Why did Americans turn to utopianism in the 1830s?

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is not possible to know for certain why changes in attitudes happen.  We cannot know why people think as they do.  All we can do is to make educated guesses about the causes of social phenomena.  In this case, historians argue that the turn to utopianism was caused by the changes in US society that went along with the “market revolution.”

Before the 1830s, Americans typically lived in small, cohesive communities.  They knew their neighbors.  They generally produced everything, or nearly everything, that they needed through their own efforts.  Their lives were stable and predictable and they had strong social support networks.

By the 1830s, this was changing.  Better transportation allowed a market to develop.  Now, people started to work for other people and get paid for it.  They started to grow crops to sell to others.  Their communities broke up as people moved away to work in factories. 

What this did was to upset traditional ways.  The changes made it so that people felt less anchored to their communities.  The changes made them feel their lives were no longer stable.  Therefore, they turned to communities that promised to bring back stability and social cohesion.  This is why utopian communities became relatively popular.  They seemed like places that would allow people to get back to something that was more like the way their lives had been before the market revolution.