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. Another was
the beginning of labor organization, primarily among skilled and
semiskilled workers. In 1835 labor forces in Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania, succeeded in reducing the old "dark-to-dark"
workday to a 10-hour day. By 1860, the new work day had
become law in several of the states and was a generally accepted
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.
The leadership of Horace Mann in Massachusetts was especially
effective. The public school system became common
throughout the North. In other parts of the country, however,
the battle for public education continued for years.
Another influential social movement that emerged during this
period was the opposition to the sale and use of alcohol, or the
temperance movement. It stemmed from a variety of concerns and
motives: religious beliefs, the effect of alcohol on the work
force, the violence and suffering women and children experienced
at the hands of heavy drinkers. In 1826 Boston ministers
organized the Society for the Promotion of Temperance. Seven
years later, in Philadelphia, the society convened a national
convention, which formed the American Temperance Union. The
union called for the prohibition of all alcoholic beverages, and
pressed state legislatures to ban their production and sale.
Thirteen states had done so by 1855, although the laws were
subsequently challenged in court. They survived only in northern
New England, but between 1830 and 1860 the temperance movement
reduced Americans' per capita consumption of alcohol.
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 insane persons, who were kept
confined in wretched almshouses and prisons. After winning
improvements in Massachusetts, she took her campaign to the
South, where nine states established hospitals for the insane
between 1845 and 1852.
Answer Key: (1) Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; (2) Horace Mann; (3) temperance; (4) 1833; (5) Dorothea Dix; (6) Answers will vary. Click here to print.
Text courtesy of the U.S. State Department, Bureau of International Information Programs, 2005
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