Tuesday, August 10, 2010


          America prior to 1840 had many social and economic changes especially during the many reform movements. Reform movements were often based on the struggle for social justices such as religion, land, race, labor, and politics. The best way of understanding America prior to 1840 is looking back at the moments when New World leaders advocated liberty, equality, freedom, and justice ideas that modern Americans boast. Some of the most important early reformations were Europeans coming to American, enslaved Africans urging for their freedom, outlawing religious persecution, colonist standing up to the Stamp Act, the America Revolution, women expanding their political activism, and the reformation of the Articles of Confederation.  

          The most important reform movement began with England inhabiting North American which encouraged Europeans to settle in the New World. Many of these European immigrants came to be freed of religious and political persecution. They saw the opportunity to obtain and farm land; so many untapped natural resources in the New World. Two-thirds of English settlers came as indentured servants hoping for a future with freedom. Seeing as the New World was an uncertain place without the migration of many Europeans in search of freedom, America may have never been created. If England hadn’t seen a surplus of population and poverty Englishmen with such high hopes for escaping economic inequalities would have by no means came to the New World in search of liberty through land ownership.

          Early during the colonial period it was important to find people to cultivate the New World in order for the colonies to function and prosper. Indentured servitude was mostly commonly used during the initial colonial period however soon slavery became the easiest way to have constant labor. In the South it was very important for colonies to have slavery because of tobacco industry. Enslaved Africans cost more than indentured slaves but were better prospect as a workforce. Slavery was not popular in England however the colonies would create slave codes that would chain Africans to slavery for many years to come. It was uncommon for colonist to question slavery and enslaved Africans did not identify themselves as a group yet therefore no one stood up against the injustices of slavery for some time. Enslaved Africans began to understand the injustices of slavery the Stono Rebellion in 1739 was the first time they fought for their free will. Quite a few enslaved Africans marched near the Stono River and burned houses, barns and killed white people encountered. Although slavery would not be abolished for much time after, the Stono Rebellion created a dialogue for future debates on if enslaving Africans was civilized.

          Religious persecutions in Europe lead to hopes for more leniencies in the New World. England being a Protestant country was opposed to the idea of other religions especially Catholicism. Maryland’s proprietor was Calvert; he was a Catholic and envisioned Maryland as a place for religious refuge.  He hoped Protestant and Catholics could live in harmony. Catholics were often colony officials and Protestants were the majority of settlers in Maryland. Puritanism was a very anti-catholic movement and was upset that Protestantism in England had rituals that were very similar to Catholicism. Puritans wanted to rule themselves in a Christian manner and felt that the New World was the best place to start. Pennsylvania was created as a British colony by William Penn; he hoped for spiritual freedom and created a group called Quakers. Many of the first colonies were formed by religious groups hoping to have a voice in a New World. Although there was a lot of religious persecution between the colonies especially concerning the Puritans who were very zealous and felt the only way was the Puritan way. Religious diversity began to be a normal way of life in the colonies similar to present day America, for an example there was Baptist, Roman Catholics, Protestants, and Lutherans. Many more migrated once they got word, especially from Scotland and Ireland. Later down the road the Bill of Rights secured religious freedom with the First Amendment.
          The biggest crisis that called for reform was when colonist believed Britain’s were encroaching upon their liberty and attempting to undermine their freedom. Britain believed that new regulations needed to be put in place in order to guarantee the empires continued strength and prosperity; it had lost a lot of its strength during the war. However the colonist did not appreciate the new taxation and regulation on its economy and ignored these attempts. After the Seven Year war Britain had felt a lot of debt and hardship therefore its advisor made a plan to make it more efficient. In order to create a more efficient government they needed to increase the inflow of money this involved raising funds through the colonist. Many of these funds would go to help pay for the debt the war had caused and to help finance the empire that was at a loss. It only seemed reasonable that colonist should help pay Britain’s debt as they were still Britain’s colonies. However colonists were enraged at the new taxation and insisted they weren’t represented in Parliament and therefore could not be taxed by Britain.

 The Stamp Act of 1756 was a departure from normal taxation because it wasn’t on the usual trade but on printed materials that every colonist used. Seeing that the Stamp Act offended a diverse amount of colonist it became the first time colonist as a whole felt that something had to be done to stop outrageous taxation. Several local elites felt that their authority was being challenged through this taxation and their response was to defend their liberty no matter the penalty. Americans did not only debate but became organized in the efforts to resist the taxation. This alarmed Britain because they had never felt such a strong resistance from colonist. The most common and popular word used by critics was “liberty”. All this commotion about liberty influenced many different colonists to rally involve themselves open dialogue about the injustices Britain was enforcing. The colonist soon became what some called to be “liberty mad”. However the colonist stood up for a cause they felt deserved the right to be heard all around, without these bold efforts the hope for a united America may have never came into creation.

          The Declaration of Independence was the United States asserting the right of revolution. It let the people have self-government and consistently ask for their rights to be met. Battling the Revolution was the first intense time the colonies came together and fought for their chance at freedom from Britain. The American Revolution was a combination of struggles that included a national independence and conflict over what kind of country America could be once it won its independence. Many colonists knew the potential they had to be politically independent from Britain.

The Revolution inspired many enslaved Africans that freedom many be very near. Some Americans began to slowly realize the injustices and hypocrisy of slavery. The language of liberty was so strong many slave communities felt a new beginning. Some enslaved Africans petitioned for freedom and others even sued the courts for being “illegally detained in slavery”. This was an example of the constant debate and questions over reforming any injustices colonist had . Many slaves ran away from their owners and became fugitives. They could only think of freedom because of the constant inflow of pamphlets, ideas of petitions, and opinions held on how slavery should be outlawed. 5,000 slaves fought for American Independence and many felt they deserved the freedom they had fought for. Aside from that about 100,000 enslaved Africans ran away in order to fight alongside British soldiers in hopes of gaining freedom after the war was over. 

          Women often searched for a reformation of their rights. Women felt the hope of independence from British and women such as Deborah Sampson daughter of Massachusetts colonist enlisted as a disguised man in the Continental army at age 21 as an attempt to fight for her countries freedom. Women contributed to the revolution in many different ways in order to make the movement happen. Many women helped pass information about British movement during the war. Women supported the war and army by holding fundraiser, this really was some of the first time women were showing public and political activism. Women such as Abigail Adams, Mercy Otis Warren had opinions on politics and would at times express this through poetry. However being a woman still limited your freedom. Although some women had more courage to stand up and to be heard did not change women’s rights even winning the independence didn’t alter the law inherited from Britain.  Women that did decide to be a part of the revolutionary movement were very helpful in creating a future for improving women’s status and making them equal to men.

          The need to improve the Articles of Confederation created a need for every American leader to re-evaluate the ultimate question of sovereignty. The heated debates involved the question of who should have the ultimate power in state versus the new government. Some of the issues that came to light were in consequence of the Revolution, many of the financial obligations the states had made to the men who contributed through their farms and fighting in the war had not been fulfilled. One of the biggest issues that drew attention was Daniel Shays’s rebellion that occurred in western Massachusetts. Men that hadn’t been paid by the states and men that had incurred debt from contributing there provisions   had been fed up because courts were in the process of seizing there land for the failure to keep up with payments.  They were outraged at the injustices and decided that they must close the courts so they could not rule against their rights. They acted similar to the way men had acted during the Revolution; this included creating liberty poles and getting crowds to speak against the statesmen. In the end they got no sympathy for the injustices and over 1000 were arrested for this “anarchy”. There was no national government to stop the States from infringing on the rights on the local mass.

Many became aware of the danger that States may present to individual rights if there was no over encompassing protection for their rights. Public liberty was not being heard and the leaders during the Revolution understood that something had to be done to solve any future upsets that could destroy the independence they had fought for. The Congress had a lot of influence because of what it had contributed during the Revolution and was the only group that could bring the State leaders together to reform the Articles of Confederation. Since North and South were so radically different and States as a whole did not want to give up any of their powers it months debating all of the issues that needed to be handled in order to create a strong government. Different groups formed such as the Federalist, Anti-Federalist, and Nationalist, they all had different opinions of how the country should be run. In the end the South got to keep slavery and the United States became a federalist country and national authority was strengthened. The Constitution was the final document which only contained 4,000 words and gave a brief outline of the new structure the country would utilize. The Bill of Rights was created in favor of the Anti-Federalist who felt that recognition of rights should be laid out. Had the conflict of State powers never came to light the Constitution may have taken many more years to be created and the Founding Fathers may not have been the men who laid out the Constitution which we base our government and country on in present time.

The endless debate of reform during the colonial and creation of America created the present day United States. National identity was achieved by the people through conflict and dreams of freedom and liberty. In understanding the men and women who questioned and fought against the injustices is truly the only way of understanding how it felt to be an American prior to 1840. The New World was a frightening idea and being able to convert that to the country that stands here today was fascinating. Realizing that this was not an easy battle but one that took every man and women attempting to understand and form in their minds the rights and justice that they deserved was evolution at its best. Never before has such a great nation been created with such rational thought. Although slavery had yet to be abolished many recognized the inhumanity of the situation and saw that with more reform in the public mind that it could be abolished. The greatest thing America has achieved is understanding that without constant debate and reform no body of people can continue to evolve or achieve greater heights.

No comments: