Why Did Moral Reform Movements Gather Strength In The 1830s 1850s And What Underlying Force Or Forces Gave Them Strength?

975 words - 4 pages

It is a basic rule of human nature that Homo Sapien needs permanency. In times of great social upheaval, people will often turn to the familiar arms of religion in search of that permanency. The 1830s through 1850s were no exception to the rule. The nation was hit by wave after wave of moral reform movements as the people turned to organized religion for stability in the midst of the Industrial Revolution. But why did these moral reform movements happen, why were they so concentrated in that era, and what gave them force? The Industrial Revolution caused a massive social upheaval as business markets expanded and interpersonal relationships became more numerous. In the midst of all this change, people sought stability in religion and moral reform movements grew directly out of those religious convictions.
The first half of the nineteenth century was marked by great economic, and therefore social, upheaval. After America won the War of 1812, it turned to internal improvements. The formerly local economic market was greatly expanded through the building of thousands of miles of new roads and canals. Before new methods of transportation opened up, most people had confined their business transactions to their immediate neighbors, but some saw the potential for more lucrative business in other places. “…increasing numbers of people produced for the "market," rather than for personal consumption, and made decisions about what to produce, what to charge, and where to sell on the basis of "the market" (Shmoop Editorial team). With this increasing economic shift came new social tensions. Farmers grew their, formerly local, operations and became businessmen. They had more employees and, thus more interpersonal relationships. The role of business was changing and so were the ways that people made their livelihoods (Shmoop Editorial Team). In the midst of all this change and upheaval, people desperately wanted and needed some sort of stability. Large numbers of citizens turned to the church for answers and created a new kind of Protestant Christianity that was marked by social concern and manifested itself in a variety of new movements.
Several waves of religious fervor swept across the United States during the first half of the nineteenth century. Collectively, the aura of religious revival became known as the Second Great Awakening. This time, however, the religious fervor manifested itself in a democratic brand of Christianity that emphasized perfectionism. Perfectionism was the belief that, while salvation was received from Christ, the individual had to pursue good works to ensure salvation (Text, 221). Some of these Perfectionists were Millerites, named for their leader William Miller, who believed that Christ’s second coming was imminent and waited for Him on rooftops. They were disappointed. A Miller protégé named Ellen Harmon picked up the standard by claiming she had had several religious dreams from Christ that espoused healthy eating and a...

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