An injustice against one of us is an injustice against all of us.
Black lives matter.
But here’s a sobering thought – at various early points in the history of our nation, certain people decided very consciously that they absolutely should not. And many of our modern institutions – from the police to the courts to the schools – were built on this cracked foundation.
The historical decisions that have shaped our moment are often invisible to us – like water to fish, we swim in the choices our ancestors have made.
But we when we realize that this is the case – that our reality is not set, but a sum total of historical choices – we become responsible for our own actions.
And then, we are truly free.
Here are a selection of free history lessons from our archives – suitable for middle or high school classrooms – that shed a light on our current moment. If you aren’t teaching lessons like these in your social studies classes, ask yourself – why not?
Comparing Slavery and Factory Life – Apologists for slavery often argued that, in their day at least, their system of slavery was better than free market capitalism. Let’s put that to the test… (primary source analysis with guided questions)
Were the Freedmen Really Free? – After the Civil War, Southerners sought to reconstruct slavery in everything but name. We are the direct inheritors of this system, which was only partly deconstructed in the 1950s and 60s. (primary source analysis with guided questions)
Social Reform Movements – Who Should Be the New Face of the $20 Bill? – Progress has always been earned, never granted. Give students the change to reimagine our national pantheon to include the social reformers and progressives who are often more responsible than any president or general for the way of life we cherish today. (research activity)
From May 1804 to September 1806, the Corps of Discovery under the command of Captain Meriwether Lewis and his close friend Second Lieutenant William Clark, was the first American expedition to cross the western portion of the United States. Also along for the mission was York, Clark’s slave, who who carried a gun and hunted on behalf of the expedition and was also accorded a vote during group decisions, more than half a century before African Americans could actually participate in American democracy. Along the way, the Corps picked up they met a French-Canadian fur trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau, and his teenage Shoshone wife Sacagawea, who had purchased as a slave and who was pregnant with their child. The Shoshone lived in the Rocky Mountains, and Sacagawea’s knowledge of nature, geography, language, and culture proved to be invaluable to the expedition. (Excerpted from The United States: An Open Ended History)
The primary goals of the Lewis and Clark expedition were:
Map the Missouri River and related tributaries.
Find the easiest possible route across the continent.
Make detailed observations of the natural resources and geography of the west.
Pretend that you are Lewis and Clark. President Thomas Jefferson has asked you to the White House to deliver a detailed report about your expedition. In particular, Jefferson wants to see evidence that you have made a good effort to achieve each of your four goals.
A good presentation will document and describe all of the following: the major events of the assigned portion of the journey, the members of the expedition who provided indispensable contributions to its success, what tools and techniques they used, the people Lewis and Clark met during this segment, and the wildlife they encountered. Use these details as evidence to show how Lewis and Clark worked toward the four goals that Jefferson assigned to them.
In order to present your findings, you can make a webpage, a mock up of Lewis’s journal, a song, a rap, a comic, a Prezi, a WeExplore, or anything else you can imagine. Aside from this, the main requirement is – DON’T BE BORING!! You should also supply some enticing visuals to supplement your report.
A Starting Point for Your Research: A Timeline of the Lewis and Clark Expedition
June 28–29: First trial in new territory. Pvt. John Collins is on guard duty and breaks into the supplies and gets drunk. Collins invites Pvt. Hugh Hall to drink also. Collins receives 100 lashes, Hall receives 50 lashes.
July 11–12: Second trial in new territory. Pvt. Alexander Hamilton Willard is on guard duty. Is charged with lying down and sleeping at his post whilst a sentinel. Punishable by death. He receives 100 lashes for four straight days.
August 3: The Corps of Discovery holds the first official council between representatives of the United States and the Oto and Missouri tribes at Council Bluffs, Iowa. They hand out peace medals, 15-star flags and other gifts, parade men and show off technology.
August 4: Moses Reed said he was returning to a previous camp to retrieve a knife but deserted to St. Louis.
August 18: George Drouillard returns to camp with Reed and Otos’ Chief Little Thief. Reed is sentenced to run the gauntlet (500 lashes) and is discharged from the permanent party.
August 18: Captain Meriwether Lewis’s 30th birthday.
August 20: Sergeant Charles Floyd dies. He dies from bilious chorlick (ruptured appendix). He is the only member lost during the expedition.
September 7: The expedition drives a prairie dog out of its den (by pouring water into it) to send back to Jefferson.
September 14: Hunters kill and describe prairie goat (antelope).
September 25–29: A band of Lakota Sioux demand one of the boats as a toll for moving further upriver. Meet with Teton Sioux. Close order drill, air gun demo, gifts of medals, military coat, hats, tobacco. Hard to communicate language problems. Invite chiefs on board keelboat, give each 1⁄2 glass whiskey, acted drunk wanted more. Two armed confrontations with Sioux. Some of the chiefs sleep on boat, move up river to another village, meet in lodge, hold scalp dance.
October 8–11: Pass Grand River home of the Arikara people, 2,000+. Joseph Gravelins trader, lived with Arikara for 13 yrs. Pierre Antoine Tabeau lived in another village was from Quebec.
October 13: Pvt. John Newman tried for insubordination (who was prompted by Reed) and received 75 lashes. Newman was discarded from the permanent party.
October 24: Met their first Mandan Chief, Big White. Joseph Gravelins acted as interpreter.
Winter at Fort Mandan
For Geography, Narrative, and More Information, Check Out – Fort Mandan
October 24: Expedition reaches the earth-log villages of the Mandans and the Hidatsas. The captains decide to build Fort Mandan across the river from the main village.
October 26: Rene Jessaume lived with Mandan for more than a decade, hired as Mandan interpreter. Hugh McCracken a trader with the North West Company. Francois-Antoine Larocque, Charles MacKenzie also visited L&C.
November–December: Constructed Fort Mandan.
November 2: Hired Baptiste La Page to replace Newman.
December 24: Fort Mandan is considered complete. Expedition moves in for the winter season.
January 1: The Corps of Discovery celebrates the New Year by “Two discharges of cannon and Musick—a fiddle, tambereen and a sounden horn.”
February 9: Thomas Howard scaled the fort wall and a native American followed his example. “Setting a pernicious example to the savages” 50 lashes—only trial at Fort Mandan and last on expedition. Lashes remitted by Lewis.
February 11: Sacagawea gives birth to Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, the youngest member of the expedition. Jean Baptiste is nicknamed “Pompy” by Clark. Lewis aided in the delivery of Sacagawea’s baby, used rattle of rattlesnake to aid delivery (Jessaume’s idea).
April 7: The permanent party of the Corps of Discovery leaves Fort Mandan. The keelboat is sent down river. Left Fort Mandan in six canoes and two pirogues. Thomas Howard received a letter from his wife Natalia.
April 25: Reached Yellowstone River Roche Jaune—sent Joseph Field up river to find Yellowstone. He saw Big Horn Sheep and brought back horns. Lewis searched area thought it would be a good area for fort. Future forts were built, Fort Union and Fort Buford.
May 14: A sudden storm tips a pirogue (boat) and many items, such as supplies and the Corps’ journals, spill over into the river. Sacagawea calmly recovers most of the items; Clark later credits her with quick thinking.
May 8: Milk river. Called because of its milky white appearance. Natives called it “a river which scolds all others”.
June 3–20: Marias River to the Great Falls.
June 3: The mouth of the Marias River is reached. Camp Deposit is established. Cached blacksmith bellows and tools, bear skins, axes, auger, files, two kegs of parched corn, two kegs of pork, a keg of salt, chisels, tin cups, two rifles, beaver traps. Twenty-four lb of powder in lead kegs in separate caches. Hid red pirogue. Natives did not tell them of this river. Unable to immediately determine which river is the Missouri, a scouting party is sent to explore each branch, North fork (Marias), South fork (Missouri). Sgt. Gass and two others go up south fork. Sgt. Pryor and two others go up north fork. Can’t decide which river is Missouri. Clark, Gass, Shannon, York and Fields brothers go up south fork. Lewis, Drouillard, Shields, Windsor Pryor, Cruzatte, Lepage go up north fork. Most men in expedition believe north fork is the Missouri. Lewis and Clark believe south fork is Missouri and followed that fork.
June 13: Scouting ahead of the expedition, Lewis and four companions sight the Great Falls of the Missouri River, confirming that they were heading in the right direction. Lewis writes when he discovers the Great Falls of the Missouri. “When my ears were saluted with the agreeable sound of a fall of water and advancing a little further I saw the spray arise above the plain like a column of smoke…..began to make a roaring too tremendous to be mistaken for any cause short of the great falls of the Missouri.”
August 13: Lewis meets Cameahwait, leader of a band of Shoshone
August 15–17: Lewis returns across Lemhi Pass with Cameahwait and sets up Camp Fortunate.
August 17: A council meets with the Shoshone, during which Sacagawea learns the fate of her family and reveals that Cameahwait is her brother. Lewis and Clark successfully negotiate for horses for passage over the Rocky Mountains. They buy 29 horses for packing or eating with uniforms, rifles, powder, balls, and a pistol. They also hire Shoshone guide Old Toby.
August 18: Captain Lewis’s 31st birthday. In his journal, he scolds himself for being “indolent”, or lazy, and vows to spend the rest of his life helping people.
August 26: Lewis and the main party cross the Continental Divide at Lemhi Pass. They thereby leave the newly purchased United States territory into disputed Oregon Country.
For Geography, Narrative, and More Information, Check Out – At the Pacific
November 24: The Corps takes the matter of where to spend the winter to a vote. York, a slave, and Sacagawea, a woman, were allowed to vote. It was decided to camp on the south side of the Columbia River.
December 7 – March 23, 1806: Fort Clatsop sewed 338 pairs of moccasins.
December 25: Fort Clatsop, the Corps’ winter residence, is completed.
January 1: Discharged a volley of small arms to usher in the new year. Several Corps members build a salt-making cairn near present-day Seaside, Oregon.
The Return Home
For Geography, Narrative, and More Information, Check Out – The Return Home
March 22: Corps of Discovery leave Fort Clatsop for the return voyage east.
July 13: Reached White Bear Island. Opened cache and many items were ruined. The iron frame of the boat had not suffered materially.
July 15: Lewis explores Marias river, separates from Gass to meet at Mouth of Marias between Aug. 5 and no later than Sept 1. Marias River expedition includes M. Lewis, R. Fields, J. Fields, G. Drouillard.
July 15–26: Camp Disappointment. Marias River does not go far enough north. Natives finally discovered.
July 20: Sgt. Ordway’s party (from Clark’s party) meets Sgt. Gass’s party at the Great Falls of the Missouri.
July 27: Piikani Nation tribe members (“Blackfeet”) try to steal Lewis’s group’s rifles. A fight broke out and two natives Americans were killed in the only hostile and violent encounter with a tribe.
July 28: Lewis meets Ordway and Gass.
July 3: Clark explores Yellowstone—leaves for Three Forks and Yellowstone. Sgt. Pryor, G. Gibson, H. Hall, R. Windsor. Sgt. Ordway, J. Colter, J. Colter, P. Cruzatte, F. LaBiche, T. Howard, J. Shields, B. LaPage, G. Shannon, J. Potts, W. Brattan, P. Wiser, P. Willard, J. Whitehouse, T. Charboneau, Sacagawea & Pomp, York.
July 6: Clark’s group crosses the Continental Divide at Gibbons Pass.
July 8: Reached Camp Fortunate dug up cache from year before—tobacco most prized.
July 13: Sgt. Ordway splits from Clark to travel up Missouri River to meet Lewis and Gass.
August 3: Clark arrives at confluence of Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers—moves down river because of mosquitoes.
August 8: Pryor and party reached Clark. Pryor and party (Sgt. Pryor, G. Gibson, H. Hall, R. Windsor) left Clark with horses and a letter to Hugh Henry to get Sioux to go to Washington and make peace with other natives. Horses stolen, had to make bull boats to get across and down river.
August 11: Lewis is accidentally shot by a member of his own party.
August 12: The two groups rejoin on the Missouri River in present-day North Dakota.
August 18: Capt. Lewis’s 32nd birthday.
August 14: Reached Mandan Village. Charbonneau and Sacagawea stayed. John Colter went back up river with trappers Hancock and Dickson provided rest of company stay with expedition all the way to St. Louis.
September 23: The Corps arrives in St. Louis, ending their journey after two years, four months, and ten days.
Choose one of the following events from the Revolutionary War. Pretend you have been hired to adapt this historical event into a big budget Hollywood blockbuster. Script a key scene for this film, including scenic directions and dialogue.
Remember that in film, images tell much of the story, serving to evoke the emotions and thoughts of the viewer. Integrate dialogue into the action of the scene. Rather than have characters deliver speeches, for example, let them talk while they are moving or doing something that will add visual interest to the scene. Your scene can be dramatic, humorous, even musical, feel free to subvert gender roles – but it should be based firmly on the facts with plenty of references to identifiable historical individuals and situations. It should also give your audience a sense – through dialogue, symbolism, or narration – of the significance of the event they are witnessing. Why was is this scene important – to the story of the war and/or to future generations?
Check here for an explanation of how a screenplay is written.
Battles of Lexington and Concord
The Battles of Lexington and Concord were the first military engagements of the American Revolutionary War. About 700 British Army regulars in Boston, under Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith, were given secret orders to capture and destroy Colonial military supplies reportedly stored by the Massachusetts militia at Concord. Through effective intelligence gathering, Patriot leaders had received word weeks before the expedition that their supplies might be at risk and had moved most of them to other locations. On the night before the battle, warning of the British expedition had been rapidly sent from Boston to militias in the area by several riders, including Paul Revere and Samuel Prescott, with information about British plans. The first shots were fired just as the sun was rising at Lexington. The British pushed on to Concord. The Americans had taken away most of the munitions, but they destroyed whatever was left. In the meantime, American forces in the countryside had mobilized to harass the British on their long return to Boston. All along the road, behind stone walls, hillocks, and houses, militiamen from “every Middlesex village and farm” made targets of the bright red coats of the British soldiers. By the time Gage’s weary detachment stumbled into Boston, it had suffered more than 250 killed and wounded. The Americans lost 93 men.
Characters to include: John Parker
Adoption of the Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence, adopted July 4, 1776, not only announced the birth of a new nation, but also set forth a philosophy of human freedom that would become a dynamic force throughout the entire world. The Declaration drew upon French and English Enlightenment political philosophy, but one influence in particular stands out: John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government. Locke took conceptions of the traditional rights of Englishmen and universalized them into the natural rights of all humankind. The Declaration’s familiar opening passage echoes Locke’s social-contract theory of government:
We hold these truths to be self‑evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Characters to include: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin
Winter at Valley Forge
Valley Forge in Pennsylvania was the site of the military camp of the American Continental Army over the winter of 1777–1778 during the American Revolutionary War. It is approximately 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Starvation, disease, malnutrition, and exposure killed nearly 2,500 American soldiers by the end of February 1778.
With winter almost setting in, and with the prospects for campaigning greatly diminishing, General George Washington sought quarters for his men. Washington and his troops had fought what was to be the last major engagement of 1777 at the Battle of White Marsh (or Edge Hill) in early December. He devised to pull his troops from their present encampment in the White Marsh area (now Fort Washington State Park) and move to a more secure location for the coming winter. Though no battle was fought here from December 19, 1777 to June 19, 1778, a struggle against the elements and low morale was overcome on this sacred ground.
“Naked and starving as they are we cannot enough admire the incomparable patience and fidelity of the soldiery.” –General George Washington at Valley Forge, February 16, 1778.
Characters to Include: George Washington, Baron von Steuben
The Service of Deborah Sampson
Deborah Sampson wore men’s clothes and joined an Army unit in Massachusetts under the name “Robert Shirtliff” (also spelled in some sources as “Shirtliffe” or “Shurtleff”). She joined the Light Infantry Company of the 4th Massachusetts Regiment, under the command of Captain George Webb (1740–1825). This unit, consisting of 50 to 60 men, was first quartered in Bellingham, Massachusetts, and later mustered at Worcester with the rest of the regiment commanded by Colonel William Shepard. Light Infantry Companies were elite troops, specially picked because they were taller and stronger than average. Their job was to provide rapid flank coverage for advancing regiments, as well as rearguard and forward reconnaissance duties for units on the move. Because she joined an elite unit, Sampson’s disguise was more likely to succeed, since no one was likely to look for a woman among soldiers who were specially chosen for their above average size and superior physical ability.
Sampson fought in several skirmishes. During her first battle, on July 3, 1782, outside Tarrytown, New York, she took two musket balls in her thigh and a cut on her forehead. She begged her fellow soldiers to let her die and not take her to a doctor, but a soldier put her on his horse and took her to a hospital. The doctors treated her head wound, but she left the hospital before they could attend to her leg. Fearful that her identity would be discovered, she removed one of the balls herself with a penknife and sewing needle, but the other one was too deep for her to reach. Her leg never fully healed.
Characters to Include: Deborah Sampson
Surrender at Yorktown
A series of battles left British General Cornwallis’s armies in retreat toward Yorktown, Virginia, where they expected to be rescued by a British fleet. The fleet showed up, but so did a larger French fleet, so the British fleet retreated out to sea after a brief battle, leaving Cornwallis trapped between the American and French armies on land and the French fleet at sea. Finally, on October 19, 1781, General Cornwallis surrendered his army of 8,000 British soldiers.
Characters to Include: Washington, Lafayette, Cornwallis
George Washington resigns as commander in chief
By the Treaty of Paris signed on September 3, 1783, Great Britain recognized the independence of the United States. Washington disbanded his army and gave an eloquent farewell address to his soldiers on November 2. On November 25, the British evacuated New York City, and Washington and the governor took possession. At Fraunces Tavern on December 4, Washington formally bade his officers farewell and he resigned his commission as commander-in-chief on December 23, 1783, to the Continental Congress in the Old Senate Chamber of the Maryland State House in Annapolis, Md. “I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my official life, by commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God, and those who have the superintendence of them, to his holy keeping.” Historian Gordon Wood concludes that the greatest act in his life was his resignation as commander of the armies. King George III called Washington “the greatest character of the age” because of this.
Washington later submitted a formal account of the expenses that he had personally advanced the army over the eight-year conflict of about $450,000. It is said to have been detailed regarding small items and vague concerning large ones, and included the expenses incurred from Martha’s visits to his headquarters, as well as his compensation for service—none of which had been drawn during the war.
You can go big and tell a general history of the colony, or you can focus in something more specific – relations with the Natives, the Puritan ideology, or the Witch Trials.
Your comic should include at least 10 facts about the colony and its history. It should also mention/show at least 2 important people named in the article. Your comic does not have to be colored, and you will not be graded on the quality of your art, per se – but it should be neat and legible!
Extra credit for the best two comics in each class, which will be displayed in the classroom/on my website!
If you had to explain the causes of the American Revolution to your kid sister, how would you do it?? Believe it or not, being able to streamline and simplify your explanation of key events is a great way to check your own understanding.
For tomorrow: Take one page of notes filled with basic facts and chronology of the colonies from French and Indian War to American Revolution, drawn from the pages above, all with the general question in mind — “Why did the colonists declare independence?”
Use the information contained in these notes to create a minimum eight page storybook, illustrated, answering the question — “Why did the colonists declare independence?” Your book should tell the story of how the Revolution came to be – roughly from the French and Indian War to the Declaration of Independence. It should utilize at least 10 vocabulary words or key terms and tell a story that makes sense.
Your book will be read aloud during a class-wide story time – so make sure it has cadence (and maybe rhymes?)
Bonus points if you include a cute talking animal to gloss over uncomfortable social truths.
Generally speaking, what did abolitionists believe? Identify one abolitionist and his or her strategies for achieving this goal.
What was the Underground Railroad?
What happened at Seneca Falls in 1848?
What is a nativist?
What was Liberia?
Stirrings of Reform
The democratic upheaval in politics exemplified by Jackson’s election was merely one phase of the long American quest for greater rights and opportunities for all citizens. These reformers dedicated their lives – often risked them – to make life as you know it possible…. to give Jefferson’s phrase “all men are created equal” the meaning you understand today – they took his exclusion of women, the poor, people of color, immigrants and others as a challenge, asking “Why not me too?”
In national politics, Southerners chiefly sought protection and enlargement of the interests represented by the cotton/slavery system. They sought territorial expansion because the wastefulness of cultivating a single crop, cotton, rapidly exhausted the soil, increasing the need for new fertile lands. Moreover, new territory would establish a basis for additional slave states to offset the admission of new free states. In the 1830s Northern opposition to slavery became fierce, even if it was still a minority view. The goal of the antislavery movement was abolition, or the end of slavery, and those who opposed slavery were called abolitionists.
An earlier antislavery movement, an offshoot of the American Revolution, had won its last victory in 1808 when Congress abolished the slave trade with Africa. Thereafter, opposition came largely from the Quakers, who kept up a mild but ineffectual protest. Meanwhile, the cotton gin and westward expansion into the Mississippi delta region created an increasing demand for slaves.
The abolitionist movement that emerged in the early 1830s was combative, uncompromising, and insistent upon an immediate end to slavery. This approach found a leader in William Lloyd Garrison, a young man from Massachusetts, who combined the heroism of a martyr with the crusading zeal of a demagogue. On January 1, 1831, Garrison produced the first issue of his newspaper, The Liberator, which bore the announcement: “I shall strenuously contend for the immediate enfranchisement of our slave population. … On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. … I am in earnest—I will not equivocate—I will not excuse—I will not retreat a single inch—AND I WILL BE HEARD.”
Garrison’s sensational methods awakened Northerners to the evil in an institution many had long come to regard as unchangeable. He sought to hold up to public gaze the most repulsive aspects of slavery and to castigate slave holders as torturers and traffickers in human life. He recognized no rights of the masters, acknowledged no compromise, tolerated no delay. Other abolitionists, unwilling to subscribe to his law-defying tactics, held that reform should be accomplished by legal and peaceful means. Garrison was joined by another powerful voice, that of Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave who galvanized Northern audiences.
One activity of the movement involved helping slaves escape to safe refuges in the North or over the border into Canada. The Underground Railroad, an elaborate network of secret routes, was firmly established in the 1830s in all parts of the North. In Ohio alone, from 1830 to 1860, as many as 40,000 fugitive slaves were helped to freedom. The number of local antislavery societies increased at such a rate that by 1838 there were about 1,350 with a membership of perhaps 250,000.
Most Northerners nonetheless either held themselves aloof from the abolitionist movement or actively opposed it. In 1837, for example, a mob attacked and killed the antislavery editor Elijah P. Lovejoy in Alton, Illinois.
As the Abolition movement became stronger in America, it was expressed in public debate and in petition. During one year, 1830, an anti-slavery petition drive delivered 130,000 petitions to Congress. Pro-slavery forces responded with a series of gag rules that automatically “tabled” all petitions or debate around the subject of limiting slavery, preventing them from being read or discussed. Rather than suppress anti-slavery petitions, however, the gag rules only served to offend Americans from Northern states, and dramatically increase the number of petitions.
Former President John Quincy Adams, elected to the House of Representatives in 1830, fought this so‑called gag rule as a violation of the First Amendment, finally winning its repeal in 1844.
Barred from politics and most professions, many women found their voice in church groups, especially those associated with the abolition movement. Calling for the end of slavery brought many women to a realization of their own unequal position in society. From colonial times, unmarried women had enjoyed many of the same legal rights as men, although custom required that they marry early. With matrimony, women virtually lost their separate identities in the eyes of the law. Women were not permitted to vote. Their education in the 17th and 18th centuries was limited largely to reading, writing, music, dancing, and needlework.
The awakening of women began with the visit to America of Frances Wright, a Scottish lecturer and journalist, who publicly promoted women’s rights throughout the United States during the 1820s. At a time when women were often forbidden to speak in public places, Wright not only spoke out, but shocked audiences by her views advocating the rights of women to seek information on birth control and divorce. By the 1840s an American women’s rights movement emerged. Its foremost leader was Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
In 1848 Cady Stanton and her colleague Lucretia Mott organized a women’s rights convention—the first in the history of the world—at Seneca Falls, New York. Delegates drew up a “Declaration of Sentiments,” demanding equality with men before the law, the right to vote, and equal opportunities in education and employment. The resolutions passed unanimously with the exception of the one for women’s suffrage, which won a majority only after an impassioned speech in favor by Frederick Douglass, the black abolitionist.
At Seneca Falls, Cady Stanton gained national prominence as an eloquent writer and speaker for women’s rights. She had realized early on that without the right to vote, women would never be equal with men. Taking the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison as her model, she saw that the key to success lay in changing public opinion, and not in party action. Seneca Falls became the catalyst for future change. Soon other women’s rights conventions were held, and other women would come to the forefront of the movement for their political and social equality.
In 1848 also, Ernestine Rose, a Polish immigrant, was instrumental in getting a law passed in the state of New York that allowed married women to keep their property in their own name. Among the first laws in the nation of this kind, the Married Women’s Property Act encouraged other state legislatures to enact similar laws.
In 1869 Elizabeth Cady Stanton and another leading women’s rights activist, Susan B. Anthony, founded the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), to promote a constitutional amendment for women’s right to the vote. These two would become the women’s movement’s most outspoken advocates. Describing their partnership, Cady Stanton would say, “I forged the thunderbolts and she fired them.”
Public education was common in New England, though it was class-based, with the working class receiving minimum benefits. Schools taught religious values, including corporal punishment and public humiliation.
The spread of suffrage had already led to a new concept of education. Clear-sighted statesmen everywhere understood that universal suffrage required a tutored, literate electorate. Workingmen’s organizations demanded free, tax-supported schools open to all children. Gradually, in one state after another, legislation was enacted to provide for such free instruction. States in the South, however, frequently resisted this impulse for both poor whites and free blacks – more education would have meant less control for the traditional wealthy planter class.
Horace Mann was considered “The Father of American Education.” He wanted to develop a school that would help to get rid of the differences between boys and girls when it came to education. He also felt that this could help keep the crime rate down. He was the first Secretary for the Board of Education in Massachusetts in 1837-1848. He also helped to establish the first school for the education of teachers in America in 1839.
Elsewhere, other educational reforms were taking place during the same period. In 1833 Oberlin College had in attendance 29 men and 15 women. Oberlin college came to be known the first college that allowed women attend. Within five years, thirty-two boarding schools enrolled Indian students. They substituted English for American Indian languages and taught Agriculture alongside the Christian Gospel.
Other reformers addressed the problems of prisons and care for the insane. Efforts were made to turn prisons, which stressed punishment, into penitentiaries where the guilty would undergo rehabilitation. In Massachusetts, Dorothea Dix led a struggle to improve conditions for mentally ill persons, who typically were kept confined in wretched prisons alongside actual criminals. After winning improvements in Massachusetts, she took her campaign to the South, where nine states established hospitals for the insane between 1845 and 1852.
In the early 1800s, while the Second Great Revival was shaking the country, some people in New England chose another way to faith. Many of them were reading the German Idealists and the Higher Criticism, and some of them had read new English-language translations of Hindu scripture. They were descendants of the people who had come to America to purify their faith. Some of these decided to go further. They called themselves transcendentalists, because they thought they “transcended” any petty doctrine. The Transcendental Club was founded in 1836.
The writer Ralph Waldo Emerson was a major theorist in the movement. He held that God was one, and not the three persons seen in Christian theology. Nor was God a personal being. The great ideas and loves of human beings persisted after their deaths, creating a vast Oversoul. There was no perpetuation of the individual soul. Individuals could move toward the inevitable perfection of their species, and to become one with the Oversoul. Other individuals who held some of Emerson’s beliefs included the feminist Margaret Fuller, Bronson Alcott (whose daughter was the author Louisa May Alcott) and Henry David Thoreau. Different members of the group experimented with vegetarianism, communism, pacifism, free-love, and other non-mainstream practices. Although they differed widely from their revivalist neighbors, many of them also held millenarian views: if only human beings became truly kind and wise, they could create an earthly paradise.
Attitudes toward alcohol in America have always been complex, but perhaps no more so than in the mid 1800s. Alcohol was a major source of government tax revenue, and a social force holding communities together. Yet drunkenness, particularly of the poor, began to be commented upon by the middle and upper classes during the late 1700s and 1800s, especially as drinking came to be associated with recent German and Irish immigrants – lesser Americans. During presidential elections, drunkenness was encouraged by political campaigns, and votes were often exchanged for drinks. Many churches came to believe that taverns encouraged business on Sundays, the one day without work, and that people who would have otherwise gone to church spent their money at the bar. As a result of these beliefs, groups began forming in several states to reduce the consumption of alcohol. Although the Temperance movement began with the intent of limiting use, some temperance leaders such as Connecticut minister Lyman Beecher began urging fellow citizens to abstain from drinking in 1825. In 1826, the American Temperance Society formed in a resurgence of religion and morality. By the late 1830s, the American Temperance Society had membership of 1,500,000, and many Protestant churches began to preach temperance.
Americans found themselves divided in other, more complex ways. The large number of Catholic immigrants in the first half of the 19th century, primarily Irish and German, triggered a backlash among native-born Protestant Americans. Immigrants brought strange new customs and religious practices to American shores. They competed with the native-born for jobs in cities along the Eastern seaboard. The coming of universal white male suffrage in the 1820s and 1830s increased their political clout. Displaced patrician politicians blamed the immigrants for their fall from power. The Catholic Church’s failure to support the temperance movement gave rise to charges that Rome was trying to subvert the United States through alcohol.
The most important of the nativist – or anti-immigrant – organizations that sprang up in this period was a secret society, the Order of the Star-Spangled Banner, founded in 1849. When its members refused to identify themselves, they were swiftly labeled the “Know-Nothings.” In a few years, they became a national organization with considerable political power.
The Know-Nothings advocated an extension in the period required for naturalized citizenship from five to 21 years. They sought to exclude the foreign-born and Catholics from public office. In 1855 they won control of legislatures in New York and Massachusetts; by then, about 90 U.S. congressmen were linked to the party.
In the early 19th century, a variety of organizations were established that advocated relocation of black people from the United States to places where they would enjoy greater freedom; some endorsed colonization, while others advocated emigration. During the 1820s and 1830s the American Colonization Society (A.C.S.) was the primary vehicle for proposals to “return” black Americans to freedom in Africa, regardless of whether they were native-born in the United States. It had broad support nationwide among white people, including prominent leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, Henry Clay and James Monroe, who considered this preferable to emancipation. Clay said that due to
“unconquerable prejudice resulting from their color, they [the blacks] never could amalgamate with the free whites of this country. It was desirable, therefore, as it respected them, and the residue of the population of the country, to drain them off.”
Many African Americans opposed colonization, and simply wanted to be given the rights of free citizens in the United States.
After attempts to plant small settlements on the coast of west Africa, the A.C.S. established the colony of Liberia in 1821–22. Over the next four decades, it assisted thousands of former slaves and free black people to move there from the United States. The tropical disease they encountered was extreme, and most migrants died fairly quickly. American support for colonization waned gradually through the 1840s and 1850s, largely because of the efforts of abolitionists to promote emancipation of slaves and the granting of United States citizenship. The Americo-Liberians established an elite who ruled Liberia continuously until the military coup of 1980.