Creating the Culture of Reform in Antebellum America

Creating the Culture of Reform in Antebellum America

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 280
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    Creating the Culture of Reform in Antebellum America
    Book Description:

    In this study, T. Gregory Garvey illustrates how activists and reformers claimed the instruments of mass media to create a freestanding culture of reform that enabled voices disfranchised by church or state to speak as equals in public debates over the nation's values. Competition among antebellum reformers in religion, women's rights, and antislavery institutionalized a structure of ideological debate that continues to define popular reform movements. The foundations of the culture of reform lie, according to Garvey, in the reconstruction of publicity that coincided with the religious-sectarian struggles of the early nineteenth century. To counter challenges to their authority and to retain church members, both conservative and liberal religious factions developed instruments of reform propaganda (newspapers, conventions, circuit riders, revivals) that were adapted by an emerging class of professional secular reformers in the women's rights and antislavery movements. Garvey argues that debate among the reformers created a mode of "critical conversation" through which reformers of all ideological persuasions collectively forged new conventions of public discourse as they struggled to shape public opinion. Focusing on debates between Lyman Beecher and William Ellery Channing over religious doctrine, Angelina Grimke and Catharine Beecher over women's participation in antislavery, and William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass over the ethics of political participation, Garvey argues that "crucible-like sites of public debate" emerged as the core of the culture of reform. To emphasize the redefinition of publicity provoked by antebellum reform movements, Garvey concludes the book with a chapter that presents Emersonian self-reliance as an effort to transform the partisan nature of reform discourse into a model of sincere public speech that affirms both self and community.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-3083-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. INTRODUCTION Discursive Democracy and the Culture of Reform
    (pp. 1-30)

    Antebellum social reform movements, especially antislavery and women’s rights, shaped public discourse in ways that still define the manner in which Americans deal with divisive issues. The relationships that these reform movements created not only redefined Americans’ understanding of citizenship and equality; they also created a culture of reform through which people debated moral and ethical questions. Paradoxically, as American politics slowly polarized into the regional blocs that signaled secession and civil war, reformers of all ideological persuasions were constructing instruments of public dialogue that would become vital means for addressing the most threatening and divisive questions to face the...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Religious Pluralism and the Origins of the Culture of Reform
    (pp. 31-73)

    During the three decades between Henry Ware’s election to the Hollis Chair of Divinity at Harvard in 1805 and the disestablishment of Congregationalism in Massachusetts, the New England ministry underwent a transformation metaphoric of broader trends toward pluralism in antebellum society. Movements that would restructure the role of the church in American society were pressed forward by theological liberals within the church as well as by members of external religious and secular institutions. Though the New England clergy had a tradition of internal debate dating back to the antinomian controversy of the 1630s, the first third of the nineteenth century...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Sincerity and Publicity in the Grimké-Beecher Debate
    (pp. 74-120)

    As the legitimization of the minister’s authority diffused into the realm of critical public discourse, the types of authority Americans saw in womanhood were also beginning to find purchase in the public sphere. Even as Jacksonian Americans were assembling the scaffolding of antebellum domesticity, American women were defining two important pathways into critical discourse. Working as writers and social reformers, women were in the vanguard of cultural dialogues about the implications of industrialization, urbanization, and the doctrine of universal human rights. Women’s participation in benevolent reform movements offered them a site where connections between femininity and privacy intersected with those...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Garrison, Douglass, and the Problem of Politics
    (pp. 121-160)

    Frederick Douglass’s fight with the slave breaker Covey was clearly an act of liberatory self-assertion. But as Frank Kirkland points out, it is also a parable of recognition, a story that demonstrates Douglass’s ability to compel a white man to recognize him as an equal, at least in terms of brute force.¹ After defeating Covey, Douglass puzzled over his master’s response and wondered why Covey did not have him “taken by the constable to the whipping-post and there regularly whipped” (N 79). He interpreted this failure on Covey’s part by contextualizing the fight as a challenge to Covey’s public standing,...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Emerson’s Self-Reliance as a Theory of Community
    (pp. 161-198)

    When Emerson remarks in his 1841 essay “Man the Reformer,” “What is a man born for but to be a Reformer,” he is only half thinking about reform associations and organized movements (CW 1:156). More directly he is considering the processes and forces that transformselves and communities. In this early essay on the emerging culture of reform, he speaks in self-reflexive terms and argues that at his or her best, the reformer is a model of utopian selfhood, a spokesperson for better people living in a better society. As a model of selfhood, the reformer is “a renouncer of lies;...

  10. EPILOGUE Sincerity and Pluralism in Critical Conversation
    (pp. 199-202)

    The emphasis that early reformers placed on the right of access to public discourse also says much about ambiguities in the relationship of liberalism to discursive democracy. One reason that Frederick Douglass accepted the advantages of political antislavery and that the women’s rights movement chose the path indicated by Angelina Grimké is that advocates of civil and equal rights sensed the role that access to critical public discourse had come to play in defining equality in American society. In the period between the Unitarian controversy and the beginning of the Civil War, women and African Americans, especially Grimké and Douglass,...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 203-222)
    (pp. 223-236)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 237-263)