In the U.S, the 19th century was an era of social transformations driven by several disparities deeply rooted in society. Many of the movements were supported by religious revivals known as the Second Great Awakening. Revivalists preachers denied the Calvinist idea of predestined salvation, emphasizing that all souls are created equal and “can be saved by surrendering to God” (Lock & Wright, 2019). These ideas laid the foundation for putting efforts into improving America’s moral character.
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One of the most extensive campaigns of Protestant reform societies was temperance. Alcoholism was one of the most severe social issues that affected the U.S. at that time, and these movements sought to curb alcohol consumption. In 1826, evangelical ministers established the American Temperance Society – they held lectures, published temperance literature, organized special revivals (Lock & Wright, 2019). It proved to be rather successful as the amount of alcohol consumed by Americans halved by 1840 compared to 1820 (Lock & Wright, 2019). Revivalist preachers also contributed to the radicalization of the antislavery movement, which before their activities “had been largely restricted to models of” gradual and conditional emancipation (Lock & Wright, 2019).
Seeing slavery as one of the hugest sins of American society, abolitionists sought ways to end it for good. In the North, they founded hundreds of antislavery societies, established schools together with Black activists, published multiple pamphlets (Lock & Wright, 2019). Despite the importance of their contribution, at that time, their actions were strongly opposed. Revivalists’ views on women’s rights were much less progressive – they saw them merely as keepers of household virtue. However, women used the role prescribed to them to improve their social position (Lock & Wright, 2019). They advocated for female education (as they needed to teach their children) and actively participated in the abolitionist movement.
Overall, the mid of the 19th century was an important era of social transformations. The Social Gospel movement, which directed the religious community’s attention to social problems, sought to improve American society. One of the most successful projects was the temperance campaign. The abolitionist movement made a foundation for the Republican Party’s activities in the second half of the century. Furthermore, it became an important platform for women to learn activism and meet to discuss their own grievances.
Lock, J. L., & Wright, B. (Eds.). (2019). The American Yawp: A massively collaborative open U.S. history textbook. Stanford University Press.