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Institutions and social movements


James Polk
James Polk

In the second quarter of the 19th century Americans built a number of institutions and social movements dedicated to improving the morals of individuals and of society in general. The most prominent reformers were Northern, middle–class Whigs who had been influenced by evangelical revivals in the 1820s and 1830s. Those revivals taught an ethic of improvement: Sin and disorder, they said, were not inevitable results of Adam’s fall (as described in the Bible). They were the results of bad choices made by free and morally accountable men and women. Beginning in the 1820s, these middle–class evangelicals proposed reforms that would teach Americans to make good moral choices and thus, one individual at a time, improve society and perhaps make it perfect.

School


The most pervasive and enduring result of these movements was a system of tax–supported public schools. The great school reformers were Northern Whigs such as Horace Mann of Massachusetts and Calvin Stowe of Ohio (husband of novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe). They proposed public school systems that were centralized at the state level and that made attendance mandatory. These schools were geared to teaching patriotism, manners, and civility, along with reading, writing, and arithmetic. Among Whig reformers, the goal of public schools was to build character in individual students. Ultimately, reformers wished to make a perfect society by filling it with perfect individuals. Democrats supported the schools, but saw them as a means of providing equal opportunity to all whites. Democrats, and Southerners from both parties, also tended to support local control over schools, to favor shorter school years, and to make efforts to keep taxes low. "USA" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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