U.S. History/US History


2. The new democratic age of the 1820s, 30s, and 40s not only witnessed the advent of universal white male suffrage but also a strong impulse for social reform, which was often supported by those denied access to the ballot. What drove the impulse behind such reform movements as abolitionism, feminism, temperance, and institution building? Who were the most important reformers of the age?

Thank you for any help you can give!


The early 1800's did see a great expansion of the right to vote to more citizens in many States, primarily through the elimination of the property tax requirement.  Of course, there were still some limitations that prevented some white males from voting.  Some states also permitted free black males to vote, at least under some circumstances, and in a very small number of cases, even some women were able to vote.  But by and large, the reform movements of this period were directed at expanding the franchise from just elite property owners to all free men.

In part because of this, various social reform movements began to grow.  Reformers saw that social change did not require convincing a few top elites to make the change, but in convincing the majority of the population that a reform was needed.

In the early 1800's, abolition was probably the primary controversial social issue of the day.  Early objections were most vocal among the Quaker community in Pennsylvania and surrounding States.  Movement in Massachusetts and NY also became quite active.  The leading voice for abolition was William Lloyd Garrison who published an abolitionist newspaper.  Garrison also helped encourage an escaped slave Frederick Douglas to become a highly effective speaker in his own right for the cause of abolition.  Douglas also eventually started his own abolitionist newspaper.  Another major influence in the Abolition cause was Harriet Beecher Stowe who wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin.  Theodore Weld, founder of the Anti-Slavery Society was another prominent early leader.

Women's suffrage did not really develop as a movement until the late 1840's, although there were certainly many women before then who supported it.  It's leaders including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucy Stone.  The movement really began to gain traction after the Civil War ended the abolition movement successfully.

Similarly, the temperance movement existed in the early 1800's and even in the late 1700's, but really began to gain popularity well after the Civil War.  For many years, it did not seek to ban alcohol or even expect people to abstain.  Rather, it was a movement to "temper" the use of alcohol to prevent abuse and drunkeness.  It was only in the late 1800's that the push to ban alcohol entirely began.  Temperance leaders found allies in the women's movement.  Susan B. Anthony was also a strong proponent of temperance, for example, because women generally felt that alcohol caused many husbands and fathers to become drunkards and failed to provide for their families.  It also gained traction among anti-immigrant groups who thought German and Irish immigrants were destroying the country and did not become hard workers because of their bad drinking habits.  The anti-immigrant KKK was a leading supporter of temperance in this era.  Lyman Beecher (Harriet Beecher Stowe's father) was an early outspoken advocate of temperance.

The bottom line of all these movements was the democratic notion that people could improve society by banding together and fighting for change.  Before people had the right to vote for their leaders, government had little reason to pay attention to the opinions of the masses.  But once democracy impacted their ability to be reelected, such mass movements became much more effective and thrived in this era.  

I hope this helps!
- Mike  

U.S. History

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Michael Troy


I can answer just about any question on early American History. My specialties are the American Revolution through the Civil War/Reconstruction. I also have greater expertise in matters relating to military, political or legal history.


I have lectured at George Washington University regarding the Civil War, as well as several elementary school Civil War demonstrations. I was also a member of a Civil War reenactment group for about 10 years.


J.D. University of Michigan B.A. George Washington University

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Truman Scholar

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