The Unfinished Nation: Chapter 12:  Antebellum Culture And Reform


Chapter 12 Main Themes:


  1. The development by American intellectuals of a national culture committed to the liberation of the human spirit, as expressed in art, literature, utopian communities, and transcendental philosophy.

  2. The effect of this commitment to the liberation of the human spirit in reinforcing the evangelical reform impulse of the period, in movements as diverse as temperance, education, rehabilitation, and women's rights.

  3. The emergence of the crusade against slavery as the most powerful element in this reform movement, and the various strategies of such prominent abolitionists as William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass in combating the "peculiar institution."



A thorough study of Chapter 12 should enable the student to understand:


  • The contributions of the Hudson River School, antebellum writers, and the transcendentalists in fashioning an American culture grounded in nationalism and romanticism.


  • The development of utopian communities and new religions as an expression of the American reform impulse.


  • The growth of both religious revivalism and new theories of health, science, and education during the antebellum decades.


  • The origins and development of the nineteenth century women's movement, and its culmination in the Seneca Falls convention.


  • The impact of William Lloyd Garrison on the rapid rise of abolitionism, and his role in the later division between radical and moderate abolitionists.


  • The successes, struggles, and hardships faced by the abolitionist movement through 1852.


  • American abolitionism in context of the global movement against slavery that arose in the nineteenth century.






Free Soil:   Belief that slavery must be kept out of the Western territories, for the sake of preserving Northern free labor


Personal Liberty Laws:   Laws passed in several Northern states which forbade state officials to assist in the capture and return of runaways.


Romanticism:   The intellectual movement that replaced the Age of Reason (rationalism). Stressing imagination, emotion, and sentiment, the movement emphasized individual thought and action as well as human goodness and equality.


Socialism:   A social, economic, and political theory based on collective ownership of the means of production and distribution. These means are directed by the people or their representatives for the good of society as a whole.


Temperance:   The use of moderation in one's indulgences. In the context of the reform movement, the abstinence from alcoholic drinks and ultimately the prohibition of these beverages.