Question: What means did reformers and radicals use to communicate their messages and how did these means influence their ideologies?
Over the first Century and a half of American History, Reformers and Radicals found many innovative and effective ways to communicate their ideas to the country. Today, sending a message across the country can be as easy as writing an e-mail, and mass communication can be achieved as easily as setting up a website or buying a television advertisement. It is hard for one to imagine a world without a computer, a TV, or even a telephone, but this was the world that made the task of delivering a message to the people such a daunting task in 19th Century America. Reformers and Radicals used methods such as public speech, writings, organizations, and even violence to communicate to the entire nation. Indeed, the method of conveying a particular message or ideology chosen was very important, as it would often play a large part in shaping that ideology in the eyes of the public.
Public speech was one of the most common methods that reformers used to reach the general public. Speeches had many advantages that made them a very appealing way for reformers to convey their message. The main advantage that they held was that they were cost efficient. It only takes one person to make a speech, and there is no other capital required. If someone wanted his or her view heard and had no other way to go about it, a speech was often the best option. Speakers did not even require venues to make their speeches. Although churches or other public buildings were often used, a speech could be made from the back of a horse driven cart. This style of riding from town to town was often seen in New England and upstate New York, where towns were close enough to make traveling from town to town practical. Speeches also appealed to reform groups who did not have a large contingency; a small group of speakers could often reach a large portion of the country easily.
Speeches functioned as great tools for inspiring and motivating people. A passionate and charismatic speaker could often change a group of people’s view of the world with just a short speech. A perfect example of this phenomenon can be seen in the leaders of religious groups such as Matthias and Joseph Smith. These two men both possessed the ability to make people pick up and leave their lives in a heartbeat. Although their views on religion were extreme, people who were not happy with their lives were susceptible to their appeals to build new utopian societies.
Other great public speakers included men like Booker T. Washington, who, in his famous “Atlanta Compromise”, actually made the case that segregation could be a good thing for African Americans. Washington’s masterful use of ambiguity (Walters lecture) allowed him to make appeals to African Americans to better their standing without offending or scaring the white population of the south. The...