The United States was in the midst of change in the mid-nineteenth century; preconceived societal norms were being shattered by a different, more restless culture. This sample history essay explores both the good and bad things that came about during the era.
Taking steps in the 19th century
The time period from 1820-1850 is seen as an era of reform in the United States of America. It was a time where the country had many changes take place both in the political and social environments. This time period saw the rise of religion in the political system and a change in the way that it had previously been preached in the country. The country also continued to settle territory east of the Mississippi by removing the Native Americans and forcing them to abandon lands they had held for generations. Overall, this time period saw the country take steps in both the right and the wrong direction in different areas.
In the 1830’s, Rev. Charles G. Finney held multiple religious revival meetings. He preached the idea of choice in one’s salvation. One will have a change of heart when they feel that God’s law are the right ones to believe in and declare:
“Let Christ rule King of nations, as he is King of saints,”1.
These would have been dangerous words a hundred years earlier, but in the new America, they were much more welcome. Slightly less well received by contemporary clergy were his thoughts on preaching obligations.
Finney felt, “Ministers should labor with sinners, as a lawyer does with a jury,”2.
Living by the Bible
As opposed to the fear tactics that were used to convince people to follow Christian ethics, Rev. Finney suggest for a more logical approach. However, it should be realized that even by attempting to be “logical” and work as a lawyer would, there is bias in the Reverend’s thinking. Like any sort of religious argument, he assumed that only his way of thinking was correct, and by doing so he actually contradicted his own approach to convincing people to follow his views based on logic by denying the possibility that his way could be incorrect.
This period of time also saw the adaptation of the Monroe Doctrine. The idea behind the doctrine was for the nations that were not in the western hemisphere to stop colonizing the Americas.
This basically made, “the Americas a sphere of influence of the United States,”1.
Though the Monroe Doctrine was made with the intention of protecting the colonies that had gained independence from dealing with fear of Eastern hemisphere powers (Spain, Britain, Portugal, Russia, etc.) retaking their territory, this doctrine effectively was a power move by the US. By sealing off the Eastern Hemisphere from being in the Americas, the US became the major power in the area. The colonies and newly founded countries effectively traded the fear of European overlords for dealing with US pressure and power.
Indian removal in the United States
During the era of reform, the US also dealt with some internal affairs. The expanding population needed more land, and the Cherokee tribe had just that. Through Indian Removal Act of 1830, the people that had held lands for generation were forced to move west of the Mississippi. Even though they attempted to fight this act by appealing to the Supreme Court, President Jackson refused to listen to the court’s rulings and declared the “savages” had to be relocated. The US showed its bias for its own citizens and racism against these people even though the “savages” made perfectly rational arguments for staying on their lands.
They claimed, “We have a perfect and original right to claim this….The treaties with us, and laws of the United States made in pursuance of treaties, guaranty our residence, and our privileges, and secure us against intruders,”2.
The pleas went unheard and they were forced to leave their lands.
The Bank Bill of 1832
Another change to the country during the era of reform came with President Jackson’s veto of the Bank Bill in 1832. This move was in accordance with has been called “Jacksonian democracy.”
Jackson believed the proper role of government to be to offer “equal protection to all citizens,” and it was “unacceptable for Congress to create a source of economic power and privilege unaccountable to the people” 1. This prompted a type of class war, which pitted the working class (farmers, laborers, etc.)
against the rich and powerful class who would take advantage of their well-being. Though Jackson used this to appear to be a humble man to the common people, it was really part of a political stunt that helped secure his reelection to the presidency.
The country was still learning how to handle its people, both native and immigrant, and it made many mistakes. It also learned from many of the mistakes it fled and then fought against, from Europe. It is easy to judge history with the clear vision of hindsight, but it should always be remembered how difficult it was to know how or what to do when many of these choices were being made for the first time in history.
Finney, Charles G.. “Sinners Bound to Change Their Own Hearts.” In Voices of Freedom. New York, N.Y.: W.W. Norton Co., 2011. 173-177.
Foner, Eric, ed. “Appeal of the Cherokee Nation.” In Voices of Freedom. New York, N.Y.: W.W. Norton Co., 2011. 190-193.
Monroe, James. “The Monroe Doctrine.” In Voices of Freedom. New York, N.Y.: W.W. Norton Co., 2011. 178-180.
Jackson, Andrew. “Veto of the Bank Bill.” In Voices of Freedom. New York, N.Y.: W.W. Norton Co., 2011. 193-195.
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