Episode 15 Reform Movements Hi I’m John Green. This is Crash Course
U.S. history and today we finally get to talk about sex.
Also some other things. Today we’re gonna discuss religious and moral reform movements
in 19th century America, but I promise there will be some sex.
Mr. Green, Mr. Green. Is it gonna be about real sex or is it gonna be able people who
are obsessed with not having sex? You got me there, Me from the Past. But how
(and whether) we skoodilypoop ends up saying a lot about America, and also people in general.
Intro So, one response to the massive changes brought
about by the shift to an industrialized market economy was to create utopian communities
where people could separate themselves from the worst aspects of this brave new world.
The most famous at the time, and arguably still, were the Shakers, who were famous for
their excellent furniture, so you can’t say that they really fully withdrew from the
market system. Still Shaker communities did separate themselves
from the competition that characterized free markets, especially in terms of the competition
for mates. They were celibate, and therefore only able
to increase their numbers by recruitment, which was made a little bit difficult by celibacy.
But they did do a lot of dancing to sublimate their libidinous urges, they embraced equality
of the sexes, and at their peak they had more than 6,000 members.
Today, they are still one of the most successful utopian communities to have emerged in the
19th century. They have three members. Much more successful in the long run were
the Latter Day Saints, also called Mormons, although at the time their ideas were so far
out of the mainstream that they were persecuted and chased from New York all the way to Utah.
In addition to the Bible, The LDS Church holds the Book of Mormon as a holy scripture, which
tells of the resurrected Jesus’s visits to the Americas.
And while it was subject to widespread persecution, and even some massacres, the LDS Church continued
to grow, and in fact continues to today. So, while some of these communities were based
in religion, others were more worldly attempts to create new models of society, like Brook
Farm. Founded in 1841 by a group of transcendentalists,
is a dependent clause that always ends in failure, Brook Farm tried to show that manual
labor and intellectual engagement could be successfully mixed.
This community drew on the ideas of the French socialist Charles Fourier, who as you may
recall from Crash Course World History believed—no joke—that socialism would eventually turn
the seas to lemonade. And much like Fourier’s planned communities,
Brook Farm did not work out, largely because—and I can say this with some authority—writers
do not enjoy farming. Nathaniel Hawthorne, for instance, complained
about having to shovel horse manure. But if he’d only kept shoveling horse manure, he
might not have shoveled The Blithedale Romances onto an unsuspecting reading public.
I’m sorry, Nathaniel Hawthorne. I do like The Scarlet Letter, but I feel like the only
reason you’re read is because you were, like, the only author in pre-Civil War America.
So either we have to pretend that America began with Huck Finn’s journey on the Mississippi
or else we’re stuck with you. It was just, like, you, Thomas Paine, Mary
Rowlandson, a bunch of printed sermons, and James Fenimore Pooper.
Anyway, the most utopian of the utopian communities were set up at Utopia, Ohio and Modern Times,
New York by Josiah Warren. Everything here was supposed to be totally
unregulated and voluntary including marriage, which, as you can imagine worked out brilliantly.
But, without any laws to regulate behavior, Warren’s communities were individualism
on steroids, so they collapsed spectacularly and quickly.
But these utopian communities were relatively rare; many more 19th century Americans participated
in efforts to reform society rather than just withdraw from it.
And behind most of those reform movements was religion, particularly a religious revival
called the 2nd Great Awakening. This series of revival meetings reached their
height in the 1820s and 1830s with Charles Grandison Finney’s giant camp meetings in
New York. And in a way the 2nd Great Awakening made America a religious nation.
The number of Christian ministers in the United States went from 2,000 in the 1770s to 40,000
by 1845. And western New York was the center of this
revivalism. That’s where Joseph Smith had his revelations.
It’s also where John Humphrey Noyes founded his Oneida Community, in which postmenopausal
women introduced teenage boys to sex, and which eventually ceased being a religious
community and evolved into—wait for it—one of the world’s largest silverware companies.
That’s right, every time you take a bite of food with Oneida cutlery, you’re celebrating
free love and May-December relationships. Well, more like February-December relationships.
(Libertage: Turning Free Love into Fancy Forks) So, yes, religious fervor burned so hot in
upstate New York that it became known as the “burned-over district,” and New York remains
the heartland of conservative Christianity to this day.
Or not. The Awakening stressed individual choice in
salvation and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and it was deeply influenced
by the market revolution. So, like, while many preachers criticized
the selfish individualism inherent in free market competition, there was sort of a market
for new religions and preachers, who would travel the country drumming up business.
Awakening ministers also preached the values of sobriety, industry and self-discipline,
which had become the essence of both the market economy and the impulse for reform.
There are three points I want to make about the religious nature of all these 19th century
reform movements. First, it was overwhelmingly Protestant.
Like, all these “new” religions were protestant denominations, which meant that they wouldn’t
have a lot of appeal to immigrants from Ireland and Germany who started to pour into the United
States in the middle of the 19th century because A. those people were mostly Catholic, and
B. reasons we’ll get to momentarily. Secondly, many of these reformers believed
in perfectionism, the idea that individuals and society were capable of unlimited improvement.
And third, many of the reform movements were based ultimately on a different view of freedom
than we might be used to. And this is really important to understand,
for 19th century reformers, freedom was the opposite of being able to do whatever you
wanted, which they associated with the word license.
They believed that true freedom was like an internal phenomenon that came from self-discipline
and the practice of self control. Essentially, instead of being free to drink
booze, you would be free from the temptation to drink booze.
According to Philip Schaff, a minister who came to Pennsylvania in the 1840s, “true
national freedom, in the American view [is] anything but an absence of restraint … [It]
rests upon a moral groundwork, upon the virtue of self possession and self control in individual
citizens.” Members of the fastest growing Protestant
denominations like Methodists and Baptists were taught that it wasn’t enough to avoid
sin themselves; they also needed to perfect their communities. And that leads us to America’s
great national nightmare, temperance. Now you’re not going to see me advocate
for prohibition of alcohol, but to be fair, Americans in the first half of the 19th century
were uncommonly drunk. In fact, in 1830, per capita liquor consumption was 7 gallons per
year, more than double what it is now. And that doesn’t even count wine, beer,
hard cider, zima, pruno. By the way, some people like to have home
breweries or whatever, but at our office, Stan’s been making pruno under the couch.
The growing feeling among reformers that we should limit or even ban alcohol appealed
to those protestant ideas of restraint and perfecting the social order.
And that’s also precisely why it was so controversial, especially among Catholic immigrants,
who A. came largely from Germany and Ireland, two nations not known for their opposition
to strong drink, and B. were Catholic and the Catholic church’s
morality didn’t view alcohol or dancing as inherently sinful the way that so many
Protestant denominations did. And then we have the widespread construction
of asylums and other homes for outcasts. Anyone who’s ever done a bit of urban exploring
knows that these places were built by the hundreds in the 19th century—jails, poorhouses,
asylums for the mentally ill—and while they might not seem like places of freedom, to
reformers they were. Remember, freedom was all about not having
the choice to sin so you could be free of sin.
Bear in mind, of course, that the crusading reformers who built these places usually chose
not to live in them. And speaking of places you’re forced to
go regardless of whether you want to, the mid 19th century saw the growth of compulsory
state-funded education in the United States. These new schools were called common schools,
and education reformers like Horace Mann hoped that they would give poor students the moral
character and body of knowledge to compete with upper-class kids.
And that worked out great. Just look at where we are on the equality of opportunity index.
Now, this may seem like an obvious win for all involved, but many parents opposed common
schools because they didn’t want their kids getting moral instruction from the government.
That said, by 1860, all northern states had established public schools. But they were
far less common in the South, where the planter class was afraid of education falling into
the wrong hands, like for instance, those of poor whites and especially slaves.
Which brings us to abolition. Let’s go to the Thought Bubble.
Abolitionism was the biggest reform movement in the first half of the 19th century, probably
because—sorry alcohol and fast dancing—slavery was the worst. In the 17th and 18th centuries,
the only challengers to slavery were slaves themselves, free blacks, and Quakers. But
in the early 19th century, colonizationists began to gain ground. Their idea was to ship
all former slaves back to Africa, and the American Colonization Society became popular
and wealthy enough to establish Liberia as an independent homeland for former slaves.
While the idea was impractical, and racist, it appealed to politicians like Andrew Jackson
and Henry Clay. And some black people, who figured that America’s racism would never
allow them to be treated as equals, did choose to emigrate to Liberia. But most free blacks
opposed the idea; in fact in 1817, 3,000 of them assembled in Philadelphia and declared
that black people were entitled to the same freedom as whites.
By 1830, advocates for the end of slavery became more and more radical, like William
Lloyd Garrison, whose magazine The Liberator was first published in 1831. Known for being
“as harsh as truth and as uncompromising as justice,” Garrison once burned the Constitution,
declaring it was a pact with the devil. Radical abolitionism became a movement largely because
it used the same mix of pamplheteering and charismatic speechifying that people saw in
the preachers of the Second Great Awakening, which in turn brought religion and abolition
together in the North, preaching a simple message: Slavery was a sin. By 1843, 100,000
Northerners were aligned with the American Anti-Slavery Society. What made the radical abolitionists so radical
was their inclusive vision of freedom. It wasn’t just about ending slavery but about
equality—the extension of full citizens’ rights to all people, regardless of race. By the way, it was abolitionists who re-christened
the Old State House Bell in Philadelphia the “Liberty Bell.” Why does all this awesome
stuff happen in Philadelphia? Thanks, Thought Bubble. So, needless to say,
not all Americans were quite so thrilled about abolitionism, which is why slavery remained
unabolished. Often, resistance to abolitionism was violent—like,
in 1838, a mob in Philadelphia burned down Pennsylvania Hall because people were using
it to hold abolitionist meetings. And you were doing so well, Philadelphia!
A year later, a mob in Alton, Illinois murdered antislavery editor Elijah P. Lovejoy when
he was defending his printing press. This was the fifth time, by the way, that a mob
had destroyed one of his newspapers. Even Congress got in on the “let’s suppress
free speech and the press” act by adopting the gag rule in 1836.
The gag rule prohibited members of congress from even reading aloud or discussing calls
for the emancipation of slaves. Seriously. And you thought the filibuster was dysfunctional.
The best known abolitionist was Frederick Douglass, a former slave whose life story
was well known because he wrote the brilliant Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,
An American Slave. But he wasn’t the only former slave to write
about the evils of slavery: Josiah Henderson’s autobiography was probably the basis for the
most famous anti-slavery novel ever, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin sold more than a million copies between 1851 and 1854. And despite
the unreadable, heavy-handed prose drenched in sentimentality, the book is a great reminder
that bad novels can also change the world, which is why it was so widely banned in the
South. But while based on a black man’s story,
Uncle Tom’s Cabin was written by a white woman, which shows us that black abolitionists
were battling not just slavery but near ubiquitous racism.
Like Pat Boone rerecording Little Richard to make it safe for the white kids at the
sockhop. They had to fight the pseudoscience arguing
that black people were physically inferior to white people or just born to servitude,
and they had to counter the common conception—still common, I’m afraid—that there was no such
thing as African civilization. Oh, it’s time for the mystery document?
The rules here are simple. If I guess the author of the mystery document,
I do not get shocked. Let’s see what we got today.
“Beloved brethren – here let me tell you, and believe it, that he lord our God, as true
as he sits on his throne in heaven, and as true as our Savior died to redeem the world,
will give you a Hannibal, and when the Lord shall have raised him up, and given him to
you for your possession, O my suffering brethren! remember the divisions and consequent sufferings
of Carthage and of Haiti … But what need have I to refer to antiquity, when Haiti,
the glory of the blacks and terror of tyrants, is enough to convince the most avaricious
and stupid of wretches?” Alright Stan, this is going to take some serious
critical thinking skills so let’s break this down.
So the author’s clearly African American, and an admirer of the Haitian Revolution,
which means this was written after 1800. Plus, he references Hannibal, who Crash Course
World History fans will remember almost conquered the Romans using freaking elephants!
And Hannibal was from Carthage which, I don’t need to tell you, is in Africa. He also warns
that Haiti is the terror of tyrants, referencing the widespread massacring of white people
after the revolution. Okay that’s what we know.
And now we shall make our guess. Henry Highland Garnett? UGH I HATE MYSELF.
It’s David Walker? I’m not gonna lie to you, Stan, I don’t even know who that is,
so I probably deserve this. AH! That’s how you learn, fellow students. It’s
not about positive reinforcement. It’s about shocking yourself when you screw up.
I got a 3 on the AP American History test, so I should know.
So black abolitionists like Frederick Douglass, Henry Highland Garnett and apparently David
Walker were the most eloquent spokesmen for the ideal of equal citizenship in the United
States for black and white people. In his 1852 Independence Day Address. By the
way, international viewers, our Independence Day is July 4th, so he gave this speech on
July 4th. Frederick Douglass said: “Would you argue with me that man is entitled
to liberty? That he is the rightful owner of his own body? You have already declared
it. Must I argue the wrongfulness of slavery? … There is not a man beneath the canopy
of heaven that does not know that slavery is wrong for him.”
And in the end, the sophistication and elegance of the black abolitionists’ arguments became
one of the strongest arguments for abolition. If black people were better off enslaved,
and inherently inferior, how could anyone account for a man like Frederick Douglass?
Abolitionism—at least until after the Civil War—pushed all other reform movements to
the edges. But I just want to note here at the end that
it’s no coincidence that so many abolitionist voices, like Harriet Beecher Stowe for instance,
were female. And their work toward a more just social order
for others transformed the way that American women imagined themselves as well, which is
what we’ll be discussing next week. I’ll see you then. Thanks for watching.
Crash Course is produced and directed by Stan Muller. Our script supervisor is Meredith
Danko. The associate producer is Danica Johnson. The show is written by my high school history
teacher Raoul Meyer and myself. And our graphics team is Thought Café.
If you have questions about today’s video, you can ask them in comments where they’ll
be answered by our team of historians. You can also suggest captions for the libertage.
Thanks for watching Crash Course and as we say in my hometown, don’t forget to be awesome.
Gonna hit the globe!