Walters presented a wide scale view of American history during the mid-nineteenth century (1815-1860); the major changes that occurred in American society, the issues of equality and slavery, and some political insights on American politics and governance. Walters book did not only present the history of the United States from 1815-1860, he also explicated some of the causes of such events, usually in very analytical terms. Walters’ book is generally divided into four general subjects.
They are as follows: 1) the evolution of family structures in America, 2) the Second Great Awakening, 3) issues of race and slavery from the presidency of Monroe to Buchanan, and 4) the Antebellum Reform Movements. Each of these issues carried with it some social and political links with the American domestic and foreign policies, which in a speck of prism, became the footstool of the rise of America as an economic power. With the granting of independence via the Treaty of Paris with Great Britain, America became a young nation imbibed with so many dreams.
The strive for economic prosperity drove American merchants to the High Seas in search for profit. American policies such as those implemented by Alexander Hamilton were transforming America into a capitalist country, with a protruding desire to dominate the world of trade and commerce. Behind all these economic drama was the evolution of family structures in America. The typical American family at that time was generally the mirror image of a typical British family. However, such a typical American family belonged to the upper class; the middle and lower classes did not exhibit such structure.
The Second Great Awakening (Walters 21-37) With America’s expansion to the West with the Louisiana Purchase (Napoleon sold the Mississippi region to the US government to finance his wars with the British Empire) and the defeat of the Indians in the Indian war, religious missionaries began to invade the newly acquired territories. These missionaries were not the typical Spanish friars; they were men armed with the power of the gospel to transform the “savage” society of the Indians. They were men whom, according to tales, God revealed His word.
The names of Joseph Smith, Thomas Campbell, and Nathaniel William Taylor were admired by the Indians and the American settlers of the West. This is called the Second Great Awakening. The Second Great Awakening was a religious revival of American society in the early 19th century. It was a revival because America at that time experienced social ills, ranging from corruption and frequent foreign wars (like the War of 1812 when the nation’s capital was burned by the British). The landowners or the so-called aristocrats refused to sell their land to the government for the simple reason that it naturally belonged to them.
The government was experiencing deficits on trade; the result of Hamilton’s economic policies. Government offices were put under the control of the ruling party; government offices were at their disposal. It was corruption par excellence. With the opening of the West to American conquest, settlers began to experience the social ills that pervaded in the former thirteen colonies. The neglect of authorities, or more accurately its lack of, the raging poverty and epidemic in the settlements, Indian attacks, and lack of spirituality among the settlers provided the atmosphere for this Second Great Awakening.
People like Joseph Smith sought to establish a society based on the principles of equality, respect for authority, and dependence to God’s power. They rejected the increasing upsurge of capitalism in the settlements, the invasion of foreign labor (like the Japanese), and the increasing power of the government. They also taught that man was worthless in the face of a powerful God, but becomes meaningful and important once the Divine Presence was imbibed in his/her spirituality. Reason was nothing but an expression of the Divine will, of which the human nature must follow.
Hence, not only the settlers who became inspired by this evangelization process but also the Indians. They accepted the call of these missionaries, and established their own way of expressing the will of God. It was reported that several Indian tribes in the West showed excitement of the Second Coming of Christ to the world through the Ghost dance. In a sense, it was a way of relieving themselves from the social ills they were experiencing. Race and Slavery from the Presidency of Monroe to Buchanan (Walters 77-100)
Race and slavery in America was never seriously questioned in America before the time of Abraham Lincoln as president, although some serious minded politicians had in mind the antiquity of such form of relationship. Some politicians and presidents alike thought that slavery was a natural form of relationship, called forth by the necessity of protection and mutual dependence. But here, Americans faced the crisis or debate of whether slavery was a perversion of the principle of equality. Nevertheless, this debate was not rooted from some theoretical propositions; it was based on the relative value and history of slavery in America.
When the English came to America, they sold African slaves to the settlers. These slaves provided the settlers with cheap labor and sustainable form of labor arrangement which can augment the demand production for certain products. In due time, slavery became not an uncommon thing in America; in fact, it was seen as natural and necessary. However when the population of the slaves was increasing annually, several politicians questioned whether it was necessary to grant citizenship in the future to these “slaves. ” It was the start of the Slavery Debate.
In the South, slavery was always regarded as a commodity. Slaves worked for many hours in the cotton factories of aristocrats and businessmen. They were also used as an auxiliary for beasts of burden, taking on many jobs at one time, while enjoying little leisure time. American Family Structures (Walters 100-111) While the family structure of the upper class rested on the principle of patriarchy; that is, family authority belongs solely to the male head of the family, the peasant class of the countryside experienced greater variableness in terms of family structures.
Peasants usually depend on social interlinks between blood relatives; the majority of whom were also located in the countryside. Although, it was still patriarchal, authority was dispersed from time to time, in lieu of the unexpected needs of the family (sometimes, the male brother of the wife exercised authority in the absence of the husband). In the South, owners of cotton “factories” made a slow progress in achieving what American political theorists call “the true meaning of equality.
” The wife was an appendage of the husband; hence, the husband was expected to be followed by his children, typical of a Roman family. Antebellum Reform Movements (113-216) The Antebellum Reform Movements was in general connected to the Second Great Awakening. Its aim was to transform American society as to what the founding fathers envisioned. Politically, America should be governed by corruptless politicians who place public gain over personal ones. Economically, American society should be self-sustaining and aim for economic equality of opportunity.
Socially, every man should be regarded as capable of moving to the “social ladder” because this was an expression of equality. Nevertheless, women should be given rights and freedoms like the right to suffrage (as advocated by Susan B. Anthony) and the right to education. The propinquity or more accurately the propensity of achieving these goals rested on the capability of Americans to work in an environment of friendly competition and hard work. Work Cited Walters, Ronald G. American Reformers 1815-1860. NY: Hill and Wang, 1978.
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