation network between the Northeast and Northwest are of great concerns for the North. The National Bank provided a source of investment capital for the manufacturing industry as well as the booming shipping industry revitalized by the Asian trade. 

Bank of the United States -


The South was opposed to extending the charter of the Bank. Southerners generally advocated “states rights” and the most obvious role of the US Bank is federal regulation of local banks. Furthermore, the US Bank had little benefit for the South where the need for investment capital was limited and money is tied up in slaves or land. 

Bank of the United States -


The West was against the Second Bank of the United States. Easy access to loans is essential to the development of the West, even if some of the loans were questionable. The West was concerned that if the charter was extended the restrictions on local banks and high interest rates on borrowed money would continue thereby making it difficult for small farmers to secure loans. 


Two other events were also primarily responsible for the political changes.

  • THE ECONOMIC: The development of the Industrial Revolution led to the change in the political needs of the different social and economic groups as well as the geographic sections of the country. Many people saw the possibilities of using the powers of government either to resist or promote the Industrial Revolution .
  • THE POLITICAL: Next, the western territorial expansion of the United States caused a change in the political needs in the geographic sections of the country and accelerated the pressures to expand participation in government. As western states joined the Union they adopted constitutions that gave the right to vote and to hold office to all white males over twenty-one. This put pressure on eastern states to follow suit by dropping property requirements for voting and holding office. They also hoped this would keep residents from moving west. Between 1812 and 1821 six western states entered the Union with constitutions providing for universal white male suffrage or a close approximation. From 1810 to 1821 four of the older states also substantially dropped property qualifications for voters.

By 1840, the electorate included more than 90% of the adult white male population. By this time most states had established direct popular election of governors (property qualifications were no longer needed), presidential electors, and some judges. Hence, not only could more people vote; they could vote for more of their government officials.


In addition, a new generation of politicians emerged that appealed in different and innovative ways to the newly expanded electorate.

This factor was not very consequential in the countryside, where almost everyone had possessed the minimum qualifications for voting, but in the cities significant groups of artisans, journeymen, and even laborers were stirred to political consciousness.


This changing character of the electorate was also important because it influenced both the STYLE and the METHODS of politics. A new generation of political leaders encouraged the common feeling that the popular will of the people should control the choice of public officers and the formation of public policy . This new generation of political leaders directed popular resentment against the caucus system, which they branded as a flagrant usurpation of the rights of the people. They also spread the conviction that the control of politics must be taken from the hands of a social elite and opened to participation by the common man.


As the political movement developed, a popular demand arose for laws to prevent imprisonment for debt, a national bankruptcy law, and new tariff and public-land policies. For the first time many Americans thought of politics as having an intimate relation to their welfare. Adding to the complexity of the situation were the chief means of educating and informing the common man. Free public schools and inexpensive newspapers became widely available.


In summary as a result of all these changes,









There was political agreement within the country until the early 1820s. The political complacency that existed up until the 1820s was reflected by the fact that the Republican party was the only party that existed between the presidential elections of 1816-1824. By this time the different social, economic interests started to pull at the different sectional interests of the country. The intense rivalry between the sectional, social and economic needs of the different interest groups finally had its political impact in the presidential election of 1824. This caused the Republican party to split into two parties (Democratic-Republican party formed by Andrew Jackson and the National Republican party headed by John Q. Adams).


The man whose presence was a reflection of the new political environment, and who came to symbolize the triumph of democracy and the birth of America's second two party system, was Andrew Jackson