Women's Role in American Revolution: American Society in Antebellum Period
Even after the Declaration of Independence, American citizens were established as white, wealthy males despite the important role women played in the Revolution. This trend continues because it wasn’t until almost a hundred years later that African Americans were American citizens under the law, and even then women and African Americans had to continue fighting for their suffrage. These fights for rights were often influenced by beliefs in philosophies such as the Enlightenment, that there were natural laws and natural rights that the government must protect. Between 1820 to 1860, American society did change a significant amount with increased democracy and several reform movements including abolishing slavery and winning equal rights for women. Religious revival helped push more Americans to realize the evils of slavery, but ultimately not much changed for women since the crisis of slavery overshadowed it near the end of the antebellum period.Partly a reaction to rationalism, the Second Great Awakening was a Protestant religious revival movement, and evangelical preachers were more audience-centered and easily understood by the uneducated. This religious revival emphasized doing good in your own hands, that “you [have the] power to obey or disobey,” which increased the opposition to slavery because more people realized that they have the power to change what they don’t believe in (Doc 1).
More African Americans also converted to Christianity because the Second Great Awakening emphasized that everyone was included and that everyone could reach salvation, which Finney’s purpose in preaching about human choice in salvation is to get more people to convert. Additionally in regards to slavery, more and more abolitionists appeared in this antebellum period before the Civil War. For example, Frederick Douglass criticized Americans for celebrating 4th of July because the independence that they rejoice about is the same independence that they don’t offer African American slaves (Doc 5). Their “shouts of liberty and equality” are “hollow mockery” because the declaration that all men are created equal really meant all white men are created equal. Abolitionists like Frederick Douglass sought to call out white Americans for their hypocrisy in believing in equality for all but not extending it to African American slaves. Thus, the Second Great Awakening and abolitionist movements led many Christians and Americans to view slavery as a sin and incredibly evil.Reform didn’t only increase momentum in opposition to slavery in the antebellum period, there was also increased voter participation in presidential elections. The elimination of a property requirement for voting led to universal white male suffrage and voting caucuses were replaced by party nominating conventions. This process of presidential elections becoming more democratic drove more and more voter participation, more than tripling it in a span of sixteen years (Doc 4).
Although voter participation increased, suffrage and equality rights remained the same for African Americans and women. In particular, women did continue to fight for reform and even held a Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 where they issued the Declaration of Sentiments that all men and women are created equal and listed women’s grievances against laws and customs that discriminated against them (Doc 3). The purpose of the Declaration of Sentiments was to have American men realize how long overdue women’s equal rights were. Women’s rights and abolishment of slavery movements were actually rather similar in that they both fought for their rights that were way long overdue, but the crisis of slavery in the 1850s overshadowed the issue of women’s rights. Although the antebellum period overall saw increased movement in reform, they didn’t accomplish many of their goals until tens of years later.The enthusiasm for reform in the antebellum period stemmed from sources like the Enlightenment belief in human goodness, politics of Jacksonian democracy, and changing relationships among people. Jacksonian democracy did increase voter participation since common men viewed President Jackson as their representative, but Jackson wasn’t all good. Jackson went against the Supreme Court and forcibly removed Indians from their lands, which led to the Trail of Tears that caused the deaths of four thousand Cherokees. All in all, the antebellum period did see significant change in reform movements in areas such as democracy and opposition to slavery but it wasn’t until after this period that these reform movements would actually cause change, such as the abolishment of slavery, citizenship of African Americans, and suffrage for African Americans in the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments after the Civil War, and women wouldn’t even get suffrage until the 19th Amendment in 1920.
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