Referring to the major reform movements of the early nineteenth century, what prompted this new emphasis on improving society?
There are two different, but related, causes that are generally cited for the rise of these reform movements.
First, there is the change in the American economy that was going on during this time. This change is often called the “market revolution.” Before the revolution, people had generally produced almost everything that they needed and had traded with neighbors for most of the rest. They had very little need for money or stores or any other kinds of commerce. As the revolution occurred, people started growing crops or making items to be sold rather than consumed. They sold things for money and used the money to buy what they needed. This changed society tremendously as the old social networks lost their power. This led to new problems that had never existed before. The social reform movements were largely meant to combat these problems.
Second, there was the Second Great Awakening. This was a religious movement that had its last major phase in the 1820s and ‘30s. This religious movement is sometimes seen as a response to the market revolution. The Second Great Awakening emphasized the idea that individuals could be improved and perfected. This led many people to feel that society as a whole could be improved as well. As they came to feel this way, they participated in social reform movements.