Westward Expansion and the Growth Term Paper

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Mercifully, this period oversaw the end of the horrible Catch-22 known as debtor's prison, were people were imprisoned for debt, and then kept in the prisons for life because they had no way of earning money to free themselves from their financial obligations. Also, Dorothea Dix "compiled a comprehensive report on the state of the mentally ill in Massachusetts. The report claimed that hundreds of insane women were chained like beasts in stalls and cages. Dix's findings convinced state legislators to establish one of the first asylums devoted entirely to caring for the mentally ill. By the outbreak of the Civil War, nearly thirty states had built similar institutions ("The Pre-Civil War Era 1820-1850," 2007, Sparknotes).The appeal of Dix's movement and the end of debtor's prisons showed that America increasingly wished to see itself as a compassionate society, and also a fair society that treated its most vulnerable citizens with compassion.

Massachusetts proved to be at the forefront of creating a more socially responsible nation once again in the educational reform movement. Before, virtually anyone could walk into a schoolroom, especially in rural areas in the West, and claim the right to teach. But secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education Horace Mann fought for "higher teacher qualifications, better pay, newer school buildings, and better curriculum" for all teachers, ("The Pre-Civil War Era 1820-1850," 2007, Sparknotes). Mann believed that quality public education was essential for America to become a true meritocracy in the future, and for workers to fulfill increasingly complex job requirements.

Interestingly, "Catherine Beecher, sister of novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe, also crusaded for education but believed that teachers should be women" ("The Pre-Civil War Era 1820-1850," 2007, Sparknotes). This debate over who ought to be teachers highlights one of the paradoxes of the female movement for equal rights and suffrage. Some women like the Beechers stressed the ability of women to lend softness and tenderness to the political landscape, and to create a more moral, sober, and God-fearing nation. A few suffragettes argued that female suffrage would infuse the loving spirit into the political heart of the new nation. Other women stressed to their female brethren that they could best act as advocates of compassion from the home front. And still other women such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton advocated universal suffrage as a basic human right.

Women also dominated the ranks of the anti-slavery movement. Even while American women were denied a formal political vote, women such as the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin Harriet Beecher Stowe, kept the issue at the forefront of the public debate in mainstream society. Stowe's novel and the writings of the freed slave Frederick Douglass began to create a wellspring of support in the North for the end of slavery, or at least the end of incorporating new states permitting slavery into the nation. For fear of dividing the nation further, "the House of Representatives actually passed a gag resolution in 1836 to squelch all further discussion of slavery," but undaunted "several years later, in 1840, the abolitionists organized into a party, the Liberty Party ("The Pre-Civil War Era 1820-1850," 2007, Sparknotes). The question of slavery would not go away, nor would the question of what would be the new America -- industrialized under the hand of a strong, federal government, or remaining a land of agricultural gentleman farmers in a loose federation of different cultures. Rather than attempt to leave the question for future generations to settle, the reform movements of America demanded that Americans answer such pressing questions now.

Works Cited

The Pre-Civil War Era 1820-1850." Sparknotes. Retrieved 22…

Sources Used in Document:

Works Cited

The Pre-Civil War Era 1820-1850." Sparknotes. Retrieved 22 May 2007 at http://www.sparknotes.com/history/american/precivilwar/section9.rhtml

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