Antebellum Reform

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1. The term “antebellum reform” frequently congers up visions of fiery abolitionists denouncing slavery from platform and pulpit. However, there were other reform movements in the pre-Civil War era and a strong connection between such reform and the evolving market revolution. Discuss historians’ progress in advancing our understanding of at least three of these other reform movements – e.g. universal public education, women’s rights, temperance, public health, prison reform – and their relationship to changes in the nation’s economic development.

2. While the First Amendment erects a “wall of separation” between Church and State, American political culture has been one of the most religious in the western world. Trace the importance of religion in shaping political behavior and beliefs of Americans in the following: the settlement of New England, the expansion westward, and the antislavery movements. Be sure to discuss how different scholars have addressed religion in these different historical moments. (May 2002 Princeton University US History Senior Comprehensive Exam)

3. The antislavery community of the antebellum era and the feminist movement of the mid-twentieth century commonly equated the social and economic status of women and African Americans. To what degree did this equation hold true in each era, and what were its shortcomings, again, in each era? (May 2002 Princeton University US History Senior Comprehensive Exam)

4. The migration of northern and western Europeans to the United States in the decades before the Civil War marked an important demographic change in the population of the United States. However, once these newcomers arrived it remained for them to become integrated with those already here. Scholars have long been aware of patterns of nativist resistance to these newcomers. Whiteness studies have altered our understanding of this antebellum immigrant experience. How have scholars engaged in whiteness studies modified our perspective on how these newcomers perceived themselves and behaved to overcome nativist obstacles to their acceptance? (January 2008 American University US I History Comprehensive Exam)

5. Published in 1984, Chants Democratic: New York City and the Rise of the American Working Class, 1788-1850, is now nearly twenty-five years old and still stands as one of the most important books of early American labor history. Using Sean Wilentz’s book as a guide, assess the study of labor and labor history in early America broadly defined, i.e. 1600-1860. In your estimation, what are the most important themes to the study of early American labor and describe some of the advances since Wilentz published Chants Democratic. (June 2007 American University US I History Comprehensive Exam)

6. Most scholars of the antebellum era agree that the origins of pre-Civil War reform are rooted in the Second Great Awakening, with a minority of reformers taking their cue from transcendentalists such as Emerson and Thoreau. However, the tactics which reformers used went beyond the pulpit. Discuss reform tactics in the antislavery movement and at least two other reform movements. How are these tactics related to other developments in American society such as increasing literacy, the transportation revolution, and the rise of a mercantile middle class. (June 2007 American University US I History Comprehensive Exam)

7. Discussions of immigration and nativism in the decades prior to the Civil War have changed dramatically in recent years. In discussions of Irish immigration, some scholars speak of the Irish Diaspora and link Irish migration to the larger history of the Atlantic economy. Other scholars have explored the Irish impact upon US politics, economics, and even institutional development (police forces, hospitals, etc) in increasingly sophisticated ways. Those who study nativism have gone beyond describing anti-Catholic riots to sophisticated explorations of ethnicity and racial identities (e.g. whiteness studies). Discuss some (at least four) of these studies and how they have altered our view of the pre-Civil War migration, especially Irish migration. (June 2007 American University US I History Comprehensive Exam)

8. The rise of a mercantile middle class is regarded by some scholars as one of the most significant social developments of the antebellum era. Explain how this class formation was linked to developments in the history of American Christianity and to a broader reform impulse that challenged traditional American values and institutions. (April 2007 American University US I History Comprehensive Exam)

9. Although the United States has a reputation as being a nation of nations, mass migration did not begin until the late 1830s. Between 1840 and 1860, 4.5 million migrants arrived, mostly from northern and western Europe. Discuss the role that scholars attribute to this migration in pre-Civil War economic and political development. What were the basis of nativist objections to the migrants in this era and how were these objections expressed? (April 2007 American University US I History Comprehensive Exam)

10. Contrary to the fears of many clergy in the early national period, the establishment clause of the first amendment did not spell an end to religion in America. Historiography of early national religion reveals, if anything, an efflorescence and expansion of organized religion in the period. How have historians accounted for this explosion in religiosity? In your answer be sure to include a discussion of structural reasons as well as cultural explanations. (January 2006 American University US I History Comprehensive Exam)

11. The study of religion and religion’s influence upon American society has flourished in recent decades. How might consulting scholarly studies of American religion assist a scholar interested in antebellum reform, especially in the movement to abolish slavery that developed between the 1830s and the 1860s? (August 2005 American University US I History Comprehensive Exam)

12. At first, Second Great Awakening evangelist Charles Grandison Finney eschewed abolitionism, fearing that his converts might see this reform as a surrogate for Christian belief. However, Finney, and many other ministers as well as their converts, eventually preached the evils of slavery. Discuss the role of religion in the tactics and strategies of abolitionism. Comment on how scholars have positioned the role of religion in the larger reform movement of the period 1830-1860. (April 2008 American University US I History Comprehensive Exam)