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Lesson 5: The Age of Reform: 1820-1860


The reform movements that swept through American society after 1820 were reactions to a range of factors: the Second Great Awakening, the transformation of the American economy, industrialization, urbanization, and lingering agendas of the revolutionary period. As a way of introducing students to the variety of reform movements, this lesson looks at two reform movements: antislavery and women's rights. In addition to learning about the beliefs and motivations of each group, we will seek the cultural connections among the various reform impulses.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

  1. To understand the fundamental beliefs of abolitionism and the range of antislavery positions.
  2. To understand the activities of women of different racial and social groups within the women's rights movement in antebellum America.
  3. To explore the use of visual and audio sources as a means to understand reform movements in antebellum America.
Part 1
In order to get a sense for abolitionists and their debates, both among themselves and with others, students should begin with readings about the American Colonization Society (ACS). They might first read Henry Noble Sherwood's 1917 article on the origins of colonization in The Journal of Negro History. The Africans in America Resource Bank Colonization site includes the ACS 1820 memorial to Congress, as well as several documents by free-black ACS members. A Web site devoted to the Nineteenth Century in Print contains the full text of some interesting, less-well-known works relating to colonization. Daguerreotypes of ACS members are available at the Library of Congress's American Memory site. Students might also want to look at another Library of Congress site with images of pamphlets, letters, and membership certificates, as well as other images, including important manuscript records. A site devoted to other abolitionists' criticism of colonization includes the famous 1834 debate at Lane Seminary in Cincinnati. You should encourage students to study the 1839 constitution adopted by the ACS for the Commonwealth of Liberia, in order to make a direct comparison with William Lloyd Garrison's "Declaration of Sentiments."
  Henry Noble Sherwood's 1917 Article
  ACS 1820 Memorial to Congress
  Nineteenth Century in Print Web Site
  Daguerreotypes of ACS Members
  Library of Congress ACS Special Collection
  Abolitionists' Criticism of Colonization
  William Lloyd Garrison's "Declaration of Sentiments"

The gradualism of colonization was swept aside by calls for immediate emancipation. To convey a sense of this transformation, ask students to read John G. Whittier's account of the founding convention of the American Anti-Slavery Society. The site maintained by Africans in America on William Lloyd Garrison and the American Anti-Slavery Society has links to articles from The Liberator, including an editorial on David Walker's Appeal and a letter from Harriet Beecher Stowe. Students should also read Garrison's inaugural editorial. Ask students to account for colonization's failure to ignite the public, despite the support of national leaders like Thomas Jefferson and Henry Clay. You might also ask students to draw connections between reformist impulses and Garrison's absolutist immediatism. For further information, students could consult the Nineteenth Century in Print site, which includes interesting minor texts relating to antislavery in general, or the Abolition and Slavery Web site, which contains a wide variety of resources, including background articles, slave narratives, landmark legislation, and court cases.
  John G. Whittier's Account of American Anti-Slavery Society Founding Convention
  William Lloyd Garrison
  Garrison's Inaugural Editorial
  Nineteenth Century in Print Web Site
  Abolition and Slavery Web Site

Just as there were prominent African Americans in the colonization movement, black voices also emerged in other antislavery groups. In order to illustrate the absence of consensus, even within the black community, you should ask students to read the following documents. They might begin with these excerpts from David Walker's 1829 Appeal . . .to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and Very Expressly to Those of the United States of America. An online version of Frederick Douglass's Narrative is also available at Berkeley. Web images of Douglass's two newspapers allow students to make a comparison between Douglass's North Star and Garrison's Liberator. Two of Douglass's public addresses are available. For an interesting compare-and-contrast exercise, students could read both the autobiography of Samuel Ringgold Ward, another fugitive-slave-turned-abolitionist, and the Douglass Narrative. You should visit this site for more full texts of major abolitionist writings, including Reverend William Goodell's Slavery and Anti-Slavery: A History of the Great Struggle in Both Hemispheres; with a View of the Slavery Question in the United States.
  David Walker's 1829 Appeal
  Frederick Douglass's Narrative
  Image of Douglass's North Star Newspaper
  Image of Frederick Douglass' [sic] Paper
  Autobiography of Samuel Ringgold Ward
  Major Abolitionist Writings

The scripturally argued An Anti-Slavery Manual by Reverend John G. Fee might provide an effective counterpoint to Douglass, Ward, and Goodell, as well as to Garrison's antislavery positions. The images in the Anti-Slavery and Civil War section of the LOC's Printed Ephemera Collection help trace the activities of the antislavery movement. Of particular use is a printer's specimen book showing various "stages" in a slave's realistic or hoped-for life: a free man in Africa, a man for sale, a runaway, married, and a fugitive. This specimen page would be a great primary source around which you could frame a discussion over the respective goals of colonization and immediatist abolition. Finally, ask students how black and white abolitionists differed.
  Reverend John G. Fee's An Anti-Slavery Manual
  LOC's Printed Ephemera Collection Anti-Slavery and Civil War Section
  Printers' Specimen Book

For yet another set of perspectives, students should also read the works of women in the antislavery movement, such as Angelina Grimké's Appeal to the Christian Women of the South. The Online Archive of Nineteenth-Century U.S. Women's Writings Web site has several works by Lydia Maria Child. A selection of her letters has been collected by the Women's History Web site. The experience of a black, female abolitionist is represented in Olive Gilbert's 1850 Narrative of Sojourner Truth. The Sojourner Truth Archives Web site includes several secondary works about her; furthermore, students may look at a facsimile of the 1850 Narrative at the Digital Schomburg African American Women Writers of the Nineteenth Century Web site. A good student exercise after reading Gilbert's Narrative would be to construct the ways in which Gilbert's narration has changed both Sojourner Truth's presentation and reception, including the current arguments over the famous phrase, "Ar'n't I a woman?"
  Angelina Grimké's Appeal to the Christian Women of the South
  Online Archive of Nineteenth-Century U.S. Women's Writings Web Site
  Lydia Marie Child's Letters
  Olive Gilbert's 1850 Narrative of Sojourner Truth
  19th Century American Women Writers Web
  Narrative of Sojourner Truth

Part 2
The e-text library maintained by the University of Virginia's Mid-Century Woman's Rights Movement site contains the "Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions" proclaimed at Seneca Falls, as well as pieces by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, Emily Collins, Sojourner Truth, and Lucy Stone. You can find information on the interactions between women and men and among various reform impulses at the Women and Social Movements in the United States 1830-1930 Web site. This site maintains folders containing documents and topical discussions about such subjects as the appeal of moral reform to women, Lucretia Mott's combined interest in antislavery and women's rights, and men's support for women's rights. Julia Louisa Lovejoy's Selected Letters from Kansas (1855-1863) gives us the perspective of an abolitionist pioneer in Kansas. Following up on the exercises in Part 1, students should compare the Seneca Falls "Declaration of Sentiments" with Garrison's AAAS "Declaration of Sentiments." How and why was the Seneca Falls document modeled on Garrison's? What further connections can be made with the "Declaration" proclaimed in Philadelphia in 1776? The essays at the Women and Social Movements site should work as springboards to a discussion about the connections between the various reform movements.
  Mid-Century Woman's Rights Movement Web Site
  Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1775-2000
  Julia Louisa Lovejoy's Selected Letters from Kansas

Part 3
The exercises in this section have been selected to encourage students to apply their knowledge of antebellum reform to popular images and songs of the times.

Encourage students interested in the connections between women, abolitionism, and women's rights to look at the printer's specimen type of a supplicant female slave.
  Printer's Specimen Type

You could ask students to brainstorm a list of all social problems related in any way to alcohol. Then, the students could, in large or small groups, compare and contrast their lists with any of the following temperance cartoons:
  "The Way of Good and Evil"
  "A Case of Infectious Fever"
  "A Swell Head"
  "Tree of Intemperance"

The songs of Henry Clay Work (1832-1884) offer another approach to the interconnections among reform movements. Work wrote popular songs, several of which enjoyed wide currency in his times; one, "Marching through Georgia," remains widely known today. Have your students read or listen to Work's songs; the site holds audio versions as well as the words. Have students pay particular attention to the following songs: "Marching Through Georgia," "Babylon Is Fallen," "Kingdom Coming," and "Come Home, Father." These songs conflate several reform impulses, especially temperance and antislavery. How are these songs representative of the reformers? How do they combine more than one impulse?
  Songs of Henry Clay Work

You might want to print out the words to these songs and lead sing-alongs, accompanied by the synthesizer score provided by the site.

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